Features — 04 October 2013 — by Adele Ramos
Guats cry foul to OAS

Guatemalan’s Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday that its Foreign Minister, Fernando Carrera, had sent a protest note to the Secretariat of the Organization of American States, copied to Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, as well as the Group of Countries Friends of Belize and Guatemala, taking issue with the statements he made in his official address on Monday, September 30, 2013, at the 68th UN General Assembly held in New York City.

In the statement, Guatemala said that it “rejects any insinuation” that it plans to subvert Belize by violence or military action.

Carrera told OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza in the note that whereas Elrington indicated in his speech that Guatemala unilaterally backed out of the plans to hold simultaneous referenda on whether the territorial differendum should be settled at the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—that vote having been set for this Sunday, October 6, but aborted after Guatemala pulled out of the agreement—it was Belize, Carrera said, which unilaterally changed “the rules of the game,” when it amended its referendum laws to mandate that 60% of the voter population must participate in the referendum to make it valid. Carrera said that the change introduced unequal conditions which Guatemala found to be unacceptable.

He went on to say that Belize had indicated that if the referendum vote would yield a negative result, the case could never reach the ICJ.

Carrera told the OAS that Elrington’s declarations in relation to incidences of violence and incursions into Belize were “unfortunate,” because they do not contribute to strengthening relations between the two countries.

The note contends that whereas the Guatemala armed forces have never provoked any incident inside Belizean territory, the Belize Defence Force has “consistently violated the human rights of Guatemalans” and has caused the deaths of several of their citizens, aside from injuries.

Carrera did not mention that the deaths of “several of their citizens” occurred when these citizens were caught in Belize territory illegally harvesting xate, panning for gold, harvesting lumber, or otherwise destroying Belize’s patrimony.

Carrera’s note also accuses Belize of having undertaken several incursions into Guatemalan territory—incursions which the Guatemala note said had been verified by the OAS office near the Belize-Guatemala border.

Carrera claims that Belize has not punished the alleged acts of violence, which, he said, have been executed with impunity.

We note, however, that there is no pattern of incursions by Belizeans, westward into Guatemala, and in a recent case where the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) took an Independence excursion to Sarstoon Island in the south, decidedly inside Belize territory, they were questioned by the Guatemalan Armed Forces, who the BTV reported came up to them guns in hand to interrogate them about what they were doing at the location. The BTV reported that Guatemalans were fishing illegally with gill nets inside Belizean waters.

Carrera’s note puts on record that the Government of Guatemala does not accept the “disrespectful and derogatory” treatment of its campesinos, fishermen and villagers, charged with illegal activities inside Belize.

He also protested Elrington’s assertion that the actions by the Guatemalans in pillaging Belize’s natural resources, are contributing to environmental degradation in Belize, and indicated that there could be no blame assigned to the Government for those acts.

Guatemala makes the point that both parties recognize an “adjacency zone”—although, we note that in his statement Elrington made clear reference to the existence of a border.

The 9th and final bullet in Carrera’s statement asserts that Guatemala looks forward to settling the dispute at the ICJ, but with equal conditions.

Carrera calls on Insulza to take note of his government’s position on the declarations Elrington made at the UN on Monday. He said that Guatemala considers the statement to be totally provocative, intended to upset the process that has begun.

The note said that while Elrington stated that border disputes are inherently dangerous, under the ICJ compromis signed back in December 2008, the border would be marked and delineated only after the dispute between the parties is resolved.

Carrera went on to assert that Minister Elrington breached their 2005 Framework Agreement which calls for caution and prudence in making public statements on the issue.

At the UN on Monday, Elrington said that the resolution of the claim tops the list of Belize’s domestic priorities, adding that, “This claim poses an existential threat to our nation and requires urgent resolution if the peoples of our two countries and our region are to continue to enjoy the peaceful coexistence that has characterized our relationship thus far.”

He stressed that, “The input of the international community would be vital in assisting with the development in the border regions of income-generating enterprises to ameliorate the poverty which impels the Guatemalans to trespass in our border regions.”

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