Features — 16 February 2019
ICJ A to Z, almost

1802 –Britain returned to Spain, via 1802 treaty, all territories it conquered since wars began in 1793 (French Revolutionary Wars 1793-1802; War between Great Britain and Spain 1796-1802), except for Trinidad, which British conquered in 1797. Belize is not really one of these territories (Belize “defended” her existence in 1798), but in this 1802 treaty the British recognize the old status quo in this region.

Guatemala claims to be the successor of Spain, and that as successor it inherited our territory. Really, in 1802 Spain’s sometimes terrible reign, from since 1492, is over. The British, at this time, have a hold all over Central America and the Caribbean.

1823 – Central American countries (exclude British Honduras; exclude Panama for it was then a part of Colombia) group to form the Central American Republic. The union is partly sponsored by British banks. Not all countries are happy about giving up their independence. The union is fragile, there’s a lot of infighting, and it will soon start to unravel. That same year, the upstart USA tells European countries that they are now boss in the Americas and they will tolerate no more European colonization over here (Monroe Doctrine).

1850 – The Clayton-Bulwer treaty, between the British and the Americans, served American interests in respect to property in Nicaragua where she wanted to construct a canal. The Americans later acquired property in Panama where they constructed the Panama Canal. The language of the treaty, as it affects other countries on the isthmus, is vague and is later clarified.

1856 – The Dallas-Clarendon Treaty clarifies vague mentions in the 1850 treaty, and this includes the territory between the Hondo and the Sarstoon. The confusion came about because five states of Central America (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua) had formed themselves, in 1823, into the Federal Republic of Central America. Up to 1840 this Central American Republic still existed on paper.

1859 – British interests have expanded west, into the Peten, and south, way past the Sarstoon. The American filibusters (men unofficially supported by the American government – pirates) are invading territory in Central America (remember Spain is long gone from the area), and the Guatemalans move to sign a treaty with the British. This treaty will limit the territory of British Honduras, and win British protection against the American filibusters.

The British are happy because a special agreement (Article 7), which includes use of the Belize River, also includes a road from Guatemala City through the Izabal District to the coast. The countries will jointly invest in this road, which they believe will serve “the commerce of England…and the material prosperity of the Republic (Guatemala).” Now, the British will get coffee and other products from Guatemala, and still get mahogany and other prized woods from the Peten, via the Belize River.

A Guat faction, backed by the US, finds fault with the treaty. The US is “bex” because the British had thwarted their top pirate, William Walker, and because the road from Guatemala City will steer away trade it was conducting on the Pacific side with Guatemala.

1863 – Guatemala has failed to come up with its share for the road, and the British allow them another opportunity. But, as noted before, a Guat faction doesn’t want the treaty to work, and the USA does not want British businessmen in Guatemala, and they don’t want the British to control goods from Guatemala.

The Guatemalan excuse for not coming up to the supplementary agreement in 1863 is that they were busy fighting a neighbor.There is also considerable unrest in Guatemala at this time, because the Americans are gaining more control. As it was then, it is now. The USA causes instability in nations. The British aren’t happy with these developments.

1884 –The Guat faction, a racist bunch, denounces the 1859 Treaty.

1931 – Yes, considerable time has elapsed, and now the physical marking of the border takes place. The British and British Honduras invest in the project, and Guatemala observes.

1933 –A US government representative to Belize, William M. Cramp, noted the developments, the physical demarcation of the border, to his superiors. He writes: “Apparently, the claims of the Guatemalan government…were waived…the line was officially begun…in the presence of the Surveyor General of British Honduras, an accredited engineer of the Guatemalan government, and the Alcalde of the Village of Sarstoon.”

The Americans had wanted Guatemala to get Belize’s territory because they would have Mexico boxed in (sangwij), by USA territory to the north, and by their satellite state, Guatemala, to the south. Mexico has said that if Guatemala ever gets Belize’s territory, she will come for her share.

1940 – Guatemala’s mother country, Spain, was not on the side of the Allies in WWII, and neither was Guatemala.

1945– The Guatemalans, who were hopeful that Nazi Germany would win the world war (II), realize that the British are substantially weakened by the war, and so they make a dishonorable move. The Guatemalans declare the 1859 Treaty null and void, and put in their constitution that we belong to them. They started teaching this lie to all their children.

“1946-1956”– The British tell the Guatemalans to take their claim to the international court. Guatemala wants to go, but it wants a soft ruling. The British insist that they will go only on strict law.

1950s –The British Empire is breaking up – Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago will get their independence in 1962 – and the British realize that they will soon be leaving the area. The British know that it is only their army that keeps Guatemala in check. The British propose that Belize joins the West Indian Federation. They realize that Belize will get more respect as part of that regional body than it would if it stayed alone. The only real political party in Belize at the time, the PUP, split over this proposal. The winning faction successfully nixes the federation idea.

1968 – The British have accepted that the USA is now the power in the area, and they agree for an American lawyer, Bethuel Webster, to make proposals to get Guatemala to relinquish its claim to Belize’s territory. The proposals will make Belize a colony of Guatemala, and the people of Belize reject them.

1970s – The British propose to Belize’s leaders that they give up some territory in the deep south of the country to appease Guatemala. Belize’s leaders reject this, say not a square centimeter, and set about internationalizing Belize’s situation. Belize wins the support of many countries, and when Panama and Nicaragua align with Belize, Guatemala’s claim is absolutely rejected on the UN’s floor.

1981 – The Guatemalans, almost alone against the world, persist in their claim. The British, to appease the Guatemalans, meets with them, and Belize, and drafts the “Heads of Agreement”, but this is rejected by Belizeans. The UN declares that Belize must become an independent nation, but advises that the parties (the British, Belize, and Guatemala) must try to work things out peacefully. Later that year, Belize moves on to become an independent nation. The British infamously say at the independence ceremonies that we have inherited the claim.

1991 – Guatemala recognizes Belize as an independent nation, their rights to self-determination, and the countries establish full diplomatic relations. That same year, in a Joint Communiqué, Belize and Guatemala’s discussed Belize’s “initiative to limit its territorial waters to three miles in its southern areas.” This will later emerge as the Maritime Areas Act.

The countries also commit to work on the following points, “(a), joint exploitation of defined areas of the exclusive economic zone of Belize for mutual benefit, (b), permanent access of Guatemala to the Caribbean Sea from its Department of El Peten, and the reciprocal use and development of port facilities, (c), cultural and educational exchange programs, to include grants of scholarships to students at different levels, (d), cooperation in areas of tourism, continuing the Mundo Maya Project in which Belize and Guatemala are already participating and establishing tourism promotion projects to benefit both countries, on land as well as sea, (e), collaboration in the fight to eradicate the production, traffic and illegal consumption of drugs, narcotics and psychotropic substances, (f), development of commerce and investment between both countries.”

1992 – The two major political parties join forces to promote the first part of the agreement, the delimitation of our waters to the south, and joint exploitation of these seas. A faction of the UDP, the Opposition party at the time, is not in agreement with this proposal and it breaks away and forms a new party, the NABR. The Belize government passes the Maritime Areas Act.

1993 – The British hand over our defense responsibilities to our BDF. Shortly after, Guatemala ousts the president that had recognized Belize and thus sets back the negotiations the countries had engaged in.
2000 – Guatemala selects Paul Reichler, an American lawyer, and Belize selects Sir Shridath Ramphal, a Guyanese lawyer, to facilitate proposals to end Guatemala’s claim to Belize.

2002 – The facilitators present their proposals. They are guided by the agreements made in the Joint Communiqué in 1991, and the MAA plays a big part. Guatemala rejects the Proposals because they get no Belizean territory and they say their Constitution does not allow them to accept any agreement that does not include terra firma. Ouch, Belize has been benning over bakway to appease the regional bully (MAA and various plums), but Guatemala cannot fully participate because of the lie it told about 1859.

2008 – Belize and Guatemala sign the Special Agreement (ICJ business). Ah, here we are – Belize refusing to give a square centimeter (legally her position is ironclad), and Guatemala needing a square centimeter to satisfy the lie about 1859that she has sold her people for generations.

It’s high, unprecedented drama, a true first in a world that accepts that there is nothing new under the sun. Belize must put all its territory on the altar, so that the ICJ can tell the Guatemalan people what their leaders cannot – that their claim about Article Seven was wrong. You could summarize what is going down here in as many ways as there are fingers on your hands, but we’ll stick with these two, for now:

Greater love hath no neighbor than the one who, like a domesticated turkey, waits in a cage while 15 (or 17) judges with their knives and forks at the ready, discuss her future, and That remarkable country has faith that the facts will bear out that her fate is not to be a part of her neighbor’s territory.

(statements within “quotes” drawn from “The Guatemalan Claim to Belize: A Compendium of Relevant Documents”, a book by Ambassador James S. Murphy, a former representative of Belize to Washington; “Summary of the Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize – Part 1″, by Reyhan Rosado; CIA files)

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Deshawn Swasey

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