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Apr 15, 2016

BNTU Converges on Benque to Launch Stand Up for Belize Campaign

Teachers converged today in Benque Viejo del Carmen, the community closest to the border with Guatemala in west. This is where the Belize National Teachers Union kicked off a campaign called “Stand Up for Belize“ to build awareness on the territorial dispute which has come to the forefront in light of Guatemala aggression in the Sarstoon in southern Belize. The B.N.T.U. campaign will be taken across the country to assist them in forming a collective position on whether they support taking the claim before the International Court of Justice.  Thereafter, the plan is to include the process into the school curriculum. Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington and Opposition Representative, Assad Shoman were presenters at the forum; they both had different approaches and there were testy moments on the very emotional issue. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Mount Carmel High School, the venue for a spirited forum on the Belize/Guatemala differendum, was alive with educators from across the country.  Primary school teachers, almost a thousand by rough estimate, were on hand for presentations by Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington and Ambassador Assad Shoman.  Both are knowledgeable on the age-old issue which is centered around a territorial claim and were more than willing to impart that wisdom with a captive audience.  Elrington, during the open discussion, addressed a difference in views among members of the UDP administration when it comes to the Belize/Guatemala dispute.


Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

Wilfred Elrington

“Members of my government speak differently about issues, for example in the Conorquie issue, there were members of the government, head of the police and others even ministers that were saying that they were certain that it was Guatemalans who killed Conorquie. My position was is that if you bring me the evidence then I will say that and if there is no evidence I can’t say that. Because I don’t have responsibility only for the Belizean people but if I go to the international community to ask for assistance for Belize I have to be credible. We can’t play the boy that play wolf, remember what happened to that boy who cried wolf. When the wolf really came and ate home nobody answered. We can’t cry wolf and we can’t be perceived as troublemakers and that is what Assad ended with today. We can’t be seen by the international community as troublemakers.”


Admittedly, Shoman and Elrington are of different opinions where it concerns their approach to dealing with the territorial dispute at a diplomatic level.  Elrington is in favor of maintaining an amicable and peaceful existence with Guatemala, a position he was criticized for by teachers at the gathering.


Wilfred Elrington

“There is tremendous harm that can come to us in the Guatemalans are our enemies. There officials can simply turn a blind eye and let the people come across. And there is millions of them, and lots of them has military training and military weapons. They are dying for land, they are dying for the resources. Have you heard of all the things that Assad say they are taking form us? Well if it not for the assistance that we have been getting from the Guatemalan defense force and the cooperation at the government level. The situation would have been very, very much worse. So to keep us safe we have got ot have a good relationship with them; the same kind of relationship which we have between us and Mexico.”


Ruby Reyes

Ruby Reyes, BNTU, Belize City Branch

“This forum today has really, really taught me a lot about this issue. In addition to that I would like to add that we are taking a stand simply by being here we are educating ourselves whether we should go to ICJ or not is a stand. And I agree 100% as well that the pen is mightier than the sword and having said that just a worst case scenario that we go to the I.C.J. and they rule against or they rule for us and Guatemalan we know and everybody says is a bully. Where will we get the military support from to defend our country in case that happens? I know that Mr. Elrington just mentioned that we have gotten support from Central America and all those other areas but is there an international campaign going on to educate the international community to support out cause because I am not aware of that. So I would like to know is there a committee that is out in the international community trying to gain support for the Belize cause.”


Assad Shoman, Opposition Representative

Assad Shoman

“Do we have right now a national team out there doing this work? No, we don’t, we have our Ambassador, we have a good man out in Washington, Mr. Andrews, we have a good person in Cuba but I personally feel that more is needed and I think that I agree with you more is needed. And I think that we should form a national team like we had before because things are getting as urgent as before. I understand that in the last two years we have been trying, we have been friendly and so forth. And we neva need that! Well now we need it because for the first time I don’t know about it and I think the PM has said the same, first time that Guatemala are saying in official notes that the entire Sarstoon belongs to them and we have to ask permission, never has that happened. So it is wahn new situation.”


The discourse included emotional, as well as well thought out views on the Belize/Guatemala issue.  One such observation came from Mario Rodriguez, a Belize City teacher.


Mario Rodriguez

Mario Rodriguez, BNTU, Belize City Branch

“Prior to coming here I have purged my mind to leading towards the ICJ or not in other words I came here to get information. I wanted to hear the mutual perspective and I think you merged both of them. So you left me with a little more questions. In your comments or in the final analysis since you gave your perspective, the opposition’s perspective and Guatemala’s perspective that we should go to the ICJ. I respect that, but you said sarcastically that lawyers don’t lie and we have some expert lawyers who will take us to the ICJ. We need to know more, so this one is for brother Luke, we want to get more people from the lawyers perspective and why they are so sure that we will win this thing and then we can get along.”


Assad Shoman

“I have for the last 8 years been saying to the foreign minister that anytime they need me, I am at their disposal, however they never use me in negotiations with Guatemala and just before this thing happen. When the leader of the opposition asked me to represent them, I went to the office of the Foreign Minister and I said please I am here to be used. Use me for any negotiations with Guatemala so when the leader of the opposition asked me to be there, I accepted because I feel like I have the knowledge and the means of the past. Because I have studied, I have studied this a lot. So I accepted that and I am glad I did.”


Among the most pertinent and relevant questions asked is the financial cost that the country would have to incur in seeking legal representation at the ICJ.  Minister Elrington’s response includes the fact that Belize and Guatemala will now have to find resources to fund the OAS office at the Adjacency Zone.


Wilfred Elrington

“The cost of them staying n Belize really the tax payers of Belize can’t generate the wealth. It is very, very expensive to maintain public service, teaching services, it is millions and millions of dollars to go to the ICCJ also we will pay quite a few dollars. But because the international community is so concerned that this matter is settled; we are relying and depending on the international community both to finance the education campaign that we are now doing, to finance the O.A.S. office as well as to finance going to the International Court of Justice. So that cost will not come out of Belize’s tax payers because we don’t have the money to pay. It is very expensive but it is an exceedingly important cost because the value of ending this is priceless. So that is what he is talking about when he makes reference to having a tam to go and in fact internationalize it and we are getting our partners to be aware of what is going on and to get their sympathy to support us financially and otherwise. That is something that we continue to work on and it is something that we will continue to work on until the matter is tamed. But it is not local people who are going to have to find monies, as it is now we are working to get the money for the O.A.S. we are not going to the taxpayers that is two point five million U.S.”


Isani Cayetano reporting for News Five.

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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1 Response for “BNTU Converges on Benque to Launch Stand Up for Belize Campaign”

  1. aldo says:

    so teachers take a free day as they please to go protest against Guatemala. everthing paid except the taxpayers pay n students suffer. this is not a school issue . they should do this on their free time as all other Belizeans have to do. and Guatemala ? the minister is 100% true. Belizeans are just blinded by fake national pride instilled by politicians who want to keep them as puppets . leave Guatemala alone. they are not stupid and will never invade belize.

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