Ethnicity, Party Politics & the Constitution in Belize

By Dylan Vernon, Real Story #8, 12 June 2024.

In my Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution, I argue that, although Belizean political culture will have some influence on constitutional reform decisions, not everything about it deserves preservation or adaptation. Yet it is important to build on the bits that do. As Belizeans, we generally value free elections, peaceful changes of government, open political expression, political tolerance and ethnically inclusive party politics. In this REAL STORY post, I focus on the latter. In the nationalist and post-independence politics of Belize, there were moments when our multi-ethnic demography seemed to be a potent brew for the development of ethnic-based parties. But Belize has been successful in avoiding these – unlike Caribbean states such as Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago. So, how has Belize managed this and how do we keep it so?

Ethnic Politics & the Nationalist Movement

There were potential opportunities for ethnic-based parties to spring up in Belize in the 1950s and 60s as the Belize’s nationalist leaders jostled for power and formed political parties. Although not as overt, as say between Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese groups, there were pre-existing tensions among some of Belize’s ethnic groups – due, in part, to the divide and rule tactics of the British.… Read the rest...

You Need Yesterday to Make Revolution Today

By Assad Shoman, Guest Post #2, 19 May, 2024.

Dr. Assad Shoman, well-known Belizean activist and historian, agreed to pen a response to my recent post Talking About a Revolution? Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution (TIME COME #6, 3 April, 2024).

“We cannot seriously talk about decolonization if we don’t come to terms with colonialism. Belize has a singular and debilitating experience that seriously impedes it from engaging in a real decolonization process, one that seeks to destroy colonialism and all it stands for. First because our independence movement, with help from the colonizers, divided in 1956, and second because the Guatemalan threat blinded us to the realities of colonialism.”

At the outset, Dylan is right to lament the appalling fact that the Constitution is not taught to Belizeans anywhere: in no home, school, trade union, political party, Cabinet or even legislature. Belizeans are just expected to know by some process of miraculous ingestion what the document that rules and shapes their lives has to say about their rights and responsibilities, about how they are governed, ruled, reigned over.

To clear the decks and get to what I want to comment on in his very insightful treatise, let me say that I agree with the substance and in many cases the details of his first 14 proposals, but I have a problem with the 15th.… Read the rest...

Total Fusion! The Perilous Rise of the ‘Execu-lature’

By Dylan Vernon, TIME COME #7, 21 April 2024.

On 3 April 2024, Prime Minister Briceño, after the massive victory of his party in the March municipal elections, re-instated a minister to Cabinet and also gifted three more People’s United Party (PUP) representatives in the House with the status of ministers of state. The Press Release was tellingly honest in justifying the new appointments: “These adjustments and assignments come on the heels of an overwhelming mandate at the polls.” The result was that all 26 PUP representatives in the House are now ministers or ministers of state and so part of both the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Of course, the PUP is not unique in engaging in this anti-democratic practice. For example, in 2012 former Prime Minister Barrow appointed all 17 representatives of the United Democratic Party (UDP) as ministers and ministers of state. In 2008, Barrow appointed 21 of 25 UDP representatives as ministers and ministers of state. Even when not all representatives are appointed to the Executive, their numbers are invariably the majority in the House. This extreme merger of powers in our Belizeanized version of parliamentary monarchy is at the heart of much of the backsliding of Belize’s democracy and good governance.Read the rest...

From a Queen to a King to What?  Belize Still Waiting in 2024

By Dylan Vernon, Real Story #8, April 15, 2024.

In my Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution, I argue that replacing the British monarch as our Head of State must be more than symbolic. Changing nothing else will simply mean that we move from being a parliamentary monarchy to a parliamentary republic with a Belizean figurehead. When the time does come, how can we make it more substantive than just changing figureheads? My proposal for a directly elected national leader (often called a president) leading a Cabinet with members from outside the legislature will receive intense opposition from those who benefit most from the existing power dynamics. But prior to even discussing this or any proposal on what kind of republic we want to be, we have to agree that we want to be one. Even in 2024, that part does not seem straightforward.

Looking Back: Republic Talk in 1963

Photo shows W.H. Courtenay, C.L.B Rogers and George Price signing on to the self-government Constitution in London in July 1963.

In pre-independence Belize the majority public sentiment leaned decidedly towards imitating British parliamentary model and practice. But, since the nationalist movement began in the 1950’s there were always alternative voices.… Read the rest...

Talking About a Revolution? Fifteen Proposals for a People’s Constitution

By Dylan Vernon, TIME COME #6, 3 April 2024.

What should be in the Constitution of Belize to truly make it a ‘People’s Constitution’? We complain and, sometimes, even agree about what’s wrong, but finding common, enduring and impactful reforms eludes us. In this TIME COME, I share some pieces of the puzzle that I believe are needed for framing meaningful constitutional change. These fifteen proposals evolve from long years of analysis and advocacy for political reforms that enhance both formal and social democracy. They are not all original nor exhaustive but hopefully provocative. Some will be deemed too radical, a few too conservative. But it is crystal clear that incremental partisan constitutional tinkering since independence has failed miserably to tackle the core threats to the quality of our democracy and national development. It’s high time for revolutionary constitutional thinking and action.

A Constitution – More Than Fancy Words

If Belize’s expensive education system and if the current People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) were on the ball, more Belizeans would know that our Constitution should not be distant from our common aspirations, problems and lived realities. More Belizeans would know why our Constitution and its reform are crucially important for our enjoyment of human rights, for better governance and for the public issues that affect our daily livelihoods – jobs, taxes, education, roads, security, housing, healthcare etc.… Read the rest...