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How the “South” votes should be a concern

EditorialHow the “South” votes should be a concern

When asked what Guatemala is claiming, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington and former Foreign Minister, Dr. Assad Shoman, and the entire ICJ team, reply that it is the entire country of Belize. When Belizeans go to vote in the referendum to determine if we are for the Special Agreement, or not for it, we will not know the end game because that has not been specified. If we agree (to support the Special Agreement), we will be consenting to defend against any and all legal claims that Guatemala might have/believes it has on Belizean territory; if we want to know what Guatemala is claiming, we have to go to court.

For Elrington and Shoman, and the entire ICJ team, it is absolutely essential strategy that they put forward to the public that the Guatemalan claim will be for all of Belize.

The Special Agreement did not drop out of the skies and it wasn’t hatched on a weekend. Every word, every sentence in that agreement was carefully thought out, passed through a sieve with microscopic holes, so as to satisfy both countries. It was also crafted to give the greatest possibility for a YES vote in Belize. The affirmative was always a done deal in Guatemala, as soon as it got past their political leaders. In Belize, it had to be worded so that the architects of the Special Agreement could tell the Belizean people that Guatemala was claiming the entire country.

It’s tricky stuff; everyone knows that Guatemala couldn’t possibly claim all of Belize. But the Belizean architects of the Special Agreement thought that if they had bound themselves to say that Guatemala was claiming half of the country, they might have created division within our ranks and thus increased the chances of the agreement being rejected.

It is good strategy, yes, but it is stretching the truth. We all know that if the ICJ were to make the extreme decision to give some of Belize’s land to Guatemala, that it would be in the south of the country.

Belizeans are becoming more aware each day of all that Guatemala has done over the years to extract compensation from Belize for Article Seven of the 1859 treaty between England and Guatemala, Article Seven being that the countries would, through joint efforts, construct a cart road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean coast.

All Belizeans know about Guatemala’s claim that the British did not live up to Article Seven, and they have heard the varied opinions about who was to blame for the lapse of this Article Seven agreement that was made to increase “the commerce of England on the one hand and the material prosperity of the Republic (Guatemala) on the other.”

In the 1880s Guatemala formally protested the 1859 treaty. At different times Guatemala has called for the “return” of the entire country, and at times it has called for a portion of the country, most often from the Sibun to the Sarstoon.

Gustavo Adolfo Orellana Portillo, one of Guatemala’s top legal personnel, mentioned an offer Guatemala made to the British, in his 2010 document titled, “Background and Study of The Special Agreement between Guatemala and Belize to Submit Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime Claim to the International Court of Justice .” This offer was also reported on by American author, William Arlington Donohoe, in his, A History of British Honduras, which was written in 1946.

Donohoe wrote that in 1936 Guatemala said they would be satisfied if the British entertained any of these offers: (1), that Guatemala would pay the British 400,000 pounds, and in return the British would hand over Belize, (2), that they, Guatemala, would drop their claim if the British paid them 400,000 pounds, and gave them a strip of land as an outlet for Peten; (3), that they, Guatemala, would drop their claim if the British paid them 50,000 pounds at 4% interest beginning in 1859, and also gave them a strip of land for a Peten outlet. Our information is that this “strip of land” was from the Sarstoon to somewhere between the Rio Grande and Monkey River.

There is little mention of these offers in the literature, possibly because the British absolutely did not entertain them. From one perspective the offers could be seen as Guatemala taking a little stab at something, the boat having sailed after the 1931 Exchange of Notes, so to speak. The point here is that Guatemala has consistently targeted the south of our country. Sir Elihu Lauterpacht and his team noted this fact on page 12 of their 2001 study, “Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize.”

We ought not to hide from the motivations behind a YES or NO vote. A person who votes YES is largely of the belief that all our arguments are strong to the point of being impregnable. They believe that the court cannot possibly award Belize or any part of it to Guatemala. A person who votes NO is largely of the belief that the court (ICJ) will give some of Belize’s land to Guatemala if we vote YES to the Special Agreement.

The five former foreign ministers and the present foreign minister and all those who are assured of a complete victory at the International Court of Justice might consider persons voting NO to be misinformed, lacking in knowledge about the matter, but that is wholly irrelevant. What is relevant is that such persons have fear that the ICJ will rule against us.

A YES vote could have a very negative effect on the people who live in the south of the country, particularly if they vote a resounding NO. The people in the south might even consider it a betrayal by the rest of the country. If this happens, there would be negative consequences for Belize.

A YES vote does not absolutely translate to Guatemala claiming Belize’s land, but if there was a YES and Guatemala does claim land, it is natural to expect that property values will go down in areas which are included in their claim.

The case could languish for five, ten, even more years at the International Court of Justice. If Belize votes YES, and Guatemala does claim land, Belizeans across the length and breadth of the country, from the Hondo to the Sarstoon, will be on edge. But it could be an excruciating wait for Belizeans whose properties fall within any claim, particularly those who voted NO. They will be in a state of trepidation.

We know why the architects of the Special Agreement considered it essential strategy to sell that Guatemala was claiming the whole country. This sleight of hand might come back to haunt us if we vote YES and Guatemala claims land. At this time it is best we face the truth.

There is never a perfect solution to anything under the sun. Belize might vote NO when the referendum is held. Then Belizeans who voted YES will shake their heads in dismay for the wonderful opportunity we passed up to settle the claim.

Belize might vote YES when the referendum is held. We cannot expect one hundred percent support for a YES vote in the south. But we should at the very least be certain that in the south of the country there is majority support for the Special Agreement before we go to referendum. It will be best for Belize if that support is overwhelming.

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