Commentary: Belize: Put the national interest first

Sir Ronald Sanders is Antigua and Barbuda's Ambassador to the US and the OAS. He is also a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London and Massey College in the University of Toronto. The views expressed are his own. Responses to:

By Sir Ronald Sanders

Narrow party-political ambitions frequently thwart the wider national interest in practically every country.

The world is watching this play-out now as a public spectacle in Britain where the Brexit question continues to be deeply immersed in both personal political purposes and a struggle for the supremacy of one political party over another. At the end of it, Britain will be a much-diminished nation economically. It will also have little clout in the international community.

But it is not in Britain alone that this tragedy of political ambition over wider national interest is being displayed. On April 3, seven days before a referendum is scheduled to be held in Belize to determine if the country should take its border dispute with Guatemala for final arbitration to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the opposition political party, the Peoples’ Unity Party (PUP), obtained an injunction from the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin, to stay it.

This commentary is less concerned with the legal technicalities of the judgement, important though they are, and more concerned with the increasing tendency to eschew agreement among political parties that serve the national interest, and, instead to pursue political advantage even though it may be short-term and harmful to the nation’s cause.

Of course, the politicians and political parties that pursue these advantages will reject the idea that they are doing so. They will wrap their arguments in the colours of the national flag and claim that they are marching to the drums of the national anthem. They will proclaim it is the people’s interest they are protecting. The same will be done by the governing political parties. But it is the very people, on whose behalf they claim to act, who will be side-lined in the party-political argument.

The referendum, scheduled for April 10 in Belize, was precisely to give the people a say in determining how the Belizean nation should deal with the claim to all of its territory by Guatemala – a claim that has manacled the country hand and foot, retarding its economic and social advancement even prior to its independence from Britain in 1981.

The decision to hold a referendum did not materialise out of thin air, nor was it the brainchild of the governing United Democratic Party (UDP). Significantly, most of the work to hold a referendum was done by the very PUP that sought the April 3 injunction to stop it.

After years of incursions by Guatemalans – both civilian and military – into Belizean territory and an absolute refusal by successive Guatemalan governments to end the claim to all Belizean territory, the governments of the two countries agreed in 2012 to hold separate referenda to allow their people to decide whether or not the all-consuming dispute would be sent to the ICJ for settlement.

After much foot-dragging and postponements over the six following years, the Guatemala government held its referendum on April 15, 2018. The result of the referendum, albeit with a low turn-out, was a mandate by more than 90 per cent of the voters for the Guatemalan government to take the dispute to the ICJ.

In the face of this history and the remarkable step by the Guatemalans to hold the referendum, the voice of the Belizean people had to be heard. Therefore, the date for the referendum was set, and the government launched a public programme to educate the population about all that was at stake.

Unfortunately, no referendum is easy, and the political campaigning surrounding it, never sticks to the question people are being asked to answer. The dissonance, distortions, and disinformation, which permeate the political wars that are launched, were evident in the run-up to the vote in Britain over “Brexit”, and in referenda held in Caribbean countries concerning replacing the Judicial Committee of the British Privy Council with the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) as the apex court in Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries.

Perhaps it was naïve to think that the Belizean referendum would have been free of mischief, misinformation and jockeying for political advantage. However, given that it was the opposition PUP that had done most of the very hard work to advance it while in government, and that the ruling UDP had taken up the mantle, it was a reasonable expectation that the parties would have united to provide national leadership on the matter.

The question for the Belizean electorate in the referendum is: “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?”

Straight forward though the question is, the answer has been distorted by those who have played on the fears of the Belizean people that they could lose their country if the ICJ finds for Guatemala.

Guatemala would have been bemused, if not delighted, by the actions that have caused the stay in the referendum. It has sent a wrong signal from Belize. Fortunately, the stay cannot long stand and, one way or the other, either by judicial appeal or by rectification of any encumbering law, the referendum will be held.

This dispute with Guatemala cannot be solved by negotiation – it would be in Guatemala’s interest to prolong it and so maintain the present claim. It also cannot be solved by conflict. The ICJ is Belize’s best route. Both political parties – when in government — supported that view. They should jointly continue to embrace it and give the people of Belize the guidance and sense of confidence they are owed.



  1. The fly in the ointment is that at the end of the day Guatemala would reject any adverse legal findings of the ICJ.

  2. It is always rather un-nerving when someone who enjoys “respect” on the regional scene, opts to comment on matters with which they are not entirely familiar and essentially ends up demonstrating how very little they know of the intricacies involving the situation at hand. The commentary under scrutiny evokes memories of the most recent visit by he Hon. Louis Farrakhan to Beilze, several years ago, when he made a most unfortunate and misinformed statement in which he expressed that , “Belize should just give Guatemala access to the sea, in order to end the conflict”. Obviously, those who were responsible for briefing him, dropped the ball, because his pronoouncement was far, off base. I trust that with the ensuing developments over the years, the culpable parties have since come to terms with the error of their ways, on that occasion.

    Unfortunately, this is one such instance for Sir Ronald Sanders. Although I agree with his overarching expression which espuoses, “Belize: Put the National Interest First”, that is as far as I can say that his perspective is appropriate. My reason for saying this emanates from the fact that it appears as though Sir Ronald might be seeing things through rose coloured lenses, due to his proximity to that wretched organisation to which he serves as Ambassador for his nation. All things considred, that would be most ironic, but I am aware as to how things go in the diplomatic realm. One must “choose” their battles, accordingly.

    Let me begin by first saying that given the manner through which Belize was taken into the 2008 OAS-sponsored Special Agreement/Compromis was less than appropriate, it set the tone as to why Sir Ronald is so very wrong, in this instnace. Couple that with the fact that, as the recent determinations of Belize’s Chief Justice, as well as the Court of Appeal have demonstated, the means through which the Government of Belize went about instituting its pro-ICJ push was less than on-par with good governance principles and practises. Beyond that, as was most recently highlighted by the Prime Minister’s decision to change the law, so as to accommodate his agenda…which is fundamentally the agenda of the so-called “Friends of Belize” (e.g. the EU, the United Kingdom and the United States of America). To all who are willing to admit, itt is clearly their direction he unequivocally follows.

    The entire process is rife with improprieties and willful negligence, all perpetrated by the GOB, as well as being facilitated and perpetuated by external entities which are vested to ensure that matters such as accountability for the use of grant funds, is established. It is a sordid saga of subterfuge underscored by geopolitical influences, augmented with the vision-less and spineless “leadership” at the national level.

    Altogether, it results in a quagmire of: ineptitude, impotence and corruption ruling the roost, meanwhile the grubby politicians use virtually every imaginable scheme to try and hoodwink the electorate into believing their ill-conceived and overtly flawed prescription, is the only way through which Belize can adress the issue of Guatemala’s claim to our sovereign territory.

    The list of intentional, unlawful and despicable acts that are being committed against the people of Belize, concerning the 2008 Special Agreement/Compromis and the intended Referendum is far too long to list via this post. Therefore, I draw your attention to the following link, in which the Belize PEACE Movement articlulates but a few untenable offenses that are occruing, meanwhile persons who have not a clue, continue to make pronouncements, based on very little factual knowledge.

    Therefore, albeit his credentials are not in question, my advice to Sir Ronald is to please conduct adequate due diligence concerning this matter, prior to making any further such profound statements, because the fact of the matter is that if you hold true even the basic tenets ascribed to good governance, its principles and practises, with renewed knowledge of the situation at hand, I truly believe you would retract most of what you stated, as the premise on which your commentary is seemingly based.

    Again, I agree that “Belize MUST put the national interest first”, but with the priniciples on both sides of the proverbial fence, particularly given the manner in which the GOB commenced the engagement, as well as the gross negligence of the external oversight entities, along with the willful interference of the so-called “Friends of Belize”, such a noble notion certainly does not reside in Belizeans simply bowing to the dictates of the entirely corrupt call and accompanying actions, for us to vote “yes”, to take Guatemala’s claim to the ICJ, under the aegis of the current Special Agreement/Compromis.

    Maybe Sir Ronald should stick to the most immediate among his tasks at hand in so far as his remit has demonstrated, that is to hold the puppet OAS and its puppet-master, the USA, accountable for the many nefarious and fundamentally illegal things they are seeking to impose on select nations throughout Latin America and Caribbean. Quite frankly, I believe the madness they have contributed to and now blatently seek to enlargen in Venezuela, is a paramount example.

    8867 Today 8867 Tomorrow 8867 Forever
    Belize, Sovereign and Free – NO ICJ!


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