BREDAA’s Final Radio Show on Compromis Aired on KPFK
By Bilal Morris
The final of a three part series of radio shows addressing the Belize / Guatemalan Compromis Agreement and sponsored by The Belize Rural Economic Development of Agriculture through Alliance (BREDAA) concluded in Los Angeles on Tuesday May 26, 2009. The show, which was aired on KPFK’s Freedom Now, was hosted by Dedan Kamathi and presented by BREDAA’s representative, Nuri Akbar (Derrick Estrada).
The shows which have attracted thousands of radio listeners throughout Southern California, New York, Houston and Washington D.C. since its first broadcast on December 23, 2008, raised a considerably amount of awareness for Belize’s right as an independent and sovereign nation against the illegal and unfounded Guatemalan claim. Many Belizeans residing in the United States has become more informed and educated about the Belize / Guatemalan dispute, and the recent agreement signed by both the Belizean and Guatemalan governments last year to resolve it.
In a spontaneous and articulate 30-minute presentation on KPFK, the BREDAA spokesman told radio listeners that the alleged bordering dispute where Guatemala claims Belize, has span for a century, and the Compromis is the most current proposal to resolve the age-old boundary dispute.
“Guatemala has claimed from different periods the entire country of Belize,” said Akbar. “Now, through the Organization of American States, they are suggesting that Belize and Guatemala take the issue to the International Court of Justice.” But he reiterated that before they can proceed, both countries must hold national referenda where the citizenry will decide ultimately whether or not both governments should proceed in this Compromis.
“If however that the majority in both countries decide that they do not want to proceed with this agreement to The Hague,” stated Akbar. “Then this issue will be dead on arrival.”
Presently Belize and Guatemala are drafting resolutions to present the new agreement to their people. However both the Guatemalan Congress and the Belize House of Representatives are meeting considerable opposition from their electorates against this new agreement.
“Guatemala has nothing to lose, Belize has everything to lose,” said Akbar. “Guatemala will remain Guatemala.” He stressed that legal minds are telling the Belizean government that Belize has a strong case, and that there is only a one percent chance that Belize can lose. He commented that that is why Guatemala is betting that if the claim goes to the World Court that there is a one percent chance that they can win. Akbar expressed that if the case goes in Guatemala’s favor then “Guatemala has everything to gain.”
“Guatemala is focusing on a particular part of Belize in the southern part of the country. This area, which is very critical to understand, is the richest part of the country in terms of natural resources,” said Akbar. “It is the area that oil in commercial quantities have been discovered. It is the area that have dolomite, gold, bauxite and uranium.” Presently the Belizean government is locked in a dispute with the Mayas of Belize that allows a United States oil exploration company, U.S. Capital, to conduct seismic testing measures in the southern district of Toledo. The Belizean Mayas have claimed that some of these lands are historically their ancestral Mayan lands and should not be exploited for profitable gain. The Mayas also opposed the last United Democratic Party Government (1993-1998) policies of granting governmental concessions to multinational corporations who were conducting logging operations in the resource rich southern district. “This issue with Guatemala has never been a peoples movement from the indigenous peoples of Guatemala to the people of Belize,” stated Akbar. “In fact the indigenous peoples of Guatemala sided with Belize’s right to self-determination when it was moving towards its own independence in 1981.”
He said that the indigenous peoples of Guatemala went and demonstrated, and physically took over Tikal to show solidarity with Belize’s right to self-determination. In 1997, the late Belizean Mayan activist Julian Cho internationalized the Belizean Mayas struggle for self-determination of their right to the Mayan ancestral lands of Belize, and in solidarity with the Mayas of Guatemala and other parts of Central America. The Belizean Mayas of the southern district of Toledo are today presenting the most formidable opposition to Guatemala’s claim of Belizean territory.
“We have a very dynamic Mayan native community in Belize, and they have a strong solidarity with their brothers and sisters across the border,” said Akbar. “This is not an indigenous peoples movement against Belize. This whole issue with the territorial claim of Belize is coming from the oligarchy that has ruled Guatemala and has been brutal to its own people.”
The civil wars that rocked the Central America region, particularly Guatemala, for over a decade has cost the Mayan people thousands of lives. They have violently resisted against both foreign and domestic aggression to deny them of their right to ancestral lands, and exploit the natural resources for profit and control.
“These implications are serious, in terms of all the wars going on today are rooted in land and self-determination,” stated Akbar. “Belizeans have taken it for granted for many years now, that it is possible, that perhaps one of these days, our sovereignty may be threatened.”
Foreign intervention into Belize’s body politic have sometimes been welcomed but have had it’s share of opposition particularly in the Belize / Guatemalan dispute. Many Belizeans are very suspicious about foreign interference in Belize foreign policy and have historically rebelled against agreements that appeared to be ‘selling out’.
“There are many international involvement in that particular issue (Belize / Guatemalan Dispute) going back to the Webster proposals,” expressed Akbar. “The Webster Proposals was a proposal that was basically suggesting the annexation of Belize to Guatemala. It was not until the people of Belize rose up, demonstrating against it, rejecting that proposal, that it was dead on arrival.” The BREDAA representative expressed that there are certain forces in the region that would prefer to see Belize as an extension of Guatemala. He stated that the Guatemalan claim is “transnational driven and internationally influenced.”
The role of multinational corporations in Belize’s political economy has not been properly documented in Belize. But with the oil findings in the western district of Cayo, Belize has seen a considerable interest coming from oil companies in Taiwan, the U.S. and Europe in exploring for oil in the country.
“The role of multinational corporations is that in the mid 1900’s, it has been reputed that Mexico has oil, that we know that the Peten area of Guatemala has oil,” stated Akbar. “It has been reputed that Belize, geographically where we are located; we are sitting on the largest deposit of petroleum in that entire region. So what is the transnational interest in this issue? It is clear.
It is not ambiguous.”
He reiterated that for that reason each and every Belizean, and those who believe in the right of self-determination of indigenous people needs to be educated on this issue and be supportive of it in terms of resisting against multinational interest. He stressed that somewhere within these articles of the Compromis, if it is to go to the I.C.J., Belize will be asked to capitulate something—to compromise something.
“Many Belizeans are very suspicious, that Belize will be asked to compromise something in return for Guatemala to accept this issue as a final resolution,” commented Akbar. “That ultimately we will be the ones to have to submit something to solve this issue.”
The history of U.S. role in the Belize / Guatemalan Dispute is deeply rooted in the 1968 Webster Proposals and within every other agreement that past and present Belizean governments has signed on to as an attempt to resolve the claim. Apart from President Lyndon B Johnson who was the one that appointed a New York lawyer, Bethel. M. Webster who wrote the proposal called the Webster Proposal that the Belizean people rejected there has been an attempt by the Kennedy Administration to cede Belize to Guatemala considering that Guatemala allowed the training of anti-Castro exile to train in Guatemalan for the invasion of Cuba during the Bay of the Pigs invasion. But there was also positive U.S. involvement for Belize during the Carter Administration of the 1970’s.
“President Jimmy Carter with his human rights policy was more supportive of Belize,” stated Akbar. “And in fact it was in 1980 that the United States in the United Nations changed its vote from abstention to supporting Belize’s right to self determination. Hence we became independent on September 21, 1981.”
Akbar stated that the Bush Administration has been very ambiguous and that they have not had any clear policy in terms of Belize’s self-determination. He commented that the Obama administration is a little too young to access any determination of how they will address the situation.
The recent encroachments by Guatemalans across the bordering areas of Belize have devastated thousand of acres of Belizean forest reserves, interfere with the ecological balance, and created widespread tension between the Belize and Guatemala. Even the O.A.S. had to intercede on the behalf of both governments to remove illegal squatters on Belizean land, and conduct confidence building measures to ease tensions between a poorly manned and equipped Belizean military and angry machete-waving Guatemalan Campesinos.
“We know that the Guatemalan military has been encouraging the peasants that live along the borders with Belize to cross into Belizean territory—to use the natural resources,” stated Akbar. “This is because the land situation in Guatemala is one of the worst in the region in terms of land tenure.” He expressed that Guatemala is encouraging cross border incursions because “they are not doing anything to discourage it.”
Guatemalan cross border trespassing has been going on for many years now because the Belizean government resources have been stretched thin and its military has been unable to patrol its borders effectively. Many Belizeans view this as some sort of aggression in disguise and are very angry about how it has persists without any restraint on the behalf of the Guatemalan government and the O.A.S.
“This is a form of intimidation to the people who live in that area. I believe having evidence to the contrary that it is being done deliberately,” said Akbar. “It is to begin to create a kind of anxiety within the general population to go with the Compromis idea.”
The BREDAA representative also commented that what is also interesting to note is that both the government in power and the opposition are supporting the recent agreement. “The two major political parties in Belize; their leadership, is both on board with this Compromis,” he said. In a recent governmental visit to Los Angeles in April, Belize’s Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington expressed that Belizeans need to understand that his government has signed this new agreement with support from the opposition.
Since the inception of the signing of the recent agreement, it appears that the Belizean government has not effectively launched any major campaign to educate the masses of the Belizean people about the Compromis and what are its implications. Apart from the Methodist Church Town Meetings that were held earlier in the year, there has not been any consistent countrywide outreach to inform and educate the electorate about what they will be voting for in the referendum. “One of the criticisms of our government, both past and present, is that they have not been vigorous in educating and informing the general Belizean population about the Guatemalan claim,” stated Akbar. “So there is a lot of people in Belize who are still unclear as to what this Compromis means and its implications.”
The Belizean government has expressed that the Compromis is an agreement that will provide a great opportunity for Belize to settle the aged old Guatemalan claim at the I.C.J. They have also responded to their critics that those who are rejecting the Compromis are not themselves presenting any alternative solution as to how Belize should settle the dispute. Advised by highly paid international lawyers that have cost Belizean taxpayers millions of dollars, the Belizean government could be taking a considerable risk.
“The question that has to be asked is what is it that the they have as a personal investment in taking such a risk. The vulnerability of small states is that they are easily influenced,” said Akbar. “I am not suggesting that we not look at it. I am saying that we need to look at all the details and have a national discussion about it where the people can make a decision as to where we go.”
- Guatemalan Claim-Part I (fiwebelize.com)
- Guatemalan Claim-Part II (fiwebelize.com)
- Commentary: Belize, land of the free… for all? (fiwebelize.com)
- Commentary: The ICJ and the Belize-Guatemala issue: A den of strategy and deceit (cayobuay.wordpress.com)
- Hon. Julius Espat on Belize – Guatemala – ICJ (fiwebelize.com)
- The Icj and Guatemala’s Claim to Belize: a Case of Self Interest Over Sovereignty? (fiwebelize.com)
- Belizeans and the ICJ Concern (fiwebelize.com)
- On discussing part of our path to the ICJ (cayobuay.wordpress.com)
- Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute heads to World Court (antiguaobserver.com)