Posted: Monday, April 15, 2019. 1:50 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: Much as in the House of Representatives on Friday, the Senate’s debate thus far on the Belize (Territorial Dispute) Referendum Bill, 2019 has ignited the passions of those on both sides.
Business Senator Mark Lizarraga raised multiple concerns echoed by many over the past few months – the seeming “rush” of the Government to conduct the referendum; the gaps in the Vital Statistics Unit and elsewhere keeping certain Belizeans from being able to have a say; whether this Bill contradicts or conflicts with existing pieces of legislation including the standing Referendum Act.
The message from the Opposition is clear; Belizeans must and should have a say in the referendum. But Eamon Courtenay echoed party leader John Briceno in demanding that things be done right, citing simple errors in dates for when the Special Agreement and Protocol were ratified (and not by the Senate); the possibility that the Government recognized a need to address the ongoing court case by which they are injuncted from holding the referendum; and not presenting fairly both sides of the referendum argument.
Courtenay cited his own commentary, both to Channel 5 on November 26, 2008 and then to the Organization of the American States a week later and five days before the Special Agreement was signed, that it ought to be presented to the House of Representatives for approval.
And on the matter of disenfranchisement, Courtenay cited details of a letter sent by former Belize City mayor and attorney Darrell Bradley to Chief Elections Officer Josephine Tamai on behalf of a former registering officer complaining that she was directly ordered to place a voter on the voters’ list for March, 2019, to be able to vote in the referendum, even though he presented little documentation to register twice in a few months, because he went over her head to the chief.
Courtenay said Belizeans have not been told that even though there is a strong and arguable case, the possibility has to be made of the court not being predictable, and that there is, however negligible, a chance of losing territory on land and sea to Guatemala and possibly Honduras as well. The referendum is not binding, he said; neither does the bill provide for potential offenses or challenge to the referendum.
Senator Elena Smith revealed that the voting issue has touched her and her family and not only Guatemalans are affected.
But Government Senators Herbert Panton (standing in for Aldo Salazar and Stephen Duncan) countered these arguments, insisting that the right of the people to vote is most paramount, and the Government will live with the result. Duncan even suggested that the House parliamentarians should have withdrawn their court claim if they were serious about allowing the referendum to go ahead.
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