Features — 17 December 2016 — by Ismael Pérez, Lic. en Relaciones Internacionales
Let us protect and preserve our sovereignty and territorial integrity!

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Dec. 14, 2016–The purpose of this article is to invite the Prime Minister of Belize to reflect on the defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity which has been a burning issue reverberating throughout this country. The vast majority of Belizeans are crying out to the government to give it priority and to address and act on the matter urgently. In addition, this article serves to invite the Prime Minister of Belize, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Security to become aware of the seriousness of the incursions that have been made and are being made by vessels of the Guatemalan armed forces into Belizean territorial waters, such as the Sarstoon River. This article also seeks to echo the need to further strengthen the national spirit of Belizeans and to promote the courage and heroism of our forefathers. Most importantly, however, this article aims to give a clear and objective overview of how we can resolve, once and for all, the territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize.

I must express how profoundly concerned I am about how our Government has been managing Guatemala’s territorial claim to Belize and about the fact that it has adopted such a passive stance with regard to the incursions that vessels of the Guatemalan Armed Forces have made and are making into Belizean territorial waters, specifically in relation to the Sarstoon River. We should not allow our sovereignty and territorial integrity to be threatened or violated and I am positive that most Belizeans share these sentiments.

The incursions being made by vessels of the Guatemalan Armed Forces into Belizean territorial waters in the Sarstoon area are primarily because Guatemala does not want to recognize the existence of borders with Belize. In addition, Guatemala considers both the Sarstoon River and the islet located at its mouth as part of its territory. These acts on the part of the Guatemalan Armed Forces constitute a flagrant violation of the most elementary rules of international law and an abuse of territorial inviolability. Moreover, these acts demonstrate the aggressive attitude of the Guatemalan Government and its insolent provocation of, and utter disrespect for, our peaceful nation, Belize. Guatemala has, undeniably, violated and is still violating the fundamental principle of respect for the borders we inherited from colonization as well as its legal obligations regarding land and maritime demarcation. As Belizeans, it is paramount that we realize that respect for the principle of territorial integrity is an essential safeguard against a return to the state of nature.

Furthermore, it is worth noting that between Guatemala and Belize there is an international boundary treaty — the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859 — that is absolutely in force from the judicial, administrative and international perspective. The main focus of the potential case for Belize is this treaty, as well as the Exchange of Notes of 1931 (between Great Britain and Guatemala), since both instruments define the borders of British Honduras /Belize. Consequently, regardless of the view that Guatemala has conveniently declared the 1859 Convention and the Exchange of Notes of 1931 invalid, the borders defined by the 1859 Treaty still prevail. Similarly, the Exchange of Notes of 1931 is a document that has the force of a treaty and further confirms and revalidates the 1859 Treaty. Thus, just as a believer clings to Jesus Christ (to Him be the glory), so must Belizeans cling to these two instruments.

I wish to particularly emphasize that when we gained our independence in 1981, the boundaries of the old colony or protectorate, that is, the boundaries of British Honduras had to prevail. In other words, at the time when Britain granted independence to Belize, the boundaries that existed between Britain and Guatemala for the protectorate of British Honduras must still be maintained and respected until there is a new boundary treaty, between the successor State called Belize of British Honduras and Guatemala, to replace the Boundary Treaty of 1859. The successor State is Belize and the boundaries are the boundaries of the old protectorate of British Honduras with the Spanish colony of the Viceroyalty of the Captaincy-General of Guatemala. If Guatemala does not accept the boundaries, for whatever the reason, that is Guatemala’s problem.

It is common knowledge that “whoever claims a territory or part of the territory should make the first move!” either via legal channels, by way of aggression, by way of incursions, or by way of occupation of the territory. Therefore, the Guatemalan Armed Forces have systematically violated Belize’s territorial waters with their vessels in the Sarstoon area, and, on top of that, have humiliated—in Belizean waters—both civilians and military of the Belize Defense Force. Nonetheless, the Government of Belize has adopted a somewhat aloof or passive attitude towards this situation. What a disappointment! What a shame! What the Government of Belize should have already done is to bring a lawsuit against the Government of Guatemala before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), without any fear, for its actions. We Belizeans are conscious that we have sufficient arguments to complain to Guatemala about its incursions, its violation of international law, its violation of the treaties, and its violation of the fundamental principle of respect for previously established boundaries inherited from colonization. Besides the fact that the Guatemalan Armed Forces have systematically penetrated Belizean territory with their vessels and violated Belize’s territorial waters in relation to the Sarstoon River, they have also claimed dominion and sovereignty over the river and the islet located at its mouth. Therefore, we have sufficient arguments to declare a factual situation at the ICJ against Guatemala and most Belizean citizens would unarguably support their Government if it makes such a decision.

Essentially, there is no need for a referendum in this particular case, for the Belizean people would tell their Government, “Go, as soon as possible, and bring a lawsuit against Guatemala before the ICJ for systematically violating our territorial waters! You need not to consult with us! Go!” Just as PM Barrow defends his Ministers and his party tooth and nail—like a ferocious lion—in the Chamber of the National Assembly whenever there is debate, so too he should defend our country against these serious threats on the part of the Guatemalan Armed Forces in the Sarstoon area. But, he has not done so! I am utterly perplexed by PM Barrow’s nonchalant attitude toward this situation. It makes true Belizeans question the government’s motivations and real position with regards to this critical issue.

I must heed to the words of Mr. Eamon Courtenay, who rightfully stated that, “We cannot continue kissing and hugging with the enemy of our nation …. We are now in a state of emergency. The responsibility lies upon us to protect our territory, to make sure that it remains ours.” If PM Barrow submits such a complaint to the ICJ, then we would be facing a factual situation and the ICJ would then issue provisional measures and ask Guatemala to refrain from making illegal incursions into Belize’s territorial waters until the case is resolved. As far as I am concerned, we can initiate a proceeding against Guatemala at the ICJ because we have enough legal arguments to declare a factual situation against Guatemala. Guatemala cannot refuse to attend; Guatemala has to respond to this claim and in the oral trial Guatemala can present those preliminary objections of incompetence or inadmissibility. The ICJ is the one that will determine admissibility of the case and if the case has competency to stand trial. In my humble view, even if Guatemala fumes and boils about it, this is a case that the ICJ will not reject as it has both competency and admissibility. I see it very difficult for the ICJ to side with Guatemala both on the preliminary stage and on the merits of the case.

In the event Belize decides to go to the ICJ, it must give full powers to a former judge of the ICJ, preferably English or Saxon, to submit the case. It must be someone who is aware of the “know-how” and how the ICJ functions. Of course, this team would also include Belizean lawyers who are familiar with the case. We must remember that a good representation is a sine qua non for our victory! However, Guatemala has no judge at the ICJ; therefore, Belize does not even need one. It would all rely on the fifteen judges who are at the ICJ. Currently, there are three European judges at the ICJ; one is British and would most likely be on our side. The United States of America, too, would go in favor of Belize. Why? The United States and Great Britain vote together in all cases that are of interest to one or the other. The United States and Great Britain are cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. They are the spitting image of each other; they think alike and eat alike and are tactical allies in case of aggression. There is a Special Relationship between Great Britain and the United States.

In addition, we would have a favorable opinion of many countries in the world. We would have, above all, the unequivocal support of CARICOM and the fifty-two independent and sovereign States of the Commonwealth of Nations for the maintenance and preservation of Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. We would also count on the support of the vast majority of Latinos. Therefore, as far as I am concerned, this case would be a slam dunk at the ICJ.

After all, we are already a State recognized by the international community with borders established within our national territory. We are members of the United Nations. We are part of the ICJ. We belong to all the specialized agencies of the system of the United Nations. We have international legal personality recognized by the international community. This, then, makes nugatory Guatemala’s territorial claim to Belize. That is why Guatemala cannot keep turning a blind eye and saying that “the boundaries of British Honduras/Belize with Guatemala are not valid because we are sovereign over all that territory.” No! If Guatemala had any claim, Guatemala would have already submitted it to the ICJ. Guatemala has not heretofore initiated legal proceedings against Belize before the ICJ for land, insular territories or maritime areas, and that can be seen in “pending cases at the ICJ.” This means they do not feel they have enough legal arguments for the ICJ to favor their claims.

Now, with respect to the question—the million-dollar question—to be decided on by the people of Belize and Guatemala in simultaneous referenda:

“Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the ICJ for final settlement and for determining the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the party?”

My answer is “NO!” Our answer, folks, should be “NO!”I strongly urge the unions, the public and private sector, non-governmental organizations, the media and all citizens, regardless of their race, gender, religion, or political affiliation, to vote “NO” to this question because if we go to the ICJ, in this particular case, we would be going for the wrong reason. Besides, we would be going to fight for something that is already ours! This would be something ridiculous to do! We would be performing some act of foolhardy bravery! Everything we have in terms of land, insular territories and maritime areas is rightfully ours! Belize possesses a good title to the whole of the territory of Belize. Guatemala has never possessed a title of our territory. Therefore, unlike Belize, Guatemala has absolutely nothing to lose if we go to the ICJ. We don’t know what the ruling will be. But, let me tell you: THE ICJ RULING IS FINAL, BINDING AND CANNOT BE APPEALED! In the case of the International Criminal Court, the judgment may be appealed because of a procedural error, factual error or legal error. Nevertheless, if Guatemala decides to submit the case to the ICJ single-handedly, well, so be it. I repeat:”Whoever claims a territory or part of the territory should make the first move!” Why has Guatemala not yet initiated a process at the ICJ against Belize? Evidently, they do not feel they have enough legal arguments to do so. In 1994, the Government of Guatemala reiterated its claim over the entire territory of Belize. The most recent claim was presented in 1999, and is mainly over the area between the Sibun and Sarstoon Rivers, and all the cayes, except St. George’s Caye. So, what do they want? They themselves do not know what they want! They should stop their pointless tantrums! By this, I am not referring to the Guatemalan citizens at large, but to the “elite” dealing with and meaninglessly obsessed with this issue.

That said, the Government of Belize either sues the Government of Guatemala for systematically violating Belize’s territorial waters in relation to the Sarstoon River—which I doubt very much the Government of Belize will do, because if they wanted to, they would have done so by now—or requests the United Nations to send to Belize an Observation Mission to carry out the necessary technical work to demarcate the exact coordinates of the boundaries as defined in the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859. (I will explain this in more detail in my next article). This would, no doubt, put an end, once and for all, to the territorial dispute because our boundaries are well defined in the Treaty according to:

1. The report Mr. Lindsay Belisle gave when he was in Rise & Shine with Mr. Louis Wade about 6 or 7 months ago. Mr. Belisle is a former Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Natural Resources (Lands and Survey) and a well-known and highly respected Surveyor in Belize and the Caribbean.

2. The opinion the team of four eminent international lawyers, namely Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, Professor Shabtai Rosenne and Professor Francisco Orrego Vicuña submitted on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize in January 2002 (see Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s TerritorialClaim to Belize at www.belizereferendum.gov.bz

3. The report Dr. Assad Shoman gave on a “Stand Up For Belize” campaign launched in Benque Viejo Del Carmen by the BNTU on Friday, 15th April, 2016. Dr. Shoman is a former People’s United Party (PUP) Foreign Minister.

I am increasingly convinced that challenges impel men to do the best they can, to expand their knowledge and skills in order to cope with complex problems and challenges of today’s world, and to make possible that which at a glance is not.

I do not want to conclude without appealing to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of National Security to give greater priority to the defense of our sovereignty and territorial integrity; this is an urgent issue! We are a free and sovereign State; therefore, I repeat, we should not allow anybody to threaten or violate our sovereignty and territorial integrity!

At the same time, I would like to congratulate and thank the Foreign Ministry team, that is, the Belize Referendum Commission and the diplomats involved in the Guatemala / Belize issue for their hard work so far. They must be aware that: a) After God, they must love and serve their country over all other countries, b) As diplomats, their first loyalty is to their country, c) The more knowledge they have about the history of their country—its past, its origin and its development—the better prepared they will be to defend and exalt it, d) They are obliged to defend their country, whether their country is right or not, and e) The love for their country is shown by works and sacrifices for its greatness or in its defense, and not with beautiful and vain words.

Thank you in advance folks, men and women, not only for taking the time to read this article, but also because you believe there is a Motherland—a prodigious place that deserves to be honored and defended—, for it is a gift from God. Our land of picturesque beauty, our families, our languages, our beautiful cultures, our jobs, our natural and cultural heritages, our religions, and our freedom are within our Motherland. God gave it to us to take care of it and love it; it is the home of our forefathers and also of our children; it is our beloved Motherland and we carry it deep in our hearts.

Let us unite as good patriots! Let us talk with one voice!

May God continue to bless you all. May God continue to bless our beloved Motherland.

Ismael Pérez
Lic. en Relaciones Internacionales

(Ed. NOTE: In the ninth paragraph of Licenciado Perez’s letter, he declares his expectation of support from the British at the ICJ and expresses the opinión that the United States will vote with Great Britain, because of a special relationship and other arguments. We consider the opinión that the United States will support Belize against Guatemala at any such fórum to be a highly controversial one. We hope Licenciado Perez provides some clarification of the opinión, and we hope that the newspaper’s letter and article writers will weigh in, overall, on Licendiado Perez’s serious effort.)

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