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Apr 9, 2019

I.C.J. Referendum: A Summarized Timeline

It has been an active couple of months for the country as it relates to the I.C.J. referendum. Things first got into motion with the signing of the 2008 Special Agreement, but it really kicked off when the government announced April tenth, 2019 as the day when Belizeans would make the very important vote. Well circumstances have changed and the referendum has been postponed until the Prime Minister announces a new date after the passage of new legislation in the House.  News Five’s Hipolito Novelo takes a look back at some key events that led to where we now are.


Hipolito Novelo, Reporting

Almost a year ago, on April thirtieth, 2018, the Government announced April tenth, 2019 as the day when Belizeans would decide whether or not they want the I.C.J. to settle the Belize/Guatemala dispute. A few months later, towards the end of the year, we would see the Government’s “I.C.J., Be Informed” campaign kicked into full gear. The approach, however, was heavily criticized as “one-sided” and was seen as a push for a YES vote. Opposition Leader, John Briceño commenced a campaign on a postponement of the I.C.J. referendum.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: October 29th, 2018]

“Apart from his public statements, the Leader of the Opposition had raised privately with me the possibility of a postponement when we met a little over a week ago.  But I did not find the reasons offered for the suggestion at all convincing especially since the postponement the P.U.P. leader wanted was until after the November 2020 elections.  The arguments for postponement, as I understood them, was that April tenth, 2019 is too close to November 2020 and to hold the referendum as scheduled would somehow contaminate it with partisan electoral campaigning for 2020.”


On January ninth, five former Foreign Ministers gathered for a rare occasion. They took a unified position in favour of going to the I.C.J.


Godfrey Smith

Godfrey Smith, Former Foreign Minister [File: January 9th, 2019]

“The idea was generated from among the foreign ministers themselves.  It’s a question of duty, honor, and principle and it’s as simple as that.”


Not for some…What was expected to be a bi-partisan approach to the most important national issue became a battle between the two major political parties. On January twenty-second, a U.D.P. Cabinet announced its unanimous support of a YES vote. A day after on January twenty third, the People’s United Party came out with its People’s Declaration- a solid NO to the I.C.J.


John Briceño

John Briceño, P.U.P. Leader File: January 23rd, 2019]

Having duly considered all aspects of the education campaign, the state of un-readiness for the I.C.J. Referendum scheduled for the tenth of April 2019 and the majority no position of party supporters.”


This was followed by a meeting of the U.D.P. National Party Council on January twenty-six when the ruling party affirmed its full and unwavering support for a “YES” vote. And after all the grandstanding was over, the parties took their battle inside the arena of legal arguments. On March sixth the P.U.P. filed a legal claim challenging the validity of the 2008 Special Agreement.


Richard ‘Dickie’ Bradley, Attorney-at-law [File: March 6th, 2019]

Today, the sixth day of March in the year of our Lord 2019, to challenge the legality and the constitutionality of the Special Agreement which also involves the matter of a referendum which is on the tenth of April, that the holding of that referendum would be a part of an illegal and unlawful and an unconstitutional action and the court ought not to tolerate it.


The Bar Association commissioned a legal opinion by Professor Stephen Vasciannie who concluded that the 1859 Treaty was not a treaty of cession. Prime Minister Dean Barrow on March twenty-eight introduced a new legal opinion on the Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute by former I.C.J. President, Judge Stephen Schwebel.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: March 28th, 2019]

“He ends in clarion fashion: Belize has good title to all its territory including the islands and islets offshore, and the claim by the Republic of Guatemala is without merit and would be regarded as such by the International Court of Justice. Now all this is a most important and reassuring reaffirmation of the 2001 Legal Opinion. What is completely new, though, is Judge Schwebel’s additional certification of the fact that Belize would be entitled to obtain interim relief from the I.C.J. if we vote yes in the Referendum.”


On April third, after hearing arguments, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin granted the PUP an interim injunction effectively stopping the I.C.J. referendum while dates were set to hear substantive arguments. The Government, however, moved quickly, applying to the Court of Appeal to have the injunction lifted. The Government failed to convince the court to hear its case.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: April 8th, 2019]

“We will not be having a referendum on Wednesday, April the tenth.


It was a difficult moment for the PM especially since he exerted confidence on October twenty-ninth 2018 when he said this:


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: October 29th, 2018]

The I.C.J. referendum date is April tenth, 2019 and we have no intention of changing that date.”


Dean Barrow

Unless a natural disaster forced him to do so as he said on February twenty-second of this year.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: February 22nd, 2019]

“So, I am in no doubt that we are poised and ready to go and nothing short of a natural disaster ought to detain the holding of that referendum.”


And that natural disaster came in the form of an unexpected ruling from the Supreme Court.


Lisa Shoman

Lisa Shoman, Attorney for G.O.B. [File: April 3rd, 2019]

“The only point on which the claimants have succeeded and on which an injunction has been granted is the question of whether the writs are valid. So that is going to be a rather technical view of looking at the writs to see if they square up and are in order.”


That matter has been scheduled for hearing on Monday, April fifteen.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: April 8th, 2019]

“I am entirely convinced; I shall go to my grave secure in the knowledge that the Chief Justice got it horribly wrong.”


And to ‘fix’ that, the PM is now looking to the C.C.J. and the House of Representatives. Hipolito Novelo, News Five.

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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