The activist Ya Ya Marin Coleman recently pointed out on her Sunday Review show on KREM Radio/TV that what worries her about the Petrocaribe moneys are the implications for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) matter. The ruling United Democratic Party (UDP), which has increased its electoral popularity with the Petrocaribe windfall, is on record as being in full support of the “yes” vote in a referendum for Belize to submit Belize’s differendum with Guatemala to a panel of ICJ judges. The ruling of the ICJ would theoretically be binding on both Belize and Guatemala, which claims half of Belize in the aftermath of a dispute with Great Britain which began in the colonial days of the nineteenth century.
At a Monday morning press briefing this week to announce his candidacy as the People’s United Party (PUP) standard bearer for the Belize Rural North constituency, Major Lloyd Jones (Ret’d) reiterated a position he has been expressing on air and in print for years – that the time for appeasement with Guatemala is over and that under no circumstances should Belize go to the ICJ. The fact that Major Jones was saying this at Independence Hall in the presence of PUP leadership, made the statement stunning.
On Wednesday morning at Independence Hall, two days later, more traditional elements of PUP leadership, in the persons of Party Leader Hon. Francis Fonseca and the attorney Eamon Courtenay, agreed that Belize should not go to the ICJ, but they appeared to be hedging the PUP’s bets by saying that their “no ICJ” position was in the light of the present, immediate situation and the unacceptable conditionality of a seemingly compromised UDP government, in specific Attorney General/Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, whose public comments have been consistently, albeit informally, rejected by the Belizean people. Mr. Courtenay also commented on the evidence of a “lack of good faith” on the part of the Guatemalan authorities, and the fact that this would have to change before the PUP re-considered their “no ICJ” position.
It should be noted that there are PUP big shots, such as former Leader and Prime Minister, Hon. Said Musa, and former PUP Foreign Minister, Senator Lisa Shoman, who are on record as supporting the trip to the ICJ. But Fonseca pointed out on Monday morning that he has surveyed the PUP faithful countrywide, and he is of the belief that the people of his party are negative on the ICJ.
A powerful group of nations who have dubbed themselves “Friends of Belize,” and they are led by the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Mexico, have called on Belize and Guatemala to take their differendum to the ICJ. There are millions of dollars which the Friends of Belize have set aside to publicize and support the referenda on the ICJ which will be held in the two countries. Clearly, corporate Belizeans would want to go where these sorts of wealthy friends want us to go.
Pro-ICJ Belizeans have different arguments they present. The most impressive of these arguments is that the ICJ road would be the road to peace between Belize and Guatemala. Opponents of the ICJ point out that Guatemala, because of her power advantages, may decide not to accept any ICJ ruling the republic does not consider favorable. We have seen this happen before in our region, when the United States rejected an ICJ ruling in Nicaragua’s favor, and Colombia recently did the same in a different Central American litigation. Opponents of the ICJ also argue that Belize can only lose in an ICJ forum, because the international borders of Belize were clearly defined when Belize was accepted by the United Nations as an independent, sovereign nation on September 21, 1981.
The Guatemalan claim to Belize may be unfounded, but it is also very serious, because this represents an existential threat for Belize. Because the Guatemalan claim to Belize is very serious, this newspaper does not take the ICJ option lightly. There are patriotic Belizeans who rushed to condemn the ICJ option before the referendum process was even initiated. We do not question the patriotism of these Belizeans, in fact we laud it, but Belizeans must understand that we are in the big leagues now. Our people need to be properly educated on this issue, because the issue is huge, so much so that the simplistic sloganeering of party politics will be irrelevant.
Apart from hurricanes, we Belizeans have led pretty much of a charmed life in The Jewel. With all the electronic news sources at our disposal in the third millennium, however, we can see that there are human beings in different parts of the world whose lives are a living hell. We would not want that type of existence for our people. But it was not the people of Iraq, of Syria, of Afghanistan, of the Sudan, of the Congo, of Libya, of Yemen, of parts of Nigeria, who chose a kind of Armageddon for themselves. These were places where “the big boys” chose to fight over precious natural resources, mostly petroleum, and over strategic geography. For some human beings, there was no choice. Bigger people made them victims.
Belize could have remained a British colony, we suppose. But, this independence is what we chose, and how we attained that independence, in the end, was by travelling all over the region and the world soliciting the support of friendly peoples. By gaining that support, we brought pressure on these same two “friends” – the United States and the United Kingdom, for them to support our independence and territorial integrity.
If we are going the route of Major Jones, and we support his position, then we have to start looking around again to find some real friends. The record of the United States has been consistent support for the post-Arbenz governments in Guatemala. And where Great Britain is concerned, our dispute with Guatemala is one which the British could have settled, and which we Belizeans were forced to inherit from them.
The Belizean people better start looking for some real friends, but first we need to know where we want to go. We agree with Ya Ya: the UDP’s Petrocaribe popularity will obfuscate the ICJ referendum. It is for sure that Comandante Hugo Chavez did not intend for his Petrocaribe assistance to endanger the territorial sovereignty of Belize. The ICJ matter does not belong in our party politics. It is a surpassingly national issue. But party politics is where almost all of Belize’s issues end up.
On this one, it is for sure that only the Belizean people can save the Belizean people. All power to the people.