Belize Diaspora Summit in LA Addresses Immigration and Voting Rights

Belize Diaspora Summit in LA Addresses Immigration and Voting Rights

Hundreds of members of the diaspora were in the Los Angeles area in the United States where members of government and public officers were present carrying out several exercises.  It was an event, titled, The Belize Diaspora Summit.  At this event, the diaspora was able to access information on lands and immigration matters as both departments had mobile clinics at the LAX Marriott.  Multiple panel discussions were also held that focused on political and voting rights, diaspora investments in Belize as well as challenges faced in returning home.  Yesterday’s session that was broadcast on XTV yesterday had to do with voting and political rights.  Present at the head table for this discussion was Minister Kareem Musa.  He addressed the issue by recalling the failure of the Private Member Bill that Musa had advocated for and that would have seen the diaspora having voting rights in the ICJ Referendum in 2019.

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: To when I think back to the private members bill I could feel a united front moving forward, an actual deliberate move by diaspora Belizeans coming together and saying, this is our time, this is an important existential threat, we want to have a say. And I felt that momentum picked up a lot of steam both in Belize and here in the diaspora and I don’t know if it is because the bill did not succeed why we felt that we could not continue that push. But I do feel as though there has been a withdrawal, as Brother Nuri put it, of feeling sidelined and it’s totally justified in having that feeling. And when you ask me why would politicians on a whole not want to have the diaspora have a say. And again, I’m speaking in general, PUP, UDP, PNP, what have you. It perhaps has to do with the fact that one, going back to the original point, there is not that united push and two, there is a lot of uncertainty. I was discussing with Aria before we came in the room how many Belizeans do we have? And Aria mentioned it was probably around 100,000, and somebody came and chimed in and said, no it’s more like 225,000. And so that’s a huge disparity. And so I think we really have to do some research and getting to the bottom and registering all our diaspora Belizeans in a database so that we can go, whether it is another private member’s bill, whether the government takes an initiative to the National Assembly, a motion, but we have to have the data. That is the first step, having the data to know how many Belizeans are out there in the diaspora, not just in the United States, but all across the world. And then the creation of events like this, this is an excellent movement in and of itself, right here. This is advocacy, like what Brother Nuri said. This is advocacy and these are the types of things that then lend to further conversations, further lobbying, and this is where the voices start to get registered at home. And so I would hope that this push for political rights and more political say can continue with a united diaspora. I know that the members of our political administration are willing to listen. And again, I think we have to get to the bottom of the numbers and move from there.”

Musa was in opposition at the time he lobbied for the Private Member Bill.  Five years later, as a minister in government, he indicated that he would be open to revisiting the idea of lobbying for voters’ rights in the diaspora.   

Kareem Musa, Minister of Home Affairs: “Definitely that’s something that I think should be advocated for. That is my personal opinion. Currently the way that the Representation of the People Act is structured as what Brother Mario was mentioning. You have to be resident at an address for three months prior to going in to register. Now I think we can look at this from several different ways, several ways to skin the cat. The approach that we had taken along with Aria and these good gentlemen was to remove that portion of the law that said you had to be registered at a particular address for three months. So removing any sort of timeline whatsoever, any time requirement. That way, whenever Mario goes home for his two weeks, he can register because that is his home. That is his family home, and he’s allowed to vote, to register and vote in the constituency where he has his family home. So that is one way in which to do it. I think looking at a seventh district, I agree with you that perhaps we cannot go as far as to say we can have an election for a member of the House of  Representatives that represents the diaspora because then it’s no longer Belize the country geographically that we’re looking at, we’re looking at outside. And I don’t know if there’s any country that has that seventh district representative in terms of an elected representative but certainly when it comes to an appointment of a senator I think that is certainly something that could be considered and something that I think the diaspora should in fact advocate.”

The Diaspora Summit concluded today with a gala scheduled for tonight. 

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