By Wellington C. Ramos
When nations sign international agreements with other countries, it is their responsibility to carry out the terms of the agreements under international law. The country that is affected, which in this case is Belize, can bring a case against Guatemala before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violating the Special Agreement they signed in the year 2008. Guatemala is refusing to proceed with the referendum because they want the date to be changed for a date that is convenient to them and to force Belize to change their referendum laws and remove the 60% requirement. Belize responded by making it clear to Guatemala that those two demands are unacceptable and that they will not concede to their demands.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
If Guatemala had an earthquake, a hurricane or some unusual event that is causing the country some pain, suffering, undue hardships etc., then one could understand the reason for a request to postpone the referendum. However, none of these incidents are occurring in Guatemala today except the trial of one of their former presidents Rios Montt for the slaughtering of many native indigenous Maya Indians in the 1980s.
Knowing Belize, we would have accommodated Guatemala’s request because we have been doing that for years now. Currently, Belize has an Accommodation Agreement signed with Guatemala, which is active today. Under this agreement there are several good faith measures that both countries allow each other to reduce tensions and increase cooperation between the two countries on their borders. Guatemalan vessels are allowed access to the Atlantic Ocean through Belize and it is being reported that they have been using our cays as well.
Guatemalan citizens continue to come into Belize daily and steal our gold, Mayan artifacts, other minerals, farming, fishing, cutting and logwood. Plus, the indigenous Maya Indians, who are experiencing atrocities from the Guatemalan military, are fleeing into Belize’s territory to establish new villages. In the Toledo District, it is estimated that there are now 55 villages, a significant amount, since Belize became independent in 1981. In the Stann Creek District, there are about 21 new villages also.
About 85% of these villages are occupied by native indigenous Guatemalan Maya citizens, who have left Guatemala to come and seek freedom in Belize. They all have stories about the Guatemalan military and the atrocities they experienced when they were living in Guatemala.
These districts are in the southern part of Belize, which historically was where the British restricted the Garifuna people to live when they first arrived from Rotan in 1801 and after. Today the Maya and Mestizo population now outnumber the Garifuna people about three to one in these areas. This will have an impact on the political demographics of the south in the near future.
Most of the people who have migrated to Belize come from the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. They are of Maya, Aztec and Mestizo origin. Up until the early 1980s, the majority of people in Belize were black. Now, the majority of people in the country are of Maya and Mestizo origin. Recently, there is also a high percentage of Chinese coming to Belize to live or travel from there to the United States of America. Their migration to Belize is on the rise and will continue to grow in the near future.
While, among Belizeans of African descent, mostly Creoles and Garifuna, migration to the United States is high. Belize now has more people speaking Spanish as opposed to English in their homes.
Belize cannot afford to accommodate Guatemala any longer. The black people of Belize are getting angry because they see the country that their ancestors built as slave labour being taken away from them daily by foreigners. When they apply for a lot to build a home for their families they are being denied. On the other hand, when these foreigners come to Belize they get more than enough land to build their homes and do farming.
Due to the human rights violations that have been taking place in Guatemala over the years, the United Nations has been providing funding for some of these projects and the Belize governments support these new immigrants. Amnesties and citizenship were granted to many of these people over the years and they can now vote in elections. The politicians seek their votes and they make demands from them during elections. Belize does not have a program with their native countries to do background checks on these people to whom they grant citizenship, so some of them could pose a threat to our country and people.
This Guatemalan dispute is causing our country serious problems and the longer it takes to be resolved the worse these problems are going to become. I am not convinced that the Guatemalan government is serious about settling this dispute. The international community and other nations of the world will have to intervene to apply pressure on Guatemala to end this bogus claim.
Taking Guatemala to court is the right thing to do for violating the Special Agreement. Belize can proceed to the International Court of Justice without Guatemala for violating this Special Agreement and also not to have a referendum. It would not be wise for Belize to have a referendum because they would not get a YES vote at this time.
Forcing Guatemala to have a referendum when they do not want to have one will not happen also. However, going to the ICJ to ask the court to hear this dispute without Guatemala because they are in violation of the Special Agreement is a good legal option in my opinion. Nations of the world cannot be allowed to violate international agreements when it is convenient for them to do so because it would set a bad precedent.