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Belize – Guatemala’s Referendum on ICJ

Posted: Wednesday, March 28, 2018. 9:00 a.m. CST.

The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.

This article was written by Richard Harrison, Belizean investor in production and services businesses in Belize. He holds a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Lancaster University.

By Richard Harrison: On April 15, 2018, Guatemala will hold a national referendum to decide whether to take their unfounded insular, maritime and territorial claim on Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Belize has not yet set a date for its referendum, however the Government of Belize has said that it should be ready by late 2018 to early 2019.

Both side must, by simple majority, vote YES if the case is to be taken to the ICJ.

All indications are that Belize will vote NO….simply because Belize has nothing to gain…and much to lose…by agreeing to allow a court to decide whether its independence and sovereignty is valid or not. After all, there is a real thing called “litigation risk”.

Guatemala has a dispute with Gran Britania….not with Belize….because Gran Britania did not comply with its treaty promise of a cart road that would link Guatemala to the Belize Atlantic.

If either country votes NO….then where do we go?

One of the major issues that Belize will have to deal with at some point….is the unconstitutional granting of citizenship by various Belize governments to Guatemalan citizens. Estimates are that almost 50,000 such citizens exist in Belize today….many of whom hold dual citizenship to both countries. There are many with permanent residency status…on work permits….or temporary, renewable visitors visa.

It is not clear whether the National Constitution of Belize currently prohibits only individual Guatemalan’s from becoming citizens of Belize…or whether it also extends to corporate citizens.

The vast majority of Belizeans are unyielding when it comes to giving up any part of its sovereignty as defined by the National Constitution registered at the United Nations upon gaining independence on September 21, 1981.

It appears that the leaders of Belize fear that not going along with the ICJ push by geo-political forces who are the “interested parties” in the case….would leave Belize out in the cold to deal with Guatemala on its own. Such a situation could, at worst, see Belize facing military domination by an aggressive neighbour. Moving along the pendulum of options, it could see a situation much like Hong Kong, where the Chinese have pretty much left it as it was under the British, even after gaining “control” of the country. The Chinese could see that it benefits them more to keep the institutions and linkages with the British, as Hong Kong is one of their important windows to international finance and trade. The Guatemalans must know that they similarly have much to gain from an autonomous Belize, keeping its political, social and economic institutions and its regional and international linkages. At best, Belize could reach bi-lateral agreement with Guatemala to remain as is, with much increased cross-border cooperation, cohesion, coordination and collaboration on all fronts.

Belize must send an unequivocal message of peace to the people of Guatemala…and act as a confident, independent, sovereign state….it must allow Guatemalans to legally become Belize citizens…just like any other citizens of the world…as long as they meet the requirements of citizenship. These requirements should be strengthened in law and in practice. The number of new citizens accepted by Belize each year should be determined by its socio-economic objectives…and acceptance from no single country should exceed 10% of the total amount. With the population of Belize growing at 2% per year, or around 7,000, then new Guatemalan citizens of Belize could not exceed 700 per year, currently.

As good neighbours, the movement of Guatemalans and Belizeans across the borders should be akin to the kind of facilitation that exist on our borders with Mexico.

Guatemalans of neighbouring departments of Peten and Izabal share a long history of close relations with Belize…with many families living on both sides of the border. The government of Guatemala should weigh the sentiments of the over 1 million in these departments more heavily than the other far flung departments that have little to no relations with, nor interest in, Belize….other than to visit for vacations…or to buy/sell produce.

Belize should agree to assist Guatemala in negotiations with Gran Britania….regarding any uncompleted contracts….a cart-road perhaps is not what would serve Guatemala’s best interest at this time…perhaps British-Guatemalan cooperation could discuss a new range of help that would best serve the people of today’s Guatemala. As a good neighbour, Belize should not want the Guatemalans to feel cheated over some hundred-plus-year-old agreement with Gran Britania, which the sands of time blew over.

As an independent, sovereign state….Belize should continue to do all what independent sovereign states do…it must continue to provide for optimal citizen and border security and safety…it must strengthen its economy and provide improved living conditions for citizens, residents and visitors…and it must continue to promote its best interest among its development partners in the world, on a much more sophisticated and enhanced level.

Belize must drastically improve its relations with the United Kingdom….on all levels.

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