International — 26 October 2012 — by Adele Ramos
OAS Secretary-General discusses Belize-Guatemala issues

José Miguel Insulza, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), was in Belize today, where he met with Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington, National Security Minister John Saldivar and Leader of the Opposition Francis Fonseca.

He held a short press briefing at the VIP Lounge of the Philip Goldson International Airport just before his departure this evening.

Insulza said he felt that “since we had a meeting yesterday in Guatemala to examine the progress of our work, to examine the resolution of the bilateral issue between Guatemala and Belize, it would be proper that I came to Belize, even though for a few hours, to report to the Prime Minister, to talk to the authorities, to make sure that everybody is well informed.”

In Guatemala yesterday, Foreign Affairs delegations from Belize and Guatemala met along with the OAS Secretary-General and diplomats who have missions there, as they made a pitch for funds from the international community to help finance the process leading up to October 2013—when voters in Belize and Guatemala are expected to register their position on whether they want the territorial differendum to be settled at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The UK, Spain, The Netherlands, Mexico and Canada are already supporting the process, Insulza said. Although there weren’t any specific commitments from the countries who attended yesterday’s meetings, said Insulza, some countries and organizations have said they will support the process.

“In 2007,” said Insulza, “I suggested to the two countries that this matter would probably be best settled with a decision from the International Court of Justice.”

The countries agreed on that and then in 2008 they signed a special agreement to take the matter to the International Court of Justice. This year, they agreed on October 6, 2013 as referendum day.

Both governments of Belize and Guatemala have said that they would encourage their nationals to vote “yes.” Asked what would happen if voters say “no,” Insulza replied: “If there would be no agreement on the matter then it would remain open. That’s it!”

Insulza said that although his visit today only lasted a few hours, he expects to make a longer visit in the next few months. The next meeting to garner financial support for the ICJ case, he said, is due to take place in Washington for countries that make such financing decisions from their embassies in Washington.

There are some who hold the view that the OAS, which should always be seen to be neutral in the facilitation process, has shown partiality to Guatemala over Belize. This Monday’s meeting being held in Guatemala, the predominant language being Spanish and the OAS’s silence on constant incursions into Belizean territory have been cited as demonstrations of that alleged bias.

Responding to these concerns, Insulza said, “The meeting was held in Guatemala because most of the donor countries have their embassies in Guatemala. I, therefore, suggested that we do that and the reason precisely for me to come here immediately was precisely to erase any doubt that there could be some kind of a different treatment.”

The Secretary-General also said that yesterday’s meeting was held in both languages. Several ambassadors, such as those from the Netherlands, Israel and UK, did not speak in Spanish and Elrington spoke in English; and there was simultaneous translation for people in both languages, he added.

The OAS Secretary-General also indicated that it has not and will not grant any compensation to the family of the Guatemalan who was recently killed, reportedly in self-defense, by an officer of the Belize Defence Force, while lurking illegally 7 miles inside of Belizean territory. Local media has reported that the OAS Peace Fund would be used to pay $10,000 in compensation to the family. However, Insulza said, “…if somebody wants compensation [they have to] go to a commission of human rights. The OAS? I don’t know where they get that.”

For its part, the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that it would pay a grant of compassion to the family because they are indigent and the deceased left behind a pregnant wife with several children.

Insulza told the press that unless the countries have agreed to such payment of compensation—and it has not been discussed—there will be no allocation for that family. The Peace Fund, he said, is primarily to finance the work of the OAS mission along the Belize-Guatemala border, via their office located in Melchor de Menchos. The only other fund is to pay for the referendum process, he added, stating flatly that the OAS doesn’t have budgeted money for compensation.

Insulza underscored that “nobody wants a lethal use of force.” He said that the incursions being faced by Belize are a difficult problem to solve because there are a lot of poor people involved; there are protected areas involved.

“In general, there is goodwill to try and avoid any more casualties,” Insulza commented.

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