PM says Bilateral Agreements with Guatemala not unusual

Belize signed 13 special bilateral agreements with the Republic of Guatemala last week on the sidelines of the SICA Summit in Placencia, Stann Creek District. Such agreements, as Prime Minister Dean Barrow pointed out to reporters on Tuesday, happen all the time in international diplomacy.

But this is Guatemala, and they are “not a normal country,” in the words of one reporter questioning why the Prime Minister believes the agreements were not worthy of wide dissemination before they were signed.

Here is how he responded.

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vlcsnap-2014-12-24-05h02m52s123Prime Minister Dean Barrow

I will not quarrel with that. Those agreements were in fact agreements that were being worked on by our team. At some point, they had the oversight of the Referendum Commission.  

The Opposition was there at all times. In fact I still haven’t heard them say that they disagreed with what’s being signed. How could they when they helped to negotiate what’s been signed. Their argument is merely that,  ‘Well it ought to have been circulated for consultation before the signing.’ I don’t agree, and if they maintain that position then we will forever be at odds.

We will take them to the Senate, so that again there can be a chance for more people to weigh in. But Lord man, let us not snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory”.

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The Prime Minister compared the agreements to the infamous Heads of Agreement, intended to resolve the Guatemalan claim in 1981. He says, unlike those which would have required national approval by referendum under common agreement, these are lesser-level agreements intended to bring the countries closer together and normalize relations between them.

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Prime Minister Dean Barrow

I really am satisfied that this represents a huge advance. There is nothing there, as I indicated, that’s reflective of a sort of Heads of Agreement type scenario.  These are innocuous understandings that can help both sides in terms of cooperation in the various areas. And certainly, it represents a chance for working together and getting to know each other better, and that is the way ultimately that we can achieve the falling-away of the claim, if we don’t go to the ICJ before that.”

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One of the agreements under much scrutiny concerns seasonal work. Workers of both countries’ status are regularized, but since there are many more Guatemalans than Belizeans what is in the agreement for Belize?

The P.M. says it opens a route for Belizeans to possibly do the same in Guatemala.

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Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I don’t know that Belizeans go to Guatemala right now to do seasonal work.  If you have, as a matter of fac,t Guatemalan seasonal workers coming, what’s wrong with legalizing them?

There may be opportunities for Belizeans to engage in seasonal work in Guatemala [but] I highly doubt it.

But all [we’re] doing is regularizing what happens as a matter of fact.”

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The agreements run the gamut from education to criminal justice to security concerns.
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