Coming closer to an end to the Guatemalan Claim Print E-mail
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Thursday, 01 December 2011 00:00

BelizeThe Organization of American States is hoping that the people of Belize and Guatemala will decide whether or not the Guatemalan Claim should be heard at the International Court of Justice before the end of 2013.

Under the Special Agreement signed between Belize and Guatemala on December 8, 2008, both countries agreed to hold national referenda to decide on the prospect of taking the claim before the ICJ. That referendum is to take place on the same day in both countries. However, no decision was made on the date. A meeting was held at the headquarters of the OAS in Washington, D.C. on Monday, November 28, in which the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza, hosted delegations from both countries.

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, led a bi-partisan delegation commissioned to represent Belize’s interest in the OAS led resolution process. H. E. Haroldo Rodas led the Guatemalan delegation. According to a press release from the OAS, the meeting had a “highly cordial and cooperative atmosphere”. The parties agreed to meet with the Group of Friends of Belize and Guatemala on December 12. That group has provided political, technical and financial support to both countries and includes Canada, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom and the United States. Insulza also agreed to convene a meeting of a high-level working group during the first quarter of 2012 to strengthen cooperation and coordination between inter-governmental agencies. The biggest news from the meeting is that for the first time, an official time frame for the simultaneous referenda was introduced - “before the end of 2013.”

That leaves two years for a national education campaign. The campaign must be extensive and stretch deep within the most remote parts of the country. It will include the simplification of century old treaties as background information. The lawyers must be honest about the strength of the case and potential risks. The issue has been debated extensively at many secondary and tertiary level schools. Two consistent arguments arise. Those who agree with taking the dispute to the ICJ argue that the Anglo- Guatemalan Treaty of 1859 clearly defines Belize’s borders and based on international laws an International Court of Justice ruling demands that Guatemala honors the boundaries in the treaty. Those who argue against going to the ICJ raise concerns about Guatemala’s claim that the 1859 treaty was null and void since England did not comply with Clause 7 of the Treaty, which dealt with economic assistance and the construction of a road that would grant Guatemala access through the heart of Belize. They also point out that Guatemala has nothing to lose from an ICJ ruling and we are at the mercy of the court.

No matter how effective the education campaign is on the issue, there will always be two prevailing ideas. Scholars will look at the strength of the cases of both parties and that may lead them to vote yes. The common man will look at the potential risk for both parties. Guatemala has none; only Belize can lose. That will drive them to vote no. Individuals in charge of the education campaign need to figure out a way to take the emotions out of the discussion to allow the public to base their decisions on facts only. It may be a referendum in which the age for voting is widen because this single decision could immediately affect Belizeans of all ages.