Posted: Thursday, April 11, 2019. 7:49 am 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: The frantic behaviour of the Prime Minister of Belize in the wake of the Chief Justice granting an injunction on the ICJ referendum, which was scheduled for today April 10….and his fear-mongering threats anchored in Assad Shoman’s book insinuating that Guatemala would consider invasion if we said NO to the ICJ…and that possibly the international community could consider abandoning us, or not be so willingly engaged….he is playing on the two principal fears of Belizeans going forward.
The Government of Belize screwed up and agreed in a treaty with Guatemala in early 1990’s that they would be engaging in negotiations with them, and that one of the expected outcomes of those negotiations would be internationally recognized borders…when everyday ships, planes, vehicles and persons recognize and respect our borders…annually 1.5 million tourists from all over the world stamp their passports when entering and exiting Belize at internationally recognized border points. All kinds of official maps of the world show clearly where Belizes border’s are.
In the Maritime Areas Bill of October 1991, Belize states that “Guatemala needed time to adjust to the fact that it had LOST Belize”. The only way you can lose something is if you had it rightfully before. This law, which is still active in Belize but not in Guatemala, agrees (among other things) for Belize to claim only up to 3 miles of its southern seas instead of the 12 miles allowed by International Law. We willingly show we are ready to back off from our rightful borders.
Our Foreign Minister later said on national television that Belize had no internationally recognized borders, and that any such border is artificial or imaginary.
In July 1990, at Roatan, Belize agreed in Article 2.4 of the Points of Concurrence that “There shall be established an agreement for the development of joint exploitation projects between Guatemala and Belize in activities such as deep-sea fishing inside the zone that is situated in the territorial seas of Belize…”. In the same agreement, Article 2.5 states “Belize will continue to allow Guatemala touristic use of Sapodilla Cayes until south of the Ranguana, as is presently enjoyed”. Usufruct rights are known to transfer into squatters rights and effective occupation over time….and that was 30 years ago, and before!
On 16 September, 1991 in a Joint Communique celebrated in Guatemala City, the two governments agreed that “Both delegations agreed that their governments, through their respective foreign ministries, will continue to negotiate a definitive agreement to end their differences, on the understanding that such an agreement will only be definitive and valid after it has been approved by the Guatemalan people through a referendum in accordance with Transitional Article 19 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala, and by the Belizean people in accordance with the political commitment existing between the Government and the Opposition”….so neither the Government nor the opposition of Belize can back out, as both tied their hands in this agreement. OR the entire process can be deemed to have stopped when the opposition People’s United Party was forced by their membership to adopt a “No to ICJ” position until certain demands in their People’s Declaration are met.
In the same Communique, point A states that both Belize and Guatemala agree to “Joint exploitation of defined areas of the exclusive economic zone of Belize for mutual benefit”…so there is no reciprocity….and point B agrees to “Permanent access of Guatemala to the Caribbean Sea from its department of El Peten, and the reciprocal use and development of port facilities”….this last agreement has two separate parts, with reciprocity only in use AND development of port facilities…and Belize-Peten border is 175 miles!
In his Diplomatic Note to Belize of 18 October, 1999, Guatemalan foreign minister Eduardo Stein Barillas wrote “In effect, Guatemala claims a territory to be its own, and Belize needs to affirm that the territory belongs to them. There is nothing that ostensibly divides the sovereigns and, in such situation, the imaginary line that WE have referred to on various occasions is a completely abstract line”. He went on to suggest that the dispute is thus legal and should be settled legally via the ICJ.
In the original Special Agreement of 2008, there was agreement on 60% threshold reflecting Belize Constitution 2/3 majority principle on border issues. This was changed subsequently to ZERO threshold…so that one single voter participating in the referendum and voting “yes” would send us all to the ICJ. Bending again, trampling our Supreme Law, to favour Guatemala’s interest.
Recently, Guatemalans were arrested in Belize with illegal guns, cash and drugs….and they were rapidly handed over to Guatemalan authorities without due process according to Belize law. Only a few days ago, Belizeans were arrested in Guatemala with unlicensed firearms and cash, and they are still in Guatemala going through their legal due process. It seems Belize always bends over backwards, never asks for and never gets reciprocity.
In 1919, Denmark claimed the whole of Greenland as its territory, with Norway’s acquiescence in what is known as the Ihlen Declaration by the foreign minister of Norway, made on July 22, 1919, saying verbally to the Danish Minister “…the plans of the Royal (Danish) Government respecting Danish sovereignty over the whole of Greenland….would be met with no difficulties on the part of Norway”. The verbal or written statements of high government officials carry a lot of meaning and weight, and was used at the Permanent Court of International Justice in 1933! The PCIJ gave East Greenland to Denmark due to Norway’s foreign ministers’ unilateral, unequivocal statement interpreted by the high court as ACQUIESCENCE.
There are many more examples of acquiescence on the part of Belize…and these have the potential to cause trouble for us at the ICJ. All of these incidences need to be identified and reversed, before Belize proceed to the ICJ, if that process is ultimately deemed necessary.
Thus, Belize needs to back out of the current ICJ process in as respectful a manner as possible towards Guatemala and the international community. It should do so by way of MORAL OBJECTION….and it should be amenable to return to negotiations….with one of the objectives of such negotiations being a Treaty of Peace, Amity, Commerce, Navigation and Recognition….with Belize/Guatemala/SICA/Caricom/UK/Friends of Belize/Guatemala as parties to the win-win negotiations, all around.
This is superior to litigation at the ICJ, since the outcomes to court cases are almost exclusively win-lose outcomes. It is also superior in the sense that a negotiated settlement can allow the parties to arrive at a “perpetual voluntary peace, based on development of respect and trust”….an objective that could never be realized via court of law or the by military action. Spain and Guatemala resolved their recognition problem using this same SAVE FACE instrument in 1863, all of 42 years after Guatemala unilaterally declared its independence in 1821.
There is sufficient evidence that Guatemala is not in compliance with various of the Confidence Building Measures, Article 5 of which empowers the OAS to bind both countries to a legal route via the ICJ. Point D.2 states “The Parties agree that neither party will use against the other, in any forum in which this Territorial Differendum may be addressed in the future, the fact that either of the Parties has accepted, agreed to, complied with or implemented any of the Confidence Building Measures included herein”. Guatemalan President no less, in a recent video, showed a young student in front of the entire class and televised to all of Guatemala…to add Belize to the Guatemalan map. Their new drivers license, which through these agreements enjoy reciprocal recognition, now has a map of Guatemala that includes Belize and is being accepted by Belize officials on a daily basis, without any official protest. Article 4 states “Neither party shall use force, or the threat of force, to pursue their positions with respect to the Territorial Differendum”. The situation at the Sarstoon is in complete contravention to this article. Article 7 state “The governments will cooperate in clearing the areas around the three reference markers mentioned in paragraph 5, above.”…and this is not being done.
Thus, Belize must be grateful that it is not standing on its own:
1. The Secretary General of the 53-member Commonwealth, of 2.4 billion population, made a special visit to Belize to reassure us that they feel confident that Belize would win at the ICJ, but that it is ultimately a decision for Belizeans to make and that they will support us in any decision we make.
2. Our CARICOM brothers are always locked to our side. They sent their most militant election observers to ensure that we would have gotten a fair democratic referendum, if it were to have been held today.
3. The Defence Minister of the UK made a special visit to Belize on the eve of our Independence last year, to sign a very-long-term 15-year Status of Forces Agreement that will see 2000 British troops in Belize per year over that lengthy period. Note that the BDF, by the Belize Constitution, oath of loyalty is to the Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, and it is generally understood that the probability of Guatemalan invasion of Belize while British and allied troops are on the ground, even if just for training, is very highly remotely unlikely.
4. Mexican high officials recently announced that they will move the Headquarters of their Tourism Ministry to Chetumal, that they will build a bridge from Xcalak to San Pedro and that they will develop the areas south of Quintana Roo. Only Belize is south of Quintana Roo. Mexico will not stand idly by.
5. The Hondurans, who are party to the Maritime Areas Act, have been remaining quiet and in the background, knowing the long common history of Belize and the Bay Islands of Honduras. They will not collude with Guatemala in the dismemberment of Belize, which could put all the interests of SICA into jeopardy.
6. The Salvadorans are investing in Belize in such projects as the Office Guru call-center, among other investments. Salvador does not forget Belize’s hospitality to their people running from their civil war.
7. The USA plans to suspend many millions in aid to Guatemala, and is taking back some military vehicles which Guatemala used to threaten the UNCAC CICIG personnel, a purpose for which they were not approved. In a round-about way, the USA sent a message to ALL of the Americas that depending on how far back you want to go, that ALL of the Americas could be shown to have belonged to Mexico at some point. It is a message that the Monroe Doctrine is still in force, and as such will “not tolerate further colonialization”. They stand ready to sponsor Belize becoming a member of the Rio Pact for hemispheric security.
8. Israel is moving slowly to develop relations with Belize, and is shifting their cooperation with Guatemala from what was a mostly military cooperation, to one of agricultural modernization with rural development, as well as environmental, education and technology projects.
Belize now needs to do the following:
1. Suspend the Confidence Building Measures and the Special Agreement it created, based on material breach and MORAL OBJECTION. Invite the possibility of return to negotiations, if Guatemala agrees that territory will not be on the table and recommit themselves to peaceful resolution.
2. Repeal the Maritime Areas Act
3. Hold deep and broad national debate to address all the areas for which Belize is being prosecuted nationally and internationally, such as corruption, money laundering, drug trafficking, people trafficking, poor governance, high poverty and crime rates, low competitiveness and productivity, etc.; which should culminate in November with the holding of general elections, where the manifestos of the political parties are signed into Contract with the People, and their breach should carry serious consequences. The international community will help our political parties develop their MANIFESTO’s and will help Belize civil society organizations to monitor progress and continuously improve national objectives and strategies. Belize should aim to become the little Singapore of our region. Politics is necessarily where all national interests are debated and negotiated.
4. Belize should immediately implement the UNCAC CICIB agreed to with the BNTU three years ago. The agreement should be for one year, with renewal option.
5. Belize should build robust constructive international relations, especially with traditional allies and new friends….with the corporate world and civil societies. Major effort should be put into the negotiation of ambitious Debt-for-Nature and Debt-for-Education swaps for the rationalization of national debt and to bring it down to around 50% of GDP over 10 years. Those negotiations could explore, on the side, the possibility of a security guarantee for Belize from a handful of Friendly Nations based on our agreement to perpetually conserve important resources of Belize, especially water, and to sustainably develop reserves and protected areas, especially the Chiquibul and Sarstoon Temash areas.
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