To be or not to be

Contributed by:
Lisa Shoman

In early 2013, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) launched a new advertising campaign for Belize. Research conducted by the BTB showed that Belize needed to “re-brand” after 26 years of being Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret” and ‘Discover How to Be” was launched as Belize’s new campaign, with gorgeous ads and posters, urging visitors to “BE still”, “BE inspired” “BE native” “BE uncharted” and “BE unleashed”.

The idea was that in Belize, the visitor was free to BE. But is that really true?
The recent news that a private sector entity in Belize, Caribbean Villas Resorts, is advertising that it is holding an LGBT “pride event” in Belize which is billed as “ Temptation Island Pride Week” raises important issues about the Laws of Belize, visitors to Belize and the tourism industry and the freedom of the visitor “to BE”.
It is clear that Belize’s laws as they currently stand, do have a real impact, not only in respect of the entry of visitors in Belize, but also because of the criminal sanctions to which visitors to Belize may unwittingly be exposed while staying in our country.

The BTB and the alphabet soup of stakeholders of the Belize tourism industry such as the BHA, BTIA, BTGA, BNTOA and all tourism industry stakeholders who are not members of any association, have a duty of care, (which they fulfill to some degree) in ensuring that visitors to Belize are informed that our national law has serious criminal penalties for drug/ firearm possession and for sexual assault against minors and children in Belize.

But the BTB and the tourism industry stakeholders have failed in the duty of care which is similarly owed to visitors and guests to Belize in disclosing that under the Immigration Act, Chapter 156 of the Laws of Belize, any “immigrant” to Belize who falls under Section 5, thereof, is a “prohibited immigrant” and therefore prevented from entering Belize unless an exemption is given by the Minister of Immigration to allow such a visitor to even BE in Belize.

An “immigrant” is defined in the Immigration Act as being any “person who enters Belize from a place outside Belize, whether for the first or at any subsequent time”, and this includes all tourists and visitors to Belize.
So who exactly falls under Section 5? All visitors (immigrants) who fall under one of the following categories:

“(a) any person who is likely if he enters Belize to become a charge on public funds by reason of infirmity of body or mind or of ill health or who is not in possession of sufficient means to support himself and such of his dependents as he shall bring with him to Belize;”

(b) any idiot or any person who is insane or mentally deficient or any person who is deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind, unless in any such case he or a person accompanying him or some other person gives security to the satisfaction of the Director of Immigration and Nationality Services for his permanent support in Belize or for his removal therefrom whenever required by the Director of Immigration and Nationality Services;

(e) any prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behaviour; and

(h) any person who, from information or advice which in the opinion of the Minister on reliable information or advice, is deemed by the Minister to be an undesirable inhabitant of or visitor to Belize;”

Yes, those are the actual words in the Immigration Act. The BTB and those tourism industry stakeholders should be aware that the esteemed customer/visitor to Belize, is legally prohibited from entering Belize if that guest is “any idiot” or “deaf and dumb or deaf and blind, or dumb and blind” (in those very words) unless the guest can prove that he/she has means (or someone else does) for “his permanent support in Belize” (or removal) or the Minister grants an exemption.

Equally, as the BTB and tourism stakeholders should know, any tourist is legally prohibited from entering Belize if such a visitor is a “prostitute or homosexual or any person who may be living on or receiving or may have been living on or receiving the proceeds of prostitution or homosexual behavior” unless the Minister grants an exemption like the one which was issued to Sir Elton John, who had to be granted a special permit to enter Trinidad and Tobago for the 2007 CL Financial Plymouth Jazz Festival – because the pop star is openly gay.

But when Belize is being promoted as a paradise where a Visitor can “Just BE” – if the BTB and tourism stakeholders never advise the visitor what they cannot freely BE, if they are not to be made subject to our laws which exclude them explicitly from BEing in BElize in the first place, without a ministerial exemption or expose the visitor to severe criminal penalties, then that is, with all due respect, rank hypocrisy.

Visitors who are hearing, speech or visually impaired or have mental or learning incapacity deserve to know that Belize will not allow them to BE here as an “immigrant” without BEing liable to legal restrictions on their entry.

The same holds true for visitors who are a “prostitute” or a “homosexual”. And it matters not if anyone – including the Government of Belize – claims that the law is not applied to exclude persons on the basis of sexual orientation alone because the words and intent of the Immigration law are plain; and they are insulting.

Furthermore, visitors to the Jewel are not told that if caught engaging in oral or anal sex, even if such persons are married or single, heterosexual or otherwise, such visitors may be charged under S. 53 of the Criminal Code for “Unnatural Crime” and are exposed and liable to imprisonment for a period of ten years.

And that is wrong, because until the laws of BElize change, visitors who have sex in a certain manner, with another consenting adult, in the privacy of their accommodations are at risk for arrest for criminal activity – or for being extorted to prevent a report being made to police.

Caribbean Villas Hotel is free to exercise its right, under the Constitution of Belize to encourage persons to assemble and associate in any lawful manner but the establishment owes a duty of care to its LGBT guests to make a full and careful disclosure as to the Laws of Belize.

Caribbean Villas Hotel ought, however, given the current laws of Belize, explain carefully to each guest who books for the “first annual Temptation Island Pride Week”, what are the applicable laws of the land; and it must do so before any of its LGBT guests arrives in Belize for the excitement of “nightly activities such as Drag Shows, Toga Parties, Leather & Lace Parties, a Masquerade Ball, Runway Model Shows and more”.

The Management of Caribbean Villas Hotel has a duty to do so even before the hotel puts those persons at risk without issuing any prior warning, and before the Hotel itself is charged as an accessory to crime, and/or faces potential civil suit for such failure to disclose to its LGBT guests what are the laws of the land that impact them.

To be clear, there is absolutely nothing illegal at all about attending “nightly activities such as Drag Shows, Toga Parties, Leather & Lace Parties, a Masquerade Ball, Runway Model Shows and more”. What is problematic is the risk faced in particular by same-sex couples who chose to engage in consensual adult sexual activity, even in the privacy of their rooms – because those persons are, pursuant to S. 53 of the Criminal Code, placed in a position of potential criminal sanction.

What is more, certain persons who are helping to promote the event on social media are now trying to claim that protests will not be allowed; and closer to the organizers, the claim is being made that “cabinet” has raised no ‘objections’ to the event. Both contentions are absurd given the Constitutional right to free speech and assembly, as well as the fact that GOB is still involved in 2 lawsuits – one opposed to decriminalizing anal sex, and the other at the CCJ which is about the immigration law.

Caribbean Villas Hotel is not alone, however, in its apparent disregard for observing the proper duty of care owed to certain visitors to Belize while admittedly chasing their dollar, whether ‘green’ or ‘pink’.

Each and every host involved in the tourism industry in Belize is equally morally culpable if they fail in that duty of care to LGBT visitors. Until and unless these laws are changed, hosts should, indeed MUST explain to each of its guests to Belize who falls, or even may fall into a prohibited category, or may be at risk for arrest under Section 53 of the Criminal Code – that in Belize, an immigrant is only free to BE – if the law permits.

What the tourism industry in Belize cannot afford, is to continue to behave like the proverbial ostrich, in the hope that if the head is buried in sand, the issue will go away. It will not. The ‘pink dollar’ is strong and the LGBT tourist will, if we welcome them, come to Belize and contribute to our economy.

But, the BTB and the tourism stakeholders in Belize owe the tourism industry, and the persons it serves – both members and visitors to the Jewel – an honest and open reflection on the matter, as well as the advocacy needed to change the Laws of Belize for the Jewel to BE truly inclusive and non-discriminatory and to work to repeal the outdated and ugly way that the Jewel’s laws treat citizens – and visitors. It is time to take up the responsibility. Just BEgin.

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