Debate on Referendum Act is Personal for Most Area Reps
The House of Representatives began debate on the Referendum Act (Amendment) Bill, on its second reading, shortly after its break to consider the first reading bills. That debate lasted nearly three hours, and passions were brought to the fore on an amendment that, as several debaters said, was intensely personal to all Belizeans. The basic premise of the amendment is to validate a possible referendum on the taking of the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice by allowing fifty percent, not sixty percent, of registered voters. But will it get to that point? Aaron Humes revisits Friday’s debate in Belmopan.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
Does the International Court of Justice hold the key to resolving a centuries-old dispute that has profoundly shaped Belize’s outlook on our region and the world? According to Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, it is the difference between true independence and a puppet-like association with Guatemala.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“The decision to go to the I.C.J. was one which was authored by them, when they were in office. It was a position that [Philip] Goldson took as early as 1967, and we have the record to show that in the Fourth Committee of the United Nations, he in fact said that the Guatemalans were afraid to go to the I.C.J., although the British had been asking them. We will disseminate all this information for those of you who have not been prudent enough to search the record; but we have done that. And you will see that as early as 1967, Philip Goldson was saying I.C.J. is the way to go. As early as 1947, ’48, our national assembly then, was saying that the I.C.J. was the way to go. And of course, the British was always saying that the I.C.J. is the way to go.”
But Friday’s debate in the House of Representatives was focused on much narrower viewpoints. For the three Opposition representatives in the South – Rodwell Ferguson of Stann Creek West; Mike Espat of Toledo East; and Oscar Requeña of Toledo West, the decision is intensely personal for them and their constituents.
Rodwell Ferguson, Area Representative, Stann Creek West
“Going to the I.C.J., Guatemala will come back with something – it may not be the entire South, but some portion of Toledo or what the case may be. (Interruption) I’m just saying that is my belief. (Interruption) And I am representing the people of the Stann Creek West constituency; every single time I meet with them, they tell me plain that it is best that the status quo remains the same, because we do not want to go to the I.C.J., for them to determine to take.”
Mike Espat, Area Representative, Toledo East
“If we are going to do a referendum with this issue – it is a very serious issue, and our Belizean people need to make that decision. Somebody is screaming that oh, even if we had the referendum, it will not be meaningful, and because you all have the majority on that side of the House, you will still say yes. You will still say yes. So we must the respect the wishes of the Belizean people; and if it will not be meaningful, why spend all this money that we hear they are going to spend, in order to have a referendum?”
Oscar Requeña, Area Representative, Toledo West
“Madam Speaker, they should not get off the hook. They have had eight years of being in Government, so don’t come with any excuse that at the last minute, you are now going to blame that we need to pass this first before we begin that education process. They have been speaking – in fact the Honorable member has been speaking about the education process for a long time – but it is all wind, it is all breeze. Because the truth of the matter is that as the representative for Toledo West – I have my colleagues from the South: Honorable Member from Stann Creek West; the Honorable Member from Toledo East; and in the first, from 2012 to 2016, we had the Honorable Member from Dangriga – we have never been invited; we have never participated in any discussion; we have never been involved.”
In the end, the Prime Minister reminded that apropos of Belizean law, Belize has no turning back – if we accept.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I am not sure where the notion comes from that the referendum with respect to going to the I.C.J. would, if it takes place, when this government is in office, not be considered binding. I don’t care how you try to interpret the language in the Act. The Compromis, the international agreement, all that we have said and done ratified by the Senate makes clear that you do not go to the I.C.J. except the people of Belize agree that you go by way of the referendum. (Applause) No ifs, maybes, ands or buts where that is concerned. We all absolutely agree you cannot go to the I.C.J. except the majority of the people of this country so determine in a referendum.”
Aaron Humes reporting, for News Five.