Ten years ago, when it was clearer than ever that it would be impossible to end the Guatemalan territorial claim by negotiation, the Belize Government and Opposition did everything possible to pressure Guatemala to agree to submit the case to the International Court of Justice.
After much effort, and with a little help from our friends, we succeeded in that objective, although it was not until 2008 that they agreed to sign the Special Agreement to send the case to the ICJ based purely on international law. Still they found excuses to not hold the required referendum on the agreed date in 2013, but now they have taken the measures to allow their government to call the referendum.
Over the past two years, the Guatemalan government has taken unprecedented hostile measures to prevent our defence forces and civilians from navigating the Sarstoon, and the plunders of our forests along the western border have increased. With a government of a military-dominated party in power, it seems certain that this level of hostility will endure and increase.
This makes it more urgent than ever to end this claim once and for all, in the only way possible, by getting the ICJ to rule that this land, islands and waters are ours. If the Guats were friendly, if they were acting as if they recognized our legal borders and respected our territorial rights and our sovereignty, perhaps we could afford to be complacent. Perhaps we could take our time and delay putting an end to their claim.
But precisely because they are growing increasingly hostile and rapacious, we delay at our peril. First they will take Sarstoon, then they’ll eat the Monkey.
If we really want to survive with our territory and sovereignty intact, we need to act now. We need to ratify the Special Agreement and Protocol, we need to amend the Referendum Act and the Maritime Areas Act. We need to get this claim rejected by the ICJ and finally get the justice we are due. Or we risk reaping the bitter fruit of the legal maxim, justice delayed is justice denied.
Now is the time.
Assad Shoman, Havana, 6 December 2016.
(Ed. NOTE: You know we hold Mr. Assad in the highest of esteem, but on this matter his views are his own and not necessarily those of this newspaper.)