Commonwealth Secretary-General asserts commitment to Belize
Thursday, May 5th, 2016
Recently installed Commonwealth Secretary-General Baroness Patricia Janet Scotland made an official visit to Belize from Thursday, April 28th through Monday, May 2nd. Her visit to Belize was the first leg of her official tour of the Commonwealth Caribbean countries. During her stay in Belize, she met with Prime Minister Right Honourable Dean Barrow and other senior government officials. Baroness Scotland also called an urgent meeting of the ministerial committee on the Belize-Guatemala border dispute in an immediate response to Belize’s border crisis.
The decision to speed up the meeting was made after Secretary-General Scotland met with Governor General Sir Colville Young, Barrow, and Leader of the Opposition John Briceño. The committee, which includes eight foreign ministers and is chaired by Barbados, was created by heads of government in 1977 to address urgent issues of its members. As a result, the Commonwealth Ministerial Committee in Belize is expected to meet months before their scheduled September 2016 forum to discuss recent troubling developments in the boundary disagreement.
Secretary-General Scotland reaffirmed the commitment made by the Commonwealth’s 53 governments at their 2015 summit, to fully support Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. According to her, the Commonwealth position on the sovereignty of Belize remains absolutely unchanged. “Belize is a valuable member of the Commonwealth and I welcome the cooperation between the Government of Belize and the Opposition on this issue, which is affecting their entire population,” she said. “I have responded positively to a request from the government and the Opposition to convene the Commonwealth Ministerial Committee on Belize ahead of the scheduled September meeting.”
During her visit to the country, Baroness Scotland visited the border where she met with the Organization of American States (OAS) team. She commended the OAS for their invaluable confidence and peace-building initiatives and the encouraging results they have achieved, particularly in promoting cultural connections between the youth of Guatemala and Belize. “I urge the international community to continue to resource this absolutely vital work.”
Belize and Guatemala have been working with the OAS towards a resolution since 2000. They both signed an agreement on a Framework for Negotiations and Confidence Building Measures in June of 2008, which includes a commitment to a set of guidelines to help the countries coexist peacefully while the border dispute is being resolved.
Following her visit to the border, Baroness Scotland also met with school children in the capital city of Belmopan. “I came to Belize to get a first-hand view of the country’s priorities, challenges and potentials, so I could better tailor Commonwealth cooperation and support,” she said. She declared that after speaking with Prime Minister Barrow, government officials and the Opposition about important initiatives to address climate change, support the rule of law and boost trade, it was made clear to her that the disagreement with Guatemala over border lines is the most pressing issue on the minds of the Belizean people.
After visiting Belmopan Methodist School, Baroness Scotland declared that she saw great talent, potential and a bright future. But she was also made aware of the anxieties of the young students. “When I asked how the Commonwealth can help to improve the lives of the Belizean youth, one girl responded ‘give us peace with Guatemala,” she recalled. “I am urging both countries to heed to the plea for peace and return to the table for constructive and peaceful negotiations.” She ended by stating that the Commonwealth stands ready to do all in its power to support this process.
The territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala dates back centuries to Imperial Spain’s claim to all “New World” territories west of the line established in the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas – a land distribution agreement between Spain and Portugal. An 1859 treaty established boundaries between Guatemala and Belize, but in the 1940’s Guatemala challenged the settlement.
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