By Frank Edward Paco Smith, Jr., JP
This past week the government of Belize (GOB) launched its “(mis)education campaign” involving the push to take the matter of Guatemala’s unfounded claim on Belize’s sovereign territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a supposed “final determination”.
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.
I have pulled no punches in terms of my assessment as to why those vested with the responsibility of governing and ensuring the well-being of Belize have embarked on this illogical and seemingly detrimental path for the nation. Simply put, sound reason has given way to the self-interests that accompany the prospects of obtaining a fair share of upwards of US$15 million in order to engage and facilitate the aforementioned campaign, as well as to carry out the referendum. With that said, this article deals with other salient issues that accompany the potentially treacherous and highly questionable path on which the GOB seeks to guide the nation of Belize.
Initially, I draw your attention to claims purportedly made by the Guatemalan government in the 25th January 2013 edition of the La Prensa Libre Newspaper
In a nutshell, Guatemala is claiming that the Belizean government has acted in “bad faith”, due to the fact that the threshold required for a referendum to be valid differs between the two nations. Let us take a closer look at this matter. Again, I in no way support the GOB’s move to engage this OAS-driven farce of an undertaking. But, as a concerned Belizean, I am compelled to ensure that a clear and concise analysis of as many aspects of the matter is presented to my compatriots and our brethren throughout the region.
The insidious Compromis that committed Belize to this perfidious course was signed in 2008. Since then, emissaries from both nations have met to the point of ad nauseam on the intricacies of the referendum. Now, at the proverbial eleventh hour, as Belize officially launched the campaign, the Guatemalan authorities hold true to course and put forth the claim that, due to differences in the thresholds of voter turnout, involving referenda in each country, it places Guatemala at a disadvantage; thereby possibly rendering the entire exercise null and void, once the threshold is not met in either country.
In the case of Guatemala, theirs calls for a simple majority of voter turnout. Honestly, I am not at all surprised by this assertion, for it is part and parcel of the Guatemalan strategy (note the word I used -- strategy), when dealing with their unfounded claim. Now, even within the constructs of having their illegitimate assertion potentially being placed in a legal arena and thereby somewhat legitimising it (within certain respects), they continue with such actions.
Quite honestly, after approximately a bit more than four years (2008 – 2013) of meetings, analysis, negotiations, etc… the Guatemalan government has the audacity to accuse Belize of acting in “bad faith”, when in fact our law concerning referenda was enacted prior to the signing of the Compromis and they (the Guatemalans) know it.
What light does that shed on a government that: (1) uncompromisingly lays claim to its neighbour’s sovereign territory, (2) is literally being appeased by not only the OAS, but regrettably the GOB and (3) in effect, fails to do its due diligence prior to signing the much vaunted, aforementioned Compromis? What I deduce from it is a government that is untrustworthy and that cannot be given the benefit of the doubt that it will inevitably play by the rules, nor that it will honour a ruling of the ICJ that might not result in their favour.
This is a legitimate concern, for the track record involving the enforceability of ICJ decisions is not impressive.
Getting back to the issue of strategy, as we say in Belize… ”Mek noh ghost fool yuh” (literally, “be certain”), the Guatemalans are by no means novices when it comes to negotiating and utilising their experience to manipulate the diplomatic arena. Simply put, Belize is not dealing with a lightweight. After all, unlike Belize, Guatemala has a body that is well-entrenched within its constitution – El Commision de Belice (translated The Belize Commission) -- which is dedicated to the fundamental goal of reclaiming what they believe was taken from them by the British.
That spells to me that nothing Guatemala does, as it relates to this issue, is done without a thorough analysis, fleshing-out, re-analysis and ultimately leading to a precise execution of plans. Bearing this in mind, I wish to share what I believe is part and parcel of the Guatemalan strategy. For years on end, preceding the current push to go to the ICJ, while involved in bi-lateral talks, the Guatemalan government has employed a very strong strategy of attempting to impose its will on Belize.
This is characterised by an astute and tactical modus operandi of facilitating discussion to a penultimate point and then either retracting or placing some untenable demands on the table. This is a fact. For that matter, few, save for maybe the Guatemalans themselves, would endeavour to refute. After experiencing this tactic repeatedly, why would one think that Guatemala’s most recent assertion is not intentional?
You will note that on the illustration that depicts what Guatemala will presumably submit as its claim in any potential hearing before the ICJ, involves roughly, if not more than half of Belize’s territory. I wouldn’t be surprised if they will also claim some of our maritime areas beyond those to which they gained access via Belize’s Maritime Areas Act, from some time ago.
Nonetheless, we have a situation in which a massive claim on Belize’s sovereign territory will presumably be made. I say presumably because the source of the story is that of the La Prensa Libre periodical in Guatemala. Although it was not an official government of Guatemala press release, let it be known that this too may very well be part of the Guatemalan strategy. All things considered, relating to what was published, I see a clear-cut and rather ingenious move on the part of the Guatemalan authorities.
In so doing, they succeed in ratcheting-up the nationalist sentiment in their nation and simultaneously (by way of a boxing analogy) check the chin of the Belizean government. That is, by way of their assertion of the Belize government acting in “bad faith”, it not only tests their resolve, it also lays the groundwork for additional contempt to be placed on the nation of Belize. Whether or not it would play into the reasoning of international jurists at the ICJ remains to be seen. Yet I admit I have absolutely no intention of finding out. Even more important is the reality that the ICJ seeks to adjudicate matters with a view toward an “equitable” solution. I shall reiterate that in such instance involving Belize’s territorial integrity, “equity” is NOT what Belize needs.
Herein is the crux of the matter and the seemingly resourceful tactics attempting to be employed by the Guatemalans. The notion of “equity” entails fundamentally that each party will be made to give up something. In real terms, only Belize has something to lose. Yet, by virtue of Guatemala putting forth (presumably) such an outlandish claim amounting to roughly half of the nation of Belize, it sets the foundation for a rather sound legal strategy.
Think about it. If Belizeans are foolish enough to vote to take the matter to the ICJ, it will provide Guatemala with a legal avenue through which to push its unfounded claim and, no less, in a foreign court of arbitration. Which dare I say is not immune to the ills of: external influences, bias and possible acts of tampering that affect domestic courts worldwide.
Again, I draw your attention to the construct of the court’s direction of seeking “equity”. In terms of the Guatemalan strategy, ultimately their demands will be scaled down; thereby creating an even more profound impulse for the court to have Belize give up something. Whether that is territory, maritime rights or as some have speculated even access to areas, coupled with rights associated with mining or drilling for minerals and the like, the bottom line is that it would inevitably blur the lines of what Belize currently possesses, as recognised by the UN Charter. Thus leaving Belize with less than what we had at the time of independence in 1981.
If such were the scenario, in the end (1) the OAS will, at the very least, be seen as playing an integral role in its efforts to settle the dispute; (2) Guatemala would have saved face by gaining something tangible from the process, which they previously never possessed; and (3) Belize is left holding the bag, full of many a commendation from the international community; yet most significantly is left with less than what we currently possess. In other words, Belize would end up with the short end of the stick and in effect would be the backroom joke of the OAS and Guatemala for being so gullible to even have considered going to the ICJ.
It is plain to see that, based on the court’s fundamental operating practice, Belize seemingly only stands to lose concerning where we currently stand as it relates to our territorial integrity and sovereignty. Yet, this scenario is not yet complete, as I would be remiss in failing to mention that the millions of US dollars that have been pledged for the route set out (1) to provide the (mis)education campaign; and (2) to hold the referendum, is already in effect and these unscrupulous politicians and their well connected friends are already counting the money.
If matters hold true to course, as they relate to electoral exercises in Belize, I have no doubt that funds shall be misappropriated and the entire process corrupted. Nonetheless, that is another salient topic for yet another time.
In sum, the expansionist Guatemalan ideology is alive and well. It may not be in the form of a militaristic camp that is unafraid to intimidate its neighbours, by threat of force. Nonetheless, it exists and ironically enough, one of its functional allies in setting the path for its legitimisation is none other than the government of the nation of which it seeks to annex half its territory!
The Guatemalan oligarchy, via transforming its approach has come full-throttle into the realm of modern “diplomacy” and with considerable help from its friends at the OAS, and deliberately greedy forces that seemingly have no impetus to logically place country before self, Guatemala is now poised to get something for nothing.
Yet, the Belizean electorate can stem the tide by becoming actively involved in the process through casting a resounding “NO” vote to the ICJ on 6th October 2013. This shall send a definitive message to the powers that be, whether within our borders, to the west of our border or even as far as the corridors of the OAS, that Belize’s territorial integrity and sovereignty will not be placed before the ICJ for adjudication. Long live Belize in its, current, legal and geographic legitimacy.
BELIZE, SOVEREIGN AND FREE - NO ICJ!