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Apr 16, 2018

Guatemala Says YES to I.C.J. Resolution

Guatemala has spoken and its citizens have done so decisively, those who came out on Sunday to participate in the referendum.  Following a somewhat abbreviated education campaign which commenced in that country in mid-January, voters took to polling stations across twenty-two departments, including neighboring Peten.  When the results began coming in sometime after ten p.m., it was clear that a majority of voters said yes to taking the territorial dispute with Belize to the International Court of Justice for resolution.  Earlier today, the Government of Belize issued a statement congratulating Guatemala in carrying out its referendum in keeping with the Special Agreement of 2008.  For its part, Belize is also obligated to conducting its own referendum in accordance with the Compromis.  A News Five team has been on the ground in Guatemala City since Saturday and has been following these events closely.  We begin our newscast tonight with a detailed summary of the process, as well as its outcome, notwithstanding the underwhelming turnout.  Marleni Cuellar has that story.


Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

The Guatemalans have decided; they want to take their claim to the International Court of Justice. On Sunday, April fifteenth, at seven a.m. the polls opened in over two thousand voting centers across the country.  The education campaign for the referendum, initiated back in mid-January, and over the past few months Guatemala set out to convince its over seven point five million registered voters to participate in the referendum and affirm the decision to take the dispute to the I.C.J.
The “consulta popular” in Guatemala was spearhead by the Tribunal Supremo Electoral under the leadership of Maria Eugenia MIjanos Martinez:


Maria Eugenia Mijanos Martinez

Maria Eugenia Mijanos Martinez, President, TSE [Translated]

“What we do is invite the people to participate. But we cannot get involved in determining what they should vote. What we need to achieve is that participation and based on the information they have, each citizen should vote consciously, according to his or her own free will.”


The estimated budget for the exercise was three hundred million Quetzales, just over forty million U.S. dollars, to date there has been no final cost announced. It’s a substantial amount of money especially for a referendum that from the onset, there were concerns about low voter turnout.


Ana Elly Lopez Bonilla

Dr. Ana Elly Lopez Bonilla, TSE [Translated}

“We are optimistic and hopeful that people will come to vote. The turnout for the past consultations has been low due to lack of mobilization. Unlike in a general election where the political parties provide such mobilization. Therefore, people that can make it will do so, as well as those from some municipalities that were provided with transportation. The turnout percentage in the past has been eighteen and fifteen [percent] and we hope to increase it to fifty, but that may be too ambitious.”


Ultimately, voter turnout was just over twenty-six percent; that’s only two million voters out of the registered seven point five million. The polling stations we visited in Guatemala City had steady streams of voters throughout the day. Interestingly, most of the voters we interviewed spoke of voting as a civic duty, but delving deeper into their motives and desired outcomes revealed varying levels of knowledge.


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“So that all the problems that exist between Belize and Guatemala come to an end. Too many people have been killed.”


Guatemalan Voter  [Translated]

“After the vote, let the resolution be in favor of Guatemala at the international court because it is necessary to claim what was lost. We were robbed by England.”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“I’m here to do my civic duty. For me the results will be the same because it will take time to solve it.”


Marleni Cuellar

“Will anything change?”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“I don’t think so. Everything will remain the same.”


Guatemalan Voter  [Translated]

“We need to ensure a good future for our children so that they don’t grow up with these conflicts that are occurring. We pray to God that everything turns out well and in a peaceful manner most of all.”


Guatemalan Voter  [Translated]

“As citizens, we need to carry out our right to vote. We came as a family and I want my daughter to learn that it’s a civic right. And as citizens we need to respect this process. This has been a very sensitive issue for many years and this is the moment to take action and put an end to it.”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“There is more information now than before. People know the importance of this. But we as parents need to teach our children what we are doing and why we came to vote at this referendum.”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“I’m not aware of the issue. Yes it’s important, but I really don’t know anything about the issue.”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“To have a clear limit on the territories and perhaps getting some access to the Caribbean ocean and some islands or something like that.”


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“Let’s see if this problem with Belize is solved so that once again it becomes ours. And may the court decide in that manner. There are many things we don’t know about Belize. We know Little of its history and really we don’t know much.


Guatemalan Voter [Translated]

“I hope that the final result will be that Belize continue be part of Guatemala.”


Guatemala City’s voter turnout was higher than the national results at thirty-six percent and a ninety-seven percent YES vote. While closer to home in the Department of Peten, the turnout was slightly lower than the national average at twenty-four with a ninety-six percent voting YES.  Private Sector representative, Carlos Bran, was an official observer in Melchor de Mencos.


Carlos Bran

Carlos Bran, Official Observer

“I hear from people in the street, they said that they face many barriers to come to Belize, stronger restrictions and that affects the fluidity of the movements. They say that Belizeans come to Melchor also to do business, but they have easier entry into here and less barriers to face.”


In the end, despite the individual motives for the two million that voted or the deliberate inaction of the five million who chose not to, Guatemala laws allow for a simple majority no matter how many people vote. So what does this mean for Guatemala?


Carlos Raul Morales

Carlos Raul Morales, Ex Minister of Foreign Affairs for Guatemala

“What Guatemala is saying today is a clear yes to the peace. It is a message to the people of Belize. It is true; we want to live in peace. There is a difference between both countries because we have two different cultures; it is important to understand. But it’s not true that we want to get back Belize to Guatemala. Belize is an independent country; we are going to be neighbors but there are some claims that we need to define in the International Court of Justice.”


Meanwhile at home, it is expected that the education campaign will intensify following Guatemala’s vote. According to Ambassador Alexis Rosado, the education campaign is most critical at this time.


Alexis Rosado

Alexis Rosado, Ambassador for Belize in Guatemala

“Many people misunderstand the whole subject and that is why we need a public awareness campaign that is effective in Belize; that is intensive in the sense that we need to make sure that all the Belizeans get the information that is necessary to be able to understand that issue. Now we won’t be responding to the different positions of individuals. We know what the Guatemalan official position is and that is what we will respond to. We, in Belize, have our clear position as a state and we will forcefully and vigorously defend and promote that position in any forum or fora that is available for us.”


Reporting from Guatemala City for News Five, 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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