Is it ICJ or WAR??? Print E-mail
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Written by By Shane Williams   
Thursday, 19 April 2018 00:00

There is a question more concerning than the one which will be featured on ballot papers for Belize’s pending ICJ referendum. This one is not as simple as a yea or nay. This question that Belizeans must ask themselves before they participate in the referendum is what other option is on the table to solve this two hundred year old dispute. There are only three ways historically through which nations settle territorial disputes: through diplomacy, judicially or militarily.

Throughout the history of the Belize-Guatemala dispute, Guatemala has always flexed its military muscle in an effort to intimidate Belize. Even in the days of the British “security guarantee” the Guatemalan authorities often advanced troops on the edge of the border. It is obvious which option Guatemala would prefer and Belize would be no match for their army. There are some who believe Guatemala could never utilize its military against Belize in this 21st Century – not in the regional integration and social media era! The question to them then is why do nations invest heavily in their military if not with thoughts of someday using it? Who will come to Belize’s rescue if, God forbid, Guatemala decides to invade? The United States? If one looks at the diplomatic history of the United States and Guatemala it will be seen that they have a closer relationship than we could ever hope for. Will the United Kingdom come to our defense? Not with their xenophobic far right movement that is quickly gaining traction in that country. We must face the reality that militarily we may be on our own.

Belize’s best hope and approach of choice has always been the diplomatic one. Belize has been lobbying for support from the international community from long before Independence and continues to do so. Belize has always advocated strongly for a peaceful resolution to the dispute. This advocacy has taken leaders such as Hon. Philip S.W. Goldson, Rt. Hon. George C. Price, Rt. Hon. Sir Manuel Esquivel, Ambassador Assad Shoman, Ambassador Fred Martinez, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Godfrey Smith, Eamon Courtenay and many others before the United Nations, Organization of American States and other multilateral bodies to pressure Guatemala into adopting a peaceful approach. Those multilateral organizations have all recommended that Belize and Guatemala take the dispute to the International Court of Justice. Guatemala did not initially embrace the idea of going to the ICJ; therefore it took years of bilateral negotiations with pressure from the international community for them to agree to a judicial settlement.

The judicial option causes grave concern for people of both nations. The Guatemalans know that the law is not on their side and Belizeans know that we are the ones taking all the risks. Every legal opinion that has been presented by independent experts favors the Belize case. Guatemala also made a crucial concession in the Special Agreement when they agreed that the case will be decided based solely on the legal merits – not quid pro quo. This means there will be no deal making like in an arbitration case. There will be no attempt to make both parties happy. This however provides no comfort for Belizeans. We know all too well the risks associated with litigation. The grassroots position that has emerged seems to be “why go to court for something we already have”. Belizeans find it uncomfortable that Guatemala has nothing to lose while we stare down the possibility of losing more than half of the territory we have always owned. Many seem to be comfortable with the idea of voting NO to the ICJ and kicking the can down the road for the next generation to solve. However, the question we are faced with is what will be Guatemala’s response to Belize voting no to a judicial settlement that was suggested after the diplomatic approach stalled.

Will Guatemala revert to more military aggression? The Guatemalan authorities continue to emphasize that this is the “peaceful” approach. Will their other approach not be peaceful? Is it ICJ or WAR for Guatemala???