By: Kevin Bernard
I am happy to see that the debate and discussion on the referendum, and on the ICJ has ramped up significantly. You hear it on the streets, in homes and offices, on social media, on the airwaves and in the news. I notice that some schools have done debates and mock referendum polls. I love that. That is how it should be. This is the biggest thing of our time, and the biggest decision that our voting generations may ever be asked to make.
Without any apology, I express my disappointment in the so-called education campaign being presented by this government. Belizeans were promised that they would be given both sides of the ICJ scenario, and that they would be allowed to make up their own minds. That’s not what’s happening. I feel that the government has used the money it has been given for an ‘education and information campaign’ to push a YES vote down our throats. All the propaganda and presentations and ads and billboards are pushing a YES. This is not a matter of allowing Belizeans to come to their own conclusions – this is a full-fledged YES campaign. That is wrong. And that is not what we were told would happen. But then again, why would we be surprised when this administration doesn’t keep its promises or commitments.
I want to make clear, right now, that as a proud Belizean and a patriot long before I became a politician, my position on going to the ICJ is a firm NO. I believe that Guatemala has acted in extremely bad faith recently, and I believe that the diplomatic leadership of Minister Sedi Elrington leaves very much to be desired. Belize is our land, our home, and I am not willing to take the risk of losing even one square inch of what has been a sovereign, Independent nation since 1981.
That doesn’t mean that I cannot respect the opinions of those who believe we should go to the ICJ. We are all Belizeans. I am sure we all love our country. And we are allowed to have differing opinions on small or big things. There is nothing wrong with that.
I am proud of my Party Leader, Hon. John Briceño, for listening to the people from every corner of this nation and for responding like a true leader – letting the voice of the people guide the position of the Party. This week, the National Executive of the PUP issued a statement in which all members voted to follow the will of the people, which appears to be a resounding NO to the ICJ. This is an unprecedented vote of unity in the party, and to me it is proof that the Executive, and Hon. Briceño, are really listening to the people.
This thing must be done right. As the declaration states, clearly, we must find a way to allow Belizeans living abroad to vote in any referendum which will decide the future of our country. We must amend our Maritime Areas Act to protect our waters from any claim. We MUST have a real and comprehensive education campaign, not this bogus joke of a campaign which the UDP is spearheading. And Sedi must go. This one man has done so much harm to Belize’s position that we cannot, with all confidence, go to the ICJ at this time. This is the will of the people.
Months ago, our Party Leader announced, openly, that his personal opinion was that the ICJ was the only way to resolve the unfounded claim. Still, even at that point, he made clear also that there were things that should be put in place before we go to the ICJ, like a protocol for the Sarstoon, where the Guatemalans have taken control. My leader also stated that it was his intention to visit all 31 constituencies and to talk to the people to get their input. Now that is what a leader does.
And following that consultation, my leader and the entire executive, has listened to what the people are saying, and have spoken with one voice. I know that there are persons within the PUP who believe that we should go to the ICJ. That is their opinion and I respect that. But a Party cannot be about the will of one person, or one small group of people. A good, effective, responsible Party speaks for the people, and is the people’s voice when they cannot be heard. And the people, a majority of the people, are saying NO.
As a Party, we have in the past been accused of forgetting our roots, the ties with the many thousands of Belizeans across the country which were forged by the Father of the nation and other leaders of the PUP. As a politician, and a man who wants to represent my people in the House very soon, I have stated time and time again that I believe in the politics of George Price – where the voice of the people was the voice of the Party. And that is exactly what we are seeing today with the PUP.
I end by asking my people, and all Belizeans, to continue to become informed on the referendum and on the ICJ and any repercussions that may arise from whichever decision we make. We owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to Belize.