BELIZE CITY, Mon. Apr. 9, 2018– On Sunday, the Republic of Guatemala will hold a national referendum in which its voters will decide if they want their country’s territorial claim to parts of Belize to be settled at the International Court of Justice, (ICJ) in accordance with the compromis that Belize and Guatemala signed in December 2008.
In Belize, however, the ICJ education program that was promised never really materialized in any large-scale fashion and the money that has been allocated in this year’s budget for the education program has been characterized by PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay as a joke.
Notwithstanding that, the Belize Government remains committed to the ICJ process.
The Opposition People’s United Party, however, issued a press release today, Monday, April 9, calling on Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington to clarify a remark that he made during an interview with News5’s Aaron Humes on Wednesday, April 4.
In the interview, Elrington said he was told by Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala, Alexis Rosado, that Guatemala would have to hold another referendum after the ICJ ruling to ratify the court’s ruling, in accordance with Guatemala’s constitution.
Against that backdrop is a constitutional challenge that has been mounted in Guatemala’s Constitutional court by two litigants who are insisting that the government did not have the right to sign the compromis, committing the country to hold a referendum on the territorial dispute.
Here is the exchange that prompted the PUP to call on Elrington to clarify his remarks:
Foreign Minister Elrington: “I spoke to our ambassador in Guatemala on it, Mister Alexis Rosado, and he informed that this is a second challenge that had been raised – one was raised about a month ago, and then a few days ago another one was raised. And what he said to me was that the import of the challenge, the basis of the challenge, was that the Guatemalan Constitution provides for a referendum to be held after a decision of the I.C.J., not before. And so they are raising that; I think that was what he said to me. He didn’t suggest any other basis than they thought this was not the time for a referendum to be held, because under the constitution, it calls for a referendum to be held after the [I.C.J.] would have given a decision. My understanding is that whatever they needed to have done, they have in fact done, according to their own constitutional provisions. They have complied with what they needed to have done, and there is nothing to stop them from going to referendum on the fifteenth of this month.”
Aaron Humes: “And the result of that referendum, would in conjunction with Belize of course, may be the final decision….”
Foreign Minister Elrington: “No; the suggestion I got from Alexis was that once the matter is disposed of at the I.C.J., then the suggestion I got from him was that the constitution in Guatemala provides for them to then go to a referendum to, as it were, ratify that position of the court. That seemed to be the import of what he said to me.”
Humes: “So in other words, there would be two referenda, basically? One before and one after?”
Foreign Minister Elrington: “Right. That’s what he said to me, but we need to sit down and get some more clarity on it; but I’m relying on him and I think that’s what he said to me. So the challenge was that really and truly there’s no need for a referendum now; the referendum should wait until a decision is given.”
The PUP release continued saying, “The People’s United Party is extremely concerned by Elrington’s statement as it is not aware of any such provision in the Guatemalan Constitution. Further, the position as explained by Foreign Minister in the interview is contrary to Article 5 of the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala which states:
‘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.’”
The press release said the PUP calls on Minister Elrington to withdraw his clearly erroneous statement as it leads to confusion, and such misinformation should not be left to the public record.
The PUP said that just this past weekend Belizeans were once again turned back from the Sarstoon by Guatemalan Armed Forces, even as Guatemalan fishermen looked on from Belizean waters where every day they are allowed to fish without hindrance.
The release ends, “The PUP demands clarity on any judgment which might be handed down by the ICJ if indeed our people decide at a referendum to do that route.
Secondly, we demand that the position in the Sarstoon and the southern waters of Belize be regularized by the re-establishment and enforcement of Belizean sovereignty and territorial integrity.”