Students Vote in Mock I.C.J. referendum
A significant event in the city today was a mock referendum on taking the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice. It all happened at Saint Catherine’s Academy and we partnered with the high school for the event as part of our I.C.J. series. Now, preparations began since last year and culminated today with the voting. The high school invited other schools from around the country to participate in the vote. And they did, from Toledo to Corozal. By all accounts, it was a huge success and involved many parts in the planning and execution. The debate was carried out without a flaw by the Yes and No teams, comprising of three students on each team. The presentations were informative, well-researched and at times emotional. The counting concluded in the afternoon and while the next generation won’t vote in the April tenth referendum, today they had a say and a taste of the ballot box. News Five’s Duane Moody has the following report.
Over a thousand students from high schools across the country converged at the Saint Catherine Academy in Belize City to witness a debate between SCA students on the pros and cons of the I.C.J. referendum. The mission was to inform the youth about the territorial claim by Guatemala so that, even though they won’t be eligible to vote, can take an informed position on the national issue.
Salome Tillett, Principal, SCA
“It was so engaging to see people of opposing views share their questions and give their audience and the listening public the opportunity to hear different sides of the issue because in educating people, it means the exposure to all sides on an issue. We have representatives from thirteen high schools, including from each district. So we have from Toledo, from Corozal, from San Pedro; we have from the west and from the city and it is because the leaders of these schools see the importance of engaging their students in this forum.”
There was approximately forty minutes of debating from the proponents and antagonist. All three-member teams were pointed with their research and reasoning behind the stance they took to defend. But was it convincing to their piers?
Vivian Ake, Proponent
“The more we prolong it, the more stifle the development of our country is. I think everyone has an idea of the 1859 treaty and there’s also a 1931 treaty that confirms that those are our boundaries; so that will help us in a way that it is already written.”
Krishna Guemez, Opponent
“Everything I said was not based on emotions; it was facts. So why we shouldn’t go? We are going to be wasting fifteen million dollars for a land that is already recognised by two hundred other countries in the world except Guatemala. Why should we? Who is Guatemala to us? So Belize didn’t fulfil a treaty so the I.C.J. could use that against us. And the ironclad cases? It is always a possibility that we will lose.”
Following the debate and with the assistance of the Foreign Affairs Ministry as well as the Elections and Boundaries Department, the voting process began at twelve-thirty with the full trappings of an actual election
“They have registered; they must present an ID, they will vote in secret ballot, they will dip their finger in the ink and at the end of the end of it, we will have counting officers that will count and issue the position of the students-whatever it is that they field.”
A total of nine hundred and fifteen students were registered to participate and decide whether or not the territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala should be taken to the International Court of Justice.
“While it is only a mock referendum, it mirrors what takes place on April tenth, the official referendum day in Belize. But whatever decision is made today, will the position taken by their parents and grandparents reflect the views of the next generation?”
Marleni Sho, Toledo Community College
“I felt that we were very informed because the way the two teams argued about whether they should say no or they should say yes was really good. At time you were kinda stuck on your decision whether to say yes or no but it was argued good.”
Xanthia Nicholas, Canaan SDA High School
“It has not really change my decision. My decision still stands as no. Belize should not have to fight for what they already own and I believe that Belize has a dominant because it already owns its territory.”
Dilhani Godoy, Corozal Community College
“When I first came it was no, we are not going; absolutely not because my teachers had spoken to us about this and I already had my whole plan. But when I came here and I heard everything that was said, I decided maybe we should go. I thought about our natural resources, I thought about the animals going extinct every year, the money that we are losing. And I think that we should; I think we should go to court get this settled, get the boundaries set straight so that we know what we are doing.”
“Is this something that you are going to take back to school, maybe even to your home to inform your parents who essentially will got o the polls for you on April tenth? They are the ones who are going to make the decision on your generation, the next generation.”
“I have actually spoken to my parents about this before so I think they are going to be really shocked that I changed my mind already. But yes I’ll definitely go talk to my parents and maybe take it back to my school and explain to my teachers.”
The polls closed at two-thirty and was followed by counting that lasted about one hour. And in the true sense of an election, there were rejected ballots, as well as persons who did not exercise their right to vote. As Principal Salome Tillett announced the results, only fifty-five percent voted.
“The no to the I.C.J. won by a small margin; they took fifty-five percent of the votes and the yes to the I.C.J. was forty-five percent. We had voter turnout of fifty-five percent so a large number of students did not vote. So we have to find out why. We know some students for various reasons they had to leave.”
Duane Moody for News Five.