Highlights — 05 April 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Guatemala passport map an affront to Belizeans

Belizeans angry over Guat officials’ sanction of map on passport, which annexes Belize to Guatemala

Guatemala has been stepping up the use of maps that Belizean officials deem to be “provocative and retrogressive,” because they either tacitly or blatantly depict Belize as a part of that territory, with the western border between the countries represented by just a dotted line, and in more overt maps, with Belize shaded in as a part of Guatemala.

The most notable cases that have arisen this year include the use of a map by a Guatemalan official at a meeting of the Organization of American States in February. Although that official claimed that the map had been inadvertently used, the increasing use of those provocative maps has led the Government of Belize to question whether the government of Guatemala is taking a more aggressive stance in staking its unfounded claim over Belize.

Since the OAS meeting, Belize’s basketball stars were met with a similar affront when they traveled to Guatemala later that month for a competition and saw a sports federation logo with Belize annexed to Guatemala appearing on jerseys, as well as on memorabilia for the event. This was occurring even as that country’s Ministry of Education was urging schools to use similar maps, stating that the resolution of the territorial differendum is pending.

Now, Guatemala intends to use the offending map on the cover of its passport. Our newspaper has perused official information issued by Guatemala’s governance ministry (Ministerio de Gobernación), which has put out a tender notice detailing that “the map of Central America and the definition of the outlines of the other countries… must take into account the territorial differendum of Guatemala with Belize and the policy guidelines on the matter as directed by the Ministry of Foreign Relations of Guatemala….”

The tender is for the supply of passport books, 500,000 initially, and bidding is due to take place in Guatemala City on Monday, May 13, 2013.

Current Guatemala passports have the Belize-Guatemala border drawn with a solid line, but the proposal for the new passport is for the borderline to be represented with a dotted line, although Belize would not be boldly shaded in on the cover of Guatemala’s passport. The change is subtle, but enough for Belizean authorities and patriotic organizations as well as the wider Belizean community to be concerned.

Belize’s Ambassador resident in Guatemala, H.E. Alfredo Martinez, confirmed to Amandala that he’s been monitoring the situation and trying to ascertain the extent of the changes to the map.

Under the Central American Integration System (SICA), several countries of the sub-region are now issuing passports with the map of Central America on the front cover, but with their respective countries shaded in to highlight their territories. That map, according to Ambassador Martinez, who is also our ambassador to SICA, should also show the outlines of other Central American countries.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexis Rosado, who said he learned of the proposal two weeks ago, has told Amandala that the Belize Government has already been debriefing the international community, and will be insisting to SICA as well as the UN, that it is strongly opposed to the proposed change, which is clearly meant to offend Belize.

CEO Rosado said that Belizean officials are getting in touch with SICA and UN to ensure they are not participating in any such offensive project.

According to an article appearing last week in Guatemala’s Prensa Libre, the project is receiving assistance from United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS).

Ambassador Martinez explains that, “The map of Central America appears on most passports of SICA countries, by agreement of those countries that chose to adopt that format of a Central American passport a few years ago. Prior to the adoption of the Central American Passport, Guatemalan passports had NO map.”

Ambassador Martinez said that, “Due to [Belize’s] SICA membership, Guatemala is, however, constrained to go beyond the dotted line.”

Of note is that Belize has opted out of using the SICA passport model, and is instead using the common format implemented by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which has Belize’s map on the inside back cover along with a regional map on which the territory of Belize is shaded in.

CEO Rosado said that this strategy of depicting a territorial dispute on a passport is not new in international politics.

The Nation, a news organ of Thailand, reported last November that China’s new passport, which contains a map showing most of the South China Sea belonging to China, had provoked angry reaction from many countries in the region, including the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and India.

The Philippines and Vietnam said they would not put immigration and visa stamps on the controversial passport; while India, angered that the map claims Arunachal Pradesh and Aksai Chin as Chinese territory, is stamping its own map on visas given to Chinese visitors.

Belize immigration authorities could refuse to stamp any new passports that offend Belize in this manner, and they could issue a different form of documentation to those nationals it chooses to admit, CEO Rosado agreed.

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