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May 10, 2002

UDP Leader: “Don’t play politics” with Guat claim

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He broke the pattern of traditional opposition politics when in January of 2001 he joined with Prime Minister Said Musa to endorse a new approach to solving the Guatemalan claim to Belize. While at the time UDP leader Dean Barrow endorsed only the process and not any particular outcome, now that concrete proposals are about to be unveiled in Washington, Barrow–and his party–will be called upon to take a position. This morning the opposition leader spoke to News 5′s Stewart Krohn.

Dean Barrow, Leader of the Opposition

“What I’ve said to the party is, listen, all I ask is that we try to look at this thing objectively from a nationalistic Belize first point of view. For God’s sake, do not let us not even attempt to play politics with this. This is the best chance we’ve ever had to settle the claim. Because it is such a fundamental an emotional and such a visceral issue, I as Leader will put pressure on no one to vote in any particular way. All I am asking is that you give it this honest consideration and you make as a practical an assessment as you possibly can. On that basis, the party will vote by a majority vote, which way it wants to go officially, whether to support or whether to object the proposals.”

“If the party’s position turns out to be different from my own personal thinking, I’m certainly not going to out there and campaign against that position. I’m not going to go out there and try to sell a position in favour of the proposals if in fact the party takes a different view. No, no. I will if I am asked or whenever I am asked, and I’m sure I will be asked, say that is the party’s position, I absolutely respect that, I am bound to respect that. In terms of when the referendum day comes, I will go in there and vote my particular conscience.”

“There will be those, in fact, I think there are already those because of things I’ve said publicly, who are in a rush to say that Barrow is being too conciliatory, Barrow is a sellout. But I genuinely feel that this issue is so big that I can’t afford to allow narrow political considerations to stand in the way of my conscience, this really is the best possible opportunity we’ve had to sell this thing. If it is sold, although now you hear the negotiating efforts were joint, it is the government that will get any political benefits that results therefrom, but I can’t stop to consider that. What I think of is what are the options if it doesn’t work this time, we go back to square one with a situation on the ground that will become increasingly problematic. We will have lost the good will of the international community because it will be made to appear that now we are no longer the victims, we are the ones that are intransigent, especially if the Guatemalans vote yes and we vote no.

And so in terms of the mechanisms that are in place now to referee the problems on the ground when the flash points occur, those mechanisms will be withdrawn and we will be left very much on our own, dealing with a neighbour who is far more superior in terms of military might. I’m not saying that ought to cause us to do anything like cut and run. But if you’re going to be realistic, you have to appreciate the truth of that position and all that it entails. And so in my own view, all these things ought to weigh in the balance when you make the decision as to whether it might not be the best thing to get this whole problem behind us now, even if it means making some concessions. I’m not talking about giving away our land, I’m not talking about giving away our sea. But if there are concessions having to do with for example, exclusive economic zone and that sort of thing, I will suggest that there really is a need to look at those things in a realistic light.”

Stewart Krohn

“Rumours coming out of Guatemala City suggest that in kind of a last minute move, that Government started talking about a land swap, where they get a little piece of Belize and compensate Belize with a little piece in a different geographic area. You’ve heard anything about that?”

Dean Barrow

“Yeah I have. I don’t know whether it’s true, but just as you say, there have been reports in Guatemala and in our local press. I don’t know whether this is true. And if it is, it’s something that would have to be looked at very, very carefully. It seems to me that if you end up in a situation where you still maintain the exact acreage in terms of territory that you always possessed, an argument can be made that you are not actually giving away anything. On the other hand, because it is a swap, people will look at what is being swapped and what’s being had in return. So there are all sort of permutations where that is concerned, clearly it would be better if that sort of thing were not to occur at all, but if that’s the only basis on which a solution can be had, I say that it is worth looking at. The bottom line is the fail safe of the referendum.”

It is believed that within several months of their presentation, the facilitators’ proposals will be put to a referendum simultaneously in each country.

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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