Since the pause button has been pressed on the April 10th referendum, we now have been afforded a little more time to contemplate the road ahead. We should therefore carefully consider each of the three distinct paths we may follow.
The first is to change the referendum law as the government contemplates, as well as whatever else they may be considering as necessary to have the referendum as soon as possible. Many have understandably questioned the reason for Government’s frenzied urgency to have this referendum now.
In answer to this I wish to emphasize that they have, in apparent violation of our constitution and without consulting the people, entered into an international boundary treaty with Guatemala to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. This treaty grants the ICJ judges the authority to determine (change) our borders (cede Belizean territory to Guatemala) and grant Guatemala rights over our sovereignty as compensation for their 300 years of “any and all legal” claims against Belizean territory.
This Compromis treaty, which has been described by Guatemala’s foremost legal luminary as, “an achievement of great value for Guatemala”, opens the door, unlike the 1859 treaty, for Guatemala to saddle us with their strongest claim, which is the British breach of Article 7 of the 1859 treaty. The worst part of going to the ICJ as proposed in this referendum is that once we vote “Yes” we shall have agreed to forever abide by whatever settlement the judges determine, even if they decide to give Guatemala most of Belize.
In other words, if we vote “Yes”, we will have stupidly surrendered our right of self-determination to a set of foreign judges who will then be at liberty to decide what portion of Belize and sovereign rights we will be allowed to keep. This does not offer a choice for Belizeans to vote on a settlement of the Guatemalan claim, since we do not even know what the settlement will be! And all that just to gain recognition of our borders from the only country on earth that claims not to recognize them.
Is it rational to place your country in such peril without even knowing what claims will be presented? The bottom line is that we stand to lose our very existence while Guatemala will risk losing nothing. Is this a good deal for Belize?
So if the referendum proceeds and a “Yes” vote prevails, what are our chances of losing at the ICJ? It stands to reason that those chances would be substantial and unacceptable to most Belizeans. You do not agree? Well, listen to the words of our former solicitor general Gian Gandi in his 2009 legal opinion to the Prime Minister on the Special Agreement treaty: “No matter what the strength of Belize’s case may be under international law the possibility of some territorial adjustment by Belize cannot be ruled out. In fact it would be surprising to the point of incredulity if the ICJ adjudication were to result in a wholesale rejection of Guatemala’s claim.”
It is therefore obvious that our leaders are well aware that there is an overwhelming possibility of losing territory and rights if participants in the referendum vote “Yes” as they desire. One can only assume that, having concluded this new boundary treaty with Guatemala, their rabid rush to fulfill their “international obligations” by having us agree by referendum to implement it, is inexplicably greater than their moral obligation to protect Belize from the irreversible harm they know that going to the ICJ under this treaty may bring.
The deception being dispensed by the “Yea Sayers “is that we must immediately end this “intolerable” claim. The questions we should ask them are: What exactly is this unbearable claim? What intolerable harm has it done us since our ancestors first settled Belize hundreds of years ago? What will be the price we must pay for ending it under the present circumstances? Is this “prize” worth the risk of losing our territory and sovereignty?
The second possibility is that we have the referendum and a “No” vote prevails. According to all the recent polls this is presently the most likely outcome of a fair and transparent referendum. However, so much is still wrong that may cause the true will of the people to be misrepresented by the declared outcome. Of paramount importance, even before a referendum is held, is that the referendum law should be amended to make it binding on the government. Otherwise they may simply have reruns until a “Yes” vote is declared.
Additionally, well over one hundred thousand qualified Belizeans living abroad have been unjustifiably disenfranchised, by the government adamantly imposing unrealistic conditions for their re-registration. Nevertheless, it was reported that plane-loads of selected diaspora government supporters were seen at foreign airports ready to fly in to vote on April 10th.
Contrast this with the thousands of formally registered Belizeans at home who are being unreasonably and illegitimately denied their right to vote by the Government-controlled Vital Statistics and Elections and Boundaries departments while thousands of unconstitutionally registered Guatemalans are being allowed to vote.
Also, only about 140,000 of the previously registered 205,000 have successfully registered in time to participate in the referendum. This means that less than half of Belizeans who should be allowed to vote on this existential matter will be able to do so. Unreasonably, the government refuses to postpone the referendum until these issues are properly addressed. There have also been reports of strong UDP operatives in possession of proxy ballots that will be used in the referendum.
Even worse, the present referendum law does not allow for opposition scrutineers to verify the fairness of the results as they are permitted to do in regular elections. It also appears that only the government’s appointees will be allowed to oversee this. With well over one hundred counting locations, there is so much that could go fatally wrong under these conditions.
Nonetheless, let us assume that despite this travesty plus the millions of dollars being spent by our foreign adversaries and from taxpayers’ money on the one-sided brain washing campaign, a “No” stance still prevails among Belizeans. Should there be a “No” vote, we should remember that the first mistake made by our leaders after the British had turned over the defense of Belize to them was to neglect keeping the western border clear of the jungle and to conduct regular border patrols as the British had always done.
If a “No” vote prevails, this is one of the first things that should be corrected after the referendum. If the Guatemalans object to the OAS about this being done and the OAS supports their objection, then Belize should immediately give notice of its intention to terminate the confidence-building measures. After all, only Guatemala’s confidence was built by these measures.
Concurrently Belize should immediately apply to the United Nations Security Council under Chapter 7, Article 39 of its statute for Guatemala to cease and desist from their illegal military occupation of the Sarstoon. Incidentally, I have heard that for the first time in years that the GAF did not intercept recent visitors to the Sarstoon Island. Could their handlers have warned them of this viable option to counter their actions in the Sarstoon that Belize can pursue?
Along with this, every effort should be made to augment the capacity of our security forces. All the available money that has been allocated for wasteful and unjustifiable infrastructure projects should be immediately reassigned to upgrading and purchasing military hardware and Coast Guard gunboats and to increasing the size of the Belize Defence Force. And any additional loans sought should be primarily for that purpose.
At the same time Belize should urgently seek real friends who would be willing to stand with us against any future aggression by Guatemala. Initially, Mexico or Cuba would be possibilities worth exploring. I have recently heard that there are presently high-ranking Mexican officials who have expressed surprise that our Government has not asked them for support in dealing with Guatemalan aggression.
Now, let us turn to the third and best path we may follow. This is simply not to have a referendum and to repudiate the Special Agreement Treaty since it violates our constitution and was improperly entered into and ratified. This could only succeed if the Government fails to obtain the super majority required to change the constitution, should the court decide that this is required.
This would best be done before the treaty is implemented, as international treaties trump domestic laws. Failing this, our only hope of removing this albatross is to have a competent court establish its illegitimacy by applying Article 46 of the Vienna Convention on Law of Treaties or some other applicable international law.
Such an outcome would reset our defensive posture and free us from the strategic advantage this OAS- drafted Special Agreement treaty affords Guatemala. At the same time it would once again clear the way for us to ask for an Advisory Opinion on the 1859 treaty. Remember that once properly ratified, this treaty remains in effect and can only be invalidated by the mutual agreement of both Guatemala and Belize.
Belize is a country with enormous natural wealth. There are extremely valuable mineral resources in the area our enemies are seeking to acquire and every effort must be made to have us benefit from this blessing. If we put in place leaders with the vision and will to harvest this natural wealth for the country’s benefit and use the returns to support the productive sector, we will become financially and militarily strong enough to defend ourselves without having to give away the most valuable portion of our country to our enemies. This of course requires leaders with the courage to confront Guatemalan aggression .Guatemala will then be forced to adopt a different attitude to settle their territorial dispute.
We have lived with this Guatemalan problem for many generations. The present solution being proposed is definitely not in our favor and if accepted may very well destroy our country. Are you willing to risk this just “ fu mek i don”? Let us therefore continue to live as we have always done, however long it may take, until a better solution is presented. Vote “No” for Belize.