Hardcore Politics: The Dying Breed of Belizean Politicians by Debbie Curling 3/28/2019

debbie curling

Debbie Curling

As I watched the budget debate in the House this week, I was struck by the behavior of some of our mostly male-dominated, elected leaders, ironically being corralled by a lone female House Speaker trying to keep their behavior in check.  On the UDP side, some of these hardcore politicians appeared polished while others not so much, which made me wonder why a leader would choose to have some of the latter on his ticket as representatives of his government?

The less polished ones came across as thugs hurling abuse at the other side, went off topic and made no sense while acting as attack dogs for the party (I assume).  They ranted about corruption and continued their projections, ad infinitum, at the other side, while deflecting blame and defending themselves in a rather twisted manner.  Witnessing this spectacle playing out on television, I found myself vacillating between disbelief, anger, shame, concern, and incredulity.  To be fair, I have also seen similar behavior from some on the PUP side in the past so they are not off the hook in my criticism of politicians behaving badly; the behavior is all too familiar!

I listened as one politician castigated Kareem Musa for daring to think differently from his father.  Must we not as individuals evolve and change our opinions, our behavior and belief systems as we learn and grow?  Heaven forbid I should still hold the same views of my parent’s generation.  I would still have the mindset of a strict, austere Victorian era-mentality, living in a world that has left me so far behind in these our modern-day sensibilities; a society that has moved so far away from how our parents grew up, raised us, taught us, and guided us within the boundaries of their knowledge and society at the time.

This is not to say we must change our core principles and behavior, but one must adapt to changes in our society; one must evolve or get left behind.  I posit a few simple questions to prove my point: do you type on an old-fashioned typewriter like your parents did, or do you use a computer that is much more efficient?  Did our parents (or their parents) have any clue about climate change and its devastating effects on the environment?  How many people’s lives have changed due to scientific discoveries within the last 100 years?  Truthfully, I know that I eat healthier foods and exercise more than my parents ever did so to accuse Kareem of disloyalty to his father for daring to think differently is an absurdity mired in ignorance.  I remain impressed that Kareem sat there in quiet dignity waiting for his moment to do the people’s business, but that’s another topic for another time!

Old-guard politicians need to stop making fools of themselves in the public arena by sinking to this level of stupidity because this hardcore, hard-hitting mentality no longer resonates with this generation.  We are tired of it, but many politicians remain stuck in a generational mindset that is no longer effective, so drunk on their power monopoly that they underestimate the will of the people.  To paraphrase Michelle Obama, you don’t have to go low; you can go high!  And when you are in our House debating issues that affect our lives, go high and stick to the topic.  This is not your moment to unleash your rage, or score brownie points, or grandstand.  You are there to do OUR business, which brings me to the point of my writing.

If we are to move forward as a nation in a dynamic, global arena that is rapidly changing and evolving, we as a nation cannot remain stagnant, sitting in this cesspool of bad behavior by politicians in which paying for votes get you elected and make you feel emboldened.  Belizeans, your vote is your most precious right; it puts the power back into your hands; it gives you power over politicians who are, or might be, abusing you; the privilege is yours to put them in or take them out. On voting day, show up!  It is your opportunity to choose your elected officials and to keep them accountable not just for their behavior, but also their use of the public purse.

If you are lucky enough to live in a country where you have the right to vote, let your vote be counted.  This is not about rabid loyalty to party and individuals; this is about your country; it is about YOU and YOUR vote to effect change.  It’s about the lives of you and your children not just for one day, but for the future.  Use your vote purposefully; don’t sell it!  We as a people need to up our game by cultivating global leaders who can represent us at home and abroad, manage our interests and finances, and behave effectively and dignified anywhere in the world as soon as they step off the plane.

Belizeans, we need to get excited about a new generation of progressive, assertive thinkers entering the political leadership in Belize, and this MUST include the voices of women.  I am heartened to hear some, but we need more, inspiring women rallying to the cause of progressive agendas: gender equality and violence against women and more; there is so much more we need to do.  This week I read a post about a Mayan woman giving birth in the jungles of Punta Gorda, men carrying her in a make-shift hammock to get her to safety, simply because this and previous governments have neglected to give them a 5-mile road in and out of their remote village.  Yet we are spending millions on a referendum.

THIS should anger all of us and not just women!  It is shameful and heartbreaking, but only when women take control will things change for us.  How much does it really cost to send some dump trucks full of sand and gravel to give these people a road?  Men should not be making decisions (or not) that impact us; it is our responsibility to demand to be heard.  Do you notice in Belize how men behave at a party?  As soon as they arrive, they leave the women sitting in isolation and go huddle together at the bar, hanging out with their bros, talking man talk.  I hazard a guess they are not discussing how to solve the world’s problems.  But what does that tell us about our society?  To be clear, I’m not trying to disrupt their bromance, but my point is…women need to come together just like men, stop tearing each other down, and get to work TOGETHER.  Let us be the change we want to see and stop admiring these problems from afar.  A woman alone has power, but together we have impact; there is power in the pack!

This is a time of transition in Belize and change will only come about if all of us put aside party politics and stand up for what is right and what we truly believe in.    To the smart women who are competing for space in this male-dominated, hardcore political game, I say be assertive, stand your ground, demand a seat at the table.  If they don’t allow you a seat, create your own table!  Change might not happen overnight, but if we keep pounding away at it, eventually it will happen.  We should not be our parent’s generation blindly following along with party politics.  Our country’s future depends on all of us being free-thinking individuals armed with our right to vote.

A new generation of progressive thinkers will change Belize and it MUST also include the diaspora.  Despite what these hardcore politicians tell you, the diaspora is not the enemy or a threat as some would like you to believe.  The diaspora might not be physically there, politicians might make it difficult for us to come home to vote, but this current government has disenfranchised many of you at home from voting too so we feel your pain.  Nothing will stop us from fighting for our families, for Belize and for the future of our country.  NOTHING and NOONE! Some politicians might want to count us out and marginalize us, but we are not going anywhere.  Our voices will be heard.  It takes courage, commitment and the will of The People to effect change.  We are with you!

Let us move forward together, but first we must hit the reset button and vote NO to the ICJ on April 10th.

A Theoretical Analysis: Why We MUST Vote NO to the ICJ Rabbit Hole – Opinion piece by Debbie Curling

debbie curling

Debbie Curling

Many Belizeans continue to be puzzled by the constant drumbeat of YES to the ICJ being promoted, not just by the Government of Belize, but their surrogates (lawyers and past Foreign Ministers among them) who continue to wax poetic about Belize having an “ironclad case” therefore we must go.  To be clear, no ethical attorney should ever give a client, let alone a nation, ironclad reassurances simply because…no amount of brilliant lawyering can predict, or get inside the head of a Judge or Jury to determine how individuals may think, or rule on the merits of a case.  None!

GOB and their surrogates are pulling out all the stops for a YES vote invoking the words “our children” (playing on our rawest emotions and basic instincts to protect our innocents), telling us we owe it to the next generation to solve it NOW.  Let’s not kick the can down the road they cry; the facts and his-story is on our side, and if not NOW, when?  They posit that the international community will turn on us and aid will stop flowing (perhaps into their corrupt pockets) if we don’t try to solve this NOW!  Guatemala will invade us, the incursions by Guatemalans in Chiquibul will escalate and, if we are to take them seriously, our nation is doomed to a life of misery.  The fearmongering list goes on and on and on…  Hell, GOB even dug deep and uprooted Assad, the Shoman, ensconced in Cuba for many years, parading him in front of us as the preeminent voice and scholar on all things ICJ related.

But I would argue that this so called “ironclad case” our politicians and some of Belizean legal eagles speak of is nothing more than a rabbit hole that has been engineered for quite some time.  Let’s start from the beginning shall we: in the 1859 Treaty between Her Majesty’s Government and Guatemala, Guatemala agreed to recognize the borders of British Honduras, now Belize, and Great Britain promised to build a road from Guatemala to Punta Gorda, BZ that would give Guatemala access to the Caribbean Sea; no territory was ceded and our borders were clearly defined.

But much of the period after and between 1940 and 1981 saw Guatemala once again assert its claim to Belize over and over again, occasionally even threatening to invade us, but backing down at the sight of UK military reinforcements.

Nevertheless, one hundred and three years later in 1962, the United Kingdom and Guatemala entered into negotiations again, this time with delegates from Belize permitted to participate in the Anglo-Guatemalan negotiations; Belize was not yet self-governing.  The main thrust of the negotiations was to seek a solution to the dispute through economic cooperation.  In 1965, Britain in consultation with Belize agreed with Guatemala to have a mediator appointed by the United States Government. The U.S. mediator, Bethuel M. Webster, delivered his report in 1968 which became known as the Webster Proposals, a draft treaty with the main provisions quoted below (the bold emphasis is mine):

  1. Article 1 of the draft treaty provided that British Honduras would be granted independence under the name of Belize not later than 31st December 1970.(82)
  2. Article 2 obliged Belize and Guatemala to grant to each other’s goods free entry through their ports and free transit through predetermined routes of each country.(83)
  • Under Article 3, the port of Belize city would be declared a duty-free port for the benefit of Guatemala and placed under the control of a supra-national Authority. Guatemala was obliged, at the request of Belize, to provide similar facilities for Belizean goods.(84)
  1. Article 4 guaranteed nationals of each country free movement in the territory of the other as well as the right to the same treatment as was accorded by each country to its own citizens. This included the right to freely acquire and dispose of personal real property.(85)
  2. Under Article 9, Guatemala and Belize agreed to establish a supra-national Authority to be charged with the responsibility of carrying out certain powers and functions including the supervision and control of free ports, as well as the designation of transit routes. Britain was required to pay to the Authority US $4m. to assist the Authority to perform its functions under the Treaty.(86)
  3. Article 10 provided that Belize, would join CACM before 31st December 1970 with financial assistance from Britain.(87)
  • Article 13 obliged Guatemala and Belize to consult and cooperate with each other on such matters of mutual concern in foreign affairs as may be raised by either government.(88)
  • According to Article 14, the defense of Belize would be handled within the framework of the Inter-American Treaty of 1947, to which Belize would accede. In that event it would not be necessary for Belize to conclude bilateral defense arrangements with any other country.(89)

The kicker and deal breaker in this master plan was that “it placed the defense, foreign affairs and, to a certain extent, the economy of Belize under Guatemalan control after independence.  The normal channel of communication to international bodies by the Belize government was to be through the Guatemalan government.  (…)  In sum, it is believed that the proposals exclusively committed Belize to a hemispheric destiny as a satellite or department of Guatemala.”   You can read the Webster Proposals here in its entirety: http://www.belizenet.com/bzeguat/chap7.html

Belizeans, not amused, stepped in to save our country!  Upon disclosure of the Webster Proposals, Belizeans became livid, took to the streets, and completely rejected the proposals derailing it, forcing the proposed treaty to die a natural death.  But did it?  I am more than convinced after reading these proposals, and comparing it to future proposals and agreements, that the Webster proposals have greatly influenced future negotiations with Guatemala, and in many ways opened the door to the flexibility of movement we now see at our shared borders, and the integration of Guatemalans not only in our body politic, but how many are now living in and shaping our society.  If you pay close attention, you will see how the rabbit hole emerges when you realize the master plan envisioned for Belize and Guatemala is slowly coming to fruition as the blending and integrating of Guatemalans into our Belizean culture is fused, or is it the other way around?

In 1981 as Belize moved towards independence, I would argue the Heads of Agreement was just a softer, gentler re-mixed 2.0 version of the Webster Proposals.  By all appearances, as long as our fearless leaders were not conceding “one blade of grass” to Guatemala, everything else remained on the table.  The Heads of Agreement fell just short of ceding territory, but had it prevailed, would have awarded a whole host of privileges to Guatemala.  Henceforth, Belize continued down the path of conceding more and more and bit by bit.  Some HOA clauses are listed below, but can be viewed here in its entirety; the highlights are mine along with the bracketed side notes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heads_of_Agreement_(1981)

  1. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall recognize the independent state of Belize as an integral part of Central America, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with its existing and traditional frontiers subject, in the case of Guatemala, to the completion of the treaties necessary to give effect to these Heads of Agreement. (no treaties; no recognition)
  2. Guatemala shall be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with its rights over the seabed thereunder. (we are hell bent on giving them sea and seabed)
  3. Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes, and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the Cayes, as may be agreed. (Guatemala in their ever-changing demands are now including as far north as the Silk Cayes; these islands are the livelihood of the South for fishing and tourism)
  4. Guatemala shall be entitled to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda.
  5. The road from Belize City to Guatemala shall be improved; a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier shall be completed. Guatemala shall have freedom of transit on these roads.
  6. Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. (this confirms we have oil?  Is this whole charade about oil?)
  7. In areas to be agreed, an agreement shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing. (an open ended tricky one!)
  8. There shall be areas of the seabed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.  (economic opportunities; where there’s oil, there’s trouble)
  9. Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain development projects of mutual benefit. (drill, baby, drill)
  10. Belize shall be entitled to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize. (any takers?)
  11. Belize and Guatemala shall sign a treaty of cooperation in matters of security of mutual concern, and neither shall permit its territory to be used to support subversion against the other.
  12. Except as foreseen in these Heads of Agreement, nothing in these provisions shall prejudice any rights of interests in Belize or of the Belizean people.
  13. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall enter into agreements designed to reestablish full and normal relations between them.
  14. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall take the necessary action to sponsor the membership of Belize in the United Nations, Organization of American States, Central American organizations and other international organizations.
  15. A joint Commission shall be established between Belize, Guatemala and the United Kingdom to work out details to give effect to the above provisions. It will prepare a treaty or treaties for signature by the signatories to these Heads of Agreement.
  16. The controversy between the United Kingdom and Guatemala over the territory of Belize shall therefore be honorably and finally ended. (hmmm…an unfounded claim is now reduced to a “controversy”?)

Belizeans not amused by their foolery took to the streets again!  “Public reaction was muted at first, but the Public Service promptly denounced the agreement as a giveaway and promised strike action. The Government’s pleas that nothing had actually been agreed on fell on deaf ears.  Another group responsible for the anti-Heads reaction was the Belize Action Movement, a youth movement featuring young people who saw the need to fight to ensure that Belize did not fall into the hands of Guatemala. The BAM and PSU coordinated a nationwide strike and protest on March 20” and Belizeans once again stepped in to save our country.

I would argue the Governments of Belize (both past and present) have capitulated to Guatemala and continue to compromise Belize at every juncture.  In 1992, the Government of Belize took us further down the rabbit hole.  GOB consulted with the Opposition and introduced a bill in the National Assembly that would allow Guatemala access to the high seas “as a sign of good faith on the part of Belize to pursue negotiations with the Republic of Guatemala in search of a settlement of the outstanding dispute.”  Once again, our leaders fell over on their backs and capitulated ceding maritime waters in order to open negotiations with Guatemala?  Imagine that!  Before negotiations even begin, our fearless leaders concede maritime waters to show good faith?  Let that sink in.

Guatemala then declared that “it recognizes the right of the Belizean people to self-determination” and announced it will continue “negotiating and will exhaust all legal and proper procedures which lead to a definitive settlement of the territorial dispute.”  Britain then agreed to commit 22.5 million pounds sterling to extend the road-network linking the two countries, Belize and Guatemala announced the establishment of diplomatic relations, everyone declared diplomatic and political victory, and after the kumbaya moment was over, the original bill then became an “amended bill” in which, you guessed it, Belize conceded AGAIN.  The amended bill manifested itself as the Maritime Areas Act of 1992 which “declared a territorial sea of twelve miles, except for an area in the south from the Sarstoon river, Belize’s southern boundary with Guatemala, to the Ranguana Caye where a territorial sea of only three miles is proclaimed.”

In a nutshell, Belize is entitled to 12 miles but capitulated and ceded 9 to Guatemala, leaving us with only 3.  Which begs the questions: on whose behalf are these jesters acting?  Whose interests are they serving?  I’ve yet to see a benefit in favor of Belize.  If these capitulations and concessions don’t make you question their motives, or spit fire and venom, I don’t know what will!  It is abundantly clear that as Belize capitulates and concedes, Guatemala edges closer and closer to its ultimate goal.  Do you see a pattern emerging yet?  But wait, there’s more!

Another noteworthy section of the Maritime Areas Act often overlooked perhaps because it is so convoluted is the Delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone, Sections 6 and 7 (3 through 4) being subject to 6, that delimits Belize even further, “less than 200 nautical miles” to be exact, aside from the 12-mile exception already conceded.  In Section 7, Sub-sections (3 and 4 a through c) are particularly significant: (a) provides that “Belize shall claim less than what it is otherwise entitled to claim under international law, or” or (b) the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil that would otherwise be included therein by virtue of Section 6, or; or (c) there shall be joint exploitation or participation within Belize’s exclusive economic zone shall be subject to approval of the electors in a referendum.”  I am completely baffled by the wording of (c) which appears to mention another referendum among other things, but (a) and (b) are pretty clear: Belize shall claim less and the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil.  Basically, Belize agreed to be left with nothing but crumbs and agreed even further that our “exclusive” crumbs was subject to limitations.  If one considers that there is oil and minerals under our seabed, crumbs is what Belize will get (if any)!

In a published Joint Statement between the Governments of Belize and Guatemala dated July 31th, 1992 regarding the “negotiation of a definitive agreement to end [our] differences,” it also states that “such an agreement will only be definitive and valid after it has been approved through a referendum” in accordance with Guatemala’s political constitution, and in Belize in accordance with the “political commitment existing between the Government and the Opposition.” It is noted that while Guatemala is following their Constitution to the letter, it is clear our jesters are working in consortium with each other, are playing it fast and loose, and display no accountability anyone or anything!

As a point of reference, did you notice the date this statement was signed by Said Musa?  This is not a joke; it is so stated I swear.  Let’s label this a lawful error because we are not quite sure on what day this statement was actually signed.  Was it signed on July 30th or July 31st?  Mistakes like these don’t generally stand up well in Court because it speaks to the validity of the document as well as the carelessness of the signatories so don’t laugh, it might just be our saving grace. This particular date is significant because of its disclosure that we are headed to the ICJ with a referendum coming down the pike!

As I further scrutinize the Joint Statement, I noticed that while Belize and Guatemala were “strengthening the bonds of mutual cooperation,” apparently a disturbing revelation suddenly emerged: “Guatemala and Belize, as two sovereign States, have not yet signed a treaty between them finally establishing their land and maritime boundaries and that such a treaty is one element of the expected outcome of the negotiations.”  May I ask what the other elements are?  Also alluded to at the bottom of the Joint Statement is “existing reference monuments” on which the “execution and implementation will be based.”  Where do these “monuments” exist?  Where on paper can we find them?  Or are they shrouded in mystery?  They seem important!  

 Two years later, in a letter dated 4 March, 1994 from the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala addressed to the Secretary-General, he makes reference to the Belize-Guatemalan Joint Declaration also dated 31 July 1992 in which he states, “both States recognize that their territorial and maritime boundaries are not defined.”  Really?  This is outrageous!  How did we go from an 1859 Treaty that clearly defined our borders to both states “recognize they are not defined”?  This is an outright betrayal of our trust by our leadership.

But there seems to be some kind of disconnect here: the date the Guatemalan FM cites on the Joint Declaration is the same date on the Joint Statement, but the Statement speaks of “establishing” boundaries while the Declaration “recognize” undefined borders.  Both ideas are equally compromising and repulsive, but I highlight the differences in wording because it suggests the existence of two separate documents?  Is there another document or is the FM conflating the two?  Did they sign a Joint Declaration and released a Joint Statement on the same day perhaps?  Could the “Declaration” contain the monuments?  We don’t know, do we?

What I do know is: all declarations are statements, but not all statements are declarations.  A declaration (also called a sworn statement or a statement under penalty of perjury) is a document that recites facts pertinent to a legal proceeding.  It is very similar to an affidavit, but unlike an affidavit, it is not witnessed and sealed by an official such as a notary public.  I have seen a copy of the Joint Statement and I can assure you, it is not sealed or signed by a notary, but would the Declaration be?  Who knows?  We are too deep inside the rabbit hole is all we know!

In 2003, the Secretary General of the OAS jumped in the fray and took Belize further down the rabbit hole with discussions “aimed at concluding an Agreement to Establish a Transition Process and Confidence Building Measures between Belize and Guatemala within the framework of a just, equitable and permanent solution to the territorial differendum between the two countries.”  (Is differendum even a word?  Google it!)  Belize once again capitulated by now agreeing to move our borderline conceding but not totally conceding ground by way of an “Adjacency Zone.”  A cleverly slick move by any stretch of the imagination!

The Parties agreed that the General Secretariat shall establish an office in the Adjacency Zone with the following functions:

  • To organize and foster community-to-community contacts across the Adjacency Line;
  • To develop and execute activities designed to improve relations, confidence and cooperation among the inhabitants of the Adjacency Zone;
  • To verify incidents which may occur in the Adjacency Zone;
  • To verify transgressions by the Parties of the confidence-building measures contained in this Agreement;

The reasons given are as phony as the paper it’s written on, but you can read more here: http://www.oas.org/sap/peacefund/belizeandguatemala/Agreement2005.pdf

I am completely baffled why, and what merited an Adjacency Zone in order to “confidence build,” but Belize once again capitulated and compromised a piece of territory to Guatemala, and now Guatemalans are occupying it without enforcement!  This brazen move is significant because it led us further down the rabbit hole: five years later in 2008, Belize and Guatemala agreed to “submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).”  I would argue this whole spectacle was nothing more than a ruse: while Belizeans got upset and focused on the Adjacency Zone, we overlooked the most egregious, compromising aspect of this “confidence building” measure: the terms and conditions stipulated therein if Guatemala wins at the ICJ, but stipulates nothing if Belize prevails.  Article 5, of the Special Agreement, often referred to as The Compromis for good reason, is really what should send shivers up and down our collective spines, because in my opinion the fix is in.

Here’s what Article 5 states, and the Government of Belize agreed on: “The Parties shall accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith.  In particular, the Parties agree that, within three months of the date of the Judgment of the Court, they will agree on the composition and terms of reference of a Bi-national Commission to carry out the demarcation of their boundaries in accordance with the decision of the Court.”  I would argue the assumption and idea behind this wording is significant because, based on how the ICJ works, they can rule but cannot necessarily enforce, so from the standpoint of Guatemala, it is important to add an extra safety net by securing in advance an “ironclad” and binding agreement from our jesters that does not provide an escape route for Belize!  I will address how the ICJ works later.


Subsequently, in 2013 Belize and Guatemala agreed to a joint ICJ referendum date, but Guatemala postponed the date and pushed to rectify our referendum threshold claiming that because Belize changed its Referendum Act to a 60% threshold, they would not go.  Guatemala wanted a simple majority and, yes, you guessed it, Belize once again capitulated and changed our referendum to a 51% threshold: a simple majority!

If anybody, after ready this chronology of events that leads us to the ICJ, thinks the people of Belize are not being bamboozled into going deeper into the rabbit hole, I have land in Florida I’d like to sell you.  I would argue the road to the ICJ has been calculated, methodical, disingenuous, and deceptive.  I conclude this simply because our leaders cannot possibly be this collectively stupid, naïve, incompetent or unknowing so we must ask ourselves what compels their behavior?  It is abundantly clear that time after time they have not made decisions n our best interests.

I would also argue that with all the capitulations and concessions already made by Belize to Guatemala, the ICJ judges will have no difficulty making a decision favorable to Guatemala.  The evidence will show Belize has never put up a fight to protect her territory, they have given Guatemala all the leverage they need to argue their case, and the idea that this is a dispute is a moot point.  How can we now go to Court and argue we are being wronged?  How do we go back on our word after making concessions?  Would that not be perceived as dishonesty?  As being disingenuous?  Time after time the stage has been set by our leaders in favor of Guatemala.  As a matter of fact, the ICJ likes to appease both sides in a dispute, and Belize has already shown our willingness to capitulate and appease so there’s that.  Belize has been Guatemala’s greatest champion and advocate to their cause thanks to our leadership!

We’ve been led by these jesters right down the rabbit hole and now they have the gall to say to us trust me our case is “ironclad”?  They have the gall to try to coerce us into a YES vote?  Simply put, going to the ICJ is just another manufactured ploy to get us to lose more territory to Guatemala in my opinion.  When the ICJ ends badly for us, it gives our leaders an out: the first thing you will hear them say is, “Da noh fuh we fault! We put it to a referendum and dah unu vote for it!  We neva know dis mi wah happen!  Da unu vote for it!”  Then they will walk away blameless and happy with their pockets full of money…I do believe that!

So exactly how much donated money did both Parties receive to sponsor this referendum?  The numbers floating around for Belize, based on hearsay, is around US$10 million and for Guatemala around US$40 million.  Let that sink in!  Should we not demand budget transparency; a full disclosure of how this money is being spent, who is on the payroll, what the money is being used for?  If GOB really wants us to believe in their integrity, disclose who is on the payroll.  Let’s have full transparency.  I bet many of them would run for cover.

With that said, I am now forced to take into account not just their capitulating and conceding behavior, but also their apparent lackadaisical attitude toward all arguments made regarding the risks of going to the ICJ, the Constitutional violations pointed out to them, the one-sided educational campaign that favors the YES vote, the lack of interest in knowing what evidence or arguments Guatemala will be bringing to the table, and their lack of concern that so many Belizeans are being disenfranchised from participating in the vote.  Let me address some of these issues that should be of concern to all Belizeans:

 First, the Belizean people have not heard one word from the brilliant, international lawyers who will be representing Belize at the ICJ.  It would be nice to hear their arguments, assessments and perhaps their reassuring voices that our case is “ironclad”, but I have a sneaky feeling they will not be getting on TV to make any such pronouncements.  Once they present themselves to us, we should assess their capability, their integrity, their experience, their knowledge of the 1859 Treaty, their opinion on The Webster Proposal, The Heads of Agreement, The Maritime Act, the Special Agreement/The Compromis, and everything else in between so We, the People, can assess exactly how the actions of our Government over the years have compromised our case.  We would also want to know how many cases they have argued in Court, their track record of winning, their track record of conceding territory, along with what they had for breakfast (I’m not kidding about that either).

Secondly, it has been suggested that Belize has no idea the extent of what exactly Guatemala will be claiming when they show up at the ICJ.  Is it the whole country?  Is it half the country?  Is it more maritime waters?  Seabed?  What?  Does GOB know?  I’m hoping the answer to that is no, but then again one must reflect on their past behavior.  No one in their right mind agrees to show up to Court not knowing the scope of why s/he is there?  Or not knowing what evidence the opposition will produce and present?  Should we not know the answer to this so we can prepare our counter arguments?  Or do a risk assessment based on evidence, claims, or whatever?  But these are the circumstances under which our government is promoting a YES vote!

For the record, in the common law of jurisdictions, discovery is a pre-trial procedure in which each party, through the law of civil procedure, obtains evidence from the other party by means of discovery meaning GOB can ask for production of documents.  It is aptly named “discovery” because it often turns up facts and documents that were previously unknown to the other party.

The idea behind discovery is that both sides should share information before going to trial.  That way, a trial can proceed smoothly, without parties requesting information from each other and otherwise holding up the process.  During the pre-trial phase, you will be asking for information from the other party and responding to their inquiries as well.  If you go to Court not knowing what the other party will present, it becomes trial by ambush!  How stupid can we be?  It will make us look fool-fool!  A bloody joke!  Cunumunu!  Just like Nigeria lady said their country looked and felt.

Thirdly, many Belizeans cannot vote in the ICJ referendum because GOB has not made an effort to include the diaspora in a very important vote that will determine the future of our country: will our borders remain 8867 square miles, along with our shortened, 3-mile maritime waters?  More egregiously, Guatemalans who have acquired Belizean citizenship “illegally” and in violation of our Constitution, will be able to vote not only in Guatemala’s ICJ referendum, but they can also vote in ours.  Yet our leaders continue to whistle pass the graveyard tone deaf.

Our Constitution clearly states that citizens from any country that claims Belize cannot become naturalized Belizeans, which would ultimately give them not just the right to vote, but the right to run for office and the right to lead our nation.  Indeed, Guatemalans can become Prime Minister, but some born Belizeans cannot.  Resident cards yes, but our Constitution says NO to citizenship! Why are our leaders capitulating to Guatemalans while ignoring our Constitution?  Are we hell bent on our Belizean identity being absorbed?  Our Belizean culture annihilated?  Our Government is asking Belizeans to “trust” them and vote yes to the ICJ when all we have to go on is evidence of their compromise and failed leadership!

To be clear, I am not calling anybody a traitor, but the definition of one is a person who betrays a friend, a principle, stops being loyal to their own country, or is false to an obligation or duty!

Finally, Belizeans need to understand a few things about the ICJ and what “arbitration” really means:

  1. The ICJ won’t take a case unless both nations admit there is a dispute. Therefore, Belize should never have agreed there is a “dispute”; it is OURS and as the saying goes “possession is 9/10’s of the law.”
  2. In cases where disputes are difficult to resolve, the ICJ generally makes a “compromise ruling” or what lawyers in child custody battles refer to as “the splitting the baby” i.e. Belizean leaders love capitulating and compromising so Guatemala will either get territory or maritime waters and we already know they want from the Silk Cayes down to the Sarstoon..  And just as a perspective, the Silk Cayes and Ranguana Cayes are not out there in the great blue beyond; they are 40 minutes from Placencia, are much-used tourist diving, fishing and snorkeling areas and the entire area is the life blood of its neighboring communities.  My fellow Belizeans, when you show up to vote in the ICJ referendum on April 10th, just imagine Guatemalan gunboats patrolling and kicking our fellow Belizeans out of this area. Another side note:  In a similar dispute between Chile and Peru in which the ICJ ruled, experts had estimated the fishing catch alone in the disputed territory was worth US$200 million per year.  Let that sink in!  Besides fishing and the tourism industry in southern Belize, imagine what this would mean for Belize as a country if oil and minerals exist under our seabed?  Why risk losing that economic benefit?
  3. The ICJ is a very sophisticated “political” environment and a “Permanent Court of Arbitration.” (Political meaning there is always the possibility that backroom deals and negotiations are being brokered that we may not be aware of. We are dealing with Judges from other countries who may need a favor in exchange for something more important to their country than anything Belize has to offer.  An example is China’s dispute with Japan over territory: Japan refuses to go to the ICJ because they recognize China’s economic power which is far greater and far-reaching than anything Japan will ever be able to muster up, therefore, they refuse to take the risk; Japan is being smart!
  4. So what exactly is arbitration? Arbitration is a simple way to resolve disputes. It is voluntary, but the result of an arbitration is binding. The charge frequently made is that arbitration generally results in some form of compromise ruling to appease both sides.
  1. The submission of a dispute to arbitration means the two parties have agreed in advance to comply with the award or outcome whether you agree with it or not. Proponents also point to the greater flexibility with which parties in arbitration can “fashion the terms and rules of the process,” which is what Guatemala appears to have done. (I refer you to my earlier argument regarding Article 5 of Special Agreement/Compromis.)
  2. Ultimately, the decision to use arbitration “cannot be made lightly.” Parties who agree to arbitration are bound to that agreement and also bound to satisfy any award determined by the arbitrator(s).
  1. MOST IMPORTANT: arbitration allows “little or no option for appeal,” expecting parties who arbitrate to “assume the risks of the process.” The stakes are much too high for Mickey Mouse lawyering.
  1. Generally speaking, in some cases judges are often guilty of partiality and corruption. (Politicians too!)
  1. The ICJ cannot enforce its will on any nation that has the ability to defend itself. An example of that would be the Israeli/Palestinian dispute.  If Palestinians take Israel to the ICJ and the ICJ rules against Israel, it means nothing because Israel can defend itself and does not have to abide by the ICJ ruling.  Belize is not in a position to do that against Guatemala.

This brings me back to my “puzzlement” and me trying to decipher, unravel, uncover, the reasons why GOB is so hell bent on taking us down this rabbit hole we call the ICJ.  I’ve been contemplating this tangled web for some time now and so many what ifs continue to plague me: What if Belize had better negotiators representing us?  What if some of our politicians were not so corrupt that we could actually believe in their integrity and take them at their word?  What if they didn’t capitulate and concede so many times?  What if we did not suspect that GOB may not be acting in the best interest of our country?  What if we could be a fly on the wall when they negotiate with Guatemala?  What if there are backroom deals being made?  What if we had the capacity to “follow the money” (that famous dictum from the Watergate era)?  What if there are rich minerals and oil under our seabed that’s being negotiated away?

BELIZEANS, once again it’s up to us to stop this train wreck.  I appeal to all my fellow Belizeans to please register to vote and on April 10, 2019 go out and vote Hell NO to the ICJ!

A Belizean Diaspora Perspective By: Debbie Curling

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Debbie Curling 

Belizeans at home and abroad must begin to realize that despite the fact that time, space and location separates us, we have a shared identity and culture that makes us stronger together than separately. REMEMBERING is what heals: remembering our cultural traditions, our enthusiasm for sports, our passion for politics, our very good food, our Belizean music in all its varieties, our childhood proclivity for hopping fences to steal mangoes and craboo, riding our bikes to fetch buckets of water at the pipe stand, and many more. Oh yes! And playing bruk makachistah, bruk me bak!

Funnily enough bruk makachistah is full of symbolism and meaning as it applies to our Belizean cultural heritage, personalities, attitudes, and our strength in the face of adversity. With hands akimbo and chest pumping, the entire game, if you will, is premised on defiance and a dare; a challenge that if you think you can bruk my bak, try it! The words and imagery signify our spirited, Belizean assertiveness, unafraid to face down a bully because we’ll duke it out fistycuffs, your mother will come to my mother’s house, we’ll both get our rear ends belted, and eventually after our egos have settled down, we’ll move on to becoming friends again. Times have changed I know, but this is the Belize WE know, WE love, and WE share…immigrants will come and go, but WE know OUR identity and WE know OUR culture!

Belizeans share so many great experiences along with a strong and proud identity so why this division, this love/hate relationship, between us: based Belizeans vs. diaspora Belizeans? the Diaspora feel invisible, resented and unwanted to those at home and those at home feel abandoned, angry and resentful for being left behind “to suffah.” If we are to overcome this great divide that separates us, we must critically interrogate both perspectives to get a deeper understanding of the root causes. Understanding the psychology of abandonment is very important to the discourse if we are to heal our wounds and start fresh.

So what exactly is abandonment? According to J. Ray Rice, M.S.W., who has written several self-help books on the issue, “Abandonment is emotions, feelings, and acts that leave us with feelings, or experience of alienation, loss, betrayal, desertion, separation and segregation […]. These experiences or issues left unresolved affect our ability to reason, bond, trust, love, communicate, problem-solve […] respect the rights of all and live with our neighbors in peace.” http://blog.itsallaboutabandonment.com

Many Belizeans, particularly children, have experienced abandonment due to a parent(s) or spouse(s) making the tough decision to leave their loved ones behind in order to provide a better life for them at home, not realizing the traumatic impact such an event will have on those they love. Those left behind may experience the inability to feel safe due to threatening circumstances, feel emotional neglect, or might not have been provided adequate shelter which creates fear and a strong sense of insecurity. Unfortunately, victims of abandonment often live a lifetime of fear that abandonment will recur. Dr. Claudia Black, M.S.W., states, “Shame arises from the painful message implied in abandonment: ‘You are not important. You are not of value.’ This is the pain from which people need to heal.”

Based Belizeans feel a strong sense of betrayal toward its diaspora who they believe left them behind in search of “greener pastures,” and who might be prospering, while they at home continue to suffer. I would argue that these feelings of abandonment is the site of our contest. This deeply rooted grudge that manifests itself in a desire to somehow even the score even if it means shooting oneself in the foot. Belizeans at home often express a sense of entitlement to all things Belizean, attempt to shut us out of the political discourse by silencing our voices, our Constitution condones (or perhaps sets the standard for) this behavior by taking away our birthright, they criticize diaspora activists for being out of touch with the political reality on the ground whose politics is detached from the complexities of their lived reality, and the tension builds with accusations that the diaspora are cowards who ran away, or would run back to the States from the frontline of the struggle when things go wrong; the guilt-shaming list is long and harsh, but here is our perspective…

While the diaspora appreciate the validity of some of these arguments, the Belizean discourse reveals that, in a limited way, we are dealing with a reality that is more complex than the argument presented. As I write this I am conscious of how my criticism will be received, I am conscious of that oppressive chasm that exists between us, and the notion that “home” is not necessarily a comfortable, welcoming place for the diaspora. We hear the echo of your voices telling us, “why you no go bak da States,” or the mumbling voices that ridicule us when we speak English, “e fahget how fuh talk creole.” It is within this context that based Belizeans fail to bridge the gap and why the diaspora, paralyzed by these criticisms, may refuse to cross over to shake the hand of our brothers and sisters. For us it is clear, based Belizeans do not allow for the crossing and re-crossing of our borders and see it as an invasion rather than a re-connection.

It is partially true that to be from the diaspora implies a certain level of consumption and opportunity to achieve wealth and a good education, but it also implies responsibility and obligation to family and dependents at home. To be fair, Belizeans in the diaspora face three challenges when they go abroad: surviving in a new and hostile environment away from the support of family, struggling to taking care of themselves while taking care of their families at home. Basically, supporting two households! Their mission to send remittances, boxes of clothes and other necessities to their families in order to provide economic relief props up the Belizean economy, but some pay a very high price to achieve this goal. Attracted to the possibility of work and the opportunity to acquire a good education, diaspora Belizeans sacrifice a great deal when taking this leap of faith. For most, it’s a hard life and not all it is cracked up to be; therefore, YOUR perception at home is not necessarily OUR reality abroad.

Further, not everyone who takes the giant leap to seek better opportunities abroad end up living a grand lifestyle. Some of our people (particularly in the “States”) come here with limited education, some illegally, they end up working two or three jobs to send money home to feed their families, they live in some of the most violent and depressed neighborhoods, their kids are exposed to tough gangs in schools, and they spend most of their time scrambling to survive so they can keep their families at home afloat. There is only a very small percentage of Belizeans who by a stroke of luck, or by their own perseverance, can claim success and wealth that allow them to go to and fro.

To be honest, our struggle to survive in a hostile, foreign land would be made a lot easier if Belizeans at home would welcome us with gratitude and appreciation for our sacrifice, instead of resentful displays and hurtful words. We get that most Belizeans at home cannot afford to travel anywhere and are perhaps stuck in the boredom of their lives, so when they see us, they are reminded of that. But what they must realize is that WE are happy to be home, away from the rat race, and envy the simplicity of THEIR lives. It is exactly our inability to reconnect with each other that cause the distancing and misunderstandings.

The term “diaspora” clearly has elitist connotations. It conjures up an idea that builds on a fantasy that coming to America means affluence and easy riches. These perceptions are often reinforced by some members of the diaspora (not all) who do return home flaunting their newfound status with “states clothes,” an American accent, and that Yankee dollar; this is true. But for many who are faced with hardships, along with the shame that they might not be living up to your expectations, your criticisms and your resentments are undeserved and hurtful.

Yes, there are advantages but there are also limitations to living in the diaspora. When we arrive the diaspora is engaged in an ongoing process of negotiating our identity for our selves and our children. Understanding our displacement, the cultural challenges we face, surviving the politics of a new country, having to maneuver and negotiate our space in unfamiliar territory, or trying to blend into a new society that we sometimes do not fully understand, or cannot fully penetrate, can sometimes beat us down. So, yes, protracted exclusion is our daily reality (at home and abroad).

We regret that your echoing voices misnaming us, truncating our Belizean identity while simultaneously inscribing us with your language of exclusion and marginality, may never stop. But we hope the term BelAm will be subject to new analysis, new understandings, if we are to unlock a discourse that continues to inscribe the diaspora as outsiders. Why are these definitions being deployed against us? Your language of separation is mostly applied to Belizeans in America; the eye opener for us is that Belizeans living in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Africa have no such negative inscriptions. The term BelAm suggests a state of opposition or resistance when juxtaposed against Belizeans at home.

With that said, Belizeans in the diaspora will continue its ongoing search to find language to articulate ourselves. We have no desire to negotiate the terms of our identities in ways other than “representing” OUR Belizeanness because anything else would contribute to our destruction. It is in this context of refusing to surrender OUR love for Belize, OUR Belizean identity and OUR culture…this forced construction, that we demand our seat at the table so OUR voices can be heard. Based Belizeans are not more entitled to all things Belizean than us. Concessions will have to be made and there is no need for an unnecessary war of words. Paula Giddings once wrote, “A nation is therefore a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

The Belizean diaspora is not going anywhere because we love our country too. We have been criticized for our inability to effectively organize ourselves so we can make a difference at home and that is a fair argument. The Belizean diaspora often bemoan our lack of unity, our failure to organize and mobilize in an effective way, how we often undermine ourselves by factionalism from different groups, how scattered and divided we are across regions, and how we have a tendency to compete for political space rather than cooperating with each other. We are distrustful of some of our fellow Belizeans who quickly change course when they see a better opportunity elsewhere, but some of us refuse to give up and where there is a will, there is a way.

Our determination and strong sense of responsibility to The Jewel is boosted enormously by new communication technologies that allow us to communicate, organize and spread the message through social media and the Internet. Facebook offers us the opportunity to communicate, argue amongst ourselves as Belizeans often do, it offers the cross-fertilization of ideas and the possibility of immediate exchange between us in all our scattered locations. The texts we create in our discourses have the ability to circulate in communities far and wide and have brought us closer together in more meaningful ways than we could ever imagine.

If Belizeans at home and abroad can draw on a shared cultural repertoire of ideas perhaps we can find some common ground. At the end of the day REMEMBERING…that we share the same love of country, the same cultural identity, the same political concerns for Belize’s political transformation, the same hope for Belize, then perhaps once we recognize that WE ARE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER, we can start extending the hand of friendship, maintain some degree of civility towards each other that results in dignity and hope for ALL. We are on the same page folks! We are on the same page!

Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it. – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Debbie Curling was a member of the Belizean Diaspora and has recently returned home to Belize.