Commentary: Belize, land of the free... for all?
by Frank Edward Paco Smith, Jr. (JP)
The government of Belize, with the support of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, has acceded to the recommendation of the Organisation of American States (OAS), to proceed with a simultaneous referenda involving whether to take the matter of Guatemala’s unfounded claim on Belizean territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The date is set for 6th October 2013 and, given the significance of the matter, it is high time that Belizeans wake up and, as we say in our local parlance, “Sleep wid yo own eye”. Translated, it means, check the facts for yourself and make your decisions based on your own view.
There are some very influential Belizean politicians, diplomats, legal scholars, representatives and political party fanatics of the current, past and aspiring variety, who are touting the “benefits” of Belize taking the matter to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). To this I say hogwash.
Let me begin by stating unequivocally that, if you are a Belizean whether by birth or naturalisation or even a friend of Belize, then ask yourself, “What is the significance of 21st September 1981?” For those of us who hold our Belizean identity as true and being in-line with the elements which go hand in hand with our nation’s independence, there should be no question whatsoever as to the significance of the aforementioned date. In short, it is the day which is recognised, internationally, by virtually all nations and according to international and regional bodies (e.g. United Nations, CARICOM, SICA, ACS and, ironically, even the OAS, as Belize’s Independence Day.
But let us not stop there. Under the UN Charter, Belize is accepted as a full-member, with its territory intact. Now, what does that mean? As I interpret it, Belize is acknowledged as an independent, sovereign territory, WITH ITS BORDERS INTACT. Please note I did not give mention of any sort of “Adjacency Zone”, as the OAS would like Belizeans to believe. No, we have a western border with our neighbour to the west and it is recognised by all who matter.
You see, the entire process to which the GOB has acceded didn’t begin with the signing of the Compromis in 2008. Nor did it start with the recent decision taken this past April to move forward with the simultaneous referenda. It began quite some time ago, in a rather insidious fashion. From a conservative standpoint, one could argue that it truly became institutionalized once the then GOB tacitly accepted the notion that our western border with Guatemala was comprised of a so-called “Adjacency Zone”. Hence, when I speak of this topic, it has absolutely nothing to do with party politics because, as far as I have discerned, both major political parties (the UDP and the PUP) are implicit in this debauchery.
The aforementioned took place under a PUP government and, under the previous UDP government, the then (and current) Minister of Foreign Affairs sought to characterise our border as being artificial or manmade. Well, in his true legal fashion, being the wordsmith that he is, an attempt was made to clarify his statement. Nonetheless, no matter how one slices it, whether artificial, manmade or whatever adjective one chooses to affix, it is our border; one which is internationally recognised and in turn, lends credence to our territorial integrity.
Getting back to the question at hand, “What is the significance of 21st September 1981?” If Belize’s Independence Day holds even an iota of meaning to each Belizean, then its consequence should never be the subject of inquiry. Let me be as clear as possible. Despite the “legal opinions” of our purportedly learned compatriots, who speak to the strength of Belize’s case, as it relates to the Guatemalan claim on our territory, I implore you to allow common sense to prevail.
If, on 21st September 1981, Belize became recognised as a sovereign, independent nation, with its territory intact, why in the hell should we even consider going to court for a decision? The simple fact that the GOB, along with Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, have endorsed such a move is extremely dangerous, for it demonstrates that there exists the possibility that Guatemala’s claim may hold a degree of merit. That, my friends, is utterly disconcerting.
Nonetheless, we (collectively) have empowered the GOB to make such decision. Now it is time for true PEOPLE POWER to prevail. Although I believe it to be both unfortunate and unnecessary, the Belizean electorate has the golden opportunity to let the powers that be, whether in Belmopan, Guatemala City or at the OAS Headquarters in Washington, D.C., know that neither Belize nor its standing shall be subject to the jurisprudence of the so-called learned individuals at the International Court of Justice.
Simply put, it would be insane for Belizeans to vote to go to the ICJ. For most, the fundamental reason should (by now) be clear. There is no reason to seek the validation of Belize’s past and present existence. To do so, would prove foolhardy. In plain and simple English, why enter into a legal proceeding, in a foreign court of arbitration no less, for something that needs not be explored. Please note that I referred to the ICJ as a ‘court of arbitration’. That is significant because such a body is bound to adjudicate the matter by means of mediation and settlement, which inherently implies that something must be given-up by both parties.
I have never been much of a gambler and, when dealing with Belize’s status, my inhibitions are exponentially increased. In layman’s terms, let us use an analogy. It is as though you and your neighbour are at the riverside. Your neighbour decides to go for a swim. Upon this engagement, he/she begins to complain about the salinity of the water. Well, you are safe and secure on the riverbank and have no need, nor inclination to test the waters, so to speak. Why then, would you endeavour to be drawn into going into the river? But beyond that, based on the concerns of your neighbour, there is absolutely no reason to venture in, because you are at the river and its level of salinity is irrelevant. But the important thing to realise is that if you opt to enter the water, therein lays many inherent dangers; none of which you would have been subject to had you remained on land. Chief of amongst them is the possibility of losing something that should be dear to you… your life and/or livelihood.
I will be the first to admit that the above is a very basic attempt to demonstrate why Belize must vote NO TO THE ICJ on 6th October 2013. Yet, it is important that Belizeans and friends of Belize understand that there is no reason for us to jump into the water, because we could very well end up losing some of our territory. The old adage, “…Don’t go into the kitchen, if you don’t want to get burned”, comes to mind.
As for those who advocate going to the ICJ, I shall not cast aspersions on whether or not you are patriotic, for no one has an exclusive franchise on this very significant element of nationhood and nation building. Yet, I will postulate that it may very well be a case of them looking at the forest, but failing to see the trees. I express this notion in a reserved fashion, for good reason, as one of the tactics employed by those who recommend going to the ICJ involves calling for emotions to be taken out of the decision.
Although admittedly a subject of extreme importance to the well-being of Belize, which inherently lends to emotional constructs, I can assure you that more so than emotions, I call on the Belizean electorate to take a common sense view on the matter. Unfortunately common sense is not all too common. The applicability of this notion is heightened, especially when partisan politics is inserted into the mix. Hence, my continued request that Belizeans take off their political blinders and approach this matter from the perspective of being a Belizean (or true friend of Belize) and one who knows the significance and unquestioned nature pertaining to 21st September 1981 and all that we have achieved as an independent, sovereign nation, that is recognised by world bodies and governments with our territorial integrity intact.
In the ensuing months, the GOB, along with its cohorts, will embark upon a public information campaign concerning the impending simultaneous referenda. I take this opportunity to appeal to the Belizean electorate to not be hoodwinked by the eloquent words of those who are legal scholars, elected representatives and current, former and aspiring ministers of government and ambassadors. Indeed, they can sell you dreams, as they do in accordance with our constitution every five years or thereabouts. But it is time for our people to understand that the words of the Hon. Philip S.W. Goldson are more significant than ever – “the time to save your country is before you lose it.”
To all concerned, think about it. Think of what it means to be Belizean. What does it mean to be the lifeblood of a sovereign, independent nation that is already recognised with its territory intact? How foolish it is, to agree to go to a foreign court of arbitration to adjudicate a matter in which you need not be involved but, worse, once you decide to participate, you alone have the most tangible/physical resource(s) to lose?
There are political party fanatics who, once their chosen affiliation were to place a broom stick on the ballot, would attempt to find a means by which to justify voting for that broomstick. Belizeans, you know that is our reality, albeit sad but true. Since it appears that a bipartisan approach will be employed by the powers that be, given our political acumen and tendency to toe the line where politics is concerned, it is all the more worrisome for those who are not inclined to follow the leader. For this reason, I urge you to look at our reality.
My fellow Belizeans and true friends of Belize, please be informed and do not leave the bone for the shadow. Do not be influenced or manipulated by political elements. Use your common sense and make an informed decision.
I titled this article, “Land of the free… for all?”, because when I look at our geo-political history, it beckons one to ponder whether not only our society, due to social degradation, but also our physical national space, is up for grabs! It is thought-provoking statement, given Belize’s history of: political deception, the self-enrichment and self-aggrandizement of and by our elected officials, our traditional dependency on political entities for guidance and the sense of playing “politricks” with issues of national importance. Whether it be: the selling of Belizean passports, the tacit acknowledgement of an “Adjacency Zone” where our western border exists, the buying of votes during the electoral process, the infamous secret accommodation agreement or most recently the nationalisation of key industries to purportedly benefit of the Belizean people…the list goes on. Neither major political party is exempt from scrutiny as it relates to the aforementioned.
The bottom line, this is not an issue to take lightly. Put politics aside and do what is in the best interest of our nation. For me, it is clear that Belize stands the most to lose, by going to the ICJ. It is for these and a plethora of additional reasons that we must educate ourselves and hopefully come to the conclusion that a NO vote to the ICJ is best for Belize… not a select few. This is neither about notoriety nor fame. The crux of the matter is steeped in knowing your Belizean history and identity and not bending to the whims of whomsoever. Do not allow even those to whom you have granted the honour of governing, the opportunity to allow others to question our nation’s territorial integrity, on any front.
Remember, 6th October 2013 is a date that shall prove significant in the annals of Belizean history. Please ensure that you participate in the referenda and make the resounding voice of the people be heard – Vote NO to the ICJ, for the benefit of our nation!
Belize Sovereign and Free – NO ICJ, please check out our Facebook group of the same name. Caribbean News Now