Letters — 17 January 2018 — by David Gibson
Gibson comments on Gordon article

(Comment on article by Henry Gordon entitled, “The Confidence Building Measures Signed between Belize and Guatemala on February 7, 2003. Before the ICJ Referendum” –  Amandala newspaper of 5th January, 2018)

It is good and timely for public education purposes that Mr. Gordon’s article provides information on the content of one of the OAS brokered Agreements on Confidence Building Measures entered into by Belize with the Republic of Guatemala, three of which have been signed since May 2000. These agreements have served to prevent conflict and to maintain generally stable relations between the two countries for nearly two decades; during which, efforts have been made to address Guatemala’s persisting and often times belligerent attempts to seize Belizean territory.

The following comments are provided to facilitate and clarify Mr. Gordon’s review:

It may be recalled that the first Agreement signed in May 2000 was entered into during a time of increased tension between the countries, and was designed to “keep the peace”, and for removal and prevention of illegal Guatemalan settlements in Belize during the “pendency” of negotiations held at OAS Headquarters in Washington DC – now known as the Reichler/Ramphal Facilitation Process.

The Agreement which Mr. Gordon reproduces in his Amandala article is the second of these. It was negotiated and signed on 7th February, 2003. This was described as a transitory agreement after Guatemala failed to meet the 75-day deadline for a national referendum to be held in the two countries to determine the acceptability of the Ramphal/Reichler Proposals to settle the dispute. These Proposals, in which Guatemala agreed to recognize Belize’s existing borders, had been accepted by the respective Foreign Ministers (Shoman/ Orellana) in Washington on 5th September, 2002. Guatemala’s Congress refused to authorize the referendum. Eventually in 2004 Guatemala formally rejected the Proposals.

Consequently on September 7, 2005, the countries signed a third agreement in a final attempt at negotiation to find a solution to the territorial dispute. This agreement authorized the OAS Secretary General to recommend a juridical solution in the event the final round of negotiations were unsuccessful. They were unsuccessful (as expected) and the OAS /SG by letter dated 19th November, 2007 then recommended referral of the matter specifically to the International Court of Justice, the Judicial arm of the United Nations.

In December 2008 the countries signed the Special Agreement to refer the matter for adjudication by the ICJ, subject to approval by national referendum in the respective countries.

That was ten years ago. The peacekeeping and bi-lateral relations promotion elements of the third Agreement on Confidence Building Measures continue to remain in force during this phase of the process.

Guatemala has rescheduled (once more) the conducting of its referendum to April 14th 2018. Belize’s referendum is projected to occur after the electoral re-registration exercise which has been indicated by the PM to occur in July of this year. The date of Belize’s referendum is therefore slated to be set for after this, noting the imminence of general elections by 2020, if not before.

A frequently asked question is what happens if either one or other country, or both, vote “No” to the ICJ. Can the arrangements for Confidence Building Measures continue indefinitely? Is there a viable “Plan B” for this scenario?

David Gibson
Centre for Strategic studies Policy Analysis & Research (CSSPAR)
11th January, 2018

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