Editorial

Editorial

The Government of Prime Minister Barrow will do irreparable damage to its reputation if it decides to grant voting rights to nationalized Guatemalans without first amending the Constitution which prohibits precisely such a thing.
There is general agreement among the Opposition and the government that in justice and equity something needs to be done about the thousands of Guatemalans resident in Belize who have become nationalized Belizeans.

But enfranchisement of these Guatemalan immigrants cannot be done by rationalizing the part of the Constitution which states at Section 26 (3): “No person shall be entitled under the provisions of this Part to be a citizen of Belize or to be granted citizenship of Belize if such person shows any allegiance to or is a citizen of a country which does not recognize the independence, sovereignty or territorial integrity of Belize:

“Provided that the Minister may in his discretion grant Belizean citizenship to persons falling under this sub-section who would otherwise be entitled to such citizenship under the provisions of sections 23 and 25 of the constitution.”
Sections 23 and 25 refer to those persons whose parent(s) were Belizean on Independence Day, 1981.

To the man in the street as well as to some of the best legal minds in the country the words of the Constitution are clear and unequivocal. But this does not mean that Guatemalan -Belizeans must necessarily be disfranchised.
The way to go about solving this dilema, if indeed we want to solve it, is for the Leader of the Government of Belize to consult with the Leader of the Opposition to decide on a suitable constitutional amendment that will be fair and equitable to all.

Both the Government and the Opposition have expressed a desire to find an answer to the dilemma. But they will not be able to do so by acting independently. At the same time it is unthinkable for the Government of Belize to unilaterally circumvent section 26 (3) of the Constitution.

Both sides working together can agree on a constitutional amendment within a week. The change can take place within a month, with both parties supporting the amendment.

The amendment should try to preserve the original intention of the Constitution by specifying that only Guatemalans who received Belizean nationality between a fixed time period are eligible to vote in national elections.

It is important for us not to forget that the original intention of the constitutional bar to Guatemalans arose from a concern that in time Belize could be overwhelmed by Guatemalan immigrants who have the power to out-vote native Belizeans in a referendum, or in national elections. That possibility continues to exist today, so it behooves both parties to step cautiously on this matter for the greater good of Belize.

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