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Apr 7, 2017

Public Education Campaign Ramps Up; Guatemala Steps Back

Guatemala and the resolution of the unfounded claim to Belizean territory, as well as ascendant issues, have been at the top of the agenda of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. While Guatemala has agreed to having a referendum on taking the claim to the International Court of Justice, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has indicated that we will not be ready until sometime in 2018, after a re-registration exercise takes place.  There also remain issues such as the protocol for managing relations along the southern boundary, the Sarstoon River.  Minister Wilfred Elrington gave the latest updates to News Five’s Aaron Humes, who files the following report.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Belize may be a long way away from a referendum on the International Court of Justice being the final forum for a settlement of the outstanding claim to its territory. But the Government knows that it has no time to lose and enemies on its tail. Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington announced a major escalation of the Government’s plans to educate the people of Belize in the coming months, from ABC to U.B., about why Belize must stay Belize.

 

Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“The day before yesterday the Unit went – I went along with the Unit and we addressed the sixth form students, junior college students at Sacred Heart College and the teachers there. At that point in time and at that meeting, the head of the Unit, Ambassador [Stuart] Leslie, informed them that we had already formulated a curriculum prepared by Mayor [Francis] Humphreys in Dangriga, who is a renowned historian, Belizean historian; curriculum for the teaching of the issue in the secondary schools, and it may be expanded with respect to that. We have been working very assiduously on the organizing of debates at every level of society: with secondary schools, sixth form, universities and we are going to be assisted in that regard by the Social Security Board, which has experience in promoting these issues. We have arrived at a decision that we want to do an infomercial – comprehensive infomercial, nicely put together so that we can put it on the media; we are also exploring the possibility of having these mobile-type cinema units, where we can go into every village and in fact show them visually what the situation is. We are also thinking in terms of interpreting or translating the information which we have into Garifuna, Maya, Spanish, and disseminating it. So there is a lot of things being worked on as we speak.”

 

The Government, says Elrington, will not be fazed by the recent document that talks about contracting plans to produce maps of Guatemala with Belize included.

 

Wilfred Elrington

“It is not anything which they are advising that we take a position on at this time; it doesn’t seem to be anything official that is prejudicial to us, but we are going to keep an eye on it. Not everything that the Guatemalans do in relation to Belize or say in relation to Belize we get all fired about; but we ensure that we get all the details on it and that’s what we are doing, and if there is any need to take any action, send a protest note or anything like that, we will do that if we think that is the prudent course.”

 

“Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land, and insular territories and any to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?” That is the question that we will all be asked to answer at a time of the Government’s choosing. But the nominal inclusion of all eight thousand, eight hundred and sixty-seven square miles of Belizean land and adjoining sea is no guarantee that Guatemala gets ‘a blade of grass’ if both countries go to the I.C.J., the Foreign Minister assured.

 

Wilfred Elrington

“The question that was formulated was jointly formulated with the Guatemalans; in other words the Belizean ambassador got together and the Guatemalan ambassador got together and the question was formulated in that way. They signed off on it; we signed off on it after it had been signed off by their lawyers and our lawyers, so that is the official claim; nothing else is official except that.”

 

Reporter

“And that cannot be changed at all unless both come together and…”

 

Wilfred Elrington

“It could always be changed; anything that is agreed upon can be changed; but it will have to be agreed upon by all of us – it can’t be unilateral, we have to agree to it together. The only reason it was formulated that way, was to ensure that the Guatemalans can’t come back later and say ‘Boy, we never discussed this part of it and this was not adjudicated on so let’s go back to court’ – we don’t want that; we want to go one time and end the matter there.”

 

Reporter

“So for someone who does not know, clarify for us: once it goes to the Court, based on that question what can Belize stand to lose? Some would say everything with all of Belize in the question.”

 

Wilfred Elrington

“No, no, because they, the Guatemalans have to prove that they own Belize. But you will know as well as I do that we have always been here; they signed an agreement saying that this is ours – 1859; 1931; we have always had domination and control over this territory, so that the likelihood of losing it is not really a realistic possibility.”

 

Finally, the Guatemalans continue to drag their feet on establishing the Sarstoon Protocol.

 

Wilfred Elrington

“We had raised it a week or two before when we had a meeting of the anniversary of the signing of the Tlatelolco agreement in Mexico, so there was no need to raise it again.”

 

Reporter

“And what was the outcome of that discussion?”

 

Wilfred Elrington

“You appreciate that because of the difficult situation we had over the killing of the kid, we could not move as fast as we wanted to move on it, but it’s something that we know has to be dealt with in some time, because if there is one thing we know, it is that there’s going to be incidents if not accidents, and it is only common sense that we have a protocol to deal with those difficult times, so that is what we are basically trying to arrive at. We have had some reversals but we can’t give up on the idea; but they have their own constraints.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

 

In one last piece of news concerning Guatemala, the Foreign Minister told us that he has not had any official word on whether Manuel Estuardo Roldan, the recalled Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize, will formally make his return.

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