How naive were we to believe that government would ever provide resources for a balanced educational campaign going up to the Referendum, despite their promise in 2013. What made us think that, after signing the Special Agreement with Guatemala, in 2008, to take the matter to the ICJ, that government would ever consider allowing counter arguments equal space to show why there are problems with the Special Agreement. Wouldn’t this be counter-productive on their part?
The Government of Belize believes it is fulfilling its responsibility, by international standards, to provide its citizens with valuable factual information before the Referendum. So while they have launched a “be informed” campaign with only one side presented, in their view, it can still be justified that Belizeans were given all the “fact” they needed to make an informed decision. And of course, the only informed decision is, a “yes to the ICJ”
But there are loud voices of dissent that are present but are under resourced and depend on outlets like Facebook, newspaper articles, morning talk shows, and community forums to voice their dissenting views. Nowhere will you see sophisticated TV commercials on the no vote. Nor will you find massive posters throughout the country saying ‘no’; not even one of the icon of the nos, Mr. Goldson, saying: “The time to save your country is before you lose it” Not a banner, a poster or a placard. And you won’t find schools being told to direct their student assemblies where the ‘nos’ are the main presenters nor are the ‘nos’ invited to all presentations made by the Referendum unit.
Clearly the playing field is uneven and the promises of 2013 that Belizeans would be given access to all sides of the argument so that they could make an informed decision on the Referendum, has been set aside for blatant one-sided propaganda.
But it’s not only the ‘nos’ that are not given space to express themselves but also those who are crying out for more time to get a better understanding of what they are being asked to vote for. This is a loud voice that is brushed off casually as, “it’s your fault that you didn’t read all the information that has been out there”. By doing this the government is attempting to absolve itself of the responsibility to ensure that people have a good grasp of what they are going to vote on and what the implications are. No doubt some will say, what good will delaying the vote be, six months, six years, it will be the same. But this dismissive response is part of the problem.
Delaying the vote to a reasonable date is not a futile exercise, especially if attention is given to specific issues to be addressed during the interim of a year or two. This is one of the most historic vote in the history of the country likened to historic decision of 1798 and I can see the correlation on a purely existential level. We should not be plagued by immediacy and think delaying the Referendum is somehow sacrilegious, we are a sovereign nation and have the right to say: we have some in-house business that we have to deal with before we decide to proceed to a Referendum. This would demonstrate the principle of self-determination and that we could exercise our right as a member of the United Nations to take as much time as is necessary to get it right.
Here are some things we can work on in the interim:
• taking the Special Agreement to the House
• correcting the issues at Vital Statistics
• passing legislation to allow Belizeans abroad to vote in the referendum
• Correct constitutional issues regarding Belizean-Guatemalan right to vote
• Political parties must publically stand down immediately and withdraw from promoting a party vote to promoting a conscience vote.
• Expanded the education program to be equally accessibly to both sides of the argument; dissent must be respected and given ventilation
This vail of secrecy and mistrust must be lifted to let the fresh air of trust and confidence and clarity back into the conversation to give our people a breathing space to exhale the negative elements that has clouded the atmosphere surrounding this debate.