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Friday, July 3, 2020
Home Features The choice before us

The choice before us

Continued from last week Friday, January 4, 2019 issue #3240 of the Amandala

The second and considerably larger elephant in the room that everyone pointedly ignores is the fact that the ICJ can indeed find a valid reason, and probably will, to change our boundaries pursuant to Article 38(1) of the court’s statute. And if so found, the judges will then proceed to determine our new boundaries under the power given them by Article 2 of new 2008 Special Agreement (compromise) treaty. Here is the argument:

Guatemala maintains a breach of agreement claim against the British arising from their failure to compensate them for signing the 1859 treaty after their refusal to sign the first draft until an enticement (Article 7) was added. They further contend that the validity of their claim is authenticated by their (the Brits) 1863 offer to pay them (Guatemala) 50,000 pounds sterling to honor their obligation under the agreement. The Brits subsequently reneged on the payment stating that the stipulated time to accept the offer had expired even though this was not a provision of the original agreement.

Incidentally, even the erudite Dr. Shoman opined at the town hall meeting held in Benque Viejo that Guatemala might indeed have a valid claim against the Brits. He cited a legal opinion commissioned by Guatemala in which this opinion was expressed.

So then, the contention here is that if the court upholds Guatemala’s breach of agreement claim against the Brits by applying “the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations” which is a verbatim and integral part of Article 38(1) of the court’s statute, they will then proceed to exercise the power given them under Article 2 of the Special Agreement to redefine our boundaries so that Guatemala receives its just recompense (Belizean territory) for the injustice inflicted on them by the British.

This is so because the Brits have cleverly extricated themselves from the claim by contending that it has logically devolved on Belize because of the sovereignty bestowed by our independence. Furthermore our outmaneuvered negotiators, by endorsing the “any and all legal claims” in Article 2 of the new 2008 Special Agreement treaty, have obliged us to accept this liability.

That was done despite what Sir Elihu Lauterpacht et al opined in their 2001 Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize which states, “The allegation of Britain’s non-performance of that Article relates only to the period of Britain’s rule in British Honduras. Any responsibility of Britain that may have arisen during that period is Britain’s alone and cannot have devolved upon Belize”.In fact this was precisely the point at which they made Guatemala’s previously unfounded claim a potential legally founded claim.

Hence, as was explicated, the reasons so far analyzed that are being used to persuade voters by the “Yes to the ICJ” advocates, specifically Items 1, 3 and 4 before listed are all invalid or at best severely flawed. In reference to Item 2 the erudite Belizean historian Dr. Angel Cal has cautioned that the British historical perspective, to which we subscribe, might not be the only one the ICJ will consider as contradictory historical evidence exists in Spanish archives. Now let us consider items 5 and 6.

The Guatemalan department of Petén alone, which lies adjacent to our Western border, has more than double the population of our entire country. Do you believe that if the ICJ rules in favor of Belize, the Guatemalans will then build a wall, like President Trump wishes to do at their border with Mexico, to prevent their exploding poverty-driven hordes of campesinos from illegally entering Belize?

Then again, what may happen if they simply choose to disrespect the decision of the court and their commitment to abide by that decision? Such a conjecture is not far-fetched as even now their president is expelling with impunity the leaders of their anti-corruption investigation. Do you realistically think that if they ignore the court’s decision the United Nations Security Council will then dispatch troops to enforce our territorial integrity?

 This is highly unlikely considering the global influence and the veto power in the Security Council held by their formidable friends (who we know preferentially support them over us) compared with the comparative insignificance of Belize. It may also be said that the uncalled for insults recently hurled at the American President on national television by Assad Shoman will not engender sympathy for our cause from the United States.

Now consider this, Guatemala is already in blatant violation of the confidence building measures they endorsed which states, “Neither Party shall use force, or the threat of force, to pursue their positions with respect to the Territorial Differendum.” Obviously, their actions in the Sarstoon prove this. Do you in response to these infractions, see the OAS or any of our “Friends” reprimanding them for these well- documented and constantly recurring violations? In fact even our Government has been strangely silent. Why? The simple reason is because they well know that they cannot enforce boundaries that they have repeatedly agreed with Guatemala are not legally valid!

In continuation item seven contends that a new era of unprecedented prosperity will then ensue as the Guatemalan claim has been hampering our prosperity. I am not aware of any serious investor whose investment is contingent on the settlement of the Guatemalan territorial claim. Even Guatemalan companies like the sugar giant Santander have not been deterred by the claim from making major investments in Belize. To my knowledge this is an unsubstantiated contention.

Undoubtedly a settlement of the claim would improve commerce with Guatemala, but so far, even with our country intact, our trade with our neighbors, including Guatemala, has resulted for the most part in an unmitigated flight of our foreign exchange in their favor. Unless the comparative exorbitant cost of doing business in Belize decreases substantially and there is corresponding increase in manufactured exports, I doubt if this would change significantly after a settlement of the dispute. In fact, as things are at present, increased trade with Guatemala might even have a negative effect on our prosperity.

In reference to item eight  the only countries, and they constitute only about 1% of the countries in the world, which would disingenuously applaud us for voting “Yes” are the same ones (USA & UK) who are trying to railroad us, for their own selfish reasons, into going to the ICJ under such disadvantageous conditions. Others who may support us to vote “Yes” are alleged to be doing so at the request of our Government.

 Considering item nine, it is true that we have been disadvantaged by the Government’s decision to allow Guatemala to hold their referendum first. However a” No” vote does not indicate our unwillingness to peacefully settle the dispute at the ICJ. It would simply mean that we are exercising prudence in avoiding the obvious trap that has been set for us at the ICJ by this Special Agreement and furthermore no country whose morality is above reproach would condemn us for doing that. In fact we would earn their respect.

Finally in reference to item ten, the only thing that has prevented Guatemala from attempting a hostile takeover of Belize since the British withdrew their defense guarantee 25 years ago is their incessant desire to preserve the sanctimonious image they strive to project to the international community. They well know that given the United Nations resolutions on Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity they would incur the condemnation of the world if they tried a military takeover. This will not change if a “No” vote prevails in the upcoming referendum.

Having considered all the reasons listed for voting “Yes” in the upcoming referendum we have seen two things. One is that the motives given for voting “Yes” are either factually invalid or at best flawed. And two, our case is not as iron-clad as those advocating the Government’s position would have us believe. Consequently we may logically conclude that a “Yes” vote in the upcoming referendum will definitively signify that you are willing to cede Belizean territory to Guatemala to settle their claim.

Now ask yourself this question. Does it really make sense to seriously risk permanently losing a significant portion of our precious territory in an unjustifiable rush to obtain recognition of our borders, or what may remain of them after the court’s decision, from the only country in the world that claims not to recognize them, and to only at best derive dubious benefits? Remember also that in most cases where the ICJ is asked to rule on territorial disputes between two nations one country will lose territory to the other. In our case there can only be one such loser.

Nevertheless, it is your right to vote “Yes” and if you sufficiently understand the enormous litigation risk involved, including the distinct possibility of losing your personal property and becoming a second-class resident in another man’s country or even worse, a refugee that no country will accept, and nevertheless, are still satisfied with what this would entail, then I can only presume that your motivation must be worth the potential cost.

So if you vote “Yes”  and live to regret your decision, just remember this,  whatever transpires you will not be able to blame those who had misled you to vote that way. They will simply say “it is not our fault, blame the ICJ and yourself, for it was your choice.” In fact you may not even find them to blame, since most will have departed to enjoy their retirement in foreign lands. Also crying and gnashing of teeth will not help, for whatever the ICJ’s decision may be it shall be final and there will be no appeal.

 Needless to say there is also a political dimension to this issue and any politician who backs the wrong horse in this race would be well advised to cash in his political chips before the, you know what, hits the fan. Unfortunately this political aspect can only serve to influence voters to disregard the valid reasons for making the best informed decision in favor of a decision based on political allegiance.

However, if voting “Yes” is not your position, let us now consider the reasons for choosing the “No to the ICJ” option and the consequences that may result from this choice. Unfortunately this option has not received the attention it deserves since the Government has devoted all the resources of the state to elicit a “Yes” vote, and in comparison,

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