BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) – Belize Prime Minister John Briceño has again defended his government’s decision to impose visa and other restrictions on Jamaican and Haitian nationals after Opposition Leader Shyne Barrow denounced the move.
Barrow said that the government had violated the Caribbean Community (Caricom) free movement rights of Jamaican and Haitian nationals guaranteed under the revised Treaty of Chaguaramus, which governs the regional integration movement.
“These rights have been tested and affirmed all the way to the CCJ (Caribbean Court of Justice) in 2013 when the CCJ ruled that Ms Shanique Myrie, as a Caricom national, had a right of entry to any Caricom Nation under a 2007 decision by the conference of heads of government on the free movement of citizens within the community, without harassment or undue impediments.
“The Briceno administration must not lead Belize down a path of whimsical decision making that will undermine the institution of Caricom, the objective of regional integration and our ultimate aspirations for a single market economy,” Barrow said in a statement.
He said visa requirements for Haitians is discriminatory and violates their rights to hassle free movement guaranteed by Caricom agreements and affirmed by the CCJ.
“Requiring anything more, such as non refundable accommodation that places undue economic burdens, from Jamaican nationals traveling to Belize than you would another Caricom national was explicitly frowned upon by the CCJ,” the Opposition Leader said.
But Prime MInister Briceño dismissed the allegations, telling reporters the Opposition Leader “is suffering from attention deficit disorder, just wants attention because he knows what is happening.
“We do not take it lightly. Actually it was his father being the prime minister then that required Haitians to get a visa to come into Belize contrary to the Treaty of Chaguaramas. I do not recall the now Leader of the Opposition back then calling out the UDP (United Democratic Party) saying that you are moving contrary to the Treaty of Chaguaramas.
“It was our government that said we need to implement the Treaty of Chaguaramas and remove the visa. But of late, we’ve been seeing a trend where a lot of Haitians – and rightly so they are trying to get out of a really bad situation in Haiti – finding ways how to get to the United States,” Briceño said.
Earlier this month, the government announced it would be invoking Article 226 (a) of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas noting that it will allow for the Minister of Immigration to immediately impose a visa requirement for Haitians wishing to visit Belize.
Jamaican nationals will have to to provide evidence of fully paid non-refundable hotel reservations prior to boarding flights to Belize.
The authorities here said that over 2,000 Haitian nationals entered Belize between March 2022 and April this year, and that over, 1900 had vanished without a trace, presumably crossing over into Mexico illegally, en route to the United States.
The authorities here said the situation with Jamaican nationals disappearing after entering Belize is also similar, except that it involves a considerably smaller number.
Prime Minister Briceño said the Minister of Immigration has even pointed out that there are websites in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic and in Haiti where they are advertising, “come to us, we will get you to Belize and from Belize, we will get you to the United States.
“That’s human trafficking. The United States government has already been looking on us and calling our attention and saying listen, we are seeing now the evidence of human trafficking through your country and what it is that you are going to do. So it’s damn if you do, damn if you don’t.
“So we had no other option than to implement the visa requirement for Haitian nationals. For Jamaicans we are seeing the same trend, but it is not as pronounced as the Haitian nationals. So what we have said that it is something that we are considering,” Briceño said.
He said while the authorities have not yet clamped down on Jamaicans “what we’ve agreed to, the Minister of Immigration has said that he will be speaking with the Ministry of Tourism in Belize and also his counterpart, the Foreign Minister of Jamaica and the Minister of Immigration to see how best we could address this.
“We welcome Jamaicans to come to Belize. As I’ve said earlier, Jamaica has been a close ally of Belize from the start of the nationalist movement, we’ve had this history together; we work together,” he said, adding that he is a personal friend of the Jamaican Prime MInister Andrew Holness.
“We call one another and it is not something that we are just going to do on a whim. It is something that we are trying to find how best to address the issue of Jamaicans that come to Belize for them to be able to go to the United States.
“So that decision has not been made. It is a decision that we are looking at. We are discussing it with the Ministry of Tourism, Foreign Minister and Minister of Immigration has been in contact with his counterparts in Jamaica. So I think the Leader of the Opposition is just calling for attention without really thinking it through,” Briceño said.
But the Opposition leader has maintained his position that the government here is violating the Caricom treaty with regards to the free movement rights of Jamaican and Haitian nationals.
“The Briceno administration must ensure Belize is a committed member of the Caricom Community and find solutions derived from meaningful deliberations with all the Heads of States that are in keeping with the framework of regional integration and the single market economy.
“Lest we find ourselves increasingly isolated and a threat to the Caricom community successive Governments of Belize have helped to build,” Barrow added.