The Foreign Minister complained about damaging Guatemala incursions into Belizean territory
Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Attorney General Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, today raised the profile of illegal incursions by Guatemalans into Belizean territory in his statement at the General Debate of the United Nations General Assembly, being convened in New York City, USA. Elrington said “the forays” into Belizean territory are “an existential threat” which requires urgent resolution and action on the international front.
He said that the unfounded claim is “a constant source of anxiety to our citizens as well as to investors in our country.”
“While Belize appreciates that the activities by the Guatemalans in our border regions are as a direct result of poverty and failed development in their own country, we are concerned by the fact that such activities create conditions for conflict. There are some 65 Guatemalan villages along the 141-mile Belize-Guatemala border. These—the villagers – are largely indigent and unemployed. In the absence of employment, and increased security patrols on both sides of our borders, the incursions by the Guatemalans will not, in our view, abate, but will only get worse,” Elrington commented.
Of note is that the simultaneous referenda that had been proposed to offer Belize and Guatemala citizens the opportunity to declare, via ballot, whether they agree with having the territorial differendum settled at the International Court of Justice would have been held next Sunday, October 6—had Guatemala not unilaterally decided back in April to abort the process.
In attempting to relay the extent of the problem on the ground, Elrington said: “…both our territorial and our maritime border regions have been suffering from depredation and environment degradation in consequence of the wanton and sustained illegal activities of Guatemalan campesinos, fishermen and other criminal elements engaged in narco-trafficking, human trafficking, smuggling, illegal panning for gold, the extraction of xaté and other exotic plants and animals, the illegal felling of timber, and the pillaging of our ancient Mayan ruins.
“The felling of timber in our rainforest areas [is] contributing to the denuding of our mountains, which results in violent flooding in the rainy season and the transmission of top soil, sand and silt into the sea. These soils are then ultimately transmitted into our pristine Barrier Reef, choking and destroying the fragile ecosystem therein and compromising the health of the entire reef and the marine ecological system thriving therein.”
Elrington said that the resolution of the claim tops the list of Belize’s domestic priorities, adding that, “This claim poses an existential threat to our nation and requires urgent resolution if the peoples of our two countries and our region are to continue to enjoy the peaceful coexistence that has characterized our relationship thus far.”
Elrington said that “border conflicts are dangerous by nature…” and he noted that “the increasing trespassing of the Guatemalans into our country has given rise to more frequent violent encounters between Guatemalans and members of our Belize Defence Force, resulting in fatalities, in some instances. These incidents put a heavy strain on the relations between our country and Guatemala—and the peace of our region as a whole.”
It is noteworthy that Belize got independence from Britain in 1981, following a series of United Nations declarations acknowledging its borders.
Belize’s territory is defined in Schedule 1 of the Constitution, adopted at the time of independence in 1981. The United Nations (UN) passed a series of six resolutions, beginning in 1975, when Belize stepped up its lobby for international support.
The resolutions could not be any clearer that all nations, including Guatemala, ought to respect the rights of Belizeans to be independent and free, to live in peace and security, and to be assured that the territorial claim of Guatemala would no longer be an impediment to the country’s development and full participation on the international stage.
The final resolution of 1980 underscored that it was the responsibility of the UK to work out a resolution with Guatemala – the problem being the boundary treaty of 1859 which Guatemala had formally renounced four decades earlier.
The 7-point resolution of December 8, 1975, “(1) Reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Belize to self-determination and independence; (2) Declares that the inviolability and territorial integrity of Belize must be preserved; (3) Calls on all states to respect the right of the people of Belize to self-determination, independence and territorial integrity and to facilitate the attainment by them of their goal of a secure independence…”
The Foreign Affairs Minister said at the UN today that Belize is resolved to do all in its power to protect her citizens and the country’s territorial integrity, but its efforts alone will not be sufficient to put an end to the forays of the Guatemalans into our country.
He stressed that, “The input of the international community would be vital in assisting with the development in the border regions of income-generating enterprises to ameliorate the poverty which impels the Guatemalans to trespass in our border regions.”
One of the main issues Elrington flagged in his 24-minute speech was poverty, which is also one of the areas highlighted in the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG).
Elrington said that the MDG Scorecard now reveals that a vast majority of nations are mired in poverty with scant or no sign of development.
“We note with disappointment, that the rich countries have not even been able to bring themselves to honor their commitment to contribute even the 0.7 per cent of their gross domestic product as official domestic assistance (ODA) to poor countries,” Elrington said.
He added that the resources provided by then International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and private donors fall far short of what is needed for achievement of laudable and basic goals.
Elrington told the UN General Assembly that Belize remains committed and is assiduously pursuing those MDGs.
In his remarks, he also spoke of the need to focus on climate change, which he called “another threat of an existential nature.”
Other issues he highlighted are reparations for descendants of slavery, education, and health—particularly lifestyle diseases which, he said, are reaching epidemic proportions in countries such as ours.
He said that it is urgent that the UN seeks to address the afflictions blighting the lives of an untold number of citizens.