June 15, 2016
It was with great alarm that I read in both Channel 5 and Channel 7’s online news transcripts today that, regarding the Sarstoon River, Guatemala now deems it necessary to start a process in which several Guatemalan state institutions, not named but including the Ministry of Defense, must be involved. No mention of equivalent Belizean institutions!
All Belizeans should be concerned. This latest revelation speaks to a continuing effort on Guatemala’s part to expand that state’s function on the river through multiple institutions and so further consolidate and strengthen possession and sovereignty over the Sarstoon. Belizeans must send a clear message to the Government of Belize that no agreement must be reached with Guatemala that excludes equivalent Belizean institutions.
What seems more clear with this most recent communication is that Guatemala’s counterplan that I recently wrote about (Amandala, “Guatemala – Connecting The Dots”) envisions the reversal of the conditions on the ground that existed in 2001, the year of the Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Claim that was commissioned by the then government of Belize, and, in the process, rendering the opinion outdated, irrelevant and useless – the very opinion on which, together with the 1859 Treaty, GOB bases its decision to take the claim to the International Court of Justice. This seems to be the case at least in regards to the Sarstoon to date.
Under these circumstances, not only must all negotiations going forward be conducted by GOB with this “reversal” goal of Guatemala’s in mind, but so must all public debate. The National Tertiary Empowerment Symposium would have been held by the date of your next publication but there is still the Social Security Board-sponsored debate for later this month. Surely there will be many more public discourses.
Everyone must resist the temptation to discuss the favorable 2001 Legal Opinion as if it still holds true today. That opinion must be analyzed in view of what has changed over the past fifteen years, and according to the conditions on the ground in 2016. I especially draw everyone’s attention to the Opinion’s discussion in Part V on Customary International Law, presented in Belize’s favor but where conditions have reversed, possibly favorable to Guatemala. Not to be overlooked is the panel of judges’ observation that “it is highly material that there is no evidence of any conflicting governmental activity by Guatemala on the ground anywhere in the territory of Belize”. It logically follows then that the existence of such evidence is also highly material.
The other much-discussed document, the 1859 Treaty, and the United Nations resolution on Belize’s independence and territorial integrity should also be looked at again through the lens of events and all governmental activity, Belizean and Guatemalan, since 1981 and what the border situation is today, all within the context of Part V of the Legal Opinion.
Recurring themes in the Legal Opinion, even in the case of adverse or wrongful possession, are “time” (continuous, that is), “peaceful” and “undisturbed.” Guatemala has no problem with time – she has waited going on 200 years so what are a few more? She has for years been attempting to lull Belizean officials and the people into a sense of peace. Today she is attempting to make sure her jurisdiction over the Sarstoon is not disturbed.
Tomorrow it will be the Western border and beyond. It is up to the Belizean population to demonstrate to the world that it will not allow Guatemala to proceed peacefully and undisturbed to manipulate conditions to her favor and wipe Belize as we know it off the map.