Sometimes it seems that the harder you work, the more frustrations and criticism you get.
This seems to be the case with Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington.
Highly regarded abroad and by his peers in the region as a well-read, level-headed diplomat, he is reviled by critics at home for being weak and ineffective because he has not taken a stronger, harder line with our neighbour, Guatemala.
First there was the “artificial border” thing. People resented that he should refer to our western border with Guatemala as artificial.
Yet anyone who has taken the trouble to “look it up”, either on the Internet or any authoritative book of reference will find that “artificial borders” are as real as physical borders. The only difference is that you can see and touch a physical border such as a mountain range or a river.
An artificial border is an agreed-upon line which separates one country or state from another. It exists just as real as the Rio Hondo or the Sarstoon. Most of the countries of Europe and Asia and Africa and all 48 contiguous States of America have artificial or man-made borders.
Mr. Elrington’s critics fault him for not taking a harder line with Guatemala, without reflecting on the fact that most of the incidents with the Guatemalans are coming from the military or from civilian outlaws. When incidents arise, such as the arrest of 37 Belizeans on a boat in the Sarstoon River, or the grounding of a Guatemalan gunship on our reef, they come about as a result of military decisions, not Guatemalan policy.
When problems like these arise, it is the civilian government of Guatemala which intervenes to correct them.
Our Foreign Minister has kept the door open with the Foreign Ministry in Guatemala. This enables Belize to have a direct line of communication with the Government of Guatemala, without having to go through the red tape of an embassy intermediary in Belize.
This is a great advantage for Belize, as was seen in the recent case when the Guatemalan military arrested a boat with 37 Belizeans on board in the Sarstoon River. A call to the Foreign Office in Guatemala resulted in a quick release of the prisoners. The arrest of the Belizeans was a military decision. The quick release was a political one.
Patient diplomacy was also able to procure, late last year, a bloc of 13 agreements between Belize and Guatemala, regulating mutual affairs from energy to culture; from tourism to migrant workers.
Anyone who imagines that a formal agreement between Belize and Guatemala is not a big deal needs to have his head examined. It is a big deal because by it, Guatemala implicitly acknowledges the sovereignty and independcnce of Belize. This was achieved by quiet diplomacy.
Belize will achieve other significant gains by quiet diplomacy, which means that to some, Belize’s foreign policy may appear to be weak and ineffective. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and so far, Belize appears to be doing well.
Another criticism to surface recently is that Belize messed up when we signed a compromis agreement with Guatemala, in late 2008, to take (subject to referendum approval) our territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The criticism comes because Belize agreed with Guatemala to have the whole territorial dispute resolved, including land and sea claims, not just the land part of the dispute.
The criticism is juvenile in concept, but it is being bandied about as a valid criticism by would-be politicians.
It profits Belize nothing to have the ICJ resolve part of this dispute and leave other parts unresolved We need to resolve the whole thing!