Tuesday, October 6th 2015. BMG: Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Friday in New York City has drawn condemnation in political and activist circles, more for what it apparently failed to do than what it did – offer a short update on Belize-Guatemala relations.
According to the People’s United Party (PUP), the Minister neglected to inform the international community that the process leading to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve the claim in that forum required referenda in both countries. To them it is a continuation of a failure to take the responsibility of this existential threat seriously, and that is not helped by the studied silence from the United Democratic Party and leader Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Following up on their press release issued late on Friday, the PUP called a press briefing at party headquarters this morning that turned into something of a policy discussion on how a future PUP Government, perhaps one elected on November 4, would address the situation.
Party Leader Francis Fonseca, who was flanked by four former foreign ministers and ambassadors of Belize with experience on the Guatemala issue, said they did not seek to play politics and insisted that it is something Belizeans need to think about at the ballot box.
Fonseca further called on their opponents to clarify Elrington’s remarks, and release all correspondence between Belize and Guatemala on recent events including the Sarstoon River incident on August 16, including the diplomatic notes exchanged between the two countries. They also demanded that Belize begin building the Forward Operating Base at Sarstoon Island and not on the coast as the Government declared it would in Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Independence Day address.
Fonseca also says the PUP will pursue full nationwide consultations with the people of Belize on the Guatemalan claim if elected in November.
But what if Friday’s statement was an error of omission by Elrington – since everybody knows about the referenda, perhaps the Minister thought it was not necessary to say so with limited time on the world stage? If so, according to former Senator, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador of Belize Lisa Shoman, that would be sloppy and neglectful work on his part. The speech, she said, was an opportunity missed for Belize to present its case as Guyana’s president, David Granger, did with their dispute with Venezuela.
Shoman also told us that Belize needs clarification on where Guatemala is with regard to the protocol allowing them to proceed on their own with a referendum, which the PUP oppose in any event, insisting that the referenda should be simultaneous if held. However, Shoman also told us that as part of the party’s consultations many other options would be presented, some of which would involve other parties including, possibly, the United Kingdom.
But the bottom line for the PUP is that it no longer trusts the UDP to handle the resolution of the claim. Former Foreign Minister, Ambassador and Senator Eamon Courtenay declared that the onus is on Guatemala to change its bullying behavior and Belize to stand up to them when necessary.
Otherwise, he says, the PUP would tell Belizeans to vote no. But he says that just as the PUP’s position has “matured” over the last four years, Belizeans’ views on the claim should be respected and canvassed, and the PUP would not presume to pre-judge them.
Courtenay added that the UDP has failed to respond to incidents on the ground including in the Chiquibul Forest in Cayo and in the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and Sarstoon Temash Reserve in Toledo.
The PUP also complained that the bipartisan commission on the claim has not been receiving regular reports from the National Security Council on, for instance, the ongoing threat to soldiers of the Belize Defence Force (BDF) who brave aggression from Guatemalan forces to travel to Cadenas on the Sarstoon River.
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