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Playing politics with the ICJ vote – A country divided

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Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019. 11:21 am CST.

By BBN Staff: As Belizeans gear up to participate in the historic national referendum on whether or not to take Guatemala’s claim on Belize’s territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final settlement, an ‘evil’ force called party politics has entered, and is now dominating the scene. Instead of the UDP and PUP politicians educate their constituents and encourage them to vote based on information and conscience, the two (2) main political parties have resorted to petty party politics to sway votes. The UDP is pushing for a ‘Yes’ vote and the PUP is pushing for a ‘No’ vote. This is clearly eroding objectivity, creating confusion in the minds of the average voter, and is further dividing Belize on a matter of great national importance.

There should be no problem with trying to convince people objectively to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ and to do so based on nationalism and conscience. However, both the ruling UDP party and the Opposition PUP have gone ahead and publicly decided how they will vote, and both parties are actively campaigning to their supporters to vote along party lines.

The PUP’s ‘No’ vote is interesting, and itself, is a twisted tale. It was the PUP, particularly between 2005 and 2008 that paved the way, through negotiations with Guatemala, and with assistance from the Organization of American States (OAS), to take the case to the ICJ. A key component of the negotiations during the PUP reign is that a ‘bipartisan’ commission led the way, and as such the UDP was fully on board with what was agreed to with Guatemala.

In November 2007, the Secretary General of the OAS presented a recommendation to submit the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute to the ICJ.  The PUP, under the leadership of Hon. Said Musa, was still in Government and the PUP ‘cabinet’ at the time was supportive of the OAS recommendation to submit the dispute to the ICJ. In February 2008, however, Musa’s PUP lost the general elections to Dean Barrow’s UDP and on May 29, 2008, under the UDP’s reign, Belize then officially accepted the Secretary General’s recommendation to submit the dispute to the ICJ.

Belize’s Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington did not work the ‘bipartisan’ process like the former PUP Foreign Ministers did. As a result, the PUP or the former captain of the ICJ ship, has decided to ‘abandoned the ship for political expediency’. Former PUP Ministers who once said ‘Yes’ are now actively saying ‘No’, and have joined other PUP standard bearers in putting up blue and white flags saying ‘No to the ICJ’. In fact these former Ministers and current standard bearers put political pressure on both former Party Leader, Said Musa, and current leader John Briceno, eventually causing Briceno to abandon his ‘Yes’ personal position and towing his party’s ‘No’ to the ICJ position. It appears then, that the PUP which has lost all elections since 2003, is now more concerned to follow the popular vote in its desire to win the next general elections.

The UDP’s ‘Yes’ campaign obtained its first burst of fuel when Cabinet’s announced its unanimous decision to vote ‘Yes’ in January of 2019. This was quickly followed by the party announcing its support for the ‘Yes’ vote and later with house to house campaigns that resembles general election activity. Red and white UDP flags with ‘Yes to the ICJ’ written on them were installed on lampposts. UDP campaigners, wearing party shirts, and loudly saying ‘Yes’, are now very active in most constituencies. And as one campaigner told BBN, I am voting ‘Yes’ as I am being paid $150 per week to campaign for a ‘Yes’ vote. This campaigner had little or no understanding as to how serious voting on going to the ICJ is. More recently, community fairs are being held, and people are given free food and drinks, and baited with lots of music, all aimed to secure a ‘Yes’ vote.

Party politics aside, though, the fact is that ultimately Belizeans have the power to decide whether or not to take the claim to the ICJ for final settlement. If Belizeans vote ‘Yes’, then we follow the procedures at the court and if we vote ‘No’, then negotiations must continue.

BBN encourages all Belizeans to devote time to seek information, and when you ink your fingers on April 10, 2019, vote your conscience based on the facts provided and not based on what your party is telling you.

And finally, please do not accept any money to vote either ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, as the way things are going, vote buying is sure to find its way into the referendum process.

 

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