By Wellington C. Ramos
When Belize became an independent country on September 21, 1981, all citizens of the country not living at home lost their citizenship. Opposition leader, the late Philip Goldson, was angry over it and vowed that if his party: the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) became the new government, he would do everything in his power to restore their citizenship.
Goldson saw a country that had a majority Black population of English-speaking citizens moving to become a majority Mestizo country with Spanish-speaking people from the neighboring countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, as the majority Black population, who were mainly Garifuna, Creoles and East Indians were migrating to the United States. This was George Price’s biggest dream because he felt that as a Mestizo the more his people were allowed to move to Belize, the longer his People’s United Party (PUP) was going to retain power and control over the country. When the civil war started in El Salvador, George Price offered to accept thousands of Salvadoreans into Belize and established a village for them in the Belmopan area called Salvapan, under the stewardship of Ducho Thomas.
These people were granted amnesty, given house lots, homes and all the benefits of Belizean citizenship, including the right to vote and to run for political office if they choose to do so. All this was occurring when Price and his party were denying rights and privileges to natural-born Belizeans at home and abroad. Despite the efforts of Price and his People’s United Party to help the foreigners, conditions got worse after independence, and the Belizean people decided to vote the PUP out of power in 1984 by a landslide margin of 21-7. They were angry with Price and his party. Price himself lost his seat in the Freetown Division by a large margin, to a newcomer politician the late Derick Aikman.
Fulfilling their promise, the United Democratic Party in 1984 immediately passed legislation, to restore Belizean Americans their citizenships who were born before we attained our independence. This gave them the right to get a Belizean passport and a few other benefits. Under the People’s Representation Ordinance, the Election and Boundaries Ordinance and the Belize Constitution, there are still some provisions, that restrict Belizeans who possess dual citizenships from enjoying their full constitutional rights. The right to vote by proxy and to be a representative of the Belizean government is being denied, up to this day, even though Belize is their country of birth.
For Belizeans who possess dual citizenships to qualify to vote or run for political office, they must renounce their American or foreign citizenships. Most Belizeans who live in the United States over the years, must be citizens in order to qualify for many benefits and must revoke their citizenships. To disqualify themselves for benefits would be a foolish exercise.
The former prime minister of Belize, Dean Barrow had seen the need to correct this ambiguity and injustice. In 2009 he promised to introduce Amendment-7 to the Belize Constitution to resolve this problem. At the last minute, he did not table the amendment. If he had introduced the amendment at the time, it would have passed because he had the votes to deliver this fundamental right to the Belizeans who possess dual nationalities with United States.
The People’s United Party have always been against this amendment in the past. Some of them think, that if they allow Belizeans in the United States to vote, most of them would vote for the United Democratic Party. There is no proof to support their assumption. In fact, I think it will help them to gain support with the Belizeans who live in the United States. Most Belizeans who live in the United States, have lost confidence in both the UDP and PUP. To regain this confidence Article-7 must pass. The citizens from the countries of El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and other countries, all have the right to vote and run for office in their country of birth and Belize.
Belizean Americans are highly qualified people and are not dependent on UDP or PUP so when they get the right to vote, they will be looking objectively on the candidates and the political parties before they cast their votes. We have some Blacks and other Belizeans, who are against granting their Belizean family members, with dual-citizenship their full fundamental rights to vote and run for office, saying; that they have abandoned their people and country. The Black Belizeans who are opposed to granting Belizean Americans their basic fundamental rights are working against themselves.
Such is referred to as “cutting off their noses to spoil their faces.” The population of Belize has changed and they are now in the minority. The other Belizeans who are Maya and Mestizos in Belize are welcoming their people who come from the neighboring countries of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico, because they share the same ethnicity.
The Black Belizeans should be welcoming to their people as well because it will be to their benefit. The amount of people you have in your country is what determines the representation you will have as a people. Most of Belize’s representatives are people of Mestizo origin and that is expected because they make up the majority of people. The other representatives who are not Mestizos, do not have the people but have the money to get elected. If dual citizenship rights are not granted to Belizeans who live in the United States, things will get worse for Black Belizeans.
Belizeans should first look at the amount of money Belizeans in the United States send at home to their family members. This is foreign reserves that are desperately needed in our national economy. With the current COVID-19 pandemic, Belizeans continue to send money weekly to their families, in addition to money other goods and materials are being sent for the upkeep and survival of their family members. For Belize to become a nation that can compete in this international community, it must involve Belizeans in the United States and in the diaspora, who have the financial and human resources that our country desperately needs to survive.
I now call on the new prime minister of Belize John Briceno and his government, to introduce the Article-7 Amendment that was proposed by the UDP former prime minister Dean Barrow. This will demonstrate to our people that PUP is not just about talking but action. The PUP has more than enough votes/seats to amend the constitution of Belize so there is no excuse. If the Article-7 Amendment is not introduced and passed in the National Assembly, then I see no need to have a ministry of diaspora affairs. This ministry backed up with the dual citizenship rights for Belizean Americans, will lead to the economic development of Belize at a time when it is desperately needed.
I am happy that in the PUP Cabinet, there is a portfolio for a ministry of diaspora affairs. However, having a ministry alone will not meet all the positive objectives. When the ICJ issue was up for a vote, PUP representative Kareem Musa was advocating for the right for Belizean with dual citizenship to vote in the election. The UDP administration opposed his proposal. Now that his party is elected and they have a bulletproof majority, he should introduce the Article-7 Amendment. In the past statements that were made by the current prime minister John Briceno, he was never in support of granting Belizeans with dual citizenship their full constitutional rights in Belize. His PUP party’s position was also the same. Our hope is that the party will reexamine their position on this unconstitutional position.
The party that gives Belizeans in the United States and the diaspora their full and fundamental rights as citizens of Belize, is the party for the country’s future. Such a party will never be forgotten by the Belizeans in the Diaspora because of the bold initiative they took in acknowledging their contributions to and support for their beloved homeland Belize. As Belizeans, we must think about the greater benefits that can come to our people and nation if full citizenship rights are granted to our Belizean citizens who possess dual nationality with the United States.
While our citizens with United States are not allowed to run for office, Belizean citizens that possess dual nationalities with other countries can run for office and retain their full dual nationality rights. This is in violation of the Belize constitution for failure to provide equal treatment and protection. Granting all Belizeans their full constitutional rights, is fitting and the rightful action for the government to take on behalf of our citizens and beloved country Belize.