BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 14, 2015–In the edition of the Amandala newspaper which hit the streets on Tuesday morning, we reported to you that Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, had informed us, in an interview on Friday, May 8, that he would be travelling to Guatemala in a few weeks to sign an amendment to the 2008 special agreement, allowing Guatemala to proceed before Belize with holding its referendum this November on whether the territorial differendum with Belize should be adjudicated at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Elrington told us last Friday that Belize has no problem agreeing to the amendment to the compromis, and he added that the Barrow administration has no intention of holding an ICJ referendum in Belize before the next general elections.
The Foreign Minister told us that he was informing our newspaper of the intended signing in Guatemala “in the interest of full disclosure,” since we also asked him to update us on the process, under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS), which saw both parties commit in January 2014 to a new road map to the ICJ.
Today, Prime Minister Dean Barrow confirmed Elrington’s announcement in an interview with the media in Belize City, but he said that the announcement made to Amandala last Friday should have first come via an official press release, which was to have been forwarded to the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) before being issued for public consumption.
Our recent interview with the Foreign Minister was held in the context of latest developments in which the Opposition has taken the position that the referendum should be held at the time of the next general elections, which it believes will be called early. However, the Opposition has gone further to say that it would urge a “no” vote, partly because it has no faith in Elrington’s leadership.
Today, Barrow said that while the Opposition did not get the benefit of vetting a public statement announcing the amendment of the ICJ compromis, Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca had agreed to the change and had called about 5 days or so later to say that this was also his party’s position.
After the Amandala announced the amendment of the compromis, News 5 headlined the issue, and raised questions over whether the decision to add an amendment the ICJ agreement should have been put to consultation and whether Belize is now acquiescing to Guatemala.
News 5 also ran an interview with Opposition leader Francis Fonseca, who said that the announcement should have been made via an official government statement which should have gone to him before the matter became public.
“In principle, we have no objections to the amendment to the compromis, but we want it to be done in consultation with the Belizean people, and that is what I told Mr. Barrow. Before any final decision is taken, the Belizean people should be formally consulted,” Fonseca told News 5.
However, today, Barrow, in addition to confirming that Fonseca had told him that he and the PUP were okay with the amendment to the compromis, said that the Opposition has been “trying to get cute” with the issue, and Fonseca has been doing a dance that does not impress him.
Barrow did concede, though, that he had told Fonseca that Government would issue a press release to inform the public and would instruct Elrington to send him a draft of the press release for his input prior to its finalization.
Barrow said that the draft was not prepared with the need for changes, but there has been a delay in issuing that statement. Fonseca said that he has not heard anything from Elrington.
Barrow said that he would have hoped that a press release would have preceded the announcement made to us by Elrington.
As for the Opposition’s call for the ICJ referendum to be held simultaneously with the general elections, Barrow is adamant that, there will be “no [ICJ] referendum until after the next general elections in this country…”
He also told the media today that “…if Guatemalans go first, that strikes me as an advantage for Belize.”
While the PUP has said that it would urge a “no” vote to the ICJ, Barrow said that while he will vote “yes” to the ICJ, he does not believe, if a vote were to be taken today, that party officials inside his Cabinet would vote the way he will.
Barrow said that they would be advocating for “a conscience vote,” and “the party officials, like the rest of this country, will be free to vote the way they see it.”
(Amandala thanks KREM News for providing us with the press interview for this story.)
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