By Marion V. Ali
Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington is scheduled to travel to Guatemala this month to sign an amendment to the Compromis that Belize and Guatemala signed in 2008.
This agreement stipulates that that two countries will hold referendums simultaneously on whether citizens want to take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The trip follows a request which Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales made in March when he contacted Belize’s Ambassador to Guatemala, Alexis Rosado.
In that exchange, Morales asked that our countries hold separate referenda by November 2015 because that is when Guatemala’s second round of elections will take place.
The first round of elections will take place in September and Guatemala’s reason for the request is that holding the exercise outside of the elections will be too costly for her.
Minister Elrington, in an interview with Channel Five this week, said that he took the matter to the Cabinet, which supported the amendment to the Compromis.
The Leader of Opposition, Francis Fonseca told Channel Five the same day that while Prime Minister Dean Barrow communicated to him that he (Mr Barrow) and the Guatemalan president had discussed the matter;they could not agree to holding the exercise on the same date, as the current Compromis stipulates; that there were discussions over making the amendment; and that Mr Elrington would inform him upon any decision made on the matter.
Mr Fonseca said that up to the date of the televised interview on Tuesday, he had not heard from Mr Elrington. Further to that, he said that while his party has no qualms with the amendment, the public should be informed beforehand.
“He (Mr Barrow) indicated to me that there was a discussion about amending the Compromis to allow Guatemala to proceed with the holding of her referendum this year, and Belize would hold its referendum at a later date.
“ He indicated to me that Foreign Minister Elrington would be holding further discussions on this matter and he would be preparing a proper statement which would be issued to the Belizean people on this matter, outlining the position of the government and the rationale behind any proposed amendment.
“He undertook that Foreign Minister Elrington would share that with me before anything was done. To date I have not heard from Foreign Minister Elrington.”
But Minister Elrington has said that the government did not need to hold public consultations on the matter.
“The only thing that we are committed to bring to the public in relation to this matter is in fact the date of the referendum. … Under our system of government, political leaders are elected for five-year terms and are given responsibility to handle these matters, and so it is not our obligation to go back to the public every time we are taking an action.”
The amendment means that Guatemala and Belize would now hold separate referenda at the convenience of the two countries.
The date set for the signing of the amended document is May 24. It will be the last undertaking over which the outgoing Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Miguel Insulza, will preside.