Civil society elects 13th senator for the first time in Belize's history

Association

On 10th January, Osmany Salas, president of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, was chosen as the thirteenth senator to represent civil society in the legislative branch. This election received widespread attention because the newly-elected senator will be in a position to tip the balance of power from the majority in the upper house. Despite the attention, however, the election had low voter participation: out of 140 registered NGOs, only 23 (15%) voted for a senator. The remaining 117 were considered ineligible to vote, having not filed all the documentation required by the 2000 NGO Act.

Belize's Senator Valerie Woods and Parliamentarians for Global Action led a successful initiative to secure a meeting between the LGBTI community and government officials. In early November, representatives of the LGBTI community met with members of parliament to present their concerns, priorities and hopes for the future. The meeting took place at a time when Belize has made some progress on improving respect for LGBTI rights. In August, the Supreme Court overturned Section 53 of the Criminal Code, which punished sexual relationships between same-sex consenting adults with up to 10 years in prison.

While LGBTI rights advocacy efforts are growing in Belize, the community still faces hostility from conservative groups and it is likely that the groundbreaking Supreme Court decision will soon be appealed. In late December, Christian groups led by Belize Action opposed a United Nations' General Assembly vote, during which Belize's delegation voted against a resolution to delay the appointment of an independent expert to combat discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. In a press release, Belize Action criticised the delegation, stating that Belize is "supporting the enforcement of global homosexual rights," which the group claims is "in direct contradiction to commitments the Prime Minister made to Church leaders in recent meetings" and "in direct violation to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning religious, family, and educational rights and freedoms."

Expression

On 9th January, the government announced that it would cancel public consultations regarding an oil exploration project in the deep offshore territorial waters of Belize. The move deprives citizens of the opportunity to express opinions on the issue to their elected representatives. The authorities have not yet provided a reason for the cancellation or given a new date for future hearings. 

According to the San Pedro Sun, decisions concerning oil drilling could impact the future of the tourism industry on Ambergris Caye - Belize's largest island. Citizen-led and environmental groups have mobilised to "spread awareness to all Belizeans about the dangers of oil exploration in Belizean waters. At the same time, they intend[ed] to send a strong message to the Government that when it comes to offshore oil drilling, ‘no means no!’"