Letters — 06 October 2018 — by Sidley Leslie
Let’s be equitably informed on the referendum

Although some Belizeans have already decided how they will vote in the upcoming referendum next April, there are still many more that are confused by the noise in the market place. I am therefore writing these few lines in the hope that they may, in some small measure, add a little clarity to a crisis which has now become political as well as existential.

I believe that the financial and verbal support that the “yes” to the ICJ position receives from our Government, aided by our “friends”, is overwhelmingly one-sided, and so being, is unfair to Belizeans who desire to hear both sides of the argument. In consequence I feel obliged to limit this correspondence to the negative persuasion, so that you may be more equitably informed before you decide how to vote on the most crucial issue that has confronted us since our independence. So then, let us begin.

In order that Guatemala may lawfully acquire the 53% of Belizean territory, as was its latest claim, there are three conditions that must be met.

1. The case before the ICJ must be heard using the 2008 Special Agreement or Compromis as the terms of reference.  This is precisely what the upcoming referendum is all about.

2.  The international boundary that had been established by the 1859 border Treaty must be suspended. It has been reported that there was a joint statement by Belize and Guatemala, issued in 1992, that indeed suspended the international boundary between them. More recent developments like the Government’s pronouncement of having “undefined borders with Guatemala” and an imaginary line where the internationally recognized border used to be, enhance the credibility of this report.

3. The court must decide that Guatemala’s claim against the Brits for deceiving and/or coercing them into signing the 1859 Treaty is authentic and that furthermore, upon achieving independence in 1981 this liability had been lawfully converted into a legal claim against Belizean territory. The former is supported by the inclusion of Clause VII in the agreement which the Brits failed to deliver on as Guatemala had expected, conflated with their subsequent offer of monetary compensation to Guatemala, and the latter by the Brits’ contention that the claim had logically devolved on Belize as a result of the sovereignty conferred by independence.

Hence, if Belize goes to the ICJ using the 2008 Special Agreement as the court’s  terms of reference, as the proponents of the “yes “ position advocate, and the court, having heard the anticipated brilliant substantive arguments from the world-class historians and superlative international legal luminaries that Guatemala has reportedly assembled, determines  that the other two conditions, 2 and 3 before written, are also true, then I do believe that the claim will indeed be finally settled,  but exclusively to the satisfaction of Guatemala and their wily strategists and inimitable handlers.

On her recent visit to Belize, the Rt. Hon. Secretary General of the Commonwealth assured Belizeans on national television, that we are not going to be facing Guatemala alone, as the brotherhood of Commonwealth countries is aware of the just and the unassailable legality of our sovereignty and territorial integrity, and in consequence, have our back in the recommended upcoming confrontation with Guatemala at the ICJ. Nevertheless, despite this much-appreciated assurance of support, I can’t help but wonder how many of those 53 countries will, if we receive an unfavorable judgment at the ICJ, then step up to prevent Guatemala from taking possession of the gift the ICJ will have so “unjustly” awarded her?

Now the Government and their erudite surrogates attest to have scrutinized the claim and are convinced of the impregnable legal position Belize has for its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Prior to Belize’s independence I would have unreservedly agreed with them, but any objective observer will be obliged to conclude that the actions taken by our successive governments since 1981 have seriously eroded our defensive posture.

So, as some of the more articulate proponents of the “yes” vote have posited, if we just kick the ball down the road by voting not to seize this once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity to go to the ICJ and peacefully resolve this age-old claim hanging like a sword over us, as our Government, which has clearly crossed the Rubicon on this matter, recommends, then what other option is there?

Well, firstly, the claim in its present form is not centuries old, but in fact has only existed since the Second  World War, when Guatemala, thinking that Hitler would defeat the British, found the intestinal fortitude to denounce the 1859 Treaty. Additionally there are many countries, indeed some of the same ones who are recommending that we vote “yes”, with border disputes centuries old that are in no hurry to have them resolved by the ICJ. Therefore there is, in reality, no justifiable reason for the untoward urgency that has been ascribed to this proposed settlement.

Secondly, the cornerstone of Guatemala’s claim to Belizean territory is their contention that the 1859 Treaty is invalid. Therefore, the first step our Government should take to disarm Guatemala’s claim is to make the member countries of the General Assembly of the United Nations aware of the blatant violations of our territory integrity by the Guatemalan Armed Forces and their aggressive behavior towards Belizean citizens in our part of the Sarstoon, and then to ask, in the interest of peace, for a  vote by the members to have the ICJ make an advisory ruling on the validity of the 1859 Treaty. And incidentally, at the same time, they should also ask for a ruling on the contention by the British that Guatemala’s claim against them had been lawfully transferred to Belize on independence, since the eminent legal experts who had studied the Guatemalan claim in 2000 had opined that there is no justification for this.

Pursuing this as a viable alternative to going to the ICJ with this poisoned Special Agreement, would free us of the totally unacceptable but fatally real possibility of the irreversible dismemberment of our Jewel. Obtaining an affirmation of the validity of the 1859 Treaty, as all and sundry contend would happen, would effectively eliminate Guatemala’s last best chance of legally obtaining Belizean territory. At the same time such a ruling would enhance our security internationally and give Guatemala serious concern for the damage any aggressive behavior against Belize’s territorial integrity would earn them on the international stage. In fact, I believe their future attempts to annex Belizean territory would then die a natural death.

Let us therefore not allow deceptive others to misinform and mislead us into believing that going to the ICJ with this devious Special Agreement as the terms of reference is the one and only way to skin the Guatemalan cat and to avoid a war with them. It has now been 37 years since we became independent and 26 years since the Brits withdrew their defense guarantee to Belize and we became solely responsible for our own defense. In all that time Guatemala, being acutely sensitive for damage to the sanctimonious image it strives to project to the world, has been held in check by their realistic cognizance that, because of the potent United Nations resolutions and the almost universal support for our Independence and territorial integrity that we had attained in 1981, they would incur the condemnation of the world if they tried to take Belizean territory by force.

However, let me be clear, if we go, as the Government and their eloquent surrogates are proselytizing, to the ICJ under the present circumstances, using this loaded Special Agreement die as the terms of reference, and in consequence receive an unfavorable judgment, which is a distinct possibility, we would immediately lose the vital support of the international community which is presently all that protects us against annexation by Guatemala. And then, no one except us will cry or come to our assistance, when Guatemala waltzes in and proceeds to dismember our Jewel, thereby reducing us to a people with only half a country, or, if Mexico makes good on their caveat to claim their share under such circumstances, a people without a country. So why in God’s name should we risk such utter devastation when there are viable risk-free alternatives as was outlined before?

In closing I would like to commend the owners and talk show hosts of KREM, Plus TV and Channel 5, for the outstanding contribution they have made and are making by promoting and enabling dissenting voices against the Government’s one-sided pro “yes” propaganda campaign to be heard. I also wish to recommend to those who may still be undecided, that they should listen to the contributions of people like Major Lloyd Jones, Ms. Sandra Coye and the other dynamic Belizean patriots at home and abroad, whose informed and insightful clarion clear voices transcend the noise in the market place.

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Deshawn Swasey

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