Wed. June 13, 2018– As one who accompanied the Territorial Volunteers’ historic expedition to the Sarstoon Island on Sunday, August 16, 2015, I don’t consider the approach of our present Foreign Affairs Minister in a favorable light where his championing of the cause of Belize versus the Guatemalan claim is concerned. I think he is too nice, to the point of condescending and acquiescing to the Guatemalan efforts to present themselves as the “good guys” and ourselves, Belizeans, as the “bad guys.”
Aggressive Guatemalan armed forces and coast guard actions against Belizean citizens in the Sarstoon area are too often overlooked, or treated as minor matters, not warranting a complaint to the international media, even when the opportunity is presented to him at the OAS or UN General Assembly.
To the world, everything is “honky dory” between Belize and Guatemala as far as our Foreign Minister is concerned, and it is in this light that he and his Prime Minister boss are “gung ho” about accompanying their Guatemalan colleagues to the ICJ to settle our “territorial differendum.”
In an interview with reporters about a month ago, I was taken aback at words spoken by Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington. I thought that was exactly what our Guatemalan counterparts wanted to hear, and exactly what may influence the ICJ in the direction of leniency towards the Guatemalan demand for a piece of our territory.
The word “compromis” has always bothered me, from the first day I heard it, although the experts have since explained its official meaning in these contexts. To my instincts, it sounds too much like “compromise,” and suggests “something for you, and something for me,” so that both sides come away with something to make them appeased at least, if not happy.
What took me aback from Sedi’s interview with the media was when he said words to the effect that we must take the case to the ICJ, so that there can be a “fair, just and equitable solution to the dispute.”
At the time, I thought they were his words, and to my mind at the time, the word “equitable” can in no way ever make Belizeans rest easy, not if our objective is to keep the Jewel intact. How can we feel comfortable about “equitable” when you want what I have, and I have no desire for anything that you have?
This is a one-sided dispute, and so only one side can leave satisfied. In our Belizean position, then, any “equitable solution”means we lose either a sliver, a significant part, or all of the Jewel. How can we agree to any settlement that is considered “equitable”?
But, lo and behold, thanks to Henry Gordon’s column in the last issue of Amandala, those were the exact words that our negotiators agreed to in the “Confidence Building Measures,” which were craftily drafted by our “Friends” and the OAS. They said a lot of nice things in the Confidence Building Measures document, but then I think they slipped in this killer clause, that let us know exactly what they all have in mind for Belize – a settlement akin to what was first proposed in the Webster’s Proposals, then the Heads of Agreement. The game has not changed, only the title of the initiative.
Henry’s column recounted the different sections of the draft agreement called the “Confidence Building Measures” between Belize and Guatemala, where the treacherous “Adjacency Line” and “Adjacency Zone” were first introduced. As it has turned out, that may well have been a plot to facilitate the systematic incursion of Guatemalan poachers and settlers into our Chiquibul and other protected forest areas. By this agreement, our security forces were to inform their Guatemalan counterparts whenever we were going to patrol inside the “Adjacency Zone,” that is Belize territory up to the border (“Adjacency Line”).
So what happened? The Guats could just inform their citizens when the “all clear” is given, so they can plunder our resources undeterred by Belizean security forces. So now they are even measuring out pasture land and planting all sorts of crops after levelling our forests inside the “Adjacency Zone.”
But the words that Henry’s column revealed from the Confidence Building Measures are worth recounting. It’s on page 18 of Amandala’s Tuesday issue for June 12, 2018. On the left column, titled “Part 1 – AGREEMENT TO ESTABLISH A TRANSITION PROCESS AND CONFIDENCE BUILDING MEASURES BETWEEN BELIZE AND GUATEMALA,” under the first section titled “Preambular Considerations,” the first paragraph ends with these words: “… to continue their discussions aimed at conducting an Agreement to Establish a Transition Process and Confidence Building Measures Between Belize and Guatemala, within the framework of a just, equitable and permanent solution to the territorial differendum between the two countries.” (underlining ours)
And in the second column to the right, under the section titled “Purpose and Scope,” the first paragraph ends with: “the Government of Belize and Guatemala agree to continue to work constructively and in good faith to manage their relationship until they reach a final, just, equitable, honorable, and permanent resolution of their territorial differendum.” (again, underlining ours)
Now, it is a tribute to our Belizean negotiators in this matter that no solution was reached, and none appeared imminent or possible, and so, it was the overwhelming consensus that only the ICJ could “settle this dispute,” if it was to be settled at all.
It is abundantly clear why the above efforts to find a “permanent solution” had to fail. How can there ever be a “just, equitable, honorable” solution to the Guatemalan claim to our territory? It hearkens back to the Wisdom of Solomon. This “baby” cannot be cut in half to please one side. Any violation of Belizean territory is a dagger in the heart of every Belizean. How can we ever sing our anthem again, “… from proud Rio Hondo to old Sarstoon…”?
Nobody is talking about violating the territory of Guatemala, which has remained intact through the centuries, since the promise of the British, by the same contested border treaty of 1859, to deter any would-be invader of then “weak” and unstable Guatemala.
The turnout of voters at the Guatemala referendum suggests that the vast majority of the Guatemalan people have little concern about this issue, and are content to live in peace with their neighbor to the east, separated by borders that have been officially in effect since 1859. They, the Guat oligarchs, never mention that; all they harp on is the “cart road.”
But, their leaders, the oligarchs and mouthpieces of the powerful Guatemalan armed forces, are insistent on pushing on with their drive to the ICJ to see what they can get. They continue to claim half our territory, though they would be free to lay a claim to all of it in their deposition to the ICJ, once we both agree to go there.
If our people vote to go there, it is because they believe we go there to defend every last centimeter of Belizean territory. We would be battling for our very survival as a people. “We will not give an inch, not even a pinch.”
On the other hand, our Guatemalan adversaries, with their battery of multimillion-dollar international lawyers, would be going all out to dismember the Jewel, and come away with half, or Punta Gorda, or whatever they can get. Does that sound like any “friendly” encounter?
Now, with the “Confidence Building Measures” having failed, why on earth would our Foreign Minister, in encouraging our people to vote “Yes” to go to ICJ, why is he still mouthing those words, as he told reporters not too long ago, that we MUST go to the ICJ as the only way to arrive at a “peaceful, just, equitable and honorable” solution to the Guatemalan claim?
Sedi, that train is long gone. There is no hope or possibility any more, if there had ever been, for a “just, equitable” solution. This is verbal, legal and strategical warfare that we would be embarking on, to defend the Jewel. There cannot be two winners.
If you are going to the ICJ, and you are presenting a position to the ICJ, that you are looking for a “just, equitable” solution, then that means it is okay with you for them to give a piece of Toledo to Guatemala.
If we go to the ICJ, it is to fight for our right to the Jewel, all 8,867 square miles, “from Benque to Half Moon, and from Rio Hondo to Sarstoon.”
“God’s goodness gave this land to me…”, and any dismemberment of the Jewel would spell destruction of the dream, a violation of the true “New Jerusalem,” as some have characterized this “tranquil haven of democracy.”
Honorable Foreign Minister, if you felt duty-bound to mouth the words of the negotiators in the Confidence Building Measures, then please take note that we have entered a new time and era in this matter. Forget those words; stop telling our people about “just” and “equitable” when talking about the ICJ and the Guatemalan claim. Tell them this will be a legal battle as important as any war on the battlefield; the future of our nation is at stake.
And, if we vote “Yes” to go, after both sides have presented their arguments, we would be leaving it up to the ICJ to decide our fate. The question for the Belizean people to decide in next year’s referendum is if we agree to leave it up to the ICJ judges to decide the fate of the Jewel, for Belize to remain whole, or if a part of our territory is to be given to Guatemala, as a “just and equitable” reward for whatever fault they had with the British some two centuries ago.
I don’t know about you, but, as a Belizean, I have no interest in being “just and equitable” if it entails putting my country’s borders on the chopping block for a court to decide. Guatemala has reasons, no doubt, to be aggrieved about things happening in the past between them and the mighty British Empire. So have we, the new nation of Belize, comprised of the descendants of slaves and victimized Garifuna survivors and stalwart Mayan resisters of European “pacification,” along with a host of immigrants of various creeds and cultures.
If we want to talk about “reparation” or remedial action for injustices suffered in the past, we have a lot to talk about here, but we have decided to move on as the new nation of Belize. If Guatemala is in search of a “just and equitable” solution to her historical problem with Her Majesty, then direct your efforts there. This ship has sailed already.