By Frank Edward Paco Smith, Jr., JP
I trust our fellow CARICOM brethren have maintained a watchful eye on the ongoing saga involving the government of Belize’s implausible call for Belizeans to vote, via referendum, on whether or not to take Guatemala’s unfounded claim on our sovereign territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Paco Smith staunchly advocates the emergence of civil society to serve as a proactive force toward positive change within the policy development arena. Among his many involvements, he is a co-founder of the group Belizean Patriots against the ICJ.
On 22nd April, the Belize Coalition for Justice (BCJ) wrote to the OAS Secretary General
, Ambassador Jose Insulza, to inform of illegal activities being carried out by Guatemalans, inside Belizean territory. Not only are the activities and settlements a violation of Belize’s territorial integrity, it is also an affront to the once, much vaunted Compromis, signed by Belizean and Guatemalan officials, under the aegis of the OAS, which was designed to provide guidance toward a path forward. For our efforts, in true diplomatic form, we have yet to be afforded a response, let alone an acknowledgement from the aforementioned individual.
Arising from the impact of pressure exerted by civil society organisations in Belize, a few months ago, the Guatemalan government, signaled that it would not proceed (at this time) with the planned, simultaneous referenda scheduled for 6th October 2013. Since our most recent pronouncement
of 11th May 2013, in which we informed of the GOB’s acquiescence to Guatemala’s demands, proffered during a high level meeting on 8th May, in Washington, DC, the principals have proven extraordinarily quiet. Nonetheless, despite the lull, concerned Belizeans have remained attuned and maintain a watchful eye on this matter of national significance.
This takes us to the present. In conjunction with the BCJ, the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) is a frontline, grassroots effort, coordinated by Mr Wil Maheia of Punta Gorda Town, Belize. The goal of the organisation is to bring awareness to the reality of Belize’s border and to allay the fallacy that an “Adjacency Zone”, exists between Belize and Guatemala, as prescribed in the Compromis. This is achieved via fact-finding missions, within Belizean territory, to uncover and expose incursions and accompanying illegal activities, perpetrated by Guatemalans, in Belizean territory. This includes reconnaissance missions to various points along the western frontier and within Belize’s maritime jurisdiction.
Each year, the BTV conducts a flag raising exercise to mark the beginning of Belize’s month of celebration, which culminates on the nation’s Independence Day -- 21st September. On Sunday, 8th September 2013, Maheia led an excursion to Sarstoon Island which, via the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty of 1859, identifies the island as the southernmost boundary between the two countries. It is noted that the island is located in the Sarstoon River and is the territory of Belize. Therefore areas to the west of the island are Guatemalan territory. On this occasion, upon arriving at Sarstoon Island, the flotilla was approached by armed Guatemalan forces. According to Maheia, whilst clearly in Belizean territory, the Guatemalan forces questioned the BTV members as to their activities
This is extremely troubling, for it signals a documented occasion during which armed military personnel from Guatemala entered sovereign Belizean territory and questioned the engagements of Belizean citizens. Thankfully, cool heads prevailed and the matter did not result in hostilities, yet it is necessary to acknowledge that such actions are a breach of international statues. Of note, this is a common practice of the Guatemalan military. Yet more significantly, in this instance, it was documented and in light of the invasive actions of the Guatemalan military, clearly within our sovereign territory, now some seven days following the incident, Belize’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has remained mum and is yet to make a public statement on the matter.
It is due to this manner of gross negligence and ineptitude, as displayed by Belize’s representatives, that civil society organisations such as the BCJ and BTV endorse the boycott of any effort to rekindle the call for a simultaneous referendum, beyond the originally agreed upon date of 6th October 2013.
Of equal intrigue concerning the relative quiet which has characterised this matter since May, we call your attention to the most recent action by Belize’s MFA involving the so-called ‘Belize-Guatemala Dispute’. We have learned that on Wednesday, 18th September, a forum entitled, “Belize/Guatemala: The Referral of the Belize Guatemala Territorial Dispute to the International Court of Justice
”, is scheduled for the purpose of discussing the prospects of its referral to the ICJ.
It is with much disdain, that we view this effort, for in the absence of the MFA conceptualising the need to publicly address this most recent violation of our territory, by the Guatemalan military no less, it is befuddling to see their insistence on pushing the zero-sum (for some), hare-brained call to take our nation’s sovereignty to the ICJ. For the MFA to summarily ignore Guatemala’s most recent, documented aggression within Belizean territory is altogether, scandalous and those vested with the responsibility for ensuring Belize’s well-being within this arena should be held accountable for their failure.
Let it be known that we, have not been lulled asleep and remain fully prepared to meet, head-on, this second wave of intended deception by the powers-that-be, who would seemingly place Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity at the mercy of the so-called “learned justices” at the ICJ, despite indisputable facts which demonstrate that any such move would not bode well for Belize. There is no question that the aforementioned institution shall seek “equity” in the matter; whereas Belize needs not equity concerning our territory which is already, legally ours.
During this time of celebration, we call on all Belizeans, true friends of Belize and especially our elected government representatives, to stop and ponder concerning the aforementioned incident that occurred on Sarstoon Island and ask yourselves not only the meaning of, but also the value you place on words such as: independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and nationalism.
Rest assured, we shall maintain our vigilance to attune the Belizean public and our fellow Caribbean nationals on all developments in this regard.
Belize, Sovereign and Free – NO ICJ!