Don't let Guatemala duck agreement

Published: Friday | April 12, 2013 on The Gleamer

It is urgent that the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) engage the global community for help in sending a clear message to Guatemala that there will be no reward for bad behaviour, including, as seems to be the intent of the Central American country, squirming out of solemn undertakings.

Jamaica, in its own right as a respected and influential voice on hemispheric matters, and as the CARICOM country with responsibility for the Community’s external relations, must lead this initiative.

The matter to which we refer is the agreement between Belize and Guatemala to take their territorial dispute to the World Court, once their populations support the initiative in simultaneous referenda on December 6. The Guatemalans, it appears, are attempting to derail the process, or want to provoke the Belizeans into doing so.

Guatemala claims over half of Belize, or a portion of the country that is nearly 50 square miles larger than Jamaica. The dispute, in its modern iteration, goes back nearly 75 years since Guatemala rejected a treaty it signed with Britain 154 years ago that was thought to settle its territorial boundaries with what was then British Honduras. The Guatemalans based the territorial grab on an argument that the British reneged on a treaty obligation to finance infrastructure development in their country.

Indeed, for a decade after Belize’s independence 32 years ago, Guatemala refused to accept its neighbour’s sovereignty, and several bilateral and multilateral efforts since then to solve the problem have come to naught.

In 2008, however, they agreed that the matter should be sent to the court in The Hague for a binding resolution. As part of the road map, the countries a year ago agreed on a date for the referenda and the question to be put to their populations about going to the court.

That 2008 road map also included confidence-building measures between the two countries, including cultural cooperation to lessen the inherent tensions between them, and those caused by Guatemalan incursions in Belizean territory. That is why we consider recent developments in Guatemala, if they hold true, not only to be counterproductive but provocative.

New passports with maps

It has been reported that the Guatemalan government plans, over the next decade, to issue new passports with maps showing the disputed territory within Guatemala’s borders. This is precisely the issue on which the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is being asked to arbitrate.

It would not be an unreasonable interpretation that the Guatemalans, by this action, are signalling an unwillingness to accept the ICJ’s ruling if it is in favour of Belize, as many experts expect it to be. Indeed, the development has heightened the mistrust of those Belizeans who all along felt that Guatemala saw the World Court hearing as a ploy to buy time while it built its bona fides in the hemisphere.

Or, alternatively, it might anger Belizeans to pull out of the agreement. Already, the Opposition People’s United Party has warned that, should it return to office, it would deny entry into Belize by Guatemalans who hold passports with the amended map.

CARICOM has consistently, and vocally, supported Belize, a member, in this dispute. Now that a resolution is in sight, the Community must not allow the process to be undermined.

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