Letters — 25 August 2018
Let’s change the referendum date

Dear Editor:

We will celebrate Independence Day on September 21 because that was the date we achieved independence in 1981. Likewise we celebrate the 10 September as the date we won the Battle of Saint George’s Caye in 1798. Now our Government has set April 10 next year as the day we must decide the course of our country’s fate by referendum. Let us therefore consider the substance of this singularly important event in an attempt to adequately classify its nature and to decide if the date chosen is appropriate.

We will begin by outlining the facts that have brought us to this critical historical juncture.

1. Our western neighbor has stated that they have unilaterally invalidated the 1859 border treaty they had signed with Great Britain due to the non-fulfillment of Article 7 of that convention, and that therefore all that exists between Belize and Guatemala is an imaginary line where the hitherto internationally recognized border use to be. Notwithstanding the legal opinion of the experts that Guatemala cannot lawfully do this, our Government has agreed that this is indeed the case.

2. Since all prior attempts to settle the dispute had failed, Guatemala, in concert with the Belize Government, in 2008 signed a Special Agreement drafted by the OAS that outlines the framework of taking Guatemala’s claims to the United Nation’s court for final and irrevocable legal resolution. Although both governments have agreed that the matter should be taken to court, the Special Agreement requires that voters in both countries must agree to have the ICJ decide the issue before the matter can be adjudicated. Guatemala has already decided “yes” in their referendum (although only about 25% of voters participated), and now Belize will be asked to decide in the upcoming referendum.

3. The court will use Article 2 of the Special Agreement as their guideline in resolving the dispute. Article 2 reads “The Parties request the Court to determine in accordance with applicable rules of international law as specified in Article 38(1) of the Statute of the Court any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories, to declare the rights therein of both Parties, and to determine the boundaries between their respective territories and areas.”

 So what is wrong with this picture? Firstly, this Belize/Guatemala ICJ Compromis violates our constitution since it gives the judges the power to change our borders. Only our parliament has the authority to redefine our boundaries. Secondly, “the any and all legal claims”, opens the door for Guatemala to demand at least a sizable portion of our territory in compensation for the British failure to honor, to their satisfaction, Article 7 of the 1859 treaty. Thirdly, it allows Guatemala to claim “rights” over Belizean territory which is a clear violation of our sovereignty and independence. Fourthly, Article 5 of the Special Agreement reads, “The Parties shall accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith. In particular, the Parties agree that, within three months of the date of the Judgment of the Court, they will agree on the composition and terms of reference of a Bi-national Commission to carry out the demarcation of their boundaries in accordance with the decision of the Court…” This means that our presently “undefined borders” with Guatemala will be irrevocably defined in accordance with the decision of the court.

So in essence we are being asked in this referendum, if we agree for Guatemala to sue us using terms of reference which clearly violate our constitution, to have the court irrevocably award them, more than likely for a British obligation, with at last demand 53% of our territory and for our sovereignty over the remainder if any is left, to be possibly surrendered by granting them “rights” as stated in Article 2 of the special agreement. In other words, we, if a “yes” vote prevails, will risk our very existence to the determination of a set of foreign judges whose decisions have been described as politically biased. Guatemala, on the other hand, will risk nothing, for even in the most unlikely event that we win the case, Guatemala, with the acquiescence of their Anglo-American-Rothschild handlers, will simply ignore the judgment.

To add insult to injury, we are being asked to decide without even knowing what exactly Guatemala’s “any and all legal claims” will be. Now if someone claims that your property belongs to him, but will not tell you how much and exactly for what legitimate reason, would you agree to have him take you to court to enforce his claim? And if he then proceeds to dismantle your fence and chase you from land for which you have a legitimate title, would you agree to go to court to afford him the chance to legally claim your land, or would you call the police?

As this impending referendum fast approaches I am reminded of the immortal words of our quintessential Belizean patriot, “The time to save your country is before you lose it”. So then, Tio and Tia Tom and Jemima, let us be honest and call a spade a spade. All things considered should we not hold this referendum nine days earlier?

Sidley Leslie

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