BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 10, 2018– The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, Pickstock area representative, has gained notoriety for using the”artificial border” term in describing Belize’s border with Guatemala.
Since then, Foreign Minister Elrington has been under constant criticism for his very passive approach to the issue of the Guatemala claim, and for “cozying” up to Guatemala despite that country not fully respecting Belize’s rights in the Sarstoon River in southern Belize.
Well, Elrington has done it again; he has misspoken on an issue involving Guatemala and the ICJ referendum process. A constitutional challenge that has been mounted against the Special Agreement in Guatemala has led Elrington to assert that Guatemala is going to have a second referendum after the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is made public, should Guatemala’s unfounded claim to Belize ever reach that body after referenda are held in both countries.
This second referendum, according to Elrington, would be carried out so that Guatemala could ratify the ruling of the ICJ.
The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) immediately pounced on Minister Elrington’s statement, pointing out that there is no such provision in the Guatemalan Constitution, and that the terms of the Special Agreement that both countries signed in 2008, making referenda possible, are that the ICJ ruling is to be final on the matter of the dispute.
The matter is sensitive because on Sunday, April 15, Guatemalans go to the polls to vote in their national referendum to take, or not to take, the matter of their territorial claim against Belize to the ICJ for adjudication.
In an interview that was aired on News5 on Wednesday, April 4, the question of two Guatemalans, who had mounted a constitutional challenge to the referendum that was spawned by the Special Agreement signed between Guatemala and Belize in 2008, was put to Foreign Minister Elrington, who categorically said that Guatemala would have a second referendum based on a constitutional provision. News5’s Aaron Humes asked Foreign Minister Elrington, “And the result of that referendum, would in conjunction with that of Belize, of course, may be the final decision….?” Here is the exchange that followed that question:
Wilfred Elrington: “No; the suggestion I got from Alexis [Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala] was that once the matter is disposed of at the I.C.J., then the suggestion I got from him was that the constitution in Guatemala provides for them to then go to a referendum to, as it were, ratify that position of the court. That seemed to be the import of what he said to me.”
Aaron Humes: “So in other words, there would be two referenda, basically? One before and one after?”
Wilfred Elrington: “Right. That’s what he said to me, but we need to sit down and get some more clarity on it; but I’m relying on him and I think that’s what he said to me. So the challenge was that really and truly, there’s no need for a referendum now; the referendum should wait until a decision is given.”
PUP Senator, Eamon Courtenay, told 7News: “The position as far as the People’s United Party is concerned is very clear. One: There is no provision in the Guatemalan Constitution or other law in Guatemala that provides for a referendum to approve a decision of the ICJ. So what Minister Elrington said is incorrect.
“And I would be very surprised to learn that Ambassador Rosado would have advised him that that is the provision in the Guatemalan Constitution, because there is no such provision. There is no way that any party would agree to go to court to resolve a dispute, whether at the ICJ or anywhere else, and then have a final and binding dispute issued, and then subject it to a referendum for approval whether or not the party accept the results.”
Courtenay went on to say, “There are two quick points to make: first of all, the ICJ, where it seeks to resolve a dispute, one of the conditions set out in the treaty is that the parties must accept the result. So you can’t come to them for a resolution of a dispute and say we will decide after the fact whether we will accept the dispute.
“Secondly, the special agreement itself says the parties agree that the decision will be final and binding. So this notion that Guatemala will then have a second referendum is just flat wrong.”
In a Government of Belize press release issued today, Tuesday, under the caption “Clarification of Minister Elrington’s comments regarding the legal challenge in Guatemala to the Guatemalan referendum,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “On 4 April 2018, Channel 5 Belize aired portions of an interview with Foreign Minister Hon. Wilfred Elrington responding to a question by one of its journalists regarding the efforts of a few Guatemalan citizens who were challenging the constitutionality of Guatemala’s referendum.
“The clips used in Channel 5’s report gave the mistaken impression that Minister Elrington was stating that it is his or Ambassador H.E. Alexis Rosado’s own view that after the International Court of Justice rules on a decision the ‘constitution of Guatemala provides for them [Guatemala] to then go to a referendum to, as it were, ratify that position of the court’ “.
The release added, “What the Minister was explaining to the journalist was his understanding of the basis of the constitutional challenge in Guatemala; not his personal views or that of Ambassador Rosado. In any case, such legal challenges have been dismissed in Guatemala’s Courts.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarifies that in accordance with the Special Agreement of December 2008, should the electorates of Belize and Guatemala approve the submission of Guatemala’s claim on Belize to the International Court of Justice for a final settlement, there can be no question of another referendum on the Court’s ruling.”
The release ended, saying: “Indeed, under Article V of the Special Agreement, the Parties are already agreed to ‘accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith’.
“There is, therefore, no good reason to entertain notions of a need to have another referendum after the Court rules on a decision, if the people of Belize and Guatemala agree to go to Court.”
The government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow will, of course, engage in damage control, but Foreign Minister Elrington has often “put his foot in his mouth” in the sensitive area of diplomacy, to the point where both the Opposition and many important social partners, for years, have called for his removal as Minister of Foreign Affairs.