Thursday, March 1, 2012




"People's Referendum" A Success

They call it the People's Referendum - and today OCEANA and the Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage deployed volunteers to 50 polling stations all across the country.
It is a huge national effort designed to get Belizeans to take a position on this topical, complex issue.
After a poll a few weeks ago which showed widespread support - OCEANA and the COALITION decided that they couldn't go wrong by asking people to vote on it - in an unofficial referendum - but one so large that no government could ignore it.
They seemed to have made just the right move - because today we saw folks coming out in large numbers to support the referendum - making it clear that official or unofficial, they want their sentiments registered.
Here's the story:
Jules Vasquez Reporting
We visited a number of polling station and the turnout was strong and steady, the voting brisk
Dr. Melanie McField - Healthy Reefs Initiative
"It's been busy since morning. The first person came before we were quite set up, right at 6 a.m., and it's been a steady flow, only maybe 2 or 3 time's we've had a little bit of a line, but I don't think that anyone had to wait more than 5 minutes."
The voters we spoke to were crystal clear in their position - and what struck us is that many came to this location at Brodies on the Northern Highway just to vote - same here at the Oceana office where people took time out from their lunch to come in - and here at the corner of Central American Boulevard where they didn't have the fancy laptops like other polling station but still people were coming out steadily, and at midday they counted over 500 who had already come to vote. Allen Acosta rode to the Brodies site on bike:
Jules Vasquez
"Allen, I see that you came on bike. You came here just to vote?"
Allen Acosta - Participated in People's Referendum
Jules Vasquez
Allen Acosta
"I like fish. Look at what's happening in Mexico and places like that. We like fish."
Jules Vasquez
"Aaron, explain to me why you felt it important to take time out to come and vote."
Aaron Gongora - Participated in People's Referendum
Well, offshore is something that is really a 'touchy' situation, with our tourism and waters. If America, which has all the resources and all of the big exploration, had some serious problems, what do you think of us out here? I don't mind that drill on the land, but not in the sea."
Jules Vasquez
"Why did you feel it important to come out and vote today?"
Marlon Garbutt - Participated in People's Referendum
"Because I think this is an important decision in our country because it can ruin a lot of things in our country. It could help us at the same time, but I think that it can ruin more than it can help. I am not ashamed to say that I voted no."
Jules Vasquez
"Why did you feel it important to come out today?"
Radiance Sanchez - Participated in People's Referendum
"Because I'm a Belizean, and it is my right to do well for my country. I will tell you Jules, out loud, that I voted no because I love my country, Belize. That is our beautiful sea and reef, and I have to protect it as a Belizean."
Jules Vasquez
"Mr. Mendez, explain why did you feel it important to come out here today, and vote."
Albert Mendez, Participated in People's Referendum
"Well, I personally don't believe that they should drill in the sea. I don't believe that there should be offshore oil drilling. We may not have an accident for a 100 years, but all it takes is one accident. I might be dead and gone, and that will mess up our barrier reef."
Jules Vasquez
"Maud, explain to me. You made an effort to come out here. Why?"
Maude Conorquie - Participated in People's Referendum
"Yes, because it's something good for the younger generation coming up because you see if they go and do that, they won't have any fish. The place will be wreck and so."
Dr. Alvaro Rosado - Participated in People's Referendum
"Because I think that we need to respect our natural resources, take care of it. As soon as we have the proper technology in place, no problem with drilling. I want to expensive tomorrow, but I am not willing to sell my house to do that."

Orthon Clarke - Participated in People's Referendum
"This is a special effort to get here today because I feel that we here in Belize is not ready yet for any kind of exploration or any kind of oil transaction. We should be at this time pay every consideration to the fact that oil exploration and drilling is not in the best interest of this country at this time."
Jules Vasquez
"Why did you vote how you voted?"
G. Michael Reid - Participated in People's Referendum
"Because I believe it's very important that we preserve our reef and our environment. I think that what I have enjoyed, I want my children to enjoy."
Jules Vasquez
"So you had to make a little effort to come here. You are parked a little far."
Richard Palace - Participated in People's Referendum "I park all the way down by Stone Jam, but I came here because I feel proud, so no to oil drilling, simple as that."

Giovannie Vasquez - Participated in People's Referendum
"Well, actually, we just saw the voting polls out here, so I decided to come out and voice my opinion because many times, Belizean people just let things go, and we don't come out and voice our opinion. We let other people speak on it for us. So I decided to come out and vote because I am not with this offshore drilling. Tourists won't want to come out to our country to see any oil rig. They come out to our country to see our beautiful Blue Hole and our barrier reef. They don't want to see any oil rig and people pumping oil from the sea."
While some did get a t-shirt - voting was unsolicited - we didn't see anyone hustling votes and ringmaster Audrey Matura Shepherd had reason to be happy
Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Vice President, Oceana
"What is here is more than just us going through a process. It is showing that the culture of the Belizean people can be changed. Imagine, all these people came to the polls, and we did not pay them anything to come out, no one penny. We're happy and elated - like San Pedro, the results are overwhelming. We expected that, but when we heard Corozal, the lines and lines."
And for all those who lined up, the demonstrative signs outside made it clear - how to vote. Indeed this was not your standard voting process where signs are not allowed inside the polling area. Here they made it clear, in signage and t-shirts just what they wanted you to do.
Dr. Melanie McField
"It's so hard to get people to come out that we were using all of our banner and anything that can grab attention, but there are people who have come who are on the other side, and that's fine. We want them to come. We're baiting them -"
Jules Vasquez
No. you aren't baiting them; you are telling them how to vote. The idea of any vote is that the voter's mind should be uncluttered."
Dr. Melanie McField
"Well, what do you do every night on the news? You are cluttering with all the ads."
Jules Vasquez
"Yes, but on election day when you go into your box, it's a sacred, secret space, and you do what you want. I'm just saying that it's a bit much. It seems that you all have an outcome that you want, and no matter what, you'll get that outcome."
Dr. Melanie McField
"We do have an outcome that we want. We're the ones who have been advocating for this; so that's true. But people have been coming and voting how they want. They have their little space. They go down there alone and vote. We don't see how they vote, and we don't ask them how either."
Jules Vasquez
"Are you concerned about the legitimacy of the exercise in so far as a.) there is a certain element of fraud that it's open to and b.) voters are being told how to vote."
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"We are concerned to an extent because we know that those mischief-makers will want to abuse the process. But the good thing is that as you go and vote, we put everybody's name down so that we can cross-tabulate. And I can assure you, if we find anybody voting more than one time, we are going to disqualify all those votes for those people."
Jules Vasquez
"It's clear, Audrey, that if I want to vote yes, I am not welcomed here because of your sign."
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"That is not true."
Jules Vasquez
"But the sign says vote 'no'."
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"That is not true. That is absolutely not true. If you want to vote yes, you can come and vote yes. I was being told-"
Jules Vasquez
"I can, but it is a deterrent to have everybody with the signs and T-shirts. You know what outcome you want."
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"The outcome we want has already been reflected in our polls."
Jules Vasquez
"Everybody knows that the concept behind a voting space is that it has to be a sacred, secret enclosure, where the voter's mind is unencumbered by external influence which is prodding him/her which way to vote. Right here, you are overtly saying, 'Come and vote this way.'"
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"Well, if you feel that way, Jules, and if that is maybe reflecting the position of maybe what the politicians that oppose it will say, my answer to that is simply that if you didn't want that to be that way, just put it on the ballot."
And while criticisms can be made of this open process - Matura-Shepherd says the point has been made:
Audrey Matura - Shepherd
"We've always said that we know why we call it the People's Referendum. We know that we are only trying to simulate a process. We don't even have the machinery and the money that they have. So we are satisfied with just the outcome, whichever way it goes, and the fact that people came out. But at the end of the day, no matter criticism is made, the voice of the people is resounding, no matter how they vote. Even if you want to come and vote 'yes', we won't turn you away. What matters is the amount of people who are coming out."
According to OCEANA, after midday the number of voters who had shown up at all polling stations were about 10,000.
Polls will close at 8:00 tonight.
As you heard in the story, they hope to get about twenty thousand voters - which is more than 10% of the 178,000 registered voters...

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