The Belize Coalition for Justice, in its first few days in existence has turned the single unifying issue in Belize into the most divisive. The Guatemalan claim of Belize’s territory has been an issue of concern throughout several generations. Politicians, in both countries, have used the issue to gain political mileage. That practice made a complicated situation even more unstable. Through the support of the Organization of the American States, both countries were able to agree on a path forward - one that could finally bring the dispute to an end, that is the decision to take the case to the International Court of Justice.
Resolving our territorial dispute at the ICJ is the only issue of importance on which both parties, which have led this country, share the same position. Representatives of both major political parties and civil society organizations have worked together with their Guatemalan counterparts and international mediators to resolve the dispute in a diplomatic manner. The ICJ route was not only the chosen recommendation; it was the only recommendation that would lead to a discontinuance of the claim. Nancy Marin-Juan, one of the leaders of the coalition, said at a press conference on Wednesday, October 17th, “We can’t trust the ICJ”. The coalition is going to advocate for “NO” votes in the 2013 referendum on taking the dispute to the ICJ. That is a valid position since there are risks going to the ICJ. The greatest concern for Belize is the ICJ ruling in favor of Guatemala. That is a scenario those in favor of going to the ICJ believe is highly unlikely but, it is a scenario that must be weighed in making such a decision. However, the coalition and those advocating for “NO” votes in the referendum need to present a viable alternative.
Paco Smith, one of the leaders of the coalition, represents an organization that focuses specifically on advocating against going to the International Court of Justice with Guatemala. He asked, “What does the 21st of September, 1981 means to you?” He went on to explain that it mean we are an independent nation, whose borders are recognized by the United Nations. He says we have no need to go to the ICJ because “going to the ICJ would mean we are uncertain” of our status. The leaders of our country, both PUP and UDP, are using the same points that Smith is using- “We are an independent nation”, “our borders are recognized by the United Nations”, “historic treaties” and others in their belief that there is no way we can lose in a court of law. Again, both positions must be explored thoroughly. On the question of an alternative, Smith, who heads an organization with the sole purpose of advocating against going to the ICJ, could offer none. His only response was “we need to take a diplomatic approach.” It would be crazy for us not to take a diplomatic approach to settle a dispute with a country whose army is so much more powerful than ours. It is that diplomatic approach, which the country took in a bipartisan manner, that has brought us to a point where we can finally end the dumbfounded Guatemala Claim.
The Belize Coalition for Justice consists of thirty “leaders”, according to Nancy Marin-Juan. They have no followers and it will be difficult for them attract supporters because the country has seen organizations formed to carry out political agendas before. It would be unfair to accuse the coalition of having a political agenda at this stage especially, since the organization is taking on issues of importance to every Belizean. However, when multiple members of any head table of six repeat the phrase “this has nothing to do with politics” on an issue that only political will can influence, it forces one to look behind the names. Paco Smith is a politician with aspiration for leadership. He ran as a third party candidate in the Belize City Council elections on March 7th of this year. Nancy Marin-Juan is a politician with hopes of becoming a legislator. She ran to be the People’s United Party Candidate for Cayo Central in the 2012 election. Geovanni Brackett is a politician, who has made his name opposing this current administration. Brackett has gone as far as accusing the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington of treason.
Many may have a quarrel with how Minister Elrington delivers a message but no sane individual should accuse this Foreign Minister of treason. As Prime Minister Barrow’s Foreign Minister, Elrington has repaired and strengthened diplomatic relationships with the international community; significantly increase our number of strong allies; and established a working relationship with the Belizean Diaspora. Bracketts latest issue with Minister Elrington is his suggestion that we may adhere to Guatemala’s request of providing compensation to the family of one of their citizens who was shot by a Belizean soldier - in self defense by all accounts. It is a very popular position to say, “No compensation ever!” like Brackett and the Coalition are propagating. However, once again the coalition needs to look at the alternative. Minister Elrington has explained that the issue is not whether our soldiers were justified in their force or not. That is an issue that will be settled through the course of an investigation. The issue is how do we as a country address the killing of civilians diplomatically. We, in Belize, see our soldiers killing three trespassers, who posed threat to their lives. Guatemala and the international community may look at the same facts and see trained Belizean soldiers killing three Guatemalan civilians, who possessed tools used for their exploits in the jungle - tools that would be considered primitive to high powered rifles. Minister Elrington has a responsibility to foster an environment for an effective investigation to take place and relay the results of that investigation to Guatemala, the OAS and the wider international community, and also to ensure that Belize maintains a mutual beneficial relationship with its neighbor in Guatemala.
The Belize Coalition for Justice has stated emphatically that it is not the least bit concerned about Guatemala terminating its diplomatic relationship with Belize. There are however, many, who are gravely concerned about that happening. Our Ambassador and diplomats would be sent home immediately leaving no Government official to defend Belizean interests and investments in that country. Families, who rely on Guatemala for tertiary level medical services, would feel it in their pockets or their hearts because the alternative sources of care, the United States and others, are as much as ten times more expensive and most would not be able to afford it. Hundreds of young Guatemalan students cross the border to go to school in Belize every day. For them, it is their only opportunity at an education. Despite the fact that they are Guatemalan by birth, they are human beings. They are children whose entire education has been and will be from a Belizean context. Termination of relationship with Guatemala would hurt many businesses in the textile, manufacturing and retail industries. It would prevent Belizean athletes from participating in regional competitions held in Guatemala.
The Belize Coalition for Justice either does not understand that Guatemala is more than a country with a claim on Belize or they are one of the organizations jumping on the Guatemalan dispute in an effort to promote their own political agenda. For an organization that is not a political party, the Belize Coalition for Justice certainly has its fair share of individuals that have or are hoping to build a life off politics and politicians.