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July 20
10:15 2018

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Dean Barrow met with representatives of Belizean Citizens Abroad (BCA) and the Belize Rural Economic Development of Agriculture (BREDDA) to discuss their concern about the Guatemalans becoming Belizeans and the issue of Belizeans in the diaspora being required to reside in Belize for two months in order to qualify to re-register.

The re-registration exercise is just about three weeks old and the complaints that have surfaced from the political parties and concerned groups hover over primarily two main issues: that Guatemalan-born persons have been allowed to become Belizean citizens and that Belizeans living in the diaspora will not be able to re-register to vote.
There was no common ground reached on the matter of Guatemalans having Belizean citizenship because of the legal complications, coupled with human rights concerns that are involved.

This concern became salient because a section of Belize’s Constitution stipulates that no person who is a citizen of a country that does not recognize Belize’s Independence and territorial integrity can become a citizen of Belize. But both the PUP and UDP had, acting as the government since 1981, embarked on a Renunciation Program which allowed Guatemalan-born individuals to have Belizean nationality if they renounced their country of birth. But Guatemala has lately raised the point that none of their citizens can, by their Constitution, renounce their country.

Therein lies the problem. Recently, Attorney General Senator Michael Peyrefitte said that unless it can be proven that fraud was involved in the issuance of Belizean citizenship to Guatemalans, he does not see why these people should not be allowed to re-register. In addition to that, Peyrefitte said that these Belizean nationals in the diaspora have been stripped of their citizenship, and he cannot see why they should not be permitted to re-register.

Prime Minister Barrow said he agreed with Peyrefitte’s legal opinion, while the diaspora representatives are of the view that Constitutional violations are paramount.

But the Prime Minister indicated that the government would support an undertaking that any naturalized Belizean who exercises citizenship rights in Guatemala would immediately lose Belizean citizenship.

The groups also brought up Section 19, Chapter 121 of The Nationality Act which deals with invalid renunciations. The section stipulates that: “Where any person purports to renounce citizenship of any country for the purpose of acquiring, retaining or resuming, under any provision of this Act, the status of a citizen of Belize, and it is found at any time that the renunciation was not in accordance with or not effective under the law in force in that behalf in such other country, that person shall be deemed never to have acquired, retained or resumed, under that provision, that status of a citizen of Belize; and if the Minister makes a declaration to that effect in any such case, the declaration shall be final.

“The Prime Minister said that he understands the diaspora’s position on the issue of the violation of Belize’s Constitution, but explained that these Guatemalans with Belizean citizenship were initially granted Permanent Resident status then, after five years, were given Belizean citizenship. He added that the government’s position is that their citizenship was not acquired fraudulently, but that the matter is “subject to correction, but only if a judge says otherwise.”

As it pertains to Belizeans living abroad, the Prime Minister promised to discuss the matter with the Elections and Boundaries Commission for further clarification on what constitutes “ordinarily residing” as stipulated by the law.
While the groups felt that it would not be a complicated Constitutional amendment, the Prime Minister indicated that he does not believe the government could implement a process that would allow the diaspora to register before April 10, 2019 to vote in the ICJ referendum.

Both sides agree that the diaspora submit a proposal on diaspora voting, which will at some point include the input of Belizeans and consultation with the Opposition.

Last year, the BCA held a forum in Belize City on these same issues and says it plans to continue the advocacy and awareness on them.

Since re-registration began at the start of July, the Elections and Boundaries Department has reported that some 35,951 applicants have applied to re-register, with 19,281 people applying from July 8 and 14, adding to the 16,670 applicants of the first week.

The Reporter has sought an interview with the Chief Elections Officer, Josephine Tamai to discuss how her office has been dealing with this matter and how many of these cases have arisen, specifically in the border towns.


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