Features — 23 February 2019
A theoretical analysis: Why we MUST vote NO to the ICJ rabbit hole

02/19/2019 / Twocanview LLC — Many Belizeans continue to be puzzled by the constant drumbeat of YES to the ICJ being promoted, not just by the Government of Belize, but their surrogates (lawyers and past Foreign Ministers among them) who continue to wax poetic about Belize having an “ironclad case” therefore we must go. To be clear, no ethical attorney should ever give a client, let alone a nation, ironclad reassurances simply because…no amount of brilliant lawyering can predict, or get inside the head of a judge or jury to determine how individuals may think, or rule on the merits of a case. None!

GOB and their surrogates are pulling out all the stops for a YES vote invoking the words “our children” (playing on our rawest emotions and basic instincts to protect our innocents), telling us we owe it to the next generation to solve it NOW. Let’s not kick the can down the road they cry; the facts and his-story is on our side, and if not NOW, when? They posit that the international community will turn on us and aid will stop flowing (perhaps into their corrupt pockets) if we don’t try to solve this NOW! Guatemala will invade us, the incursions by Guatemalans in Chiquibul will escalate and, if we are to take them seriously, our nation is doomed to a life of misery. The fearmongering list goes on and on and on… Hell, GOB even dug deep and uprooted Assad, the Shoman, ensconced in Cuba for many years, parading him in front of us as the preeminent voice and scholar on all things ICJ related.

But I would argue that this so called “ironclad case” our politicians and some of Belizean legal eagles speak of is nothing more than a rabbit hole that has been engineered for quite some time.  Let’s start from the beginning shall we: in the 1859 Treaty between Her Majesty’s Government and Guatemala, Guatemala agreed to recognize the borders of British Honduras, now Belize, and Great Britain promised to build a road from Guatemala to Punta Gorda, BZ that would give Guatemala access to the Caribbean Sea; no territory was ceded and our borders were clearly defined.

But much of the period after and between 1940 and 1981 saw Guatemala once again assert its claim to Belize over and over again, occasionally even threatening to invade us, but backing down at the sight of UK military reinforcements.

Nevertheless, one hundred and three years later in 1962, the United Kingdom and Guatemala entered into negotiations again, this time with delegates from Belize permitted to participate in the Anglo-Guatemalan negotiations; Belize was not yet self-governing. The main thrust of the negotiations was to seek a solution to the dispute through economic cooperation. In 1965, Britain in consultation with Belize agreed with Guatemala to have a mediator appointed by the United States Government. The U.S. mediator, Bethuel M. Webster, delivered his report in 1968 which became known as the Webster Proposals, a draft treaty with the main provisions quoted below (the bold emphasis is mine):

1970.    Article 1 of the draft treaty provided that British Honduras would be granted independence under the name of Belize not later than 31st December 1970.

1971.    Article 2 obliged Belize and Guatemala to grant to each other’s goods free entry through their ports and free transit through predetermined routes of each country.

•  Under Article 3, the port of Belize City would be declared a duty-free port for the benefit of Guatemala and placed under the control of a supra-national Authority. Guatemala was obliged, at the request of Belize, to provide similar facilities for Belizean goods.

1. Article 4 guaranteed nationals of each country free movement in the territory of the other as well as the right to the same treatment as was accorded by each country to its own citizens. This included the right to freely acquire and dispose of personal real property.(85)

2. Under Article 9, Guatemala and Belize agreed to establish a supra-national Authority to be charged with the responsibility of carrying out certain powers and functions including the supervision and control of free ports, as well as the designation of transit routes. Britain was required to pay to the Authority US $4m. to assist the Authority to perform its functions under the Treaty.

3.  Article 10 provided that Belize, would join CACM before 31st December 1970 with financial assistance from Britain.

•  Article 13 obliged Guatemala and Belize to consult and cooperate with each other on such matters of mutual concern in foreign affairs as may be raised by either government.

•  According to Article 14, the defense of Belize would be handled within the framework of the Inter-American Treaty of 1947, to which Belize would accede. In that event it would not be necessary for Belize to conclude bilateral defense arrangements with any other country.

The kicker and deal breaker in this master plan was that “it placed the defense, foreign affairs and, to a certain extent, the economy of Belize under Guatemalan control after independence.  The normal channel of communication to international bodies by the Belize government was to be through the Guatemalan government.  (…)  In sum, it is believed that the proposals exclusively committed Belize to a hemispheric destiny as a satellite or department of Guatemala.”   You can read the Webster Proposals here in its entirety: http://www.belizenet.com/bzeguat/chap7.html

Belizeans, not amused, stepped in to save our country! Upon disclosure of the Webster Proposals, Belizeans became livid, took to the streets, and completely rejected the proposals derailing it, forcing the proposed treaty to die a natural death. But did it? I am more than convinced after reading these proposals, and comparing it to future proposals and agreements, that the Webster proposals have greatly influenced future negotiations with Guatemala, and in many ways opened the door to the flexibility of movement we now see at our shared borders, and the integration of Guatemalans not only in our body politic, but how many are now living in and shaping our society. If you pay close attention, you will see how the rabbit hole emerges when you realize the master plan envisioned for Belize and Guatemala is slowly coming to fruition as the blending and integrating of Guatemalans into our Belizean culture is fused, or is it the other way around?

In 1981 as Belize moved towards independence, I would argue the Heads of Agreement was just a softer, gentler re-mixed 2.0 version of the Webster Proposals.  By all appearances, as long as our fearless leaders were not conceding “one blade of grass” to Guatemala, everything else remained on the table. The Heads of Agreement fell just short of ceding territory, but had it prevailed, would have awarded a whole host of privileges to Guatemala. Henceforth, Belize continued down the path of conceding more and more and bit by bit. Some HOA clauses are listed below, but can be viewed here in its entirety; the highlights are mine along with the bracketed side notes: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heads_of_Agreement_(1981)

1. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall recognize the independent state of Belize as an integral part of Central America, and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with its existing and traditional frontiers subject, in the case of Guatemala, to the completion of the treaties necessary to give effect to these Heads of Agreement. (no treaties; no recognition)

2. Guatemala shall be accorded such territorial seas as shall ensure permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas, together with its rights over the seabed thereunder. (we are hell bent on giving them sea and seabed)

3. Guatemala shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla Cayes, and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the Cayes, as may be agreed. (Guatemala in their ever-changing demands are now including as far north as the Silk Cayes; these islands are the livelihood of the South for fishing and tourism)

4. Guatemala shall be entitled to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda.

5. The road from Belize City to Guatemala shall be improved; a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier shall be completed. Guatemala shall have freedom of transit on these roads.

6. Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. (this confirms we have oil? Is this whole charade about oil?)

7. In areas to be agreed, an agreement shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing. (an open ended tricky one!)

8. There shall be areas of the seabed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons.  (economic opportunities; where there’s oil, there’s trouble)

9. Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain development projects of mutual benefit. (drill, baby, drill)

10. Belize shall be entitled to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize. (any takers?)

11. Belize and Guatemala shall sign a treaty of cooperation in matters of security of mutual concern, and neither shall permit its territory to be used to support subversion against the other.

12. Except as foreseen in these Heads of Agreement, nothing in these provisions shall prejudice any rights of interests in Belize or of the Belizean people.

13. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall enter into agreements designed to reestablish full and normal relations between them.

14. The United Kingdom and Guatemala shall take the necessary action to sponsor the membership of Belize in the United Nations, Organization of American States, Central American organizations and other international organizations.

15. A joint Commission shall be established between Belize, Guatemala and the United Kingdom to work out details to give effect to the above provisions. It will prepare a treaty or treaties for signature by the signatories to these Heads of Agreement.

16. The controversy between the United Kingdom and Guatemala over the territory of Belize shall therefore be honorably and finally ended. (hmmm…an unfounded claim is now reduced to a “controversy”?)

Belizeans not amused by their foolery took to the streets again! “Public reaction was muted at first, but the Public Service promptly denounced the agreement as a giveaway and promised strike action. The Government’s pleas that nothing had actually been agreed on fell on deaf ears.  Another group responsible for the anti-Heads reaction was the Belize Action Movement, a youth movement featuring young people who saw the need to fight to ensure that Belize did not fall into the hands of Guatemala. The BAM and PSU coordinated a nationwide strike and protest on March 20″ and Belizeans once again stepped in to save our country.

I would argue the Governments of Belize (both past and present) have capitulated to Guatemala and continue to compromise Belize at every juncture. In 1992, the Government of Belize took us further down the rabbit hole. GOB consulted with the Opposition and introduced a bill in the National Assembly that would allow Guatemala access to the high seas “as a sign of good faith on the part of Belize to pursue negotiations with the Republic of Guatemala in search of a settlement of the outstanding dispute.” Once again, our leaders fell over on their backs and capitulated ceding maritime waters in order to open negotiations with Guatemala? Imagine that! Before negotiations even begin, our fearless leaders concede maritime waters to show good faith?  Let that sink in.

Guatemala then declared that “it recognizes the right of the Belizean people to self-determination” and announced it will continue “negotiating and will exhaust all legal and proper procedures which lead to a definitive settlement of the territorial dispute.” Britain then agreed to commit 22.5 million pounds sterling to extend the road-network linking the two countries, Belize and Guatemala announced the establishment of diplomatic relations, everyone declared diplomatic and political victory, and after the kumbaya moment was over, the original bill then became an “amended bill” in which, you guessed it, Belize conceded AGAIN. The amended bill manifested itself as the Maritime Areas Act of 1992 which “declared a territorial sea of twelve miles, except for an area in the south from the Sarstoon river, Belize’s southern boundary with Guatemala, to the Ranguana Caye where a territorial sea of only three miles is proclaimed.”

In a nutshell, Belize is entitled to 12 miles but capitulated and ceded 9 to Guatemala, leaving us with only 3. Which begs the questions: on whose behalf are these jesters acting? Whose interests are they serving? I’ve yet to see a benefit in favor of Belize. If these capitulations and concessions don’t make you question their motives, or spit fire and venom, I don’t know what will! It is abundantly clear that as Belize capitulates and concedes, Guatemala edges closer and closer to its ultimate goal. Do you see a pattern emerging yet? But wait, there’s more!

Another noteworthy section of the Maritime Areas Act often overlooked perhaps because it is so convoluted is the Delimitation of Exclusive Economic Zone, Sections 6 and 7 (3 through 4) being subject to 6, that delimits Belize even further, “less than 200 nautical miles” to be exact, aside from the 12-mile exception already conceded.  In Section 7, Sub-sections (3 and 4 a through c) are particularly significant: (a) provides that “Belize shall claim less than what it is otherwise entitled to claim under international law, or” or (b) the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil that would otherwise be included therein by virtue of Section 6, or; or (c) there shall be joint exploitation or participation within Belize’s exclusive economic zone shall be subject to approval of the electors in a referendum.” I am completely baffled by the wording of (c) which appears to mention another referendum among other things, but (a) and (b) are pretty clear: Belize shall claim less and the exclusive economic zone of Belize shall not extend to any specific area of the sea, seabed or subsoil.  Basically, Belize agreed to be left with nothing but crumbs and agreed even further that our “exclusive” crumbs was subject to limitations. If one considers that there is oil and minerals under our seabed, crumbs is what Belize will get (if any)!

In a published Joint Statement between the Governments of Belize and Guatemala dated July 31th, 1992 regarding the “negotiation of a definitive agreement to end [our] differences,” it also states that “such an agreement will only be definitive and valid after it has been approved through a referendum” in accordance with Guatemala’s political constitution, and in Belize in accordance with the “political commitment existing between the Government and the Opposition.” It is noted that while Guatemala is following their Constitution to the letter, it is clear our jesters are working in consortium with each other, are playing it fast and loose, and display no accountability to anyone or anything!

As a point of reference, did you notice the date this statement was signed by Said Musa? This is not a joke; it is so stated I swear. Let’s label this a lawful error because we are not quite sure on what day this statement was actually signed. Was it signed on July 30th or July 31st? Mistakes like these don’t generally stand up well in Court because it speaks to the validity of the document as well as the carelessness of the signatories so don’t laugh, it might just be our saving grace. This particular date is significant because of its disclosure that we are headed to the ICJ with a referendum coming down the pike!

To be continued…

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Deshawn Swasey

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