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Sep 19, 2013

Belize/Guatemala Forum; is the ICJ the only option to settling the claim?

The referendum on whether or not to take the territorial claim to the International Court of Justice is not going to be held in October or likely at any other time in the near future. But going to the ICJ remains an emotional issue for many Belizeans. At the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, a forum was held on Wednesday night on the very issue that presents the biggest threat to sovereignty and security of Belize. Among the presenters were persons who have been involved in negotiations over the years and others whose area of expertise is affected by the claim to Belize’s territory. In the end, the forum boiled down to the views of a former and a sitting Foreign Minister. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The unfounded Guatemalan claim over Belize’s sovereign territory is a bold declaration that has loomed over the nation-state for centuries.  When negotiations failed, both countries took a mutual decision in 2008 to present the matter before the International Court of Justice by signing a special agreement known as a compromis.  Since then the date for a joint referenda was set for October of this year.  That will not happen, however, because Guatemala has taken an issue with Belize’s existing Referendum Act.  Nonetheless, negotiators here at home, including former senator and foreign affairs minister Assad Shoman and current Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington are weighing in on the subject.


Assad Shoman

Assad Shoman, Former Senator & Minister of Foreign Affairs

“We need to act quickly in order to push Guatemala to the ICJ which is the only way in which we can resolve this issue.  But to do that we have to have unity within Belize.  There have to be enough Belizeans who are willing, who know, first of all, that leaving the matter without a resolution is hurting us, who know that we can’t negotiate our way out of it and therefore that we have to go to court and who are willing to stand up and fight and go to that court as we did in the seventies and won independence in 1981.”


Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“Going to the ICJ…for me it’s the only way out.  I agree with Assad on that but that’s not a new position.  That is the position that the British maintained from the time the Guatemalans raised this issue.  They said if you have a problem go to the ICJ, the predecessor of the ICJ.  We are not going to argue with you on it.  It was our domestic government who decided to try to negotiate with the Guatemalans but the British knew from the 1950s, 30s,40s that it was futile because the Guatemalans would not resile from the position that they wanted land and the British were not prepared to give them an iota of Belizean land.  And that is the position that we took, certainly those of us in the opposition in my party all along.”


While the matter of taking the claim to the primary judicial branch of the United Nations for adjudication is one thing, constant incursions by Guatemalan poachers into the Chiquibul Forest is another.  According to Shoman, the penalties for such offenses are too relaxed.  Elrington, on the other hand, believes that enacting stiffer measures requires financial wherewithal.


Assad Shoman

“What we have to do is show that they must, they will pay dearly for that, for doing that.  It is really demoralizing for a B.D.F. soldier for example to walk, I don’t know how long, six days sometimes, through the bush to bring in people who have broken the law and they are taken to court and they are given an order to leave, which means that we have to pay to take them to the border and let them cross, or they are given a fine, a small fine.  It shows that we are not interested, it’s demoralizing, it sucks.  We have to stop that. But whatever it takes we need to do it and we need to have stronger penalties and we need to have mandatory prison sentences for certain things.  We have to show them that it will cost them dearly man to continue doing this.  Right now it doesn’t cost them nothing.  So I think we need to do that.”


Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington

Wilfred Elrington

“The suggestion that we should have harsh penalties for the Guatemalans… Well, I will put it to you.  We could fine them or we could send them to jail but I am advised that on any good day you have at least a thousand of them in the Chiquibul, two thousand, three thousand.  What do you do with the two thousand or three thousand?  You jail them?  Where are you going to put them?  You fine them? How are you going to force them to pay?  And if they don’t pay what do you do?  How are you going to find the money to feed them, to jail them, to keep them under control?  I am not saying that we’re not supposed to do it, I am saying that we must think where we are going to get the resources from to, in fact, deal with them in that light.”


The irony, says Shoman, is that more soldiers have been deployed into the streets of Belize City than they have been on border patrol and tour of the national park.  According to the erstwhile statesman, there has also been little interest to acquire the necessary resources to properly man our borders.


Assad Shoman

“There is need for more B.D.F. men and women on the ground.  We can’t get away from that.  They don’t have enough people.  We have two hundred B.D.F. in Belize City doing a job that they weren’t trained to do and they were never intended for.  We have to get them out of the city and into the bush.  A simple thing like it taking the B.D.F. so long to get into these places and to get out and to maneuver in there.  The Belize Defense Force doesn’t have not even one helicopter.  I know one individual here who has two helicopters.  One man could have two helicopters and one country can’t have one.  What’s going on, you know what I am saying.  We’re not serious man.  The B.D.F. commander has told me that he is able to and willing to support such a scheme, to help manage it.  And, further, that in his view, it will help to reduce crime in Belize City, for example, and everywhere else and instill in our youth a sense of discipline, responsibility and nationalism.  All things that we desperately need to instill in our people.  So let’s have a national service corps as soon as possible.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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4 Responses for “Belize/Guatemala Forum; is the ICJ the only option to settling the claim?”

  1. dats just gud says:

    den just shoot them; what you think the Guatemala’s military would do to us if its was us [Belizeans] raping their resources…..but u see we to nice & soft………every body tek advantage of we; we even tek advantage ah we self…………

  2. bzking says:

    2000-3000 illegals in chiquibul per day? WOW!!! It is time for the military to move off the streets and for the downtown area to stop looking like a war zone. BTW This was definitely a slap in the face: “The Belize Defense Force doesn’t have not even one helicopter. I know one individual here who has two helicopters. One man could have two helicopters and one country can’t have one. “

  3. antonio says:

    u guys talk without thinking out of the box. shoot them u think bdf soldier are match to Guatemalan soldier no they don’t have a chance. world wide Guatemala army is one of the best in jungle war fare. before sending bdf to the jungle to get kill. our prime minister and guatemala president they should sit an come out with a planhow to protect the border. leaving politics on the side pup or udp.

  4. phyllis griffith says:

    Sedi, you sound like you already give up. This is our land and poachers/illegals should be arrested. Jail them. Create a chain gang. Let them clean the highway, plant trees. Sedi, put up or shut up!
    That is why you support going back to the drawing board. We’ve been there, done that. NOT ONE SQUARE INCH. THIS LAND IS MY LAND!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

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