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  • Writer's picture@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood

Some Belizeans Push for Diaspora to Vote, Like Portuguese Emigrants

Updated: Feb 5




The author, third from right, at Belize International Airport, leaving after her first trip home    (Photo by Emanda Kirkwood)

 

At one time, leaving the country of our birth to live in another meant that we could never go home again.

 

The kisses, hugs and tears, shared with family and friends on docks, airports and roads, would be our final ones.

 

After we departed, we would share a physical closeness with our loved ones only through the crinkling of onionskin letters as we unfolded them, if that much. Otherwise, we disappeared after we left one life for another.

  

Emigration, profound in any era, was a decision of no return.

 

Not true today.

 

Emigrants from Belize and Portugal experience saudade, or longing, for the world that they have left behind.  However, time and money permitting, they now are able to assuage their homesickness by visiting on a regular basis. Many plan to return, building or maintaining houses. The channels are open between the emigrants and their home countries.

 

I am a Belizean, who was born in the United States, and am now living in Portugal. Both Belize, a Caribbean Central American country, and Portugal, on the European Iberian Peninsula, have complex migration situations with significant numbers of people leaving and significant numbers arriving in search of different lives.

 

“The mobility of people is one of the engines of History,” wrote Henrique Monteiro, in his Expresso (January 19) column. “Wanting to stop it . . .  is like stopping the wind with your hands. Nothing will stop this primordial impulse of human beings, and, fortunately, with more or less friction, we will have to accommodate ourselves under rules, laws and a common basis of coexistence.”

 

Some of those rules and laws involve the rights of emigrants in their home countries and immigrants in their host countries.

 

Portuguese emigrants have the right to vote as well as representation in the Assembleia da República, or legislature. Foreign residents can vote in local elections and hold local office.

 

Belizeans in the diaspora, on the other hand, have neither the vote nor representatives in Parliament. Foreign residents do not have the right to vote in elections.

 

Internationally, most democracies in the first half of the 20th century denied emigrants voting rights. However, during the last decades, many have chosen to enfranchise this group. In 2007, a total of 177 states (out of 195 members of the United Nations) had some form of voting rights, according to Enfranchisement as a Tool for Integration: The 1975 Extension of Voting Rights to Resident Aliens in Sweden (February 14, 2021), Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora.

 

Belize Prime Minister John Briceño, wearing a hat, at St. Benedict Roman Catholic School in Punta Gorda, Toledo District, Belize         (Photo from Breaking Belize News (October 12, 2023)

 

Belize Prime Minister John Briceño

 

Belizean Prime Minister John Briceño addressed the long-practiced custom of emigrant support in November 2023 after a visit to the United States. The U.S. is a top destination country for Belizean emigrants along with Mexico, Canada and other English-speaking Caribbean countries, according to Integral Human Development, a Roman Catholic publication. In a speech recorded by Love FM on YouTube, Prime Minister Briceño said:

 

“During COVID, the diaspora sent approximately $300 million to Belizeans. (In 2022, remittances accounted for 5.031 percent of Gross National Product, according to the World Bank.)

 

“Many Belizeans would not have had food to eat if they had not been sent that money. (The minimum hourly wage rose from BZ$3.30, or 1.52 euros, to BZ$5.00, or 2.31 euros, in January 2023, according to the Government of Belize Press Office.)

 

“The diaspora raises funds for health. The diaspora raises funds for education. The diaspora sometimes sends us experts to help us in Belize. . . .

 

“If they give us so much, we need to be able to give them something in return. . . . So, by having these meetings and talking to them as a group and then meeting them one-on-one, you start to build that connection with them and for them to say, you know what, we have a government now that’s prepared to listen to listen to us. . . . We want to participate. We want to belong.”

 

Prime Minister Briceño spitballed the idea of helping the diaspora navigate the land transfer and house construction process. Yet, there are also political areas in which the diaspora could benefit and give support.

 

In 1981, at the time of independence from Britain, Belize had the foresight of tapping into the resource of Belizean emigrants with the Belizean Nationality Act 1981. The act served to affirm citizenship for those born outside of Belize to a Belizean mother or father.  

 

Portugal is located on the Iberian Peninsula with Spain.

 

Portugal’s 1974 Carnation Revolution

 

In 1974, Portugal, threw off the shackles of 41 years of the autocratic Estado Novo with a peaceful military coup called the Carnation Revolution. It also re-examined its relationship with its emigrants. The following year’s constitution gave the right to vote to citizens of age 18, regardless of gender, education, property or residence outside of the country.

 

“Before 1974, the role of elections was to confirm the continuity of the ruling party, giving the international community the impression that there was a democracy,” according to Voter Turnout in Portugal: A Geographical Perspective (August 2019), master’s degree dissertation of Liliana Alexandra Silvério Raposo Guerreiro da Cámara Manoel, NOVA Information Management School, Instituto Superior de Estatistica e Gestão de Informação, Universidade Nova de Lisboa.

 

Understandably, voting rights attained almost a sacred status. In the first election after the Carnation Revolution, Portugal achieved a voter turnout of 91.5 percent, which was among the highest in Europe since 1945.

 

Belize Reviews Constitution

 

Belize has a strong democratic tradition. As the country reviews its 1981 Constitution for possible revisions or a complete overhaul, it is imperative to address the broadening of voting rights. Belizeans will vote in a referendum on constitutional reform.

 

There are 45 members and a chair and vice-chair of the People’s Constitution Commission, an 18-month panel that began work in November 2022, according to the commission’s website. Although a diaspora representative does not sit on the panel, an anonymous and quick 43-question Belize Constitution Survey may be taken online by Belizeans living abroad or in one of the six districts.  The final question asks: ”Are there any other ideas you want to share with the PCC?” Two thousand suggestions have been secured, according to the commission’s website.


Also, proposals for constitutional reform may be submitted on the People’s Constitution Commission website until February 19.

 

Dylan Vernon, author of Political Clientelism and Democracy in Belize: From My Hand to Yours (2022) wrote in Will Belize Get a People’s Constitution? Prospects and Challenges (October 31, 2022), Constitution Net, International IDEA (Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance): 

 

“While the review has cross-partisan support, preliminary criticisms about the composition of the People’s Constitution Commission, the body entrusted with the review, highlight the challenge of designing a membership approach that is transparent and representative yet manageable.

 

“Nevertheless, for the reform process and a potential referendum to succeed, the Commission must see itself not as a body of elite constitutional drafters but as a facilitator of a truly consultative process to ascertain and represent the aspirations of the Belizean people.”

 

“As was the case with most Commonwealth Caribbean states, the people of Belize had little influence on the constitution inherited from the United Kingdom at independence,” wrote the former Belize ambassador to the European Union, Dylan Vernon, in Will Belize Get a People’s Constitution?


“As such, it cannot truly be called a people’s constitution. Constitutional amendments since independence have left the basic Westminster governance structure and electoral process of the inherited independence constitution largely intact – and the British monarch still reigns as Head of State. . .

 

“Based on past and recent public discussion, critical reform questions will include what kind of republic Belize may want to be, whether to add new social and economic rights, how to enhance separation of powers between the legislature and executive, how to moderate ministerial powers, how to improve legislative oversight, how to make the electoral system more participatory and representative, and how to mitigate political corruption and entrenched political clientelism.”

 

Some specific issues are the augmentation of the rights of the diaspora; a return to Permanent Secretaries from the politically appointed CEOs (Chief Executive Officers) of government ministries, and the establishment of an anti-corruption institution, according to The Reporter (September 17, 2023), which argued the adequacy of the present Belize Constitution but called for effective implementation of it.

 

Belize, the size of Wales or Vermont, is located on the northeastern coast of Central America on the Yucatán Peninsula. It is bordered by Mexico to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the east, and Guatemala to the west and south. It also shares a water boundary with Honduras to the southeast.

 

Push for Belizean Diaspora's Vote Isn’t New

 

Many Belizeans have been pushing for the diaspora’s right to vote, and not for the first time. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, Belize and other nations in the Caribbean, including Barbados, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, turned their sights toward their diasporas and researched and discussed how best to include them, according to Should Non-resident Caribbean citizens vote in national elections? (April 22, 2023), Caribbean Trade Law and Development and reprinted in the Jamaica Observer (May 11, 2023).

 

“The current poly-crisis international economy forces Caribbean countries to think creatively about how the diaspora could more actively contribute to a sustainable and inclusive recovery and to the region’s achievement of the sustainable development goals by 2030.

 

“Whereas initiatives to increase the diaspora’s economic development in their homeland’s economies are largely uncontroversial, diaspora political engagement has been less so.”

 

Three Concerns

 

There are at least three concerns about diaspora voting, based on an informal survey on X, formerly known as Twitter, according to Should Non-resident Caribbean citizens vote in national elections?

 

“The first is that persons in the diaspora do not have to live with the direct consequences of their vote. Second, there is the fear that the diaspora vote could disproportionately tilt the results of the election given the size of the diaspora community and the marginal nature of many constituencies in regional elections. A third concern is the extent to which those in the diaspora could make an informed choice at the ballot box if they are not living in their homeland.”


1st CONCERN: “ALL AFFECTED” ARGUMENT

 

Regarding the first concern, that non-residents would not be affected directly by their vote, the extent of voting must be determined first.

 

Should Belizeans abroad be allowed to vote in local elections which, arguably, affect people the most, or only national elections? Should Belizeans living overseas have parliamentary representatives? Should foreign residents be allowed to vote in local elections?


Belize Redistricting Proposal

 

Sometimes, hotly contested decisions or actions rally dramatic support for change in the electoral rules of countries.

 

There are three instances where inability to vote as emigrants brought an outcry: the 2023 Belize proposed electoral redistricting; the 2016 United Kingdom European Union Membership Referendum, commonly referred to as Brexit, where 51.9 percent voted in favor of leaving the European Union, and the 2019 Belizean Territorial Dispute Referendum, where 55 percent voted in favor of referring the territorial dispute with neighboring Guatemala to the International Court of Justice.

 

With regard to electoral redistricting in Belize, Amandala (July 15, 2023) wrote:

 

“The newly proposed electoral map for Belize is unconstitutional because it deprives Belizean proposals living in the United States and abroad a constituency and representation in the House of Representatives.

 

“Belizeans living in the United States and abroad must now organize themselves and come together, to demand from the People’s Constitutional Commission (PCC) that their following rights be granted to them, namely: (1) That all rights granted to Belizean citizens living at home should also be granted to Belizean citizens living in the United States and abroad despite their dual nationality with the United States or another country; (2) That the National Assembly repeal the residency requirement for Belizean citizens living in the United States and abroad; and (3) That the Government of Belize create a constituency or constituencies for Belizean citizens living in the United States and abroad so that they can have a sitting Representative or Representatives to represent them to address their concerns and interest.”


Amandala (January 3) reported that redistricting, ordered by the Supreme Court, had not begun to be implemented at the end of 2023 and the report, presented to the National Assembly by the Elections and Boundaries Commission before the July 17, 2023, deadline awaits debate.


"Members of the current administration and the Oppoition as well as the Claimants, the Belize P.E.A.C.E. Movement, expressed their objections to some of the contents (recommendations) in the leaked report. They have returned to Court to move the process forward. The Redistricting Task Force first met on February 21, 2022."


Referendums: Belize-Guatemala Land Dispute and Brexit


At the time of the Brexit vote in June 2016, British emigrants were eligible to vote for up to 15 years after ceasing to live in the United Kingdom. The time limitation barred many living in the European Union from voting on a referendum which would affect them directly.

 

The United Kingdom Elections Act 2022, which came into effect on January 16, 2024, abolished the 15-year rule, reported the Electoral Commission, which is encouraging British emigrants to undergo registration. The government estimates that removal of the time limit could mean 3 million overseas British citizens are eligible to cast their ballots. In the 2019 general election, about 230,000 people were registered as overseas voters, according to the Electoral Commission. In December 2021, there were 46, 560,452 Parliamentary electoral registrations, according to the Office for National Statistics.


“Once a Belizean, Always a Belizean”

 

After the Belizean referendum in 2019, the International Court of Justice began deliberating Guatemala’s claim that it is the rightful owner of half of Belize’s territory, a dispute that took root four centuries ago.

 

The Honorable Kareem Musa, member of the House of Representatives, embarked on a mission to introduce a private member bill which would allow diaspora Belizeans to vote in the International Court of Justice referendum, reported Amandala (November 10, 2018).

 

“Once a Belizean, always a Belizean. No matter what part of the world we are living in, Belize is your home,” Kareem Musa, now the Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries, told Amandala

 

With the advent of social media, we are now more connected with the diaspora than ever before, said Musa.

 

“So, we are now able to hear their aspirations on how they want to assist in developing our country, particularly in this referendum vote which is the biggest vote in our country since independence.”


Immigrants Voting

 

In keeping with the first concern, the “all affected” argument, immigrants must be taken into account.

 

Scholars tend to approach voting rights using a normative philosophical approach, according to Enfranchisement as a Tool for Integration: The 1975 Extension of Voting Rights to Resident Aliens in Sweden (February 14, 2021), Historical Studies in Ethnicity, Migration and Diaspora.

 

“They discuss whether voting rights should be given to resident aliens. For example, it is asked whether voting rights should be given to those who are the most affected by political decisions: the ‘all affected’ argument. Or, alternatively, whether they should be given to those who are forced to obey the laws of a state: the ‘all subject’ argument. These normative studies are important but . . . they do not tell us much about which arguments have been used in the voting right extensions that actually have been carried out.”

 

Sweden: Voting As “Sense of Belonging”

 

In Sweden, in 1975, the Riksdag, or legislature, passed legislation giving local voting rights and the right to run for local office to all foreign residents, regardless of origin, with an equal qualification time of three years of residence.

 

In its decision, theoretical arguments such as the extension of democracy were almost entirely lacking. Instead, instrumental arguments played a decisive role. Voting rights were viewed as a tool in the creation of a new, multicultural Swedish integration policy.

 

“The act of voting was seen as a way to foster a sense of belonging, or even ‘loyalty’, to the Swedish society among immigrants.”

 

When I lived in Stockholm in 2000, I was astounded by Sweden’s policy, which was new to me. I had lived in the United States and the United Kingdom, where I often felt a lack of respect for immigrants.

 

The question of integration, acculturation and assimilation is a difficult and thorny one. Cultures are bound to clash, which makes headlines, such as France to ban wearing abaya dress in schools (Al Jazeera, August 27, 2023). Nevertheless, Sweden’s outreach to immigrants with free language instruction and many classes at different times, allowing people to hold jobs, was impressive.

 

In the late 1970s in Sweden, the question of voting rights for foreign residents was tied to another question, namely whether Swedish citizens living abroad should have the same right. Swedish emigrants gained the right.


United States

 

United States’ emigrants have the right to vote in federal elections. They can vote for the president, for senators and congressional representatives in Washington, D.C. However, they cannot vote in local and state elections.

 

Neither can U.S. foreign residents or legal immigrants vote in national or local elections.

 

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa gave a resignation speech in November 2023, after confirmation of a corruption probe in his government linked to proposals for lithium mining and a green hydrogen plant. He said that the position of head of government is not compatible with any suspicion about his integrity, but that he leaves the office with a clear conscience. (Photo by Ana Brigida/AP)

 

Portugal

 

In Portugal, foreign residents can vote in local elections and hold local office. They are, in fact, encouraged to vote locally. Catarina Reis Oliveira, director of the Observatory for Migration (OM) regretted that hardly any foreigners vote in local elections, reported Expresso (December 18, 2021). The percentage of foreign residents who had registered to vote had declined abruptly in recent years to only 8 percent of foreigners in 2020.

 

The foreign-born population in Portugal in 2022 numbered 1.1 million in a population of 10.3 million, according to Perspective on International Migration 2023, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

 

The most represented nationalities among migrants in Portugal were Brazilian, which constituted about a quarter of the total; followed by Angolan, with 14 percent, and in third place, French, with 9 percent.

 

There has been a 24 percent increase of immigrants since 2012, according to Perspective on International Migration 2023. However, the rise in the number of immigrants has not been enough to offset the drop in Portugal’s birth rates and its fast-aging population. Portugal has 10,344,802 people and has lost 217,376 in 10 years, or 2.1 percent, reported the National Statistics Institute (INE), in December 2021. It was the first decrease in population since 1970, when population loss was a result of high emigration.

 

An estimated one in three Portuguese, ages 15 and 39, or 850,000, are living abroad, according to an Observatório da Emigração estimate, reported Expresso (January 12). However, it is not clear how that figure compares with previous years. It is clear that more young people today have higher educational qualifications as compared to the past.

 

Portuguese salaries are comparatively low compared with those of northern European countries. Portugal raised the minimum monthly salary to 820 euros, or US$890, a 7.9 percent increase and the largest ever seen, as of January 2024. The hourly wage would be €5.14, including the mandatory summer and Christmas pay. The Netherlands, which is the top destination for the young, has an hourly minimum wage of €13.27, for those 21 and older, as of January 2024. The monthly minimum wage would be €2,317.83, nearly three times more than in Portugal.

 

In 2021, Portugal received 3.6 billion euros in remittances from emigrants, reported SIC Notícias (January 16). According to Pordata, remittances accounted for 1.4 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

 

Belizeans Who Live Home and Away

 

Belize has a population of 441,471. Emigrants number 68,100 compared to 60,000 immigrants. Migrants are primarily from Guatemala (about 26,000); Honduras (about 9,500); United States (about 5,500), and Mexico (about 4,000), according to International Migration in the Caribbean, Opportunities and Challenges for Sustainable Development (June 2, 2023); The Belize Case, Belize Ministry of Human Development, Families & Indigenous People’s Affairs.

 

For Belize, the ‘all affected’ argument can be made for the diaspora’s right to vote. According to Should Non-resident Caribbean citizens vote in national elections:

 

“Those who spend part of the year in their homeland, own property, pay taxes, invest, own bank accounts, send remittances to family members, for example, are, in fact, to varying extents, impacted by policies implemented by governments back home.

 

“The diaspora community also might be inclined to invest and otherwise contribute to their homeland, theoretically, if they have some say in the democratic process.”

 

2ND CONCERN: TILTING ELECTION RESULTS

 

Should Non-resident Caribbean citizens vote in national elections? cited a second concern out of three: there is the fear that the diaspora vote could disproportionately tilt the results of the election given the size of the diaspora community and the marginal nature of many constituencies in regional elections.

 

“The second concern highlights the fear that the democratic will of the people could be negated by the diaspora vote skewing the election. Given the small size of Caribbean national populations, ranging from less than 50,000 in St. Kitts and Nevis to 2,800,000 in Jamaica, this is a legitimate concern that must be addressed, especially in those countries with Citizenship by Investment programs.”

 

Belize has a population of 441,471. In November 2023, there were 192,947 registered voters, according to the Belize Elections and Boundaries Department. Emigrants number 68,100, not all of whom would be eligible to vote due to their age.

 

The Belize General Election of November 2020 saw an electorate of 81.86 percent of registered voters; in November 2015, 72.69 percent; in March 2012, 73.16 percent; in 2008, 77.18 percent; in March 2003, 79.51 percent; in August 998, 90.14 percent; in 1993, 71.6 percent, and in November 1979, 89.9 percent.


Respect for Portuguese Emigrants’ Vote

 

There are more than 2.3 million Portuguese emigrants, reported Expresso (January 19). Portugal has a population of 10.3 million in its 2021 Census.

  

How many Portuguese emigrants register to vote?

 

In the January 2022 snap election, the Electoral Administration of the General Secretariat of the Ministry of Internal Administration (SGMAI) mailed 925,976 letters to voters registered in the Europe Circle, reported Expresso (March 11, 2022).

 

Due to confusion over mail-in instructions and required copies of citizen identification, 157,000 votes were annulled, said a candidate for the Europe Circle seat in the Assembleia da República, reported Expresso (March 11, 2022). An opposition party leader said that the annulled votes were 80 percent of the European votes.

 

Therefore, the election was repeated in the Europe Circle in March 2022.

 

In-person voting at embassies and consular posts rose to 152 from the first election’s 116 as compared to the 400 registered to vote, reported, Expresso (March 14, 2022).

 

The political parties debated about making changes in overseas voting to avoid future mishaps.


The mechanics of voting are a challenge for any country.

 

U.S. Commissioner Thomas Hicks, of the Election Assistance Commission, talked with overseas voters at the U.S. Embassy in Lisbon in November 2023 about their experiences. Commissioner Hicks said that he was determined that the country would not have another presidential election like the messy and confusing one in November 2000.

 

There had been a Florida recount, court challenges, county officials discerning voter intent through “hanging chads” (incompletely punched paper ballots) and more. After 36 days, Al Gore conceded the presidency to George W. Bush, reported CNN (October 31, 2015).


Portugal faces another snap election on March 10.

 

In Portugal in 1975, the first Portuguese legislative election after the overthrow of the autocratic Estado Novo regime, voter turnout was 91.5 percent. In 1976, it was 83.3 percent and in 1979, 87.1 percent. Percentages continually dropped to 61.0 in 1999; there was a slight uptick to 64.5 in 2005; then downwards to 48.6 percent in 2019, and 51.4 percent in the snap election of 2022, according to Pordata.

 

Founding elections are highly mobilizing and, after that, turnout tends to decrease progressively until it reaches the standard level, explained Liliana Alexandra Silvério Raposo Guerreiro da Cámara Manoel in Voter Turnout in Portugal.

 

Although the first Belize election with a broader electorate would not be a founding one, it would attract, most probably, the most voters of the newly enfranchised group.


 3rd CONCERN: ABILITY TO MAKE INFORMED CHOICE

 

“A third concern is the extent to which those in the diaspora could make an informed choice at the ballot box if they are not living in their homeland,” according to Should Non-resident Caribbean citizens vote in national elections?

 

“Perhaps to some, many persons in the diaspora – particularly those who left many moons ago – may have political viewpoints which may not exactly align with the current realities of their homeland.

 

“Conversely, there are just as many in the diaspora community, especially those of the first generation, who maintain an active interest in the domestic affairs of their home countries. These dynamics also can be seen domestically where citizens may have varying degrees of engagement in the current affairs of the day. Nevertheless, this reason, by itself, should not preclude the diaspora from being eligible to vote.”

 

Belizeans living abroad have access to social media, as cited by the Honorable Kareem Musa. Additionally, newspaper and television news is available online.

 

However, clear channels and mechanisms of communication should be established between the Belizean government and the diaspora.

 

Trinidad and Tobago held virtual town meetings over a four-month period for its proposed diaspora policy. According to Draft Diaspora Policy (September 2021), Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM (Caribbean Commission) Affairs, Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago:

 

“(Public and private) stakeholders were involved in a wide cross-section of areas, such as the cultural, political, social, philanthropic, civic, professional, business spheres and academia. Stakeholders overseas included leaders and representatives of Diaspora associations, individual members of the Diaspora and Trinidad and Tobago missions abroad, spread over four continents.

 

“Stakeholders in the homeland were drawn from both public sector agencies and private sector entities that engage the Diaspora. . . . Some primary data were generated from an online survey disseminated to the Diaspora through the MFCA (Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs).

 

“The Diaspora is inherently resilient, with some individuals attaining high levels of professional success in a range of fields. Unfortunately, this has not transformed into large-scale advancement collectively. The Diaspora is therefore disjointed, resulting in numerous groups operating in isolation and not being sufficiently inter-connected. The lack of cohesion is only one of the many challenges facing the Diaspora.

 

“Some other identified challenges include the absence of a central repository for information on the Diaspora, including a dedicated portal or skills bank, inability to vote in elections in the homeland, the high cost of remittances, lack of online availability for renewing and applying for national documents, difficulty in doing local banking transactions from a foreign jurisdiction and the absence of a structure to interface directly with stakeholders in the home country, among others.”

 

Nod to Belizean Diaspora

 

The Belizean government had established programs for the diaspora in the past.

 

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade created the Diaspora Focal Point and the Diaspora Advisory Council of Belize in 2009, according to Emigrant Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean (2016), Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO-Chile) and the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA).


In addition, the Belizean government created the Diaspora Returnee Incentive Program, whose purpose was to provide investment incentives. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs established programs to attract Belizeans who were considering return. At the time, the program included tax import duties exemptions upon return, reported Emigrant Policies in Latin America and the Caribbean.


On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Belize's independence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade organized "Homecoming 2011", which included a program of historical and cultural highlights, tours and an official "September Celebration" for Independence Day on September 21.

 

According to the 2010 Belize Census, 62.9% of the population speaks English; 56.6% speaks Spanish; 44.6% Creole; 10.5% Maya; 3.2% German; 2.9% Garifuna; .9% Chinese, and .9% other.

 

Beyond Emigrant Voting


In the past two decades, the scholarly community dedicated to the study of political transnationalism has made a significant effort to understand how and why migrants participate in their states of origin while also getting involved in their societies of reception, according to Beyond Emigrant Voting: Consultation As a Mechanism of Political Incorporation from Abroad OR Not All Emigrant Consultative Bodies Are Born the Same (2019), Migration Letters (January 2020).


"Scholars have focused on external enfranchisement. Of course, the very fact that migrants of first and successive generations can vote in their homeland is a breakthrough in the way states approach their relationship with the diaspora."


However, external voting, though important, is not the only way that states of origin involve their non-resident citizens in homeland policy, according to Beyond Emigrant Voting, which examined nine countries. Other mechanisms have been adopted by countries.


Four countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Jamaica and Uruguay) have created a consultative body for emigrants but have not extended electoral rights. (Further on, Diaspora Engagement: Latin America & the Caribbean (2021), European Union Global Diaspora Facility, states that Jamaica still is in the process of creating a diaspora policy). Five countries (Brazil, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico and Peru) have both mechanisms. In all the countries in which both mechanisms exist, suffrage was adopted before the consultative mechanisms.


"The study of political transnationalism must overcome the bias towards the sole analysis of external voting and start to include other institutional mechanisms of political inclusion, which might be a complement or a substitute for external voting."


Portuguese Emigrants


In Portugal, not only do emigrants have the right to vote, they also have deputados, or representatives, in the 230-seat Assembleia da República, or legislature, for the Europe Circle and the Outside Europe Circle.


Also, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has a Portuguese Communities Portal, which offers support and guidance to those considering emigration and return. One of the programs, Regressar, the Measure to Support the Return of Emigrants, offers some financial support.


Created in 2007, the Council of the Portuguese Communities (CPC) is the consulting branch of government for policies relative to emigration and Portuguese communities in foreign countries, according tothe MInistry of Foreign Affairs. It is composed of a maximum of 80 members, elected by Portuguese citizens, who are residing in foreign countries. Each councilor's terms has a four-year duration.


Barbados


In a virtual town meeting, members of the Barbadian diaspora told the Parliamentary Reform Commission that emigrants should be able to vote and be represented with a seat in Parliament, reported Bardados Today (October 24, 2023).


One political scientist, Peter Wickham, agreed with the diaspora voting for a parliamentary representative representation but objected to the group having the general vote.

 

Given Barbados’ political reality, Wickham said that it would not be advisable to have “200,000 to 300,000 (people from the diaspora) joining the electoral register. . . . In some recent elections, we have had majorities of 50 or 100 or 200.”

 

The October meeting was the final one in the series of the commission’s town hall meetings. It is expected that a full report with recommendations will be delivered to President Dame Sandra Mason during the first quarter of next year.


Regional Framework


The European Union Global Diaspora Facility (EUDiF) is the first European Union-funded project

to take a global approach to diaspora engagement. From June 2019 to December 2022, the project sought "to build an informed, inclusive and impactful diaspora-development ecosystem through research, dialogue and capacity development," according to Diaspora Engagement: Latin America & the Caribbean (2021), European Union Global Diaspora Facility.


“At the regional level, emigration is an area of primary interest. However, no regional framework properly focuses on either migration or on diaspora engagement; instead, interest is shown by countries individually.

 

“Several LAC (Latin American Countries) have taken steps to institutionalize diaspora engagement and to create an enabling environment for the diaspora’s contribution to development, especially through policies related to civic rights and social benefits for citizens abroad.”

 

“However, only a very limited number of LAC countries mapped by EUDiF has a diaspora policy. Of the 24 countries, only Dominica (2010) has adopted a diaspora engagement policy (Jamaica and Guyana are in the process of doing so).”

 

Dominica’s diaspora engagement policy focuses on citizenship rights, skills retention and transfer, economic incentives, investment opportunities, trade promotion, tourism and cultural exchanges.

 

Jamaica’s National Diaspora Policy, while still in the drafting stage, has a goal by 2030 to have encouraged “transformative engagements and partnerships providing an enabling environment for the empowerment of the Jamaican Diaspora to realize their fullest potential . . . while optimizing contributions to national development”, according to Diaspora Engagement.

 

In Guyana, the draft Diaspora Engagement Strategy and Action Plan focuses on three areas: Diaspora Communities, Home Country and IT Social Media. The strategy is an attempt at boosting youth programs and increase remittances in the form of philanthropy, according to Diaspora Engagement.

 

 

LARGE DIASPORAS

 

Diaspora Investing: The Business and Investment Interests of the Caribbean Diaspora (December 11, 2013), infoDev (1995 World Bank muti-donor program that supports entrepreneurs in developing economies) described the Caribbean region as “unique for many reasons”.

 

“Perhaps most striking among these is the demographic fact that for almost every resident in the region there is an individual living in the diaspora abroad. This near one-to-one ratio of nationals to diaspora members presents a tremendous opportunity for cross-border engagement among a people who share common cultures and histories.”

 

Portugal recognizes a similar opportunity, according to the web portal, Portuguese Government: Foreign Affairs:

 

“Portuguese communities around the world are one of the most important strategic assets of the Portuguese Foreign Policy and are the most significant display of global Portugal. . . .


"There are more than 2 million Portuguese emigrants around the world today, and if we take into account the descendants of Portuguese emigrants, the population with Portuguese origins in hosting countries would be around 5 million – more than 40 percent of the population residing in the national territory – a diaspora that reaches the five continents.

 

“Not only does Portuguese emigration remain a constant feature of our identity, as it continues to shape our imagiantion and our society, but it also constitutes a valuable cultural, political and economic heritage due to its size, diversity and geographic spread."



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GeeMichael Reid
GeeMichael Reid
Jan 25

For the record, $3.30bz is $1.85us but that aside. This argument is getting old. You wanna vote in Belize, renounce your renouncement or risk breaching an oath before God.

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