BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 19, 2018– Following his appearance on the KREM WUB morning show this morning, Amandala asked the former Belizean ambassador, David Gibson, who now heads the think-tank, Center for Strategic Studies Policy Analysis and Research (CSSPAR), to comment on Belize being at the critical crossroad of an ICJ referendum to take or not to take the longstanding Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice for final settlement.
“I think our process of trying to resolve this issue, is in line with the United Nations Charter, which outlines how states with territorial differences, or with contentious issues, international issues, should resolve in a peaceful and amicable way these differences,” he responded.
He went on to state, “We have exhausted all the processes, mediation, with Webster, which was totally unacceptable, negotiations in various stages, both pre and post-independence. There were two phases of post-independence negotiations, one of which ended up with Guatemala’s recognizing the independence of Belize in 1991.
“Then there was a breakdown and this was followed by another phase of negotiations which was conducted under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS) and came up with the facilitation process, which produced proposals which Guatemala recognized the boundaries of Belize, including maritime.”
Ambassador Gibson added, “The Guatemalan Congress rejected the facilitation process which their Foreign Minister, Orellano, had signed on to in Washington, D.C. Legal arguments were presented out of court and they were convinced that they had no case already. But the hardliners in the congress rejected it.”
Ambassador Gibson explained that the negotiations between Belize and Guatemala continued up to 2007, and both countries authorized the Secretary General of the OAS that if no headway was made with the negotiations, he could subject the issue to some form of international legal process.
“We did that, which was acceptable to us and the Guatemalans, and out of that came the negotiations for the Special Agreement, where we got Guatemala to let go the idea of going to the court on the basis of a non-legal equity argument. We said to them, strictly legal, under the statute of the court which deals with strictly legal matters,” the Ambassador said.
We asked Ambassador Gibson the most pressing question that Belizeans are asking right now: “Do you think that Belize can go to the ICJ and come out with 8,867 square miles of land?”
“I absolutely think so,” Ambassador Gibson said. “All the arguments are in our favor. The validity of the 1859 Boundary Convention is the most important issue to be looked at. Is it a valid treaty? When Guatemala talks about the British did not build a road and so on, those are not material. The primary purpose of that agreement is as a boundary convention,” he remarked.
“If you and someone have an agreement and you both agree to do certain things, and one of you fails to do it, would that not amount to a breach of the agreement?”, we pressed Ambassador Gibson.
“It’s a question of whether there was a breach any at all. As a matter of fact, there was a supplementary agreement signed in 1863, which sets out to clarify who will pay for the construction of the road, and it was agreed that the British would pay 50,000 pounds in arrears. As it turned out, it was ratified six months later, and the Guatemalans didn’t, because they were at war with Salvador over boundary issues. So five years passed and then they came back and said, well we’re now ready. It was something that required the approval of the British parliament,” said Ambassador Gibson.
“The ratification didn’t come, and so the exchange between the Colonial Officer and the Foreign Office and the Treasury, especially the Foreign Office, came out with the legal interpretation and said this is no longer a valid treaty. Then in 1884 Guatemala began talking about wanting back our land which was ceded,” Ambassador Gibson explained.
“So what if we get a no vote in the referendum, could not Belize tell Guatemala, ‘look, the problem was between you and the British, go back to them and solve your problem’?” Amandala asked Ambassador Gibson.
“Well, the British tried. They tried to inject 22 million pounds when they negotiated in the post-independence period. That money would have been to upgrade roads in the Petén area. The Guatemalans did not want that. They were on this land-fix. So they rejected it, and then things crumbled after that. It was not directly paying for the land, it was just a facilitation sort of thing,” Ambassador Gibson said.
Ambassador Gibson added, “I have heard people talk about compensation. But if you compensate them you are giving value to the claim.”
Amandala asked Ambassador Gibson, “At this point, what is your prediction for the outcome of the Belize referendum?”
“At this point in time, I see a ‘no’ vote. It’s very deep. Whatever public education is undertaken, has got to examine the political situation as it stands. There is no bipartisan unity. The Opposition is saying, ‘look, settle the Sarstoon and then we could talk.’ There seems to be a larger problem of the whole management of the process. These are things that have to be addressed,” said Gibson.
“When we signed the compromis to go to the ICJ, didn’t that effectively kill all future negotiations? So why are the Government and the Opposition still insisting on a Sarstoon Protocol?” we asked.
“For the reason because it has had a political impact on the process,” Ambassador Gibson said. “Belize people are really upset over this, because it is a violation and nothing has been done about it. So there is this perception of weakness of the government,” he noted.
Ambassador Gibson said Belize has had dealings mostly with the OAS largely because of Guatemala, but he remembers Ambassador Edward Laing saying that we should have gone back to the United Nations when the issue opened up again in 1999.
1999 was the year when Guatemala informed Belize that they had revised their claim to a large part of Belize.