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Jan 31, 2018

Belize, Guatemala United at O.A.S.

The thirty-three members of the Organization of American States’ Permanent Council – Cuba and Venezuela aside – met in session in Washington this morning to hear from the Belizean and Guatemalan foreign affairs ministers on the status of the Belize-Guatemala claim as it reaches flashpoint. The O.A.S. has established a Peace Fund to regulate activities along the Belize-Guatemala border, from refereeing disputes of which a hundred and forty-three were reported between 2011 and 2017 to promoting cultural activities. About nine hundred thousand dollars remains in the Peace Fund as of the end of 2017, enough to fund six more months of work. But the formal speeches from Wilfred Elrington and Sandra Jovel Polanco tended more toward looking forward to the momentous referenda on a permanent solution to the Guatemalan claim via the International Court of Justice. Aaron Humes has this report.


Aaron Humes, Reporting

Belize’s Wilfred Elrington says that apart from the ever-present claim, relations on the ground with Guatemala are improving. The role of the O.A.S.’s office in the so-called adjacency zone remains important in keeping it that way and that needs international support.


Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“We remain always mindful of the pitfalls that exist when one is dealing with referendum: very difficult to know what the outcome is, and therefore we can’t leave anything to chance. And so we are resolved to do all in our power to make sure that like our governments, the populace of both our countries see the importance, the absolute imperative of having this matter resolved at the International Court of Justice. I think it is an eminently doable job, and I think that that job would be much easier with the unstinting support of our allies and friends in the region. So I will close simply by urging you to help us in an unstinting manner to resolve this process and this claim peacefully, at the I.C.J., by giving us all your support to ensure that we get a successful outcome in both the referenda that will take [place.]  I think I would be in order to say, with the concurrence of my colleague, that we have found the Secretary General to be very, very accommodating and approachable; and we have also found him to be very, very empathetic to both our positions. I think they tend to go out of their way to ensure that the situation in Belize and Guatemala remains harmonious; that in fact, the necessary resources that are needed to keep the O.A.S. office in the Adjacency Zone open is found, and that we keep on track to settle this dispute in a peaceful and harmonious way. And I think they should be commended for the tremendous work they are doing. It is historic – I don’t think the O.A.S. has embarked on any more intractable dispute than this one, and I think that they have managed it with commendable success. And I want to thank the S.G. personally on behalf of the Prime Minister, Government and people of Belize for the tremendous work he and his staff have been doing and continue to do.”


As both countries look forward to the April fifteenth Guatemalan referendum and Belize prepares for one after a re-registration process, neither Elrington nor Guatemala’s Sandra Jovel Polanco addressed specific flashpoints such as the ongoing confrontations in the Sarstoon or depredations in the Chiquibul. Polanco reiterated that subject to settling the claim, Guatemala is prepared to live peaceably with Belize.


Sandra Jovel Polanco

Sandra Jovel Polanco, Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs [Translated]

“Both countries can hold their own referendum on different days. The Congress of Guatemala approved this change on October twenty-seventh, 2016. We are reaching toward a historic moment. We believe that we have never seen a clearer path toward resolving, in a definitive and peaceful manner, our age-old territorial, insular and maritime dispute with Belize. For President [Jimmy] Morales, the solution to this dispute is an expression of our desire to live in peace and harmony with our neighbors.”


Following a statement from Secretary General Jose Luis Almagro, other members of the Permanent Council expressed their support for both countries’ and the O.A.S.’s efforts at keeping the dispute peaceful. The meeting adjourned after ninety minutes. Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.


It is not clear whether the O.A.S. may name a replacement for Magdalena Talamas, the representative who was ousted on Guatemala’s insistence at the end of last year following the report exonerating the B.D.F. in the killing of a Guatemalan youth in the Chiquibul in April of 2016.

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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