Should the Belizean Diaspora participate in elections and elected office?


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The Belizean Diaspora contributes an estimated 200 million USD to families and organizations in Belize. Amendment 7 is a legislation which clarifies the rights of Belizeans who hold dual citizenship. This is a very important legislation for the future of Belize’s survival. Nuri Akbar delves deeper into this legislation and its implications for Belize. Please read, share and discuss. 
The resurrection of the 7th amendment and Belize survivability in the 21st

28 May 2013 — by Nuri Akbar

 

On June 19th 2009, the Prime Minister of Belize,  the Hon. Dean Barrow, while addressing the proposed 7th amendment to the Belize  constitution in the National Assembly uttered the following words:

“Because our laws recognize dual citizenship how  then will you turn around, recognizing dual citizenship, providing for dual  citizenship but impose a limitation on a dual citizen. It makes no sense at all  and if a little bit of history and background are necessary, we didn’t always  recognize dual citizenship. The recognition of dual citizenship came about as a  consequence of the advance in legislation that was promoted by national hero  Phillip Goldson. But we turn around and we leave intact in the constitution for  all these years this impairment on the rights of the Belizean who have acquired  a second nationality. I say therefore, Mr. Speaker, that it is utterly and  completely contradictory. I also say it is inconsistent, and let me tell you why  it is inconsistent, if you are a Belizean who has acquired second nationality  you are disqualified from sitting in the National Assembly, but the Governor  General, whose office is from a protocol point of view the highest office in the  land, there is no such disqualification. The Governor General can be a Belizean  who has acquired a second nationality. He is not barred from being Governor  General and that is the highest office in the land. “

Recently a prominent Diaspora Belizean, Mrs.  Muriel Laing-Arthurs, asked me to comment on the 7th amendment to the  constitution proposed in 2009 that would have given full citizenship rights to  Belizean-born natives who happen to possess dual nationality. Since I am not a  card carrying member of any political party, my trajectory on this issue is not  skewed by the inordinate local partisan rhetoric that has taken on a life of its  own in Belize, but rather influenced by the realities we are facing as a people  and nation and the fact that we have thus far failed to strategically maximize  our human capital among our Belizean brothers and sisters in the Diaspora.

 

Therefore, on this particular issue I am in  agreement with the Prime Minister and endorse the concept and spirit of the 7th  amendment. However the contradictions and hypocrisy in our actual  behavior/thinking surrounding the re-embracement of the Belizean Diaspora must  fundamentally change if this initiative is to be successful.

Belize national  hero, the Honorable Phillip Goldson, lost his physical eyesight in the later  years of his life, but arguably he possessed one of the most clairvoyant visions  we have ever produced in an indigenous leader. From the inception he saw the  critical role Belizeans in the Diaspora can and should play in the overall  national development of Belize, and understood that national allegiance and  patriotism were not limited by one’s geographical location. Hence, his efforts  over the many decades to engage, reconnect, claim and maximize the Belizean  human capital of the Diaspora toward Belize national development have been one  of the most remarkable progressive legacies of Phillip Goldson.

The issue of migration has been with the earliest  human creatures as they began the trek out of Africa and eventually crossed the  Bering Strait millennia ago into the Americas. These migrations were often times  prompted by the need of share survival and in search of water, food and shelter.  Other times by war, oppression, natural disasters and protection against the  unrepentant natural elements.

As empires rose and fell over the millennia,  human beings were captured and used as slaves to build these empires. In modern  times much of Europe as we have known it was obliterated by two world wars that  killed millions and displaced entire populations. During the revolutions that  engulfed the Central American isthmus in the 70’s and 80’s, hundreds of  thousands of people were displaced, forced to flee, and many became  refugees.

In Belize’s case large migration can be traced  back to the building of the Panama Canal and World War II. After the 1931 and  1961 hurricanes that devastated the country and killed many people, Belizeans,  via a designed policy, were granted refugee status and were allowed to migrate  into the United States. Over the ensuing decades this migration pattern  continued officially and unofficially, eventually creating a brain drain that  has had an adverse impact on the nation’s long term development. Today thousands  of these same Belizeans and their offspring have acquired various life-affirming  skills and experience that have benefitted the host countries.

This perennial movement /exodus of masses of  people has been a part of human nature as a result of curiosity, mobility,  circumstance, oppression and conflict. To this end, the life and times we are  now living in 2013 have therefore imposed upon us the necessity to reclaim this  reservoir of natural resource.

A brilliant Diaspora Belizean sociologist who is  an expert on migration, Dr. Jerome Straughan, raised the issue of the  transforming definition of the modern nation state and its increasing mobility  of people and how governments will have to implement policies that take these  new dynamics into account. Accepting the reality that half of Belize’s  population reside abroad, creating the bridge/mechanism to harness this human  capital toward the development of the mother nation is not only logical, but is  in keeping with the transforming definition of modern nation states and  globalization. Given Belize’s geographic location, population size and history,  isolationism has no place in the 21st century. There is no question that the  nation’s future direction, national development and very survivability hinge on  its ability to reclaim its Belizean Diaspora and incorporate the human capital  into a long term strategy for maximum benefit.

The vulnerability of small, developing and  peripheral economies like Belize’s is the burden of external debt. When a small  country becomes totally consumed by debt, her natural resources then become  collateral and held hostage to the creditor nations and institutions. Local  governments are pressured into compromising the national patrimony, which  includes putting the country’s vital industries, raw materials, and even the  scandalous selling of passports, on the chopping block in a desperate bid to  raise revenue. This global trend will not change anytime soon, but given the  continued contraction of the metropolitan economies, Belize’s natural resources  will remain a premium for exploitation.

In Belize there have been many noble causes taken  up by various local and foreign finance advocacy groups and organizations  relating to the physical environment, wildlife, social and cultural issues, but  not a single organization dedicated to reconnecting and reclaiming the Belizean  human capital from abroad. Over the years, Belize’s leading newspaper, the  Amandala, has editorially supported the Hon. Phillip Goldson’a vision of  proactively engaging the Belizean Diaspora and encouraging the cross-pollination  of Belizeans at home and abroad, but this vision is yet to reverberate across  all sectors of the society.

The most valuable natural resource our nation  will ever produce is our people. Hence, any attempt at reclaiming this natural  resource should be paramount on any platform for national reconstruction and  development. It is now estimated that the number of Belizeans (first and second  generation) residing abroad in North America, Europe and elsewhere is equal to  half the three hundred thousand plus residents in the entire nation of  Belize.

The arguments presented in 2009 for abolishing  the discriminatory and apartheid era law dividing our people, and for providing  the legal instrument allowing Belizeans who hold dual nationality access to full  citizenship rights, participation and inclusion in elected public office, were  and are a visionary, progressive policy option.

There is no excuse for not initiating and  quantifying the various experiences in creating a skill bank of Belizean  citizens abroad toward national inclusion. This should be relatively easy since  globally the platforms already exist using tools such as Linkedln, Facebook,  etc., where thousands of Belizeans are actively interacting and networking with  each other. TheFortune 500 corporations and many countries  already use these various platforms for global recruitment of talents, skills  and experience. Since the rapid growth of the Internet, the competition for  human creativity, talent and experience has indeed gone global.

The continued dragging of the feet and denial of  thousands of Diaspora Belizean-born citizens from total participation in the  development of their homeland is now viewed as conspiratorial, and even racist,  by many. If a Belizean-born citizen is disqualified from full “citizenship  rights” and his or her allegiance is questioned on the basis that they hold dual  nationality, this is not only myopic but hypocritical, primitive thinking. The  intense passion and interest which many Diaspora Belizeans have demonstrated  regarding the ongoing Guatemalan claim and the proposed ICJ option is a clear  reflection of the love and fraternal relationship they hold toward Belize. If  the nation of Belize were to be militarily invaded/attacked, there is no  question a vast segment of the able-bodied Belizeans with military and actual  combat experience living abroad would volunteer to fight for their homeland.

 

What greater betrayal and damage has been done to  the nation state of Belize over the past quarter century than by those who swear  to defend and uphold the national patrimony and sovereignty of the state but  hold more allegiance to a political entity effectively subordinating the state?  Indeed, the actions, behavior and policies that have seen most of the nation’s  arable land sold to foreign interests, vital industries usurped, selling of  Belizean citizenship (passports), oil drilling concessions with ties to cronies  and family members, and outright pillaging of the national treasury for personal  gain – who is the real enemy of the Belizean state?

As I sat with one of Belize’s sages and  historians recently, Imam Ismael Shabazz, and asked for his insight on the 7th  amendment, Shabazz in his wisdom reminded me that the real substance of the 7th  amendment should not only include the right to hold public office, but indeed “voting rights” of Belizean citizens in the Diaspora. This idea is not new.  However, it has been resisted by the political elite, including many of the  so-called progressive thinkers among us. The arguments made were that Belizeans  living abroad would not be familiar with the issues on the ground and therefore  they were uninformed and out of touch. This argument was made in the early  1970’s and perhaps had some validity forty years ago. However, the world has  drastically changed over the past quarter century and the speed, access and  advancement of technology and cyberspace have essentially obliterated this  argument. Belizeans regularly interact with each other via social media,  participate in call-in radio/TV talk shows, and have access to the various media  outlets online.

Over 100 nations, large and small, allow their  Diaspora the right to vote in local elections. These include Mexico, El  Salvador, Venezuela, Britain, Germany, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland,  United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, and France.  Given the share size of the Belizean population living abroad and the  decades-old impact of remittances to families back home, the vast majority of  Diaspora Belizeans have maintained a solid relationship with their homeland.  According to the World Bank remittance report, the remittances to Central  America, which included Belize, in 2007 had reach a colossal US$ 12.1 billion.  The report also stated that in some of these countries the remittances are equal  to some 10% of the entire GDP. In the case of Belize, the report shows, for  example, that Belizeans in the Diaspora in 2004/05 had made remittances  estimated to be over US$ 160 million.

Whether the current administration (or future  ones) will move swiftly and strategically to reclaim its citizens living abroad  as an integral component of its national developmental platform, remains to be  seen. But whether the political elite act or not, the Belizean people, along  with progressive grassroots movements should take the lead. Belizeans abroad  have been actively engaged in supporting grassroots organizations like the  Belize Territorial Volunteers and BGYEA, among many other charitable efforts on  the ground. This kind of fraternal collaboration and operational unity must be  supported and encouraged between Belizeans at home and aboard for the sake of  our self-preservation and survival.

It is my opinion that much of the resistance to  the 7th amendment was essentially the result of the way in which it was crafted  and presented. The original (amendment) was presented to the Belizean public in  2009, and tragically, in keeping with the typical ad hoc/ top down fashion in  which policies are formulated in Belize, provided the ideal climate for  speculation and misinformation. No real engagement with the community, from the  inception of the idea stage to formulation and proper public education so the  people could understand the purpose and benefit of the proposed change, was  carried out.

Secondly, at no stage of this proposed 7th  amendment fiasco was the constituency most affected, the (Diaspora Belizeans)  themselves, invited to participate in the process. They were essentially left  out of the actual discussion. Not only would it have made perfect sense to have  included the Belizean Diaspora in the formulation of the policy proposal, but  most importantly in the public and educational dialogue with their brothers and  sisters in Belize.

As a consequence of the flawed approach,  propaganda and partisan rhetoric took over and subsequently the merits and  demerits of the actual amendment became completely lost in the process. The  vitriol that ensued was reflective of the deep-seated residual effect of  colonialism that still permeates our worldview. Talking points filtered via  partisan bickering became the norm, instead of dialogue and constructive debate.  So yet again, because of the choke hold of petty party politics on our  perceptual apparatus, a shameful law that discriminates against thousands of  Belizeans and relegates them to second class citizenship status in the place of  their birth, remains intact and activated to this day.

Assumption and presupposition regarding Belize future by: Nuri Akbar


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The final major attempt at settling Guatemala’s unfounded claim to Belize came in the form of a document called the “Heads of Agreement” in 1981. This culminated in nation wide paralyzing strikes and  national convulsion.  From time immemorial a claim/threat  by a militaristic and aggressive garrison state  upon the territorial  integrity of another nation, regardless of how small or large, would naturally serve as a  unifying force among the people  of   the target threat.  However, this was not the synergy that reverberated  across the nation of Belize leading up to its independence on September 21st  1981, and it has not currently manifested itself as we are confronted in  the latest ICJ plot.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             The British colonial rulers not only divided the people of Belize geographically, but  racially, culturally, religiously and politically.  This model of course, was perfected by the British and they carried out this strategy for more than five hundred years across the globe  as they wage war, rape, pillage, enslaved and committed genocide upon  the   darker    people of the earth. Belize was no exception to this rule.

The current  ICJ scheme has been packaged and  marketed as a “legal issue” for mass consumption.  Yet at the  foundation  of  this land claim is  geopolitics and natural resource that has become more urgent for trans national  corporations (TNC’s) who are the extended tentacles of  an  unbridled,  consuming, neoliberal  economic  system that has become globally  unsustainable.   As Belizeans we make  the assumption that the men and women who are selected to represent  us in political office are informed and knowledgeable  of  certain vital issues that ares critical  to our nation   very survival. But this is an assumption we make at our own peril. We are arguing that  historically in Belize from the inception of our  nationalist movements, these independence movements evolve as dependent nationalism.  While the term    may appear contradictory, it is a reflection of  the extent and degree political developments in peripheral countries like Belize are constrained by economic and political forces of the center.  Thus as a consequence our local political directorate’s indoctrination and orientation is to look  outward for assistance  in their struggle with the metropole without first and foremost  build internally those resource necessary to confront the center.  Hence, despite a century old claim upon the country of Belize by a proven genocidal aggressor, various local regimes initiated  zero sustained process of educating the people about the issues and forces  that confront them and the near and present dangers.  The circumference  of our thinking has permeated around the idea that salvation will come from outside rather than from the development of political bases from within the nation state.

This dependent and decrepit  view of our  existence has essentially shaped our entire national development and  foreign relations, or lack thereof.   Various prominent political representatives regurgitated the age old claim that in order for the nation to achieve development it has to attract  capital from abroad,  coupled with the  never ending barrowing which lead to a permanent  state of  servitude/slavery to the lending  institutions.  The inability  to  recognized the human capital and potential from among the very people they lead and the extended natural resource the country possessed as a foundation for national  development, has perpetuated  a state of  perennial  poverty and underdevelopment.  This type of paradigm shift will not come out of the two main political entities in Belize that has become inseparable from the crippled system of governance.  In many respect they have a vested interest in maintaining things as they are, and thus cannot be expected to become true and authentic agents for political, social and economic transformation.  This will have to be the outgrowth of a people’s centered mass movement  cemented in a clairvoyant vision of  allegiance to the nation state.

The debt  burden of our country has been shifted to future generations of Belizean, and our unjust land distribution system remain  unchanged since the days of British colonialism.  The type of radical  transformation that is required to begin a process of  changing  the top down model  of  governance must be rooted in the communities and principalities of the people.   As mentioned earlier our people were never empowered  with the knowledge of self  and  benefitted from  popular education that  ties them to the land and agriculture, which is the engine of civilization.  While all our people to one degree or another have been deeply affected   by  colonial education, black Belizeans  are currently living out the most graphic effects  via  fratricide and gentrification.  We remain essentially a fragmented people with each group nibbling around the edges  but lacking  the ability to create a national movement with clear goals and objectives.  These  challenges are not unique to Belize but are common place everywhere the British had meddled.

When war and revolution was engulfing  the isthmus, Belize used to pride itself as the only haven of peace and tranquility. We knew little or nothing as to why our brothers and sisters were waging  violent struggles in their respective countries.  Yet  these revolutions were born out of decades of exploitation, injustice, corrupted regimes, brutality  and genocides.  Those of you who believe that Belize is fine as it is and there is no need for a fundamental  structural  shift,  should take heed of the warning signs.  Those who make peaceful revolution impossible shall make violent revolution inevitable.

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