In February of 1967, Ambassador Bethuel Webster, who was appointed by President of the United States, Lyndon Johnson, to mediate the dispute between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Guatemala over British Honduras, wrote to me on February 1st inviting the British Honduras Freedom Committee to meet with him. In his letter he expressed his frustration on not being able to arrive at a solution to this dispute which was assigned to him and in his own words wondered “if any of my proposals” would be released.
Ambassador Webster suggested that Abraham Lincoln’s birthday on February 13 (a holiday) would be a most appropriate day for us to meet. I therefore had to prepare myself to discuss this unfounded claim of Guatemala to our country and to bone up on my knowledge of the Great Emancipation, including a few of his famous quotes, e.g. “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time, but cannot fool all the people all the time”. “America will never be destroyed from the outside”.
I now would like to remind Belizeans of “these truths” that are self-evident: (1) The current borders of Belize have existed since the 1800’s, long before Guatemala was a state. (2) These borders existed on April 13 of 1859 and on the 1st day of January 1850 as agreed, signed and ratified by Guatemala and have continued to exist until today. (3) Guatemala has no international rights to territory she never occupied or controlled. (4) Guatemala has no right to cancel the 1859 Treaty, 50 or more years after signing. (5) Article 7 of the treaty is of no importance since it is not material to the main subject, i.e. the boundary. It is an entirely independent stipulation.
Let me now spend some time to explain a few facts about Article 7.
This insertion in the 1859 Treaty by Charles Lenox Wyke was not authorized by the British Government. Wyke used the practice of diplomats in the 19th century of using the concept of Sub Spe Rati, which is to say “I include this, subject to the approval of my supervisors”; bear in mind that all such communications had to travel by steam ships from Puerto Rico Barrios to New Orleans to New York then across the Atlantic to London. His suggestion about the “cart road” had no value until approved; unfortunately the British Parliament did not approve it until about three years later and found themselves committed after signing a convention in 1863, which they ratified.
Guatemala’s own Foreign Minister to London, Juan de Francisca Martin, referred to Article 7 as the most open-ended, ambiguous, unenforceable document that he has seen; it had no enforceable clause and was totally useless. Martin suggested instead that Guatemala should resort to more “reasonable and equitable means” for the Treaty. From 1860 they were talking about “Ex aqueous et bono”. Both the British and Guatemalans spent three years exchanging more than 25 letters and notes on the subject, even up to 1901.
During those years the British Government explored all the possibilities among their legal experts regarding the validity of Article 7 and its inability to affect the outcome of implementing the boundary treaty and in 1884 on August 12 the Law Office of the Crown ruled that Article 7 will in no way alter the Treaty.