Saturday, May 25, 2024

Belize in 2020: New UDP Party Leader, ICJ court case begins, General Elections

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Belize will see three major events in 2020 that will impact Belizeans in many ways. On the list is the possible change in government with the election of a new party leader in the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) and General Elections. Then there is the hearing of Guatemala’s submissions regarding rights to Belize at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The election of UDP’s party leader and the ICJ court hearings are expected to take place within the first five months of this year. The General Elections date has yet to be announced by the Government of Belize.

On February 9, 2020, a total of 560 delegates will vote and choose the next UDP leader, as the current leader and Prime Minister, Right Honourable Dean Barrow, officially steps down. The decision will take place at the Civic Centre in Belize City during the National Leadership Convention that will either see Minister of Education, Youth, Sports and Culture, Honourable Patrick Faber, or Minister of National Security Honourable John Saldivar as the new UDP leader. The convention will also see the election of a new First and Second Deputy Party leader, along with a new Chairman and Vice-Chairman.
Faber and Saldivar had their first political fight in March 2016, when the post for First Deputy Leader was vacated by former Deputy Prime Minister Honourable Gaspar Vega. After an aggressive three-month campaign, Faber was selected as the First Deputy Leader, ascending to the position of Deputy Prime Minister. As the decision day draws near to elect the new leader of the current ruling party, opinions are mixed. Meanwhile, both candidates continue their campaign to garner as much support as possible from the delegates, who have the responsibility to choose Barrow’s replacement.
Beginning of the Belize-Guatemala territorial dispute case at the International Court of Justice
After Guatemalans and Belizeans agreed via a national referendum, held on separate times in each country, to take their long-standing territorial dispute to the ICJ, and time has been ticking towards the day of the final verdict. The act of taking the matter to this international court, which is the judiciary arm of the United Nations, began in 2008 with the signing of a Special Agreement, noting ‘any and all legal claims of Guatemala against Belize to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories, to declare the rights therein of both Parties, and to determine the boundaries between their respective territories and areas.” But before a court battle could begin, a national referendum had to be held in both countries. Guatemala held its one on April 15, 2018 obtaining a “Yes’ vote for the ICJ. Belize’s referendum was delayed until May 8, 2019, yielding a ‘Yes’ vote as well. By June 7, 2019, the court located in The Hague, Netherlands, had officially received Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim on Belize for review and final verdict.
The next step now will see Guatemala submitting its allegations to justify its rights to the Belizean territory. That country has until around April to file such submissions, which will then be presented to the court in June of this year. Belize will then have a year to dispute such submissions and try to convince the court that Guatemala has no rights on any of Belize’s territory.
Belizeans have been closely following this issue of national interest for years, as no official claim has ever been laid out by Guatemala. There had been speculations that they are claiming half of Belize, while others indicated that the claim is on the entire country. While Belizeans wait to hear what Guatemala is bringing to the ICJ, Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Honourable Wilfred Elrington said that they are ready to respond to the submissions. “We have been doing all that we have to do to put ourselves in readiness, whenever it is time to make our submissions to the court,” said Elrington. He added that Belize has already chosen a team of lawyers to fight for Belize at the court. According to Elrington, a former diplomat and Belizean author, Assad Shoman and current Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala, His Excellency Alexis Rosado, are handling all legal activities. Elrington also mentioned that Guatemala had chosen their ad hoc judge, who will sit in court to hear the submissions. There has been no word on the ad hoc judge for Belize yet.
The territorial dispute originates from the 1859 Boundary Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala. However, the claim did not gain force and major attention until the 1940s, when a new Guatemalan government declared the treaty null and void and demanded Great Britain the return of the Belizean territory.
No date for General Elections
As for the General Elections to elect a new government in Belize, there is no official word as to when they will take place. It is speculated that they might take some time in November 2020 and that the exact date will be announced right after a new UDP party leader is elected next month.

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