32 years after Belize gained independence and joined the United Nations within four days of each other in 1981, the Guatemala territorial dispute continues to bedevil our young country as one of the greatest issues confronting it. Within five days of today, there was to have been a simultaneous referendum in both countries on whether the matter should be taken to resolution at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands. It will not take place on October 6 or any time soon as Guatemala has reneged on its commitment to hold the referendum, citing internal pressures. On Monday, Belize’s Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington, addressed the United Nations General Assembly’s annual debate in New York City, asking international intervention, not necessarily to bring Guatemala to heel, but to address the greater problems that lead to the incursions in Belizean territory and end what he called “an existential threat” to Belizean sovereignty. “The input of the international community would be vital in assisting with the development in the border regions of income-generating enterprises to ameliorate the poverty which impels the Guatemalans to trespass in our border regions,” Elrington said, after outlining the problems which Guatemala’s lack of respect for our border has caused: environmental degradation in our coastal waters and rivers resulting from the illegal activities of Guatemalans engaged in drug and human trafficking, smuggling, illegal panning for gold and other illegal activities as well as more frequent violent encounters between Guatemalans and members of the Belize Defence Force who catch them trespassing on our territory, resulting in fatalities that had put a heavy strain on relations between the two countries. He also spoke about the effects of climate change and non-communicable diseases and disabilities on the region with respect to economics and a fresh look at concessionary financing to smaller nations, moving away from the gross domestic product (GDP) model.
Meanwhile on September 26, Guatemala’s President, Otto Perez Molina, also spoke to his world colleagues but did not mention his country’s dispute with Belize. Instead, he focused on the war on drugs, repeating his for more effective policies that emphasized health, reduced social violence, respected human rights and curbed the flow of illegal arms and funds that financed criminal networks. He also spoke of forming an alliance with Mexico and the United States for greater integration of Caribbean and Central American countries and claimed his country had done well to improve the nutritional status of infants and children and dignified employment and the competitiveness of the economy, emphasizing the building of skilled and active citizens. There is no word on if the two met in the margins of the Assembly, which concludes on October 4.