Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington has seemed to suggest that Belize is going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to settle the unfounded Guatemalan claim to our territory whether we like it or not. But no referendum on the issue has been held by either country. This has not stopped the Guatemalans from attempting to stop construction of the Coast Guard forward operating base on Sarstoon Island, which is widely seen to be Belizean territory. Citing the importance of this installation despite Elrington’s claim that no decision has been taken to begin construction, alternative political movement Vision Inspired by the People (VIP) is petitioning Belizeans to join its call to Government to build the Sarstoon Island Coast Guard forward operating base. Paco Smith gives details at a press conference organized by VIP in Belize City today.
Paco Smith, Executive Member of VIP – “The Barrow Administration, remaining true to form with its spineless 4A policy has again opted to appease the Guatemalans and their demands and has discontinued the intended construction works. The Vision Inspired by the People movement recognizes the outright dereliction of responsibility by the GOB in this regard and therefore, call on Belizeans and true friends of Belize both at home and abroad to sign this petition. It demands that Prime Minister Dean Oliver Barrow uphold the integrity of Belize by not allowing Guatemala to dictate that which our security forces can and cannot do within our sovereign territory. Simply put, if you understand and respect Belize’s Constitution as well as the rights we enjoy by being a full member of the United Nations, it is your duty to inform the Prime Minister of the folly of his ways, as these acts of intimidation by the Guatemalan government is part and parcel of a design strategy through which they intend to bolster their heretofore unfounded claim to Belize. In closing, therefore, the VIP asks that you do the right thing by kindly signing and forwarding this petition both far and wide, to ensure that PM Barrow and his administration understand that Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is no joking matter. In that regard, the people of this nation shall not sit idly by and allow the misguided judgment of a few to place our nations well-being in further jeopardy .”
VIP executive member Patrick Rogers reiterated the feelings of many on the issue: if the island is for Belize, we need no one’s permission to build on it, least of all Guatemala or the OAS.
Patrick Rogers, Executive Member of VIP – “If I own this thing, I shouldn’t have to check with no OAS. In a matter where Guatemala tell me wait ‘til ICJ mek wa ruling. Why do I need to lap my tail now and go to the OAS? Why do I not listen to my Belizeans? Why do I not listen to what my Belizeans wah do? Da they wa give up their life because as we say, you own something nuh just by ready fu kill for it but by showing you ready fu die for it. Now that lap tail that they’re doing is showing that they are coward, they nuh fraid fi dead fi nuttin’. They got we lee bredda dem di kill up dehself right now but the message of being ready to die for something you believe in is not a concept that Belizeans know about, they fraid fi that. Now I want to applaud our coast guards, they were ready to die di stare down wa bigger army in their eye but as anyone who understand the art of war it doesn’t matter about the bigger army, it’s who understands the power of that steer. You just watch the officers, nuh worry bout the lee recruits, yeah their army is bigger than our one with a three stand-off but da who you wa aim for da di officers and di officer done realize that we might win this but I might dead and so the officers they wa step back when you show you ready fu dead fi this.”
According to Rogers, Guatemala has some reason to feel hard done by, as they were not properly compensated in the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty and did not ratify the drawings of borders in 1931 as agreed by the British. If the ICJ sees it their way, Guatemala may be entitled to compensation for territory from the south bank of the Haulover Creek to the Sarstoon, aided by the United States, Rogers charged. Belize, he said, is setting up for trouble, and was not consulted when the decision was taken to consider possibly giving up land and insular territories in the compromis without ratification by the Senate which has not been obtained. He told us why the worst-case scenario he outlined may in fact be reality.
Patrick Rogers – “We’ve heard their foreign minister and what he said is that they will come back again. Although the wording of the compromis is that once it’s rejected eena any ah di country – that’s it, it’s a dead issue. We’ve heard to the contrary, Guatemalan foreign minister, no less, saying that they gwen back and they gwen back ‘til they get a yes. So that is why it scares us that our foreign minister wah di act like it’s a done deal that we have to go to the ICJ as the only recourse we have to settling this matter and we’re saying at the VIP desk that from all our reading of the different documents that we got our hands on, there was a willingness on Guatemala’s part to accept compensation, monetary compensation, to settle the dispute but they need to have something to take back to their people to say, that yeah England stay with di land weh they strang fra we but we were compensated with X, Y, or Z. They need to have something that they can take to their people so that they can take it out their constitution. We understand that clearly.”
Guatemala plans a referendum in the second half of 2015 to coincide with their national elections but the amendment to the compromis must go before its authorities by 26 July to be ratified. Belize intends to hold ours sometime after the next general election, widely expected in 2016 but constitutionally due in 2017.