Headline — 26 January 2019
Cabinet says yes, Lindsay says no!

“The 1859 Treaty does not give title to Belize’s 8867!”

It is therefore very clear that what Belizeans are being told by the Referendum Unit and the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents is grossly inaccurate.  — Lindsay L. Belisle, former Boundaries Commissioner

“I, therefore, hereby invite the Referendum Unit intellectuals and the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents to dispute, or rubbish any of the facts presented in this article and to let the Belizean people know the truth about the 1859 treaty and the supporting 1861 treaty map, that they are not ironclad documents that correctly describe and define our borders and give us title to the 8,867 square miles we call Belize.”

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Jan. 24, 2019— We do not normally editorialize in headline stories, or stories in general, but we consider an article sent to us by Lindsay L. Belisle, former Boundaries Commissioner, to be of such paramount importance – a bombshell, no less – that we feel that it is something to be shared with all Belizeans, in the diaspora as well, even though the Barrow administration has decided that they, true-born Belizeans, should not have a say in our referendum as to whether we should, or should not, go to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle, once and for all, the nefarious claim by our neighbor, Guatemala, to a sizeable portion of Belize, which, according to Mr. Belisle, whose credentials are impeccable, could well amount to a sizeable chunk, maybe as much as a quarter of the country.

It is not for us, at this newspaper, to decide whether Mr. Belisle’s article is “on the money,” or not. That is the prerogative of Belizeans at home, since Belizeans abroad have been “iced.”

In its meeting of Tuesday, January 22, Cabinet “unanimously reaffirmed its position that a ‘yes’ vote in the April 10 referendum in support of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) option is the right decision for Belize to rid itself forever of the unfounded Guatemalan claim.

“All members of Cabinet are now fully convinced that Belize needs to take this matter to the ICJ and put an end to this unfounded claim once and for all with Belize’s full sovereignty and territorial integrity,” said the Cabinet release.

Without much ado, however, as masters of ceremony like to say, we present Mr. Belisle’s article to Amandala.

The 1859 Treaty does not give title to Belize’s 8867!

by Lindsay L Belisle, Former Boundaries Commissioner

As the April 10, 2019 ICJ referendum date approaches and Belizeans continue to educate themselves on the many referendum issues, it is timely that some little-known facts be made known to Belizeans to assist them with making their informed decision on voting day.

We are presently being fed with the propaganda that we have an iron-clad case with the 1859 Treaty as said treaty gives us title to Belize and unequivocally describes and defines our borders, comprising 8,867 square miles, and that we will, without a doubt, win at the ICJ.

Is this so? Before presenting the FACTS, I want to categorically state that the 1859 Treaty does not describe the boundaries of the 8,867 square miles of our mainland territory we call Belize. In fact, the 1859 Treaty describes only some 6,700 square miles, or about 75% of our mainland territory. (Italics ours)

Let us first analyze the 1859 treaty and expose some of the flaws in said treaty in order to determine if it is iron-clad and gives us title to Belize as is proclaimed by the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents.

The preamble to the 1859 treaty clearly states that the boundary “has not yet been ascertained and marked out”. This means that the boundaries were not yet determined, established or demarcated.

The preamble further states that the aim of the treaty was “to define the boundary” between Guatemala and British Honduras (Belize).

Again, define means to describe, determine, demarcate, etc. So, what the preamble is saying is that the boundary between Belize and Guatemala was not, as of 1859, defined, described or demarcated.

Article 1 of said treaty, however, states that the boundary was “as they existed previous to and on the 1st. day of January, 1850”.

This is in stark contradiction of the preamble which stated that no boundary existed between Belize and Guatemala prior to 1859, and one needs to question why would the date 1st. day of January, 1850 be placed within Article 1 if it did not have a major significance?

The main significance of said date was to safeguard the legitimacy of the 1859 treaty. The date 1st. day of January, 1850 was inserted in Article 1 to say that Guatemala agreed that the described boundary in the 1859 treaty existed prior to the 1850 Clayton-Bulwer treaty of 19th April, 1850, which forbade any further colonization of Central America.

If this was not done, Britain feared that the United States would not recognize the 1859 treaty, since it would be in contravention of the Clayton-Bulwer treaty and consequently, the treaty could be invalidated, and the status quo would remain.

We are already starting to see Britain’s disingenuousness by manipulation of the wording of the 1859 treaty to achieve her objective of taking control from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon.

We now need to analyze the boundary as described in Article 1. It starts from the mouth of the Sarstoon River up the mid-channel to Gracias a Dios Falls; thence on a direct line to Garbutt’s Falls on the Belize River, and “from Garbutt’s Falls due north until it strikes the Mexican frontier”.

 Again, this is where Britain starts to make the description vague to suit her agenda. The big question here is — where is the mentioned Mexican frontier? Is it at Latitude 17° 49’ North/Aguas Turbias, or Blue Creek/Rio Hondo? Both locations were well known prior to the 1859 treaty, and just as the Sarstoon River, Gracias a Dios Falls, Garbutt’s Falls and Belize River are mentioned in the treaty, the location of the Mexican frontier could have also been mentioned.

The reason Britain wanted to leave this location vague was to avoid disapproval from Mexico and/or Spain had Blue Creek/Rio Hondo been mentioned, as the Mexican frontier was not at said location, but at Latitude 17° 49’ North in 1859.

 Britain, however, wanted to achieve her objective of claiming that the 1859 treaty unequivocally describes and defines the sovereign territory of Belize from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon, but as will be shown below, she outmaneuvered herself, and in an attempt to disguise the location of the Mexican frontier as being at Blue Creek/Rio Hondo, she failed to correctly describe said location.

Instead, what is actually described in Article 1 of the 1859 treaty is the true location of the Mexican frontier with Guatemala at Latitude 17° 49’ North at Aguas Turbias.

Consequently, the 1859 treaty falls short of giving Belize title to the 8,867 square miles of mainland territory, but rather, to some 6,700 square miles, or about 75% of our mainland territory.

How did I arrive at above conclusions? That resulted from my research and technical analysis of the 1859 treaty and 1861 treaty map to accurately determine the true location of the mentioned Mexican frontier, and to further determine exactly what was described, defined, and conveyed in the 1859 treaty.

My earlier research was confirmed by Clinton Luna’s research in the Spanish archives [1] which revealed that in 1787, the boundary between Mexico and Guatemala was established at 17° 49’ north latitude, and “In 1794, the Spanish government commissioned the captain Alcala Galiano to rectify the borders of New Spain, but the General Captaincy of Guatemala retained the same territorial extension in degrees of latitude as it was given in 1787”.

Said latitude of 17° 49’ north was reaffirmed in the 1882 boundary treaty between Mexico and Guatemala, and again in the 1893 boundary treaty between Great Britain and Mexico.

It is therefore established, without a doubt, that the Mexican frontier mentioned in Article 1 of the 1859 treaty is at Latitude 17° 49’ North at Aguas Turbias, and was so established some 72 years before the 1859 treaty was signed.

So, the Guatemalans knew of this location and no doubt the British also knew that the Mexican frontier was at Latitude 17° 49’ North, but chose not to mention it in the 1859 treaty description so as to keep the location fuzzy, as she wanted the Mexican frontier to be at Blue Creek/Rio Hondo.

This tactic, however, backfired and resulted in an 1859 treaty and an 1861 treaty map that are neither describing nor defining the boundaries of Belize.

Having accurately established the location of the Mexican frontier in accordance with the 1859 treaty, we now go back to the last paragraph of Article 1 in said treaty, which states that “It is agreed and declared between the High Contracting Parties that all the territory to the north and east of the line of boundary above described belongs to Her Britannic Majesty, and that all the territory to the south and west of the same belongs to the Republic of Guatemala”.

To determine the territory that is located to the “north and east of the line of boundary as described” that belongs to Her Britannic Majesty, we need to produce the latitude of 17° 49’ north in an easterly direction from the described due north boundary from Garbutt’s Falls, and which is also the western boundary of Belize. This line will pass just south of Maskall and south of Ambergris Caye, and is the northern limit/boundary of the territory described in the 1859 treaty. (Italics ours)

From this northern boundary line south to the Sarstoon River (or from the Sarstoon River north to this northern boundary line at latitude 17° 49’ north) is the territory as described in the 1859 treaty and to which Belize can legally claim title under the 1859 treaty.

It is therefore very clear that what Belizeans are being told by the Referendum Unit and the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents is grossly inaccurate, as the fact, as established, is that the 1859 treaty does not give us title to the 8,867 square miles we call Belize, but to a lesser area of approximately 6,700 square miles or about 75% of our mainland area. (Italics ours)
So, if the 1859 treaty is our ace card going to the ICJ, then we need to seriously rethink our strategy.

The British, in their denial of the facts, have told us, and we unquestionably believe, that the 1859 treaty describes from the Rio Hondo to the Sarstoon and gives us title to the 8,867 square miles we call Belize.

Over the years, this incorrect information has been relayed to the Belizean people as a fact and now the Referendum Unit and the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents are feeding Belizeans with this misinformation and giving us assurances that we have an iron-clad case with the 1859 treaty, and that we will win at the ICJ.

We have seen that the 1859 treaty is deficient; it does not give title to the 8,867 square miles we call Belize, and we should not suffer indignity by allowing ourselves to be like the proverbial lamb being led to its slaughter by going to the ICJ. (Italics ours)

Oh, what a tangled web we weave when we try to deceive. The courts base their rulings on facts, and not what you believe, or want to be factual. The British are too smart to not know of this mess they have created, and have, no doubt, found a map that shows the Rio Hondo/Blue Creek as the Mexican frontier, but unless that map shows the Guatemala/Mexican frontier at latitude of 17° 49’ north, then it is inaccurate and will prove useless at the ICJ.

Also, any map showing the Mexican frontier at Blue Creek and using it with the 1859 treaty description would be creating another big problem, as it would be giving Guatemala all the Mexican territory to the west of the boundary line between latitude of 17° 49’ north (at Aguas Turbias) and Blue Creek. (Italics ours)

The 1859 treaty stated that “all the territory to the south and west of the same (meaning described boundary) belongs to the Republic of Guatemala”.

So, the only true location the Mexican frontier can be, in accordance with the 1859 treaty, is at latitude of 17° 49’ north at Aguas Turbias, and which have been in existence for over 200 years, from 1787 to present.

The British cannot argue otherwise, and if the Guatemalans are on top of their game, then likewise, we will not be able to convince the ICJ that the Mexican frontier as described in the 1859 treaty is at Blue Creek/Rio Hondo. (Italics ours)

In 2002, as Boundary Commissioner, I advised the then Prime Minister Said Musa of the fact that the Aguas Turbias monument is west of the due north line from Garbutt’s Falls [2]. It was not a lawyer, a historian or a diplomat, but rather a technocrat who provided said advice.

To date, no one has disputed said fact because it was derived from scientific observations and computations, and are not opinions. Although the British knew of this fact, they tend to let us know only what they want us to know.

So, we need to sleep with our own eyes and not believe everything that the international community and their experts tell us. We need to do our own research and homework to verify what we are being told, because we may end up in the proverbial creek without a paddle. (Italics ours)

The legal luminaries who wrote the Legal Opinion, other international legal experts, and our five former Foreign Ministers who signed the January 2019 declaration are all telling Belizeans that we have an iron-clad case and are urging us to take the Guatemalan claim to the ICJ for final resolution.

You will note that all these people are lawyers with training and experience at varying degrees in law, and not necessarily in the technical sciences of Surveying, Mapping, Cartography and Boundary Demarcation.

Consequently, they are not able to do technical evaluations or computations with respect to boundary descriptions and boundary maps to determine their accuracy or otherwise, and therefore must rely on the advice of technical experts. (Italics ours)

So, when they make their pronouncements, it is usually based on their legal training and experience and not necessarily on scientific determination, and that is the reason why they were not aware of the deficiencies in the 1859 treaty and the 1861 treaty map.

We have heard all that the legal experts have to say, but we have not heard anything from the Referendum Unit technical experts, either foreign or local.

I, therefore, hereby invite the Referendum Unit intellectuals and the Yes-to-the-ICJ proponents to dispute, or rubbish any of the facts presented in this article and to let the Belizean people know the truth about the 1859 treaty and the supporting 1861 treaty map, that they are not iron-clad documents that correctly describe and define our borders and give us title to the 8,867 square miles we call Belize. (Italics ours)

There are other articles in the 1859 treaty that can be challenged, but space will not allow at this time, so let us now examine the 1861 treaty map prepared in accordance with the 1859 treaty by Guatemalan Boundary Commissioner Manuel Cano Madrazo and Britain’s Boundary Commissioner Captain Henry Wray, and signed on May 13, 1861.

Said map defines the boundary in the Sarstoon River as passing south of Sarstoon Island and proceeding up the mid-channel to Gracias a Dios Falls. It also showed the unsurveyed boundary line between Gracias a Dios and Garbutt’s Falls and the small portion that was surveyed to the south and due north of Garbutt’s Falls.

Also indicated on the map was the location of some stone pyramids erected along said boundary lines that were surveyed, but a glaring omission is that the stone pyramids erected at the terminal points of Gracias a Dios and Garbutt’s Falls are not indicated on the 1861 treaty map.

Furthermore, the boundary line shown due north of Garbutt’s Falls did not reach the Mexican frontier, as said location was not properly described in the 1859 treaty.

The Boundary Commissioners, therefore, were unable to survey and map said vaguely described location, and consequently, both the 1859 treaty and the 1861 treaty map failed to accurately describe and define the true location of the Mexican frontier.

This omission may have been intentional, as the British wanted the Mexican frontier to be at Blue Creek/Rio Hondo, but they outsmarted themselves and what is actually described in article 1 of the 1859 treaty is the true location of the Mexican frontier at latitude of 17° 49’ north at Aguas Turbias.

Consequently, no northern boundary of Belize is indicated on the 1861 treaty map. (Italics ours)

Also sketched on the map is part of the Honduras sea coast, the Guatemalan sea coast, and the Belize sea coast up to Chetumal Bay, along with detailed information along the course of the Belize River.

The 1861 treaty map is, therefore, deficient, as it is not a closed polygon and consequently does not define the boundary of Belize that encompasses the 8,867 square miles we call Belize.

This map will, therefore, not be able to provide the required support to the 1859 treaty and the only useful purpose it would serve is to show that Sarstoon Island is within Belize.

In addition to above, the Latitude and Longitude coordinates as observed at Gracias a Dios Falls and Garbutt’s Falls are listed on the 1861 treaty map; however, an evaluation of said coordinates would place them both west into Guatemalan territory. (Italics ours)

Many legal experts are of the opinion that the coordinates listed in a treaty or on a treaty map take precedence over features or markers on the ground, which is not necessarily the case. As an aside, the Mexicans are using this school of thought to determine the Belize/Mexico boundary in Chetumal Bay in accordance with coordinates stated in the 1893 Great Britain/Mexico boundary treaty.

This determination will be in their favour, and will have Belize losing substantial territory in the Chetumal Bay.

If this school of thought prevails, then Belize may be able to use the coordinates listed on the 1861 treaty map to claim a sizeable strip of Guatemala along our western border, including a substantial portion of the town of Melchor.

In view of the facts presented in this article, it can be said with certainty that neither the 1859 treaty document nor the 1861 treaty map adequately describes or defines the boundaries of Belize comprising the 8,867 square miles of Belizean territory. How can a treaty map be used to support a described boundary in a treaty when the treaty map itself does not define the boundary of the territory described in the treaty?

Consequently, it cannot be said that the 1859 treaty and accompanying 1861 treaty map gives title to Belize, as they fail to describe and define the boundary of Belize and, therefore, cannot be referred to as iron clad documents that will allow us to win hands down at the ICJ. (Italics ours)

Until the Referendum Unit can start doing their own research and evaluations to verify what we are being told, and providing the Belizean people with factual information, then going to the ICJ with misinformation and half-truths can be a recipe for disaster.

It is said that fools rush in where wise men fear to tread. There is no replay or turning back if we go to the ICJ with this undesirable special agreement, as we will be the one suffering the consequences, and not the foreign experts or international community, who are only interested in having the dispute settled and struck off the list of international boundary disputes, immaterial of what is the final outcome. (Italics ours)

Until we can do our homework and cover all the bases before going to the ICJ, then in the interim, Me Di Say…No ICJ.

([1] Clinton Canul Luna: article entitled “BELIZE, Its Historical Background,” Amandala newspaper dated January 11, 2019, page 21. [2] Statement by Prime Minister Said Musa on the Proposals from the Facilitators on the Belize-Guatemala Territorial Differendum, Press Conference, Belize City, Thursday, 19th September 2002. Pages 4&5.)

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