Billboard over Belize Referendum sparks controversy

Controversial billboard in Belize City

As Belize prepares for a referendum on April 10th to determine whether it should take its territorial dispute with Guatemala to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the image of former Prime Minister and now National Hero George Price has sparked a dispute of its own.

 In an effort to educate the population on the importance of voting in the referendum, the Referendum Unit has been erecting billboards across the country with famous quotations from some of its national heroes.

A billboard bearing the date of the referendum and an image of Price along with the quote “National Interest must override party politics” was erected in Belize City, overlooking Central American Boulevard near its intersection with North Creek. The billboard also bore the date of the referendum.

Attorney Richard “Dickie” Bradley wrote to the unit on behalf of the family, requesting the prompt removal of all signage depicting George Price; but Ambassador Alexis Rosado, who heads the Referendum Unit, says that there is no copyright on the words spoken by the Father of the Nation.

Ambassador Alexis Rosado, head of the Beize Referendum Unit

He said“Price is being put out there as the national hero that he is and the statement that is attributable to him on that billboard is exactly what he had said and was known to have said many times”.

Rosado confirmed that one member of the family had contacted his unit on the matter but was referred to the office of Solicitor General

“I have been hearing that I should have received a letter by now with the complaints.  I have not received any, but like I said, maybe they sent it to the Solicitor General’s Office,” Rosado said.

He added that the “advice we got is that this is a national issue that we’re dealing with, the Guatemalan claim. 

“The Father of the Nation maintained that dealing with the Guatemalans is a national issue and any complaints about the owning of his figure, of his image, of his words, I’m advised that there is no such thing as copyright material on what he may have said publicly.”

The Belize-Guatemala dispute stems from a treaty signed in 1859 between Britain who owned Belize then, and Guatemala. The treaty was supposed to define Belize’s southern and western borders with neighbouring Guatemala and included an article that said both parties would make their best efforts to build a cart road from Guatemala City to the Atlantic Coast of Belize.

This never materialized and Guatemala began laying claim to Belize saying the Treaty was a cessation which Britain did not live up to. This led to decades of aggression between the two countries, in which international bodies such as the Organisation of American States (OAS), attempted to mediate.

In April 2018, Guatemalans voted ‘yes’ in a referendum, agreeing to take the matter to the ICJ.