Thousands of teachers converged on the border town of Benque Viejo on Firiday 15 April to discuss the Belize Guatemala referendum. On this day, the Belize National Teachers Union launched their “Stand Up for Belize” campaign. The two main speakers were Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington and now representative for the opposition Dr. Assad Shoman. Shoman spoke first and congratulated the teachers for their awakened sense of interest in the debate, and then continued to share his views that Belize must go to the ICJ
Asad Shoman, Opposition Representative: Has made this tiny country able to emerge, become independent, and to stand up for so long to our big neighborhood bully. It is the International Support we were able to gain and that we still have. If we were to lose that support, we would be in serious trouble. If the Guatemalan Government can succeed, and it is trying, to paint us as the intransigent party, the stubborn party because we refuse to abide by the United Nations Charter and take our dispute to the ICJ. IF they succeed in that, we COCO roast. And the OAS has been the one that has implementing the confidence building measures and incidentally, at some time if you want, I can show to you that these confidence building measures as of seen written here and there and people said are not confined just to the adjacency line or zone. We can also use them in the Sartsoon to get the OAS to help. Now if we nuh have them to police the situation, who will police the confidence building measures? Who will police the Guats? We need to keep the OAS here. It is my considered view; A, that we must end the Guatemalan claim soon or we risk losing a lot more than we have lost already; our forest and our wood, environment and so on. And B, that the only way to end, is by going to the ICJ. I dream of the day when teachers, students, and others will walk down Belmopan shouting “ICJ the only way”
According to Dr. Shoman, teachers must pressure Government to have the Belize education Curriculum include the Guatemala issue. He also stated that he believes that voter’s re-registration needs to be conducted before any referendum on the Guatemala issue is carried out.
Asad Shoman, Opposition Representative: But on the question of the voting thing I think yes we have to be careful. We have to be careful because the truth is that the last registration that we had, was in 1996, the registration of voters. So from 1996 to now is 20 years. It’s true, a lot of Guatemalans are on that list, a lot of dead people are on that list, a lot of people who have different address are on that list. We need to have a registration process. If we’re going to trust the referendum, the representation of the People Act, the law requires that the registration should have been done in 2007 then it was postponed by statutory instrument to 2012. In 2012 it was postponed again to 2017, postponed again and we continue to sound like Guatemalans, just postponing everything. I would say, that a registration of voters should take place before the referendum. So I would recommend that you also pass a resolution to that effect at your next convention.
Foreign Minister Elrington was next to take the podium and speak to the audience. After stating his experience in agitating for Belize against Guatemala in his early days, he proceeded to explain why he has taken this approach to dealing with the public on the Guatemala issue.
Minister Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington: The government shall moderate the language and tone of their written communication and public pronouncement of their officials, so I am required to speak in a measured moderate way because what I say and how I say it, it will get people angry and upset and people can react Kneejerk and hurt you. So these are all things that I’m sure Ambassador Shoman helped to craft. I am faithfully following it. There are elements in the country, but I am obliged to act properly, maturely. And as Ambassador Shoman has said, the issues has got to be dealt with intelligently. And it is for that reason that we are both so very happy to be before you today because if anybody can teach our children, it has to be you. You must have the information and you must pass it on.
He then gave his support as well for his Government for going to the ICJ.
Minister Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington: That is a strength of conviction that is shared by myself, and by the leadership of the UDP Party. It is for that reason that our government took the decision to go to the ICJ years ago, but we can’t go on our won and we want to have the opposition buy in. But I tell you, it is the British who started first saying go to the ICJ, from 1940, 1945 up to now. Up to the time we just got independence they said ICJ, we will not negotiate with Guatemalans. And the Belize legislative council, our legislative council in 1948 agreed, and you’ll get copies from it in the archives, that we should go to the ICJ. So our local government agency legislative council already agreed on the matter. The only delay we have now is that the opposition is still consulting.