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Feb 10, 2000

P.M. says no to arbitration

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When he traveled to Guatemala last month for the inauguration of President Alfonso Portillo, Prime Minister Said Musa took an honoured and equal place at the table with visiting heads of state from all over Central America. But only a few weeks later the shooting of a Guatemalan civilian by a BDF patrol and the subsequent political repercussions have resurrected some Guatemalan attitudes that were long believed to be dead and buried. In the following interview Prime Minister Musa goes on record on the subject of what went wrong and how we might make it right.

Said Musa

“Well, we had this incident at the border and unfortunately a Guatemalan was shot; an incident which involved a group of Guatemalans coming on the Belize side. There was a BDF patrol and shots were fired at the BDF and they returned fire and unfortunately, fatally, the man was killed. I believe this set off a kind of frenzy in the Guatemalan press and the Government reacted and I think they reacted very outrageously, using Vice Minister Salazar, who I believe really stepped out line, going back, as you say to the old position, Guatemala was claiming Belize, the old “Belice es Nuestro” thing.

The history shows that the reports that we’ve been getting from the press from Guatemala, certainly the “Pensa Libre” in particular, have been very sensationalist, making all kinds of wild accusations. And I think that the Government just reacts to these wild press statements, without checking them out. We have always said to Guatemala let us revert back to the position that we had many years ago, certainly under the People’s United Party Government, between ’89 and ’93, where the military would cooperate on matters along the border and we had constant dialog military to military, and in those days, things very worked well. Unfortunately that broke down under the last UDP administration, there was a virtual cessation of that kind of military cooperation, and it has continued up to this time. That’s part of the problem: a lack of communication between the two militaries. And at the political level, well we have to rely on information coming from our military intelligence. But we have no doubt whatsoever, that this incident took place clearly way within Belizean territory. I mean, not a question of a few yards or a few feet, but more than a thousand feet in fact inside of Belize.

There is nothing to arbitrate about. Why should Belize arbitrate over its own territory? It’s not a case of two countries claiming a disputed piece of land. It’s a case of Guatemala asserting an unfounded claim over our land. We have nothing to arbitrate about and nothing to seek a court solution about. My second point is this: we’ve always felt that we’re neighbors and yes there has to be political dialog. We need to get this unfounded claim behind us and the only way to solve it is through dialog. Why should we put our faith as the Belizean people in the hands of a court? We don’t have any say who are those judges; many of these judges are politically appointed by their governments. It will be far too risky for Belize to engage in a binding solution of that nature when we know that justice is clearly on our side. There is no legal dispute as far as we are concerned; it’s a political problem.

Where do we go from here? We believe that through serious dialog, we can move to a situation where we can address Guatemala’s concerns. They should not see Belize, in any way as an obstacle to their development. Rather we should be able to enhance the development of the Peten as well as that of our own country.

I would say to the people of Guatemala and in particular to the people of the Peten, our immediate neighbour, that what they seek is what our people seek. Those people seek to work their way out of poverty and hardships. Our people seek the same thing. We need to work together, we need not waste time and resources about…a confrontational approach to a problem that we inherited through our colonial rivalries of the past. Belize was never at any time in our history occupied by Spain. Belize was never at any time occupied by Guatemala. We seek to exercise our inherent right as a people, to self-determination. This has been recognized now by the world community, by the international community and indeed by the Guatemalan Government. So let us move on, lets move on towards development now, peace and development. This is what it’s all about.”

It should be noted that the two Guatemalan Deputy Foreign Ministers, Rafael Salazar and Antonio Castellanos, have each served as their country’s Ambassador to Belize. While no one in our government is so naive as to think that this makes them any friendlier to our position, it does mean that our leaders at least have some access near the top, based on a history of warm personal relationships.

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