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Mar 8, 2019

Teachers Come Out in Masses for I.C.J. Forum

Thousands of teachers gathered today at the UB gymnasium in Belmopan to take part in an I.C.J. forum fully sponsored and organized by the Belize National Teachers’ Union. The four-hour forum saw the participation of more than three thousand, five hundred teachers who listened to presentations from three invited guests. Ambassador and YES proponent Assad Shoman presented on why the teachers should vote yes. On the other hand, activist, attorney, and NO voter, Audrey Matura presented the reasons why she will vote NO. Former Border Commissioner Lindsay Belisle gave a historical presentation on the differendum with several bias statements. The forum concluded with the general sentiment that most teachers were leaning towards a NO vote. News Five’s Hipolito Novelo reports.

 

Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Educators countrywide, under the Belize National Teachers’ Union, filled the UB Gymnasium in Belmopan to listen to opposing perspectives regarding whether Guatemala’s long-standing claim over Belize should be filed at the International Court of Justice for adjudication which will result in a final and binding judgment.

 

Elena Smith

Senator Elena Smith, National President, B.N.T.U.

“Our primary focus was to educate our members, to give them information, so that they can take that back and help them to make their own decision. As you know we have said before that as union we will not be giving forth any national position as a union but we will have our members do it. I think the discussions were quiet healthy. They got all sides and they were able to ask their questions. All in all it was a good session.”

 

Each presenter was allowed thirty minutes to address the gathering of teachers. First to present was Lindsay Belisle. He is the former Border Commissioner whose role today was intended to be an ‘enlightening’ presenter on the history of the Belize/Guatemala Differendum. Belisle’s presentation, however, contained more than just historical facts.

 

Lindsay Belisle

Lindsay Belisle, Former Boundary Commissioner

“We go to the latest 2019 legal opinion did not give Belize an ironclad case but advise that the strengths of our case will rely on some key points: proof of British title to Belize prior to 1821, the effects of the British not meeting her obligation under Section seven of the 1859 Treaty, our efforts in protesting and defense of Guatemala in the Sarstoon and the extend of our historical research. So from what I have seen, we have a shaky 1859 Treaty and 1861 Treaty map along with a weak 1931 exchange of notes and having no title to Belize before 1921 it will be no walk in the park for Belize at the I.C.J.”

 

Considered the foremost authority on the Guatemalan claim in Belize, Ambassador Assad Shoman- a YES proponent for the I.C.J., was up next. Shoman heads Citizens for the Defense of Sovereignty, an N.G.O. which works in conjunction with G.O.B. in the referendum campaign to secure a YES vote.

 

Assad Shoman

Assad Shoman, Citizens for the Defence of Sovereignty

“The whole question is perfectly understandable to our people. This is not nuclear physics. The people don’t need months of so call education to understand that they are being asked a simple question. Yes or no, do you agree that the Guatemalan claim be sent to the I.C.J. for final determination? Yes or no? And people don’t need MBAs and lawyers degrees to understand that international law states that once a border is established by treaty, it takes a life on its own and cannot be change. Then Belize cannot lose any territory. People are much smarter than you think. Of course yes if you purposely muddy the waters, tell blatant lies about what international law and I.C.J. cases actually decides, if you use all sort of tricks to confuse and frightened people sometimes all you have to do is repeat a thousand times, “no to the I.C.J.” or “you can lose your land and house’. And you will fool some people. It has been said, you can fool some of the people all of the times and you can fool all of the people of the time but you can’t fool all of the people all of the times.”

 

The third and final presenter was attorney and activist, Audrey Matura. Matura is a strong and very vocal opponent of the I.C.J.  Matura attacked the education campaign, describing it as flawed and completely biased in favor of the YES vote.

 

Audrey Matura

Audrey Matura, Attorney

“I do not believe that I will tell you how to vote either. I can tell you how I am voting and why but I have a problem with people tell you how to vote and why. I genuinely have a  problem with that. And I have a problem with there being an educational campaign turned into a YES vote campaign. But it’s a national issue that should engender unity. It is a national issue that should drive us with a certain mentality, a win mentality that we will fight to the end. It’s a referendum and in a referendum you have a choice. Your choice can be yes. Your choice can be no.”

 

When all three panelists had concluded their half-hour presentations; the teachers, armed with questions and criticisms, faced off with the panel.

 

Alejandro Navarro, Teacher

“I want you to tell me how we will contain Guatemala and stop them from bullying us. I want to know how they will respect the verdict. Ask the people who are YES, if there assets are in Belize only or they live in another country. Ask them that question. Are you ready to live in another country? No. I am not ready. I am staying. No. You convince these people that Guatemala will respect the verdict and I will be very happy.”

 

Teacher

“What other recourse does Belize has apart from the I.C.J. to resolve this matter in a way that Guatemala will respect?”

 

Lindsay Belisle

“I don’t think anyone is saying that the I.C.J. is not the way to go. It is the way you are going to the I.C.J.”

 

Teacher

“I understand Sir. My question was if we don’t go, apart from the ICJ what other way we can resolve this?”

 

Lindsay Belisle

“We go to the I.C.J. for an advisory opinion on the validity of the 1859 Treaty and when the ICJ rules that the treaty is valid then Guatemala will be foolish to go to the same court that the treaty is valid.”

 

Teacher

“So just to get this straight, you still want to go to the I.C.J.?”

 

Lindsay Belisle

“Yes. We are not saying that the I.C.J. is not the way to go.”

 

Teacher

“Ok but that was not my question, apart from the I.C.J.…”

 

Lindsay Belisle

“I don’t have any other place to go.”

 

Teacher

“Do you think that it would be prudent of us Belizeans to say that we need to defer the referendum until we get Belizean lawyers trained in international law so we can have confidence in what is going to be the pronouncement at the end?”

 

Assad Shoman

“That might take ten, twenty, thirty years. What would happen in the meantime. I don’t know. It is like you have a case of a person who requires heart surgery. Do we have a Belizean who is a qualified heart surgeon? No so let’s wait until we can train some Belizeans, perform, practice a few and then perform the surgery.”

 

Audrey Matura

“Let me help you out there. I won’t be facetious. If we are going to the I.C.J. now, it would not be practical. There is nothing wrong in getting foreign attorneys to represent us. My point us is that we should meet them, and if we are not satisfied with their legal services we should fire them like anyone else. However, I do decry the fact that from independence we knew that we inherited the claim.”

 

Hipolito Novelo, News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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