Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington is scheduled to travel to Guatemala this weekend where he will sign an amendment to the referendum agreement between Belize and Guatemala at the request of the Guatemalan Government. The Amendment is to allow for a Referendum to be held separately instead of simultaneously. The reason given was that Guatemala thought holding a referendum to be substantially costly and as a means of cutting costs, they want to coincide the Referendum with presidential elections. Prime Minister Dean Barrow said he sought the approval of the opposition and got the go ahead from the leader of the opposition to sign the said amendment. It is customary that the opposition is actively involved when dealing with matters concerning Belize’s territorial integrity. Today, the People’s United Party sent a press release clarifying its position on the matter. The press release stated that, “Last month Prime Minister Barrow advised the Honourable Francis Fonseca that the Government was considering a request by Guatemala for amendment of the Special Agreement in order to allow for Referenda to be held in Guatemala in November of this year during their second round of elections. Prime Minister Barrow also indicated to the Leader of the Opposition that Foreign Minister Elrington would be holding further discussions on the matter and prepare a proper statement to be issued to Belizeans outlining the position of the Government and the rationale behind any proposed amendments. An undertaking was given that Elrington would share that statement with the Leader of Opposition before anything else was done. That did not occur.” As previously reported, both the Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have said that they did not think the matter needed national consultation as the amendment to the special agreement does not put Belize at a disadvantage. In explaining the party’s decision Senator Lisa Shoman, who has served as the party’s envoy on the Guatemala process, says the decision by Guatemala breaks several long-standing principles of the process, and Belizeans should have been given a say.
“The Government should say to Belizeans that this is the request of the Government of Guatemalan and should take a reading from people as to whether this is something in Belize’s best advantage. Belizeans have not received no other explanation other than this is what Guatemala wants and we have not been told by the government, what advantage it will be to Belize for us to delay the process. “What is even worse is that it has always been an achievement of ours, in terms of Belize, that we have never allowed the Guatemala issue to become politicize or part of any political campaign. The same is true in terms of our relations with Guatemala. We have never wanted for this question to be involved with any electoral process in Guatemala, because we know the capacity for it to become a political issue and so the timing of having this particular referendum is something that breaks a principle that we’ve had for a long time, which is neither Belize or Guatemala would have this referendum anytime during a respective political processes and we have said so plainly to all of the international communities for at least the past 15 years.”
Shoman said she would not be drawn into speculation as to Guatemala’s motives, even when we noted to her that Guatemala had previously withdrawn from the simultaneous referenda process in April of 2013 over concerns about Belize’s referendum threshold, to which it had had no objections when signing the Special Agreement in 2008. But the PUP clearly does not trust the Foreign Ministry, as according to Shoman they have yet to be level as to what the actual amendment is or what the Guatemalan Foreign Minister was doing in Belize this past Sunday when he met with Minister Elrington. Without a text of the amendment, says Senator Shoman, Belize does not quite have the advantage Prime Minister Barrow has proclaimed it does.
“Of course. the Opposition is a part of the government, that is in the Constitution and the government is bound to give us a copy. They are bound to let all Belizeans know, not only the opposition. We all have a right to know what that amendment is going to be and what is it is that they signed. The opposition was not even notified that that meeting would take place. If it is a bipartisan approach, they should notify us and brief us as to what happened.”
The PUP states that, quote, “This issue is of profound national importance and the PUP cannot agree to support any such change to the Special Agreement that was not properly explained and formally consulted with the people of Belize and the Opposition. Therefore the PUP will not attend the meeting between the Foreign Ministers of Guatemala and Belize to amend the Special Agreement” As previously mentioned the Foreign Minister travels to Guatemala over the weekend and will sign the amendment to the special agreement on Monday May 25th.