Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala brings ICJ educational campaign to San Pedro

Saturday, May 26th, 2018

As Belize moves towards the national referendum to decide whether to take the Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala, His Excellency Alexis Rosado, addressed students and invited guests on the topic at the Angel Nuñez Auditorium on Tuesday, May 22nd. Rosado spoke about the history of the Guatemalan claim on Belize, the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the reason why the ICJ is the only solution to the long-standing territorial dispute with Guatemala.

Most of the audience was comprised of students, who listened as Andre Perez introduced Ambassador Rosado. The presentation, which is part of the nationwide ICJ educational campaign, started with the summary of Belize’s position against the territorial claim from Guatemala. Rosado stated that Guatemala has no means of proving that they inherited Belize from Spain as they claim. He also stressed that Guatemala has never held any jurisdiction of governance in what is now Belize, thus, their case before the ICJ is not as strong as Belize’s. “We signed boundary treaties in 1859 and another agreement in 1931 in which both parties recognized the present borders,” said Rosado. In the 1859 Boundary Treaty, Great Britain and Guatemala agreed on the present border, beginning from the mouth of the Sarstoon River in the south and colliding with the Mexican frontier in the north with the Rio Hondo. Several years later, despite the claims by Guatemala that as part of the treaty, England was to construct a road connecting Belize to Guatemala or provide monetary compensation, the borders were once again acknowledged in 1931. Rosado explained that in that year, there was an exchange of notes and Guatemala agreed that the markers placed at Garbutt’s Falls (on the western border) and at Gracias a Dios Rapids (in the Sarstoon River) formed the border. Those markers had been placed in those specific areas in 1929 by commissioners of England and Guatemala. However, in 1946, the Guatemalan Congress declared the 1859 Boundary Treaty null, arguing that the British did not fulfill such agreement after they failed to build the proposed road. Thereafter, Guatemala demanded that Belize be returned to them. In addition, since that year, they hold in their Constitution that Belize is Guatemalan territory.

Rosado said that ever since, Britain has tried many times to reach an agreement with Guatemala. They even suggested the ICJ, but at that time, the Guatemalan government did not agree. Rosado maintains that after Belize’s independence in 1981, Belizean governments have tried to resolve the dispute with no success. “After exhausting all means of peaceful negotiations and meetings, we asked the OAS to recommend what could be the final solution to this claim,” said Rosado. “The ICJ was recommended and both countries agreed.” In 2008, both countries signed a special agreement to submit the territorial claim to this international arbitration. But first, they must hold referendums in both countries where the electorates will vote ‘Yes or No’ on whether to have the matter resolved at this court. Guatemala did theirs on April 15th, garnering a resounding ‘Yes’. Belize has scheduled its referendum for April 2019.

During the presentation, the Ambassador took questions from the audience, which addressed two areas: the OAS and the costs of taking the case to the international court. Rosado stated that the OAS has been vital in nurturing better relations between Belize and Guatemala. He credited the OAS for creating an adjacency zone, one which Guatemala must respect until the issue is solved. Rosado added that the cost to take the issue to the ICJ has not been speculated, however, he warned that if Belizeans vote no at the referendum, the country will continue losing millions as Guatemalans continue encroaching into Belize’s forests and national parks. “We have the opportunity now to stop this and have our border demarcated after the ICJ tells Guatemala to recognize Belize borders,” said Rosado. According to him, even though the international community supports Belize’s sovereignty with all its territory, they cannot force Guatemala to recognize the borders-only the ICJ can do so. He also made it clear to everyone that the ICJ is the only solution to end this centennial territorial issue with Guatemala and if Belizeans do not take this opportunity, the assistance from the OAS and other international partners might come to an end. “We might lose international support and this is very alarming,” said Rosado. “Belize became independent with territorial integrity and security only because of such international support,” Rosado stated that there are no guarantees that this support can last forever.

Rosado encouraged Belizeans to take advantage of this opportunity to put an end to the claim, which will continue if the case is not taken before the court. The Ambassador closed the presentation by reminding the audience that Belize has a strong case, which if taken to the ICJ will be judged in accordance with the law. “It is important to send the world a message that we are a people with a vocation for peace and dialogue, and that we have the intention to resolve the dispute peacefully,” he ended.

On April 10, 2019 Belizeans will vote on whether the ICJ should resolve the Guatemalan claim to Belize. The Government of Belize announced the referendum date following a Cabinet meeting early in May. In addition, GOB has allotted $8 million for a public awareness campaign, which is underway across the country.

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