I have long been a supporter of a yes vote on April 10thto bring the Guatemala’s unfounded claim to the ICJ. My decision to vote yes is hardly as a result of my known political affiliation, but has it come about from doing my homework to read, listen and question. That exercise has shown me that beyond a doubt, the facts are satisfactory to assure me that any risk of an adverse outcome is barely negligible, and in fact the probably of any territory being lost as a result of a ruling is next to zero. My strong conviction and dedication to this nation and its foundation would be betrayed if I were to succumb to fear that our case to solidify our very existence is flawed.
I will not dwell on the merits or demerits of the legal challenge, as there are many, qualified and otherwise, that are doing a fine job of that. For me, the simple truth is that any risk that small is worth taking in our fight to redefine our nationhood in our hearts, our minds and in the eyes of the world.
I have been asked over and over, what is the benefit of having a judgement in Belize’s favor and is it worth the risk, however small it may be? In my mind the benefits are beyond question, and to explain those benefits, its necessary for me to dive into the development dilemma that Belize seems to constantly find itself in. A dilemma whose cause, I daresay, is rooted in a culture that has developed where decisions that impact national development often gets stymied due to political (and I don’t necessarily mean partisan) tribalism. This divisive culture has pitted blue against red, macho against gay, environmentalists against developers, haves against have nots, the religious right against the secular liberals, and now the no’s against the yes’s. This climate of combat, post independence, has for decades held us back from taking our full and rightful place as a developed nation and entrenched within the chasm of division lives a cadre of “activists” and political fringe operators that seem to take glee in opposing for opposing sake, not because it makes sense but because it makes noise.
So many nations have chosen to succeed despite the deep challenges that they faced in their history. I speak of nations like Chile who as recent as the 1970s was embroiled in civil war, and who today stands out as a shining beacon of economic and cultural prosperity in South America. I speak of Rwanda, who as recent as 1994 was witness to one of the most brutal genocidal events this world has ever seen; today standing as an example of how development in an impoverished African continent is possible through modernization and good governance. There are may such stories of national triumph, but the theme has been constant throughout: Civil war, humanitarian crisis, recovery and then a decision by a determined population that their nation must reach its potential through unity and single-minded national development.
At home, we have never faced this kind of violent adversity, at least not in its overt form as these countries have endured. But we continue to face issues equally as grave as evidenced in the stark inequalities in wealth, education and privilege we witness every day. As a consequence of the endemic tribal disunity fueled by misguided activism, we have largely ignored the very crisis’ that need activism, and over-emphasized those that have little benefit to our nation. I often ask myself, why is it that the teachers will shut down schools to gain a pay raise, but will not lift a hand to advocate for better school experiences or for curricula that will provide the kind of graduates that will build our nation? Why is it that citizens of poor south-side neighborhoods will clamor their area representatives for a ham at Christmas, but nobody is demanding a housing program that will ensure the dignity of proper shelter and a comfortable bed for those marginalized Belizeans that live in conditions that foster the crime epidemic that is shaking our existence? Why is it that the business community will advance a position on good governance on the surface, but not demand improvements in the daily services that can improve our business climate?
The brand of advocacy practiced in Belize simply scratches the surface because it believes that most Belizeans will hardly every look any deeper, or for more than a week at any issue. As such they get away with falsehoods and generalities more often than not, accepted by a populace that has been trained to a react to hysteria and soundbites because, like the greasy fried chicken served through barred windows every evening, not much else of substance is ever fed to them.
Advocacy is valuable in a democracy, but misguided advocacy is far more dangerous than no advocacy. The opportunity cost of this collective wasted breath is the absence of economic growth and prosperity for all.
The ICJ hearing, and its outcome in my mind is not a crisis in any practical way as many of the “no” advocates want us to believe. The risks are minuscule to none, and the gains are so intangible that the outcome will most likely have little or no impact the lives of any Belizean today or next year. On April 11th, life will go on as usual whether we vote yes or no, but it is the intangibles that we must respect and appreciate if we are to understand the magnitude of the opportunity being placed at our doorstep today. This claim; this yoke around our necks that has consumed our national attention for one and a half millennia is an opportunity for us to fight and win our own cultural civil war, not with bullets and machetes, but with the right and might of law on our side, and with the world cheering us on so that we can take the responsibilities that we must so desperately in order to become a mature, grown up nation.
Our place on the world stage has come. Our time to cast aside differences and to unite as one in this battle that will legally and internationally define what we all know in our hearts to be true is one that all Belizeans must fight. The opportunistic counter-advocates that say that we ought to run and not fight are the same ones that are most often at the forefront of divisive positions aimed only at getting their voice on the airwaves at all cost. We must ask ourselves, whether the opinion of those that have sat at the table for decades, across party lines, in international forums, are to be trusted less than the voices of those that are using this issue to boost their own visibility.
I never in all my life believed that I would ever see Mr. Musa and Mr. Barrow on a stage agreeing on an issue as fundamental as this. The memory of Goldson, Price and countless other historical patriots starting with those that won the first battle on September 10, 1798, those that brought us to independence in 1981, should not be drowned out by those that advocate that we hide and do nothing, that we give up the opportunity for that epic triumph, with unity and national pride.
There are risks inherent in every action we take every day. Every document we sign, every contract we enter into and every challenge we face, legal or otherwise has risks, but had the Baymen of 1798 cowered at the risk of defeat by the Spanish, we would not even be having this conversation today. Had the drafters and presenters of the UN Resolution of 1976 faltered in their determination, where Belize’s right to independence and self-determination was upheld, we would not be having this conversation today.
April 10this an opportunity to face our fear and to sign up as soldiers in the fight against this unfounded claim. On that day, each and every Belizean of voting age must look at ourselves and decide whether we are willing to cheer our nation on to a resounding vindication of what we all know to be true, or whether we are willing to bury our heads in the sand and hand it off to our future generations.