On Monday of this week an extraordinary press conference was held at the Radison Fort George Hotel here in Belize City. The two protagonists were the Foreign Minister of Belize, the Hon. Wilfred Elrington and the Foreign Minister of Guatemala, Lic. Carlos Raúl Morales.
They called the press conference to inform the people of Belize of the measures the two countries are taking to avoid confrontation and to work towards a peaceful settlement of the territorial dispute which has so divided our two countries. .
The foreign ministers each made opening statements and then subjected themselves to vigorous questioning from a feisty press corps.
The dominant sentiment expressed was the exasperation which Belizeans feel towards Guatemala, which appears to be setting up barriers to discourage Belizeans from travelling to parts of Belize near the southern and western border. .
Belizeans argue that we should be free to visit any part of our national territory without restriction because we are a free people in a free land.
The best answer to this question came from Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Martinez, who was lucid and articulate in English.
Guatemala is not trying to prevent anybody from doing anything, he said. Guatemala’s over-riding purpose is to preserve the peace and to prevent small incidents from becoming big problems down the road.
“Why would anybody want to create a border incident”, he asked. “Is that what you want?” .
Minister Elrington was equally perceptive. Belizeans certainly have a right to go wherever they want within Belize, he said. But some places are safer than others! And a disputed border is not a good or safe place for Belizeans to be.
The same is true of certain areas of
Belize City. People generally avoid the streets of Ghost Town or Conch Shell Bay because these areas are considered unsafe. You visit them at your own risk!
Hard-liners later expressed disappointment with the press conference, and one morose commentator even accused the Belize Foreign Minister of becoming an apologist for the Guatemalan government. .
But we at this newspaper congratulate both Foreign Ministers for their effort to engage the Belizean press and public in a constructive way. Their efforts to clarify the issues were much appreciated by the wider Belizean community.
Television viewers who watched this press conference came away with a renewed appreciation of the complexity of this century-old territorial dispute and the difficulty involved in following a path to peace instead of protest and confrontation.
While it is true that Belizeans go in peace to visit various border locations to educate our people and further reinforce our claim to this land, to members of the Guatemalan armed forces who do not accept Belize’s border and Belize’s point of view, the visits take on the aspect of provocation. !
Under these volatile circumstances, it will only take one bad move to ignite a border incident or a flare-up of hostilities. This is something we must strive to avoid.
We have nothing to gain and a lot to lose if we enter into such an uneven contest. .