COLA says No to ICJ referendum

Belize should not allow the resolution of the Belize-Guatemalan territorial dispute to go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Geovanni Brackett, the president of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), declared at their “State of the Nation” press conference, held at the Belize Institute of Management on Wednesday, October 10.

Guatemala’s claim is unfounded and illegal, and Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington has publicly espoused the idea of going to the ICJ, saying Belize stands a very good chance of winning the dispute, but Bracket remains unconvinced.

He said COLA is against going to the ICJ, because he believes Belize is in a vulnerable state and has far more to lose as a nation than Guatemala, if the court were not rule in our favor.

Bracket cited the “overwhelming number of Guatemalans claiming Belizean citizenship”, saying we have reacted “spinelessly to numerous insults to our territorial integrity by a country that has never been clear on its intentions.”

He said COLA is outraged that OAS has never condemned the illegal actions of Guatemalans who rape our forest, illegally settle on our territory, illegally hunt our wildlife, illegally fish and pollute our waters, yet when a Guatemalan is shot on our side of the border, it’s called “reprehensible.”

Bracket said he found it suspicious that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is tight-lipped about border matters, accusing the ministry of a policy of silence. He warned that COLA will go to great lengths to prevent Belize from going to the ICJ, and that COLA has the support of a wide number of civil society partners, who will soon launch a separate campaign saying “No to the ICJ.”

He reminded his listeners that Belize is going through a period of great uncertainty as it seeks to restructure the Belize U.S. Dollar Bond (super bond), as the oil production, which gave Belize’s economy such resilience against a global recession, is on the decline, while unemployment, inflation and crime are rampant.

Despite the nationalization of public utilities, Belize’s Internet rates continue to be some of the highest in the world and electricity rates are no different.

Brackett lamented Belizeans’ uncertainty that they may have a fair chance of happiness, since so many are out of work and many more have lost jobs as businesses shut down. He called for infrastructural changes for law enforcement agencies which lack the technology and training to secure convictions and to the legal system to address the high increase in crime, as sex offenders continue to be granted bail too easily, with a spate of acquittals based on technicalities.

Perhaps the only ray of sunshine in this vale of tears is that Belize remains the only nation in the region without a kidnapping for ransom, Brackett noted.

Patrick Menzies also raised the issue of educational reform, saying Belize’s national university, the University of Belize, is not in tune with the private sector, and in some case, is teaching a curriculum which is out of date, using as examples, businesses and corporations which have already closed down and are no longer applicable.

Menzies also called for an increase and cheaper access for Belizeans to information and communication technology, quoting from Minister of Science and Technology Senator Joy Grant on this issue, that increased access to ICT can stimulate economic growth and increased Gross Domestic product.

He noted that Belize lagged far behind the rest of the region with only 10% Internet penetration into households, where other countries of similar size, such as Costa Rica has a 30% internet penetration.

Rufus X raised the issue of land ownership and titles, and how much of Belize’s arable land is foreign owned, while Belizeans must run a gauntlet of bureaucratic obstacles to gain title to a simple house-lot or piece of farm land. Self-styled Director of National Security Nedal Murphy took issue with the fact that all the heads of the Judiciary, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Solicitor General, and the Financial Intelligence Unit are foreign nationals or hold foreign passports.

Former City Council candidate Gilroy Usher Jr. also weighed in on the issue of the rising cost of living, where even basic necessities such as rice, beans, flour and sugar are unattainable by many Belizeans, while many others are frustrated in their search for work, as businesses close down due to crime and violence. He welcomed direct foreign investments such as ASR’s US$64 million for acquisition of a controlling interest in Belize Sugar Industry, but noted the pillow of tax exemptions and other goodies which sweetened the deal, while the cane farmers got no such concessions from government.

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