Belizean Citizens Abroad (BCA) and BREDDA had a meeting today with the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow to discuss Guatemalan Citizenship, re-registration and the diaspora voting restrictions.
The Prime Minister spoke to Muriel Arthurs, Bilal Morris, Hubert Pipersburgh, Joseph Guerrero, Debbie Curling and Aria Lightfoot. According to Lightfoot, on the matter of Guatemalans with Belizean citizenship, the diaspora members and Prime Minister reached an impasse as there are many complicated legal, human rights and constitutional issues at stake. The Prime Minister believes the Attorney General’s legal opinion is sound and the diaspora representatives believe the Constitutional violations are paramount. The sticking point was naturalized Guatemalan Belizeans who did not renounce in a manner that rid them of Guatemalan citizenship. The diaspora’s position was this invokes Section 19, chapter 121 of The Nationality Act which references invalid renunciations.
Aria Lightfoot: “In the meeting the prime minister gave us his opinion, we gave him our opinion regarding the matter. We can say we reached an impasse, we basically did not agree with their position and he admitted that it would have to be a legal determination by the court because he has a legal opinion provided by the attorney general and we thought that the constitution regardless of the position that they are taking I can’t see how they can overcome a constitutional violation so that is where we were on that issue.”
Lightfoot also said they discussed diaspora voting rights and the two-month residency restriction. The Prime Minister agreed clarification was needed around this residency requirement as it also affects Belizeans who are transient residents such as those studying, working, seeking medical help abroad, but who ordinarily reside in Belize.
Aria Lightfoot: “That two month residency restriction doesn’t only affect people within the diaspora, it also affects Belizeans and the reason it does is that there are a lot of Belizeans who are seasonal workers now , we have people who are working on cruise ships, the definition of when these laws were created they are really not created for the reality that exists today and while there are exceptions for people who are working with the government overseas or who are on medical leave or whatever the reality is that there is a lot of Belizeans who are engaged in some level of employment or something that the exception did not include and he thought that that law basically meant ordinarily residents which means that it doesn’t matter how long that they live in a division for example. If I live here do I need to physically reside here for two months and there are a lot of transient people who might not be able to prove that they live anywhere for two months and then there we brought up issues of how residency is even enforced and those are some of the weaknesses that we brought up regarding this law.”
The restriction as it stands suppresses different groups’ ability to register and to ultimately vote. The Prime Minister promises to discuss with the Elections and Boundaries for further clarification on what constitutes “ordinarily residing.” Lightfoot also said that the Prime Minister 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.