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Apr 11, 2018

Views from the Ground on Upcoming Guatemala Referendum: Some Voters Confused, Others in Opposition

Seven point five million Guatemalans are eligible to vote in this Sunday’s historic referendum to be held in Guatemala. On the last leg of the campaign, President Jimmy Morales has been on the ground and on the airwaves campaigning for a yes vote to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice.  Last week, he said Guatemala is claiming more than fifty percent of Belize’s territory. Belize has not yet set a specific date to hold a referendum, but it is expected that an informative campaign will accelerate following the poll in Guatemala. The communities along the western Belize are monitoring, with interest, what is taking place. Today, we get the perspective of Guatemalan nationals who come to Belize everyday either for work or to bring their children to school.  Similarly, News Five Duane Moody speaks to villagers of Arenal, which is shared by both Belize and Guatemala, and gets their views on what the referendum means to them. Here is his report:


Taking the Guatemalan territorial claim of Belize to the International Court of Justice continues to be met with mixed views on either side of the border. While political leaders from both countries have been pushing for a final resolution at the Hague, many question the viability of that route. But whether that process will be taken will be determined by referenda held in Belize and Guatemala; the latter is set for Sunday, April 15th. Guatemala is investing forty million U.S. dollars to carry out its referendum and in a recent visit to Peten, President Jimmy Morales encouraged residents from border communities to exercise their right to vote.


Jimmy Morales

Jimmy Morales, Guatemalan President [Translated] [File: April 9th, 2018]

“I will be clear: we do not have any problems with Belize. We have excellent relations with our neighbor, Belize. You have heard the Foreign Minister say that currently we have thirteen treaties. We have excellent relations. We are not fighting with Belize. What we have is a claim for a territorial differendum. There are no borders between Belize and Guatemala, like the way we have with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. What we have is an adjacency zone without any definite limits. We need to consult [on] all of this at the International Court of Justice. And on April fifteenth, we need Guatemala to take that step forward.”


But Guatemalans say they are confused since a recently published article in Prensa Libre and a map circulating on social media indicate that their government is claiming more than half of Belize. This contradicts the concept of seeking a defined border line between both independent countries.


Carlos Enrique Manzanero Lanza

Carlos Enrique Manzanero Lanza, Guatemalan Taxi Operator [Translated]

“We have to decide for the future of both countries to define the territorial border of Belize and Guatemala.”


Duane Moody

“But your president is saying that Guatemala wants more than half of Belize.”


Carlos Enrique Manzanero Lanza [Translated]

“Belize is Belize and it is independent.”


Duane Moody

“And for that reason you will vote yes to take the…”


Carlos Enrique Manzanero Lanza [Translated]

“I cannot say because I haven’t taken a decision as yet. I am confused.”


At the western border, commerce and trade between both countries is clearly visible. Aside from the bus loads of Guatemalan students and laborers entering Belize as well as the traffic to and from the commercial free zone, there are many, including vendors, and tour guides who say that their bread and butter is at risk. Interestingly, their minds are made up – they will not vote in the referendum in an attempt to keep the status quo intact.


Roberto Garrido

Roberto Garrido, Guatemalan Tour Operator

“I’m a tour guide here in Guatemala; that’s what I do. I get tours to Tikal.  I have a belief that I am not going to vote because that’s gonna help me; that’s only gonna help…nothing to do. That’s not gonna help us here.  It doesn’t benefit me for sure because as far as I know it is not only to define the imaginary line, I guess Guatemala wants a piece of water and that’s only going to benefit the big guys in Guatemala. So that isn’t going to be benefit me here in Melchor because I am from Melchor.”


Carlos Enrique Manzanero Lanza [Translated]

“The relationship between both countries is really good that Belize and Guatemala works hand in hand to grow both countries with Melchor De Mencos as a sister country to Belize and Belize to Melchor.”


Duane Moody

“The village of Arenal has the unique property: half of the village is in Belizean territory and the other half is in Guatemala. There are approximately one thousand Guatemantecos living on this side of the border. While they have been consulted on the referendum set for Sunday, they are not sure that they want to take this territorial claim to the I.C.J.”


The village is cut off from the rest of Guatemala by the Mopan River causing the residents to live very humble lives. Access to basic commodities and work from their country is almost non-existent. In fact  they remain undocumented when they unknowingly cross into Belizean territory. Feeling abandoned, Village Committee rep, Atilio Lopez says most residents will not partake in the referendum.


Atilio Lopez, Committee Rep, Arenal Village Guatemala [Translated]

“They are only saying that they are going to go but they are not going to vote.”


Duane Moody

“They are not going to vote. But why?”


Atilio Lopez [Translated]

“Because it is not convenient for them.”


Duane Moody

“Can you explain that?”


Atilio Lopez [Translated]

“It is not convenient for them because right now we benefit from Belize and this affair can only cause problems with the community.”


Essentially, going to the I.C.J. is different for everybody. In the case of Mario Rene Galdamez of Flores, Peten; he recently purchased a house in Belize, his daughter is Belizean and they enjoy the benefits of both countries.


Mario Rene Galdamez

Mario Rene Galdamez, Resident, Flores Peten [Translated]

“I am not in agreement and I will tell you why.” Guatemala at this time does not have the capacity to govern itself; much less will it have the capacity to govern an additional piece of territory. For that reason, no I am not in agreement. I like Belize. My daughter is Belizean and I like the government. Guatemala needs to focus more on the country and leave Belizean territory alone.”


Duane Moody for News Five.


In related news, the Constitutional Court of Guatemala has ruled against constitutional claims challenging the ratification by the Guatemalan Congress of the December 2008 Special Agreement and its amendment in 2015.   The basis for the claims was that the Compromis violates their constitution in that it was not submitted by Congress to a referendum.  With the court’s ruling, that obstacle is out of the way and the referendum proceeds on Sunday.

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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2 Responses for “Views from the Ground on Upcoming Guatemala Referendum: Some Voters Confused, Others in Opposition”

  1. spike says:

    I think Belize should claim Guatemala!

  2. Tony says:

    Just Make It Simple, No Guatemala You Can’t Have Any Part Of Belize!


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