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May 26, 2015

Special Agreement Amended – Guatemala Goes Solo for Referendum

There is a lot of crime news, but tonight we start our newscast with a historic event that occurred in Guatemala City on Monday. A Belizean delegation led by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, was there to join the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales, in signing an amendment to the original special agreement of December 2008. The decision to amend the agreement was only disclosed a few weeks ago.  And despite concerns in various sectors, including the opposition, about a lack of national consultations, the signing ceremony of the protocol to amend the agreement was penned by the foreign ministers and witnessed by the Organization of American States. The amendment fundamentally changes the goal post because it is felt that were Guatemala to hold the poll first, as they say they intend to do, the results could influence the process in Belize. A News Five team was there to capture the moment and we have exclusive interviews from Guatemala City.

 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The arrival of the three signatories at the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry office commenced the signing ceremony on Monday. Once seated the three parties: Belize’s Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales and the Secretary General of the O.A.S. Jose Miguel Insulza, in his last official appearance as head of the hemispheric body, proceeded to sign the protocol to the special agreement between Belize and Guatemala to submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the International Court of Justice. The protocol makes official the amendment to the historic 2008 special agreement; specifically article 7.2 which will now state: “the referendum will be held simultaneously or separately on the dates most convenient to the parties.”

For Belizeans, the lingering questions since the disclosure of the amendment have been why the change is necessary and why at this time? Minister Elrington explained, that the original 2008 agreement did not take into consideration that holding simultaneous referenda would prove to be so problematic.

 

Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Belize

“The protocol to amend the special agreement we have signed today seeks to cure that oversight. The amendment provides the option for any of our governments to proceed to hold its referendum separately on a date and at a time that each government, in its own deliberate judgment deems most convenient for so doing. It is worthy of note that the amended protocol does not extinguish the possibility of holding the referendum simultaneously. The original option remains intact. The protocol does no more than add an element of flexibility with respect to the time for the holding of each national referendum. The special agreement remains the same in all other respects. It is of significance to note that the special agreement as amended treaties not only with the protocol of going to the ice but it also sites out clear procedure  to be followed relating to the implementation of the decision of the court.”

 

Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales spoke of his country’s commitment to resolving the age old dispute and that the possibility of separate referenda may expedite the process.

 

Carlos Raul Morales

Carlos Raul Morales, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Guatemala

“The dispute that exists between Belize and Guatemala is a matter of deep concern for us. It is for this reason we have been holding discussions for some time. I don’t know how long because it’s been many months maybe one year about the possibility that we would sign this protocol today. We cannot wait any longer. We have already wasted too much important time in history. It is an important time in history and we have to put an end to it and we are going to do that in the international court of justice.  This is a commitment that we have made and that we have made with our Belizean brethren. Therefore, the very intelligent decision of signing this protocol that makes it possible to hold the consultations simultaneously or not I think is the best decision we have made and ask of now we will try to consider the fact that we have more freedom to hold the referenda which will allow us to be at the international court of justice as soon as possible.”

 

Also presents at the signing ceremony was former Foreign Minister of Guatemala Haroldo Rodas.  Rodas signed the original special agreement on behalf of Guatemala at the O.A.S. headquarters in Washington DC in 2008.

 

Haroldo Rodas

Haroldo Rodas, Former Foreign Minister of Guatemala

“I think that the process behind this agreement between Guatemala and Belize is something that we always have to look at positively. What we are signing here today will facilitate so that the consultations between the countries will be the best possible as to achieve the best possible results. In that sense, I think it is going to facilitate the process independently. That’s only my opinion.  This still has to pass through the Congress here in Guatemala and I hope that the response will be positive.”

 

Canada is a member of the international Group of Friends of Belize and Guatemala. High Commissioner to Belize and ambassador to Guatemala, Stuart Savage says his country is still very much committed to the process.

 

Stuart Savage

Stuart Savage, Canadian High Commissioner to Belize

“I’d like to congratulate Belize and Guatemala for their flexibility, creativity and their continued commitment to trying to find a peaceful and democratic solution to this longstanding conflict over territory between them. As a friend of Belize and Guatemala were delighted that another step has been taken to show that creativity and find a way to protect and address the interest of both sides so that a peaceful and long term solution can be found through the international court of justice. Canada has been a friend to the process and will be there till the end. We’ve helped keep the office of the O.A.S. in the adjacent zone alive for the time it’s been there and we’ll be open to keep in our support in going as long as the needs arise.”

 

Although signed by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, the protocol must still be submitted to the Guatemalan congress for approval. Reporting from Guatemala City for News Five live, I am Marleni Cuellar.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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