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Commentary: What will happen if Belizeans vote against going to the ICJ?
Published on March 18, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Wellington C. Ramos

If the people of Belize vote “NO” to take the Guatemalan dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), then the agreement signed between Guatemala and Belize will be fulfilled. This will also happen if the people of Guatemala vote “NO” in their referendum, which is scheduled to take place simultaneously in both countries on October 6, 2013. I have read the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty signed between Great Britain and Guatemala in 1859 carefully and, based on that, I am fully confident that the court will rule in Belize’s favour.

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
In this treaty the country of Guatemala accepted and acknowledged the boundaries of Belize, which exist up to this day. If the government of Guatemala did not like anything that was contained in that document then they should not have signed it. Guatemala had more than enough time to bring Great Britain to the International Court of Justice to seek redress so that they could comply with the terms of the treaty. Yet, Guatemala failed to act and has engaged in all type of propaganda and threats to frighten Belizeans to take over the entire country of Belize. I hereby encourage Belizeans to read the 1859 Treaty to reduce their fears and stop listening to gossip and rumours.

Since Guatemala signed the treaty, it appears to me that they are sorry that they ever signed it because they are reclaiming territory that they had already acknowledged in the document that did not and does not belong to them. In the treaty there is a provision that clearly states that Britain must grant Guatemala access to the high seas through Belize’s territorial waters and both Britain and Belize have been complying with that provision of the treaty since it was signed. Not only has Guatemala maximized their access through Belize to the high seas in the Caribbean but they have been occupying some of our cays and even laid claim to them unknown to us.

This area is critical because it borders Belize, Honduras and Guatemala, which under international law will require a trilateral agreement between these three countries. Honduras has made it clear that if Belize cedes anything to Guatemala they will have to get land and territory also. This is the same thing with Mexico that had already signed an agreement with Great Britain relinquishing their claim to our country all the way up to the Sibun River in the 1800s.

I am against ceding any land to Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala or any other country because that will not solve the problem but just make it worse. Plus, I am convinced that they do not have the right to any land that Spain obtained through the use of military force against the indigenous Maya people who had been living in Belize centuries before Spain and Great Britain came to colonize these territories that did not belong to them. How humane and intelligent people can engage in these unjust exercises baffles me.

The government of Belize cannot tell Belizeans how to vote on this issue because it is delicate and controversial to most Belizean citizens. I myself am grappling with this issue because I am not convinced that even after we win this case in the International Court of Justice we can go to the United Nations to seek enforcement of the court ruling. The United Nations is an undemocratic institution because five nations possess veto powers in the UN Security Council, which are China, Russia, United States, France and Great Britain.

I can see Belize getting the votes from Russia, Great Britain and France but not from China and the United States. We can get China’s vote if we agree to sever our ties with Taiwan and I am not sure if Belize will be willing to do such because of the money we have been getting from them over the years. But now China has more money to give Belize than Taiwan. The United States had already promised Belize to Guatemala in the 1960s and they have vital interests in trade with them as opposed to Belize.

There are some Belizeans and Guatemalans that are opposed to taking this matter to the ICJ but for different reasons. The Belizeans who are opposed believe that there is no need to go to a court to prove that something belongs to you if you know that it belongs to you. I do not subscribe to that thought because even if a person knows that something belongs to them, if another person is claiming their property only a court can determine who the true owner of the property is. In the absence of a court there will always be a dispute and the possibility of a serious confrontation with the person who is claiming your property will always exist.

Belize cannot fight Guatemala in a war because it does not have the resources to match them. But in a court of law, might and strength does not always prevail. The Guatemalans who have been saying for centuries that Belize belongs to them are beginning to believe that they will lose this case at the International Court of Justice. I now urge my fellow Belizeans to conduct their own research on this dispute and read other people’s opinion on this matter before we vote in October of this year.
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