Posted: Friday, March 29, 2019. 2:18 pm CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Andre Pitts: We are now only a few days away from the historic ICJ Referendum in which Belizean will have the honor – and the stress – of participating in. As is the case with all other matters of national significance, I have been very much involved in discussions and debates even, in regard to the ICJ option that is before us. I have come to the view that many of the people who are saying ‘no to the ICJ’ have admitted that they say so because they are angry at the Government for unrelated matters.
Some are upset that Belizeans who live abroad are not being given special consideration to register and vote; some are upset over inefficiency at the Vital Statistics Department; some are upset over corruption in Government; and, some are generally upset as a result of many other gripes.
Without a doubt, the things that they are upset about are important, valid, deserving of our Government’s urgent attention.
But from my eyes, and in what I consider to be a responsible way of looking at it, voting ‘NO to the ICJ’ will not in any way at all result in Belizeans in the Diaspora getting special voting rights overnight. Voting No would not clean up the Vital Statistics Department, nor would it end corruption where it exists. Voting no to the ICJ is not the bridge nor catalyst for betterment in Government.
However, voting no the ICJ can very likely introduce uncomfortable and unpredictable dangers for our country.
For that reason, the Belize/Guatemala dispute supersedes our local politics, party politics and individual vexations.
Unlike our Central American neighbors, we are fortunate to not have a history of war. We do not know first-hand (and thankfully) how a single, short war, could undo decades of physical infrastructure and life as we know it to be.
Many dismiss the mention of war as fearmongering. But in reality, war is not so farfetched. Should a Guatemalan military boat ever crash into one of our BDF boats by mistake, or, if a gun is fired accidentally, or, if a soldier mishears a command from their superior – it could very well lead to a ‘war’ in the snap of a finger, and we are not prepared to sustain nor survive such a tragedy, which, luckily, is avoidable.
For those who refuse to consider the prospects of war, there are still many other consequences of the Dispute which we are already suffering from daily and for decades already. In addition to the millions of dollars spent on diplomats to maneuver this dispute, and the millions of dollars of trees being illegally extracted from our forests, and the wildlife that is being hunted and removed, and the gold panning and cattle ranching, I believe people fail to see one of the most serious effects: the relationship between the Dispute and the water we drink.
The fresh water in the Chiquibul is actually one of the primary sources of the water we drink every day. And so, when Guatemala soldiers turn a blind eye to Guatemalans entering our forests illegally to engage in environmentally detrimental activities, it has a negative effect on our water supply. The illegal gold-panners use pans to scoop up the ‘flooring’ of freshwater streams in search of fine gold deposits. Some have been successful in their search – but ALL of them cause the water flow to be contaminated with thick, murky, unhealthy sludge.
To paint an even clearer picture, one should recognize that for every 1 tonne of gold panned, 99 tonnes of waste material is also unearthed and introduced to the water (Safe Drinking Water Foundation, n.d.). That includes acids, rocks, sediments and minerals such as lead, arsenic, and cobalt, which are all unhealthy for both animals and humans alike who drink or come into contact with that contaminated water.
Now we can see that there is a direct relation between this Border Dispute and the water we use to drink, cook with and to bathe our children.
The Dispute with Guatemala has been affecting every single Belizean in one way or the other.
In nearing my conclusion, I reference the fact that virtually ALL of our leaders (from the political parties, the churches, the universities, and the grassroots community leaders) agree that the going to the International Court of Justice is the ONLY way this Dispute can come to an end without Belize losing ANY territory or rights. Since our leaders are not experts in International Law, we can take comfort in knowing that the actual experts have also said the same thing, and you can read up on those for yourself. Some examples are,
1. the 1950 Legal Opinion by Manley Hudson who said, “it is highly improbable that the Court would give a judgement in Guatemala´s favour”;
2. the 2001 Legal Opinion by Sir Elihu Lauterpacht et al. who said, “Guatemala´s claim is a paper claim without substance.”; and,
3. Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, a former President of the ICJ, who was a part of the 2001 Legal Opinion just referenced, provided an updated legal opinion and has appeared in a local news report just this week and said, “I think the case of Belize is extremely strong.” In fact, he felt so strongly that he even added, “the people of Belize, would they vote against going to the ICJ, would be to vote against their own interests.”
My personal and sincere appeal to Belizeans is this: fight your political fights through protest, and by supporting your unions and by voting during General Elections. Fight for an end to corruption, and fight for greater government accountability directly with your political leaders. But come April 10th, we should narrow down our focus SOLELY on this critical national issue that is before us which we need to eliminate, and which we have the opportunity to eliminate NOW.
Ignoring the dispute hurts us. Delaying a resolution hurts us. Using the ICJ to further political ambition, as ‘revenge’ for gripes, or as a protest hurts us. However, we stand to benefit immensely the second the dispute comes to an end!
This is the opportunity that we have before us; we don’t know if we would ever get back this opportunity.
When you cast your YES or NO vote, I sincerely encourage everyone to let it be to the following question: Are you ready for the Belize/Guatemala Dispute to end?
I know that I am ready.
Friends, be sure to go out on April 10th and vote for the benefit of Belize.
Justice of the Peace, Patriot, Youth Leader, and Community Activist
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