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Students vote 55% No – 45% Yes in Mock Referendum

Students vote 55% No – 45% Yes in Mock Referendum
January 25
09:05 2019
REPORTER: News Staff, Jan. 25th. - 

A sampling of students from 15 high schools from all over Belize voted 55% NO, 45% YES, to taking the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), in a mock referendum hosted by St. Catherine Academy in Belize City on Friday, January 18.

The mock referendum was the climax to the “Voice of the Generation Next Debate” organized by SCA at the Mercy Center auditorium, in collaboration with Channel 5, which broadcast the debate live on television and on Facebook.

SCA students Vivian Ake, Davern Rodriguez and Camryn Linarez argued in favour of taking the dispute to the ICJ. They argued that it was important to protect Belize’s resources and wildlife against the depredation of poachers from across the border, and to have international support for the enforcement of Belize’s laws, and that the process would be helped by having definitive ruling on Belize’s existing borders. They indicated that Belize has a strong position base on the historical occupation of the land dating back to 1798, and the official establishment of the colony of British Honduras in the early 1800’s both of which preceded Guatemala’s independence from Spain in 1821. They further pointed out the Guatemala itself had recognized Belize’s borders by the 1859 treaty with Great Britain, notwithstanding the fact that Britain had not fulfilled a condition of the treaty, to build a highway from Guatemala’s capital to the Caribbean Sea.

Their schoolmates Krishna Guemez, Zaria Hinds and Anya Andrews argued against going to the ICJ. They said Belize had too much to lose by submitting the unfounded claim to a foreign tribunal, and that this process was totally unnecessary, since Belizeans already have possession of the territory, and have many international friends who support Belize’s independence and territorial integrity.

Mrs. Kalima Enriquez-Hibberd, Head of SCA’s Humanities Department and her team organized the debate, which was conducted by parliamentary procedure. Each side presented their initial arguments, and then both sides had the opportunity to present further arguments in rebuttal of their opponents’ view. The students had spent a week researching the issue prior to preparing their arguments, and had consulted with the government’s referendum unit, former Foreign ministers Assad Shoman and Lisa Shoman, as well as attorneys Orson Elrington and Eamon Courtenay.

The Mercy Center was packed to capacity as the audience included students from 14 other secondary schools: Corozal Community College, Muffles College of Orange Walk, San Pedro High School on Ambergris Caye, the TUBAL Institute and King’s College in Belize Rural, St. Ignatius High School in Santa Elena, Cayo, Sacred Heart College from San Ignacio, and from the South – Stann Creek Ecumenical College and Toledo Community College. Other city high schools included Pallotti High School, St. John’s College, Canaan Seventh Day Adventist High School, Sadie Vernon Technical and Maud Williams High School.

The students had been invited to participate in the mock referendum from weeks before, and those who wished had registered weeks earlier. Those 916 names were then printed on the list of eligible voters. The Elections and Boundaries Commission helped set up the secret ballot process, which was identical to the procedures followed in any national election. Only registered students on the voters’ list were allowed to vote, and they had to present a valid identification to obtain a ballot from the officials. Anyone who did not have an ID, or whose name was not on the list, was turned away. The students had to dip their index finger in indelible ink when they received their ballot which was initialed by the receiving officer, at which time their names were crossed off the list. They marked the ballot in voting booths and had to fold the ballot and show the initials to the official before placing their ballot in the ballot boxes.

The final count showed only 55% cast their vote after the debate, and of these 55 per cent voted against going to the ICJ, and 45%. Some of the reasons cited for the low turnout were that many of the students were queuing up to get lunch, and afterwards many had to rush to catch their transportation back home.

SCA principal Salome Tillett explained that the entire vote and referendum was organized as part of the education process to help the students understand the issues at stake, the electoral process, and to encourage their patriotism and participation in the national discourse among young voters.

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