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Belize votes YES to the ICJ but the results say much about partisan politics in Belize

Posted: Friday, May 17, 2019. 1:32 pm CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

Dr. Marcelino Avila: Yes, the referendum result is a historic milestone in the life of Nation Belize. Overall 67%, or 2/3, of the electorate went to the polls, and of those who voted, 55.3% voted YES and 44.7% voted NO. This is a landslide result, a slam dunk, by any measure. In Guatemala, the President was clearly very pleased with our YES outcome, his Excellency congratulated Belize enthusiastically, weird for a sure to-be loser at the ICJ according to our Government (GoB), and weird for us to be congratulated by our archenemy at court. 

Let us look at the voting data to understand what happened and why the people spoke the way they did. It is appropriate to analyse by electoral division because the battle plans and operations are decided and executed at that level. Firstly, there are incredible anomalies in the structuring of divisions. Belize District has 42% of the electoral divisions but only 30% of registered voters, while Cayo District is the inverse with 19% of the divisions and 24% of the voters. Do note that in Belize District the average % who voted YES was 8% higher than the overall average for the country while Toledo was 11% below the overall average. In Corozal, OW and Cayo, the vote was just about 50%/50%. Stann Creek was just below the national average, at 56%. Clearly Belize District, with the help of Stann Creek, decided the referendum vote, a resounding YES. 

Table 1 .  Data per electoral divisions in each district

Districts Divisions Voters ICJ Referendum (average/district
  No % Registered at 8 May 2019 % of total Average/


% who Voted/ division % Who Voted YES/division
Belize 13 42 43,814 30 3,370 71 65
Corozal 4 13 21,043 14 5,260 65 51
Orange Walk 4 13 23,260 16 5,815 67 50
Cayo 6 19 36,210 24 6,045 63 51
St Creek 2 6 12,101 8 6,005 62 56
Toledo  2 6 12,162 8 6,081 58 46
 Country 31 100 148,500 100 4,790 67 57


Those who voted YES. They voted YES because they want to end the claim, they are tired of Guatemala, they believe Belize cannot lose at the ICJ, and they support the GoB’s position. Belize District, which made a big difference as shown above, is mostly populated by the Creole who support GoB, they believe in the UK and USA as our best international allies. Many of the wealthy and powerful in Belize City probably voted and supported the YES. Could it be they are happy with the status quo, same with Belmopan, they are happy with the Government? Or could it be that dependency syndrome – someone else, the ICJ, can solve our problem with Guatemala. Yes, the ICJ can do so, but we may not like the final judgment, but at that point, in 5 to 7 years, we will have no option but to accept it. Let it be known that when one leaves important decisions to others, the result will seldom be what one desires. We ourselves must seek solutions we want to our own problems!         

GoB was only interested in a YES vote, not really in educating the Belizean people. In fact, the more people became better informed, the more they understood the weaknesses, threats and risks of the YES option, as in our personal case, hence the UDP haste to the referendum vote. The probability of GoB losing increased with every delay, injunction or constitutional challenges. Did GoB tell the people the whole truth about the YES option? Did they hide any information about potential weaknesses of our “title”, what Guatemala really wants, the litigation risk of going to the ICJ, whether Guatemala will respect the ICJ judgment if unfavourable to her, will she really respect our borders? The YES leaders and supporters showed zero tolerance for objectors, they just ignored the honest, legitimate questions raised by the NO promoters. The PM himself “threw under the bus” all who raised doubts about the iron-cladness of our case, e.g. Gian Ghandi, Denys Barrow, Bobby Lopez, Lindsay Belisle, Wil Mehaia and other well respected, competent persons. One YES leader even pushed a strange logic: if you vote No, you leave Sedi in charge, so vote YES to put the whole process in the hands of the ICJ.

Most unfair, all the public and external resources for the Referendum Unit went for the YES campaign, none for the NO campaign, and the external donors were fully aware of the biased approach of the GoB campaign. There was very aggressive billboard pr opaganda, and on voting day and the day after, there were reliable reports of widespread voter bribing/ compensating, even though there was a tacit agreement between the major parties to refrain from bribing for this referendum. But, that is democracy in Belize, corrupt democracy, not fair at all. It is sad and shameful, what politicians do to win!   

There was another key factor at play: the size of the divisions. It is unconstitutional and obscene that the total number of voters in the smallest 4 divisions (all in Belize City) is approximately of the same size as that of the largest division, Stann Creek West. If you represent a large division, you have two major problems: getting your message across to every voter and bringing out the vote on election day. What a huge advantage it is to represent a constituency in Belize City (see Table 2). The 4 smallest divisions brought out 13% more of the voters and garnered 18% more of the YES vote.  Also Belize City constituencies can potentially mobilize more resources for their cause because of the wealth concentration of the business community in the City.  In this referendum, the lack of a uniform consensus on the NO campaign in Fort George, Caribbean Shores and Freetown also can explains the YES result compared to Lake Independence.         

Table 2. Comparison of largest vs smallest divisions in number of voters and % who came to vote

 Largest to smallest divisions No. Voters % voters who turned out to vote % Who Voted Yes
No 1 Stann Creek West 7,611 62 53
No 2 Belmopan    7,214 66 57
No 3 Belize Rural South 6,703 63 56
No 4 Cayo Central 6,691 61 52


  Average: 66 Average: 55
No 28 Mesopotamia 2,212 71 76
No 29 Queen Square 2,170 84 81
No 30 Albert 2,109 81 71
No 31 Fort George 1,409 71 64
    Average: 79 Average:73


Another important factor is always the effect of the GoB machinery and resources in an election, a difference of 3% in bringing out vote and 9% in the number of those voting YES. It is extremely difficult to beat the government of the day.    

Table 3. Comparison of UDP-held vs PUP-held divisions

Constituencies No. % Voted (Average) % Voted YES (Average)
UDP held 20 68 60
PUP held 11 65 51


Those who voted NO:  How about the 43% – why did they vote NO? Per Table 4, four divisions share the border with Guatemala: 2 in Toledo and 2 in Cayo (Cayo North and Cayo West). Clearly their experience on the border with Guatemala played into their decision. It was observed by the Commonwealth observers that the NO voters were more passionate, enthusiastic and engaging with others. Could it be that they felt they were armed with more data? Did the dominant Latino/Mestizo/ Maya culture in the north have anything to do with the results in Corozal and Orange Walk? No doubt the PUP leadership and organization played a decisive role in all these divisions who voted NO, especially Lake Independence.      

Table 4. Results in border constituencies in terms of the NO Vote and the YES Vote.


Constituencies Registered Voters % who Voted % NO Vote % Voted YES
Toledo West 6188 60 54 45
Toledo East 5974 57 52 47
Cayo North 6133 63 53 46
Cayo West 5355 65 54 45
Orange Walk North 6505 62 53 47
Orange Walk Central 5015 72 53 47
Corozal South East 5789 64 52 47
Corozal Bay 4104 62 52 48
Lake Independence  3768 66 55 42
Average 5,425 63 53 46


Those who did not vote: Why did 33% stay away from the polls? How many thought the ICJ issue was not important or that their vote would not make a difference, that there would be no “incentive”, or could not take time out from work or afford the cost of travel, and/or that their no-show was protesting that the political parties made the ICJ referendum a partisan issue? We heard whispers of all the above.

We knew of those who wanted to vote, but they were not allowed to do so – the bona fide Belizeans in the diaspora, at least some 75,000 of them, some of them students abroad. They are patriotic, they would definitely have changed the result and because of this, they were intentionally kept out. Putting truth to power, our diaspora has roots here, they have family here, they send money here and invest here because they are planning to come back. Why not – they have our DNA, they are our brothers and sisters. We need them to grow Belize, to fight at the ICJ, and to take our Belize to the next level of development. Why keep them out at a huge loss, when it would be fairly easy to organize their participation with today’s internet and communication technologies.  

Moving Forward: A nationally unified approach to the ICJ is possible but not probable, since politicians are already focusing on the imminent village council and national elections. GoB and the other parties will do just enough to show token support but no real commitment. Unless and until we can look beyond partisan politics and policies, national polices and priorities will have to take backseat in the strategies of those which are driven by victory at the polls even if at the expense of undermining the democratic processes. This conclusion is amply supported by this referendum process and results!   

The ICJ process is just starting. The real, legitimate issues raised by the NO vote promoters are still pending and will assume more importance as the real work to the ICJ begins. Guatemala is happy, it wanted a YES vote, and now it is itching to go to the ICJ, already assembling a first-class multidisciplinary team for the ICJ process. We must do the same and try to do even better, if we wish to achieve our goal at the ICJ. The proof of the pudding is in the eating! God bless Belize, God bless us!


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