Nada Radical: Jamaica’s Constitutional Reform Proposals

By Dylan Vernon, TIME COME #9, 23 July 2024.

For those in the Caribbean expecting inspiration from the Report of the Constitutional Reform Committee (CRC) of Jamaica, don’t hold your breaths. After a fourteen-month process, the fifteen-member CRC released its Report in May 2024, and it is currently awaiting debate in Jamaica’s Parliament. The cautious tone of the recommendations is not surprising given the elite approach that characterised the CRC membership and much its process. Could it be too that the failure of advancing progressive recommendations in other CRC processes led to bland conservatism? Witness what happened, for example, in St. Vincent & the Grenadines (2009), in St. Lucia (2011), in Grenada (2016) and most recently in Chile. Whatever the reasons, it is another opportunity lost for progressive and substantive constitutional decolonisation in the Caribbean. Is this where Belize and the rest of the Caribbean are going?

 A Top-Down Process in Jamaica

Apart from Belize and Jamaica, constitutional reform processes in the CARICOM states are now underway in Barbados, , St. Lucia, Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago. St. Kitts & Nevis has promised one. Antigua & Barbuda and St. Vincent and the Grenadines have promised to start a process to ditch the King as Head of State.… Read the rest...

The Military & the Constitution: Our Soldiers on Streets of Belize and Haiti??

By Dylan Vernon, TIME COME #8, 9 July 2024.

Three recent developments sparked my interest in this topic: the Cabinet decision in late 2023 that Belize could send armed forces to Haiti, the extension of the current state of emergency in parts of Belize (that brings suspects face-to-face with armed soldiers), and the introduction last month of the National Security Council Bill. The latter defines ‘armed forces’ as the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Coast Guard and “any other authority of Belize that has functions relating to the military defence of the country on land, air, sea, or in the cyber domain.” These developments all beg a critical question: Does our current Constitution deal adequately with matters related to the role and use of our armed forces? I argue that it needs to do better.

Not Much in the Constitution 

In his 2008 book A Caribbean Identity: Memoirs of the Colonial Service, A.S. Frankson tells of how one day in 1969, when he was permanent secretary of Home Affairs, Minister C.L.B Rogers directed him to prepare a Cabinet paper (his last) on the establishment of the Belize Defence Force. Due largely to delayed independence it was not until 1978 that the Belize Volunteer Guard transitioned into the Belize Defence Force (BDF) – with the mandate to defend Belize and to support the maintenance of order within its borders (Defence Act).… Read the rest...

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...