The Belize-Guatemala Conundrum

By Nick Pollard Jr.

Spain and Great Britain left behind in Central America an unresolved Boundary Dispute between Guatemala and Belize for which there is absolutely no sign of a settlement almost 150 years later after various negotiations have failed even with the immediate arbitration of the O.A.S. Will the dispute be settled in the unforeseeable future by the ICJ or will the Security Council of the United Nations be forced to intervene?

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Surprisingly, many Belizeans were not taken aback by Guatemala’s decision not to participate in the October 6th Referendum; on the contrary many felt that Guatemala’s trickery and dishonest behavior is exactly what the Leadership of that country is all about. Belize is an independent country and Guatemala cannot nor will we step aside and let it dictate to the Government of Belize to change our Referendum Laws.

Belize needs to take its case directly to the United Nations and make it clear to them that Guatemala has breached the Agreement arbitrated by the OAS and that Guatemala continues to leave the Central American Region outside of Peace.

The New York Times of Friday, November 7th, 1975 carried a story by ‘United Press International’; “Guatemala Warns of Force as Britain Continues Belize Build-Up” Guatemala was quoted as saying: Guatemala said Thursday that the United Nations was not competent to decide on its claim to Belize, Reuters reported. The Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying that neither the General Assembly nor the Decolonization Committee had any right to decide the issue. The article then elaborates: the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is the Legal Arm (Agency) of the United Nations (UN) and if the Body, the United Nations is considered by Guatemala “Not being Competent to decide Guatemala’s Claim to Belize” then the same is true for the Arm – the ICJ. If the Body is Dead, so too is the Arm. And so, we should have known from the very beginning that Guatemala would withdraw from going to the ICJ which is in fact the United Nations Court.

I agree that Belize should continue the ‘Confidence Building Measures’ but we need to make it clear to Guatemala that their breach of the Agreement stands out so clearly that Belize must become more aggressive in lobbying the United Nations Executive Council. From 1975, Resolutions in six (6) successive General Assemblies of the United Nations affirm the ‘inalienable right of the people of Belize to self-determination and independence’ and supporting the inviolability and territorial integrity of Belize. The 1977 Resolution had the support of fourteen (14) Latin American Countries that had in the past either supported Guatemala or abstained from voting.
It is now that Belize must lobby the support of the Commonwealth Countries, CARICOM, Central American Countries which are familiar with border disputes and the Latin American Leaders who recognize the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize. Belize must take its case to the Executive Council of the United Nations. We should not continue the charades with Guatemala. What is it about the Boundary Treaty that Guatemala does not understand? True, the cart road was not built but both ambassadors, Aycinena of Guatemala and Lenox Wyke of Great Britain signed the Boundary Treaty on the 30th April, 1859.

Allow me to share with you important and historical articles from that Treaty:

4.2 Article 1: It is agreed between Her Britannic Majesty and the Republic of Guatemala that the Boundary between the Republic and the British Settlement and Possessions in the Bay of Honduras as they existed previous to and on the 1st of January, 1850 and have continued to exist up to the present time was and is as follows:
Beginning at the mouth of the River Sarstoon in the Bay of Honduras, and proceeding up to the mid channel thereof to the Gracias a Dios Falls, then turning to the right and continuing by a line drawn direct from Gracias a Dios Falls to Garbutt’s Falls on the River Belize, and from Garbutt’s Falls due North until it strikes the Mexican Frontier.

4.3 Article 6: It is further agreed that the channels in the water line of the boundary described in Article 1 of the present Convention, shall be equally free and open to the vessels of both parties, and that any islands which may be found therein shall belong to that party on whose side of the main navigable channel they are situated.

4.4 Article 7: With the object of practically carrying out the views set forth in the Preamble of the present Convention, for improving and perpetuating the friendly relations which at present so happily exists between the two High Contracting Parties, they mutually agree conjointly to use their best efforts, by taking adequate means for establishing the easiest communication (either by means of a cart-road or employing the rivers or both united, according to the opinion of the surveying engineers), between the fittest place on the Atlantic Coast, near the settlement of Belize and the Capital of Guatemala, whereby the commerce of England on the one band and the material prosperity of the Republic on the other, cannot fail to be sensibly increased, at the same time that the limits of the two countries being now clearly defined, all further encroachments by either party on the territory of the other will be effectually checked and prevented for the future.

What is a Contracting Party? It is defined as an Entity who enters into a binding agreement with one or more other contracting parties and thus accepts the benefits and obligations specified therein. For a contract to be valid, every contracting party to a contract must be a competent party.

In his presentation made at Sacred Heart College on Sunday, April 14th, Adolfo Rosales who provided me with the New York Times Article of 1975 also highlighted important observations on the Maritime Areas Act. He said: “I also ask, that you refer to and question firmly, the statement made by the National Bi-Partisan Commission in October 1991 on the Maritime Areas Bill where they seemed to convey legitimacy to Guatemala’s unfounded claim by saying in the first line under the heading” The Road To Recognition” in page 1. Quote: “Guatemala needed time to adjust to the fact that it had ‘lost’ Belize. How dumb can those Belizeans in the “National Bi-Partisan Commission” be to make such a statement as a “FACT”. What fact? Then if it is a fact that Guatemala has lost Belize; those of the National Bi- Partisan Commission sided with Guatemala against Belize and Belizeans by affirming Guatemala’s Claim.
Finally, “Definition of Belize” in Schedule 1 of our Constitution has been compromised with the passing of the Maritime Areas Act that prejudiced our country’s territorial integrity without a “referendum and without an amendment to our Constitution”, by eliminating the Ranguana and Sapodilla Range of Islands. It is extremely important also, that you emphasize that this said Maritime Areas Act is legally null and void because not only that the Constitution was not amended but, that the insertion of provisions making this Act “superior” to the Constitution is legally flawed. Chapter 11 Revised Edition 2000 under Section 25 states: The provisions of this Act shall have effect notwithstanding anything to the contrary (meaning the Constitution’s Schedule 1) in any other law, rule or regulation.”
But let’s go back to a sensitive question that Belizeans have been ignoring. The 1859 Treaty that recognized the Belize Guatemala boundary from the Sarstoon to Gracias a Dios to Garbutt’s Falls and to the North by the Rio Hondo was reaffirmed as the Boundary Treaty in 1931 by both England and Guatemala. So, why did England agree to make concessions to Guatemala in 1968 in the form of the Bethuel Webster Seventeen (17) Proposals? Is it that England felt that Belize’s Prime Minister preferred to take Belize into the Central American Union and that it would be best for Belize to be affiliated to Guatemala?

Doctor Cedric Grant in his Book, “The Making of a Modern Belize” states on page #187 in Chapter 6 under heading, “The Conflict, the climax and resolution”

The climax – The London incident: “The first colonial administration in which the PUP participated ended with a repudiation of Richardson’s and Goldson’s West Indian sympathies, the second began with a renewed suspicion of Price’s Guatemala leanings. To some extent this suspicion had been revived by a renewal of discussions towards a settlement between Britain and Guatemala in March, 1957, the same month as the PUP’s electoral victory. According to Guatemala, the British Government favoured some form of economic integration between Belize and Guatemala. This was to be the first step in the formation of a Central American Federation in which Belize would be an independent republic. If Belize was to be sovereign indeed, then Guatemala was conceding its sacred territorial claim. For its part the British Government was indicating that the integration of Belize into the Central American economy should be the objective of the country’s future development. To this extent it was responding positively to both the unpopularity of the West Indies Federation in Belize and to the proposition that an independent Belize would not be economically viable outside of an economic grouping.

Grant continues:

“The reopening of negotiations between Britain and Guatemala left Price free to pursue his notion of a Central American destiny without having either to side with Britain in repudiating the Guatemalan claim or uphold the Guatemalan viewpoint.”

It would appear that serious mistakes were made by insinuating to Guatemala that indeed they had every right to inherit Belize eventually. And what was in it for Britain? Britain had its own vested interests in trade and investments in Guatemala and the other Central American countries.

Second sensitive question, the countries of the United Nations voted almost unanimously to Belize’s Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity; so why did England offer more concessions to Guatemala after the fact? Why did England offer to Guatemala the rights to run pipelines into Toledo and Stann Creek in Article 4 of the Sixteen (16) Heads of Agreement?

By offering those concessions to Guatemala England was admitting ‘guilt’ to Guatemala for failing miserably to build the cart road from Guatemala City to lake Isabal. (1857 thru 1862). Now with Independence in 1981, Belize inherited the Border Dispute. We must be brave and take our case to the United Nations Security Council with the support of as many nations as possible. Guatemala will be left isolated.

The United Nations established in 1948 with Headquarters in New York City, State of New York in the United States of America is made up of two main bodies; the General Assembly is made up of 192 (currently) nations with Belize and Guatemala being two of them, and the Security Council, the Supreme Authority with five (5) Permanent Members and ten (10) others elected by the General Assembly every two years. Under the UN Charter all members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council. While other organs of the United Nations (like the ICJ) make recommendations to Governments, the Council alone has the Power to take decisions which member states “are obligated” under the Charter to carry out. The Council has the right to investigate any “dispute” or situation which might lead to friction (like our issue) between two or more countries. When a complaint concerning a “threat to Peace” is brought before it, the Council’s first action is usually to recommend that the parties try to reach an agreement. (Belize has tried.) by peaceful means. In some cases, the Council itself undertakes investigation or mediation (already tried through other means). It may appoint special representatives or request the Secretary General to use his good offices.

Belize needs to take its case directly to the United Nations and make it clear to them that Guatemala has breached the Agreement arbitrated by the OAS and that Guatemala continues to leave the Central American Region outside of Peace.

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