BELIZE CITY, Mon. May 25, 2015–In a signing ceremony which took place in Guatemala City on Monday, May 25—a signing which officials say brings them closer to the final resolution of the age-old territorial differendum between Belize and Guatemala at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague—the parties have formalized their agreement to allow the countries to proceed separately or simultaneously with a national referendum on the issue.
The Government of Belize has not yet issued a public statement on the matter, but a press release published by Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirms that Monday’s signing amends the 2008 special agreement by allowing the parties to either hold their referenda simultaneously or on separate occasions, on dates convenient to the parties, to say whether or not citizens of the two countries agree for the matter to be heard at the ICJ.
Guatemalan reports continue to cite a claim for 12,000 square kilometers of Belize – or more than half of Belize’s territory.
The parties had agreed back in April 2012 to set Sunday, October 6, 2013 as the date on which voters in Belize and Guatemala should participate in simultaneous referenda; however, Guatemala pulled out of the process, claiming that the conditions did not exist to secure a “yes” vote.
Subsequently, in January 2014, the parties agreed to a road map leading up to December 2014, which included the possibility of rescheduling the referenda for 2015, but the year concluded without a date having been set.
The signatories to the protocol (see document here) are Canciller Carlos Raúl Morales Moscoso for Guatemala and Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred Elrington, for Belize. The outgoing Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, signed as witness of honor.
Although officials here in Belize said that the amendment to the ICJ agreement follows a request by Guatemala to allow that country to hold their ICJ referendum this November, with the runoff to their elections, none of the official reports on Monday’s signing indicate that Guatemala has formally committed to doing so.
A report carried on the website of the Government of Guatemala said that the signing of the protocol is intended to enable the parties to press ahead for a solution to the age-old territorial differendum, and it goes on to cite Canciller Morales as saying that the signing of the protocol forms part of the actions of both countries to resolve the territorial, insular and maritime differendum.
Elrington is quoted on the website of the Guatemalan government as saying that the two countries and regional integration groups to which they belong want to put an end to the differendum and to permit their peoples to live in peace and harmony.
The newly elected Secretary General of the OAS, Luis Almagro, who takes over the reins from Insulza on Tuesday in Washington, sent a video message on the occasion of the signing.
Almagro becomes the third secretary general of the OAS to guide the OAS-process for the resolution of the Belize-Guatemala differendum. When the process started back in 2000, it was under then Secretary-General César Gaviria.
Insulza said that the role which the OAS has played as mediator/facilitator in the Belize-Guatemala process is “one of the most important tasks of the Organization and one to which we have assigned the highest priority in the General Secretariat.”
Insulza recommended that since no consensus could be reached on maritime issues, that the matter be settled at the International Court of Justice, and in 2008, the parties signed the special agreement enabling the ICJ process to ensue.
According to Insulza, this is the only territorial dispute in the region that the OAS has been engaged in as a third party continuously for more than fifteen years.
The report by the Government of Guatemala stated that with the signing of the protocol, Belize and Guatemala both reiterate their commitments to cooperate as good neighbors, and at the same time reassert their commitment to the 13 agreements which the parties signed last December.