BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 30, 2018– Exactly two weeks after an estimated 26 percent of Guatemalan voters went to the polls, where 97 percent of them voted “yes” to take their country’s territorial claim to more than half of Belize to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Belize announced today that it has set a date for its own ICJ referendum, “in accordance with the Special Agreement and its protocol.”
Incredibly, Guatemala had been congratulated by the Belize Government after the outcome of their referendum had been made public.
In the Government of Belize’s press release, captioned, “Cabinet Sets Date for Referendum on International Court of Justice”, the following is stated: “The Government of Belize announces that Cabinet has set the date for the referendum where Belize will decide whether or not to take the dispute arising from Guatemala’s claim to Belize’s land and insular territories, and to the maritime areas pertaining to them, to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for final settlement. In accordance with the Special Agreement and its protocol, the referendum will be held on Wednesday, April 10, 2019.”
The release continued to state, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already commenced and will step up its public awareness campaign which is being launched under the banner ‘ICJ, Be Informed.’
“The nationwide campaign will include various approaches in an effort to reach citizens in every corner of the country. Belizeans are encouraged to learn more about this important issue that they will be asked to decide upon.”
In December 2008, Belize and Guatemala, at the urging of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), signed the Special Agreement (Compromis) in Washington, agreeing to take Guatemala’s territorial claim to the ICJ for a final solution, once the voters in both countries agreed to go that route through referenda, which were scheduled to be held simultaneously in both countries.
Guatemala and Belize, however, were not able to hold the referenda simultaneously, which they agreed to do when they had signed the compromis in 2008.
Contrary to the Belize government’s assertion in its press release, that the referendum is ‘in accordance with the Special Agreement and its protocol,” there was an amendment to the original Special Agreement. After almost seven years, in May 2015, the foreign ministers of both countries met at the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Guatemala City, where they signed the amendment to the Special Agreement, de-linking the referenda process.
Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington signed on behalf of Belize while Guatemala’s then Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales, signed on their behalf.
At the time of the signing of the amendment to the compromis, the opposition People’s United Party was not represented. Former PUP Foreign Minister, Eamon Courtenay, who was a part of Belize’s bi-partisan team negotiating with Guatemala, lamented the government’s lack of consultation and declared that the amended compromis (to allow the countries to vote on different dates) was not in Belize’s best interest because the spirit of cohesion that was built into the original compromis had been broken.
The government press release said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already commenced, and will step up, its public awareness campaign under the banner “ICJ Be Informed.” Financing for the program to educate the public prior to the referendum, however, only amounted to $40,000 in the government’s 2018-2019 budget.