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Sep 30, 2002

O.A.S. celebrates proposals; Orellana still coy

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The proposals to end the Guatemalan claim to Belize are yet to be approved by the voters of both countries, but today in Washington that considerable hurdle was–for the moment at least–sidestepped, as diplomats toasted the unique success of the facilitation process. News 5′s Janelle Chanona was on hand in the U.S. capital and this afternoon filed the following report by phone.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting from Washington, D.C.

This morning Foreign Ministers from both Belize and Guatemala joined their counterparts from the Americas at the Organisation of American States Hall of the Americas in Washington, D.C. for a special presentation of the proposals package to end the territorial differendum between Belize and Guatemala. Among the speakers was Secretary General of the OAS, Cesar Gaviria. Gaviria said the constructive attitudes of both countries have cleared the way for a successful conclusion, which would benefit the peoples of both countries. That thought was maintained by the other government officials, including those from Mexico, the United Kingdom, Canada, Spain and representatives from CARICOM and the Central American Integration System, SICA.

The languages may have differed, but the common comment from the international community was that–to paraphrase the words of U.S. Secretary of State, Colin Powell–the resolution of this disagreement would be another sign that the hemisphere has come of age, moving decidedly towards peace, prosperity, freedom, social and economic development.

When Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Assad Shoman addressed the assembly, he too spoke of breaking barriers and Central American solidarity. Shoman said: “Without Honduras’ participation a settlement of the Guatemalan territorial claim to Belize would not have been possible. Thank you Honduras, your efforts to foster peace in our region exemplify what it means to be a good neighbour. To my friend the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Gabriel: we began this journey together. Together we conceive the idea, steer the vessel through difficult, sometimes raging waters. Our governments must ensure that the cargo reaches shore and the precious goods are delivered to our people.”

And while the Guatemalan Foreign Minister’s speech could not be classified as negative, one got the impression it carried with it a certain level of tension. Orellana spoke of the value and strength of peace since his government has learnt all too painfully the cost of war. And about finding ties of co-operation and promoting respectful, cordial relations with Belize. Then the Foreign Minister remembered the dead, calling out the names of the Guatemalan citizens who died during this process. The result he said, of poverty and human incomprehension. He closed by saying that the path travelled was difficult and the way ahead is also difficult.

As reports out of Guatemala have indicated, the proposals package has been received far less positively than in Belize. That issue was just one addressed by Orellana in an interview after the meeting.

Gabriel Orellana, Guatemalan Foreign Minister

“I would say that of course in a democracy press play as very important aspect. So one of the huge tasks we have is to try to convince them of the different aspects of both possibilities raised by the recommendations.”

Janelle Chanona

“Now when the proposals package was presented in Guatemala it was done by your Vice Foreign Minister and our impression again was that perhaps it wasn’t in the best positive light. Does this proposals package have the endorsement of the government, as Belize has indicated their government has said we endorse the package fully, we will launch a public campaign to educate the Belizeans about this. Will the Guatemalan Government be doing that same sort of campaign?”

Gabriel Orellana

“That is something which still needs to be studied by my President. We are just committed to submit a report on the package of recommendations and it would be the President, after consulting with different sectors of our civil society, which will decide whether or not to endorse, or simply to give the people a vote for what they might decide. But this is too premature, I want to stress that that portion of my answer, because again, our government needs to do some consultations. Currently it is receiving input even from those criticizing. We have received [criticisms], both for government’s attitude, as well as to the facilitators’ proposals. So everything will be taken into account, and later on the government will decide what position it will support.”

In response to Orellana’s speech, the Belizean delegation took it in stride; it was not taken negatively at all. In speaking with Foreign Minister Assad Shoman about Orellana’s specific reference to those who died in the adjacency zone during this process, he said: “They had dead to remember, thank God we don’t.”

As we mentioned before, today there was strong support from the international community. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powel was a guest speaker, as was Denis McShane, Undersecretary of State for the United Kingdom. This is important for two reasons, it gives both Belize and Guatemala the confirmation that the world is watching and they want this thing to work. That is likely to translate into two things; firstly them putting their money where their mouths are for both the development fund and the general fund of the OAS. There can be no specific mention of numbers at this point, but we have been made to understand that money has been pledged by several governments in substantial amounts. And secondly, that if this process ends in a settlement, it can be adopted to resolve other territorial differendums, something both governments see as key.

Reporting for News 5 from the Hall of the Americas in Washington, D.C., I am Janelle Chanona.

In a communiqué issued this afternoon, the facilitators recommended that the two parties extend the confidence building measures that have been in effect along the border since March, 2000. To that end, Guatemala and Belize agreed to hold a technical level meeting to be followed by a ministerial meeting, both scheduled for October. Those gatherings will review and, if necessary, update those measures. It was also suggested by the O.A.S. that a “group of friends” be created to interface with the international community to solicit support for the proposals. Accompanying Foreign Minister Shoman at today’s ceremony were Ambassadors Fred Martinez and Lisa Shoman.

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