Referendum Education Gets Off Print E-mail
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Thursday, 17 January 2013 00:00

ReferendumRepresentatives from virtually all media houses were present on Wednesday, January 16th at the Radisson Fort George Hotel as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs presented a comprehensive look at the Guatemala Claim. Making presentations was the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington; Dr. Herman Byrd, Director of the Belize Archives and Records Service; H.E. Alexis Rosado, CEO in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and; H.E. Stuard Leslie from the Referendum Unit at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The topics presented on ranged from a general overview of the Guatemalan claim to understanding the 1859 and 1931 treaties to the Special Agreement, which has Belize now involved in holding a referendum to the Awareness Campaign, which the Ministry is now tasked with administering to encourage voters to come out and vote on the issue.

On December 8th, 2008, there was a Special Agreement signed between Belize and Guatemala in which both countries agreed to hold simultaneous referenda in both countries asking their people whether or not to take the territorial claim to the International Court of Justice. Since then the date for the referendum has been set of October 6th, 2013 and the education machineries are now coming into full gear.

According to Ambassador Stuart Leslie, the campaign will be officially launched on Wednesday, January 23rd and it will be an all-encompassing education campaign. Leslie says that the driving factor behind the campaign will be to give the Belizean public the Pros, Cons and risks of going to the ICJ. He said that the initiative is being spearheaded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has set up an Advisory Commission that in turn has set up a Referendum Commission to oversee the process.

As it is, the commission will be tasked at getting information out by any means available. Leslie says that this will include public presentations across the country in town hall-type meetings and in schools. The intention is to get as many people as possible involved in the dialogue. He added that this will also be done through the social media like Facebook and other means.

For now, the commission has partnered with the Elections and Boundaries Department, which will be responsible for the election process. They have also gotten the support of the Press office and are now seeking to enlist the support of the media for dissemination of information. Also being asked to be a part of the process are the major political parties, which have so far not formally announced their position on the referendum  (the United Democratic Party has already adopted a position which will be ratified at the National Convention to be held in Corozal town on Febraury 17th). According to Leslie, the political parties are key in the entire process as they have the know-how and wear it all to bring out voters.

The referendum will see registered voters from across the country come out and vote on the following question :  “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the Parties?” A Yes vote to this question would mean that the issue will be taken to the ICJ for a final and definitive solution to the centuries old claim. A No vote would mean that the negotiation process must resume almost at square one.  The catch in the referendum is that both countries must carry it simultaneously and the people of both countries must pass a Yes vote for it to move to the ICJ.