It is known that there are many in the leadership of the People’s United Party, excluding its leader John Briceño, who are opposed to taking Guatemala’s territorial claim to the International Court of Justice. Because of the divergence of internal views, Briceño’s position has been for a conscious vote. Well earlier today, the Belize Progressive Party and a group of activists surprisingly coalesced with the southern caucus to say ‘NO’ to the I.C.J.  It was a rare undertaking, but it happened in Belmopan on an issue of huge national importance over which Belizeans will vote on April tenth, 2019.  The P.U.P. southern caucus, led by Deputy Leader Mike Espat, was joined by area reps and standard bearers from the west, all who are against taking the territorial claim to the International Court of Justice.   So what’s next for the grouping? News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The coming together of politicians from opposing organizations for a mutual cause, in this case, members of the People’s United Party and the Belize Progressive Party, is a rare occasion.  What unites them, particularly the southern and western caucuses of the P.U.P., is a near-unanimous position against going to the International Court of Justice for a resolution on the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala.

Julius Espat, Area Representative, Cayo South

“I am a definite no; I have no problem saying that.  I have said it [and] I have been public with that, it’s just that we believe that the people that believe that it should be a no vote should also be given an opportunity to congregate.  We should also be given an opportunity to express our opinion and we are not seeing that.  The yes vote sponsored by the government and all the financiers is definitely for a yes vote and it clouds the no vote position and so we believe that we live in a democratic country and we believe as elected representatives we have a right to be able to sit and speak to any other groups that have similar opinions and so we are exercising that right.”

Sitting at that table is Wil Maheia.  Not only is the Deputy Political Leader of the B.P.P. a firebrand, he is also a founding member of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, an activist group known for its staunch position on the Sarstoon River hostility.  The latest nationalist effort is called the Belize Peace Movement.

Wil Maheia, Deputy Political Leader, B.P.P.

“The Belize Peace Movement is actually a movement with Belizeans who are opposed to going to the I.C.J., to put it simply.  And Belizeans from across the country, it’s not a political movement, it’s a movement of Belizeans who are concerned about the way this country is going right now and right now we are focusing on the I.C.J. and not going to the I.C.J.  But also the peace movement is about what the name says, bringing peace to this country.”

The discussion held today brought a cross-section of Belizeans together, forming a unified front against taking the age-old matter before the world court for adjudication, based on what is at stake for the country.  Within the People’s United Party, despite each member being encouraged to vote based on conscience, the issue remains controversial.

Dr. Louis Zabaneh, P.U.P. Standard Bearer, Dangriga

“Our party leader was informed that we would be at this meeting and more power to him.  I think the position that the party has taken which is that we vote our conscience ought to be applauded and I think our party leader has shown to the country that he has these qualities where he respects other people who had different views.  That, I think, ought to be something very positive for our people, but because of how we do politics in Belize, we try to find things that seem to be dividing.”

…and there is presently no other subject of concern as divisive as this one, an issue that seems to split the opposition party which is yet to take a formal position on whether or not the country should go to the Hague, following the April 2019 referendum.

Mike Espat, Area Representative, Toledo East

“I can’t force anybody to say yes, none of us.  This is an open election, people will decide what they want to do.  We can only advise, that is all and my advice is no, plain and simple.”

Oscar Requeña, Area Representative, Toledo West

“The party met and we had an extensive discussion, I mean coming out of our meetings, out of our national executive meeting, the decision was made that we are going to vote our conscience.  I think it is important to lay that on the table because the party leader has gone on record to say that we are all entitled to our own individual positions and we are making that out.  As leaders, we need to speak to other leaders in this country who I believe share common interest; common issues and I think that is what we are doing today.”

Those common interests go beyond party political lines, an awareness that is recognized by Maheia whose political opponent in Toledo West is Mike Espat.

Wil Maheia

“He’s a politician, I am considered a politician at times, but at the end of the day we are Belizeans and I think that I have to really respect the Honorable Mike Espat for coming to the meeting and thanking him for coming to the meeting because he has put country above party and that’s kind of like a rare thing for these hardcore politicians to put party above country.  Right now we are putting country above everything and everybody that you see here today, we have different political views but Belize is first and foremost for us.”

A Move That is to Be Welcomed

The decision for members of the country’s oldest political organization to join forces with the B.P.P. is unconventional.  It’s a move that Cayo South Area Representative Julius Espat says people have been clamoring for.  Other members of the southern and western caucuses whose position is NO, including Stann Creek West Area Representative Rodwell Williams and Cayo North Standard Bearer Michel Chebat, were noticeably absent.  But those present say that the notion is to be welcomed in the name of nationalism.

Isani Cayetano

“Can you explain the decision or the reason behind joining forces with these other groups to come together to take a singular position?”

Julius Espat, Area Representative, Cayo South

“I think that’s incredible that we can have different organizations with different, I mean the most incredible one is Mike.  He has one of his political opponents here agreeing on something, that’s incredible for Belize, even more than myself and so I think that’s positive for Belize.  Belizeans have been asking for this for the longest, that we put political positions aside and we look at the national issues, so when we do it I don’t see the negativity in it I personally don’t.”

Mike Espat, Area Representative, Toledo East

“I can’t argue with Wil with his approach.  That’s his approach, I cannot argue with him and it may not be the right approach, it might be a very dangerous approach but that’s his approach.”

Reporter

“But in this cause, in this discussion today, you all have found some common ground.”

Mike Espat

“Yeah, we came here to listen, we came here to learn.  We came here to find out how these people feel and why they feel that way in regards to the and this is important because it affects every single Belizean and it affects this country that belongs to us.  So that’s my position.”

Isani Cayetano

“You’ve taken a completely different view from the government and the government is running a robust campaign to say yes to the I.C.J. in essence.  How do you counter that in your constituency where your position will be then passed on to the masses of your voters?”

Mike Espat

“This is a very difficult election.  Number one, you’ve got fanaticism, both political parties have their fanatics and when their leader tells them to go one way that is the way they go whether they are right or wrong.”

Where Does the P.U.P. Stand on I.C.J.?

The People’s United Party does not have consensus on the I.C.J. matter so was the attendance of several of its elected members and standard bearers sanctioned by its leadership?  It is a question that was put to Cayo South Area Representative Julius Espat following the meeting, in the context of Party Leader John Briceño’s personal position to say yes to the I.C.J.

Reporter

“Is it a matter of concern for you that your own party leader, from what he told us in the last interview, seems disposed to supporting the I.C.J. and we know that Stuart Leslie is his advisor-in-chief and he is the I.C.J. man?”

Julius Espat, Area Representative, Cayo South

“Well those are two people that you have spoken to out of sixty-five thousand people that support the People’s United Party, so I think that you have to be careful when you say that.  The party leader has a right to his personal opinion, but the party also has a right to the party’s position which is made up of a majority vote.  So let’s call the vote and see who or what’s the party position and I think he will respect it.  You see, this is a democracy and I am repeating it over and over, we live in a democracy but we have not exercised it.  We believe that one man when he becomes prime minister, makes all decisions and we assume that one man when he is on opposition makes all decisions and that is an erroneous way of thinking.  We live in a democracy and we have to push that, that every representative and every person that supports the party also has a right and so we are pushing for that.  It’s a new way of thinking in Belize.  It is a new way of looking for the future of Belize and we are looking at the most important decision that we have to make as Belizeans and so we shouldn’t be afraid.  It should not be politicized, it should be what comes from our hearts and based on the investigation that we are doing.  Everything that I have done to convince myself yes or no has led me to a NO.”

Channel 5