General / Weekend News

Guatemala wants to include Belize on their map, again!

By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor

Guatemala has once again embarked on a mission to include Belize as part of its official map, despite a ruling in April of this year when the Guatemalan congress voted against the exact decision.

This week, Guatemala launched an international tender for any company willing to, for the next 10 years, provide the service spreads and include Belize as the 23rd province on the map, with only a dotted line separating our two countries, on the front cover of Guatemalan passports.

The new mission seeks to take the Guatemalan effort on promoting that country’s claim to Belize to new levels, since the travel document would go one step further than what is being taught to Guatemalan children in the classrooms, that “Belice es nuestro”. The travel document would send a send across borders.

The latest effort by the Guatemalans comes only months before that country’s referendum is scheduled to take place on whether their citizens want to take our territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Guatemalan President, Jimmy Morales, who visited Belize soon after he was elected, has always made his views public that Guatemala should aggressively pursue its claim to Belize. His country has now resorted to a previous position originating to 1939, when it did not only claimed from the Sibun to the Sartsoon, but the entire length and breadth of Belize.

This week’s revelation drew a response from Belize’s Foreign Minister, Wilfred Elrington, but much to the same – that nothing is new about the Guatemalan claim to all of Belize.

“They have always taken the view that they were claiming the whole of Belize. And I have been at pains to say to the Belizean public that that is the case. Other people have suggested otherwise, but that has always been their position, so nothing has changed. What is important is that we need now to educate our Belizeans to understand, and I hope we can now come together and agree that in fact the claim relates to the whole country,” Elrington warned.

Former Foreign Minister, PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay, also weighed in on the latest development, saying he felt that Elrington should have taken a firm stance against the effort, and done things like issue a protest letter and engage the OAS and the international community.

Earlier this year when Guatemalan Permanent Representative to the OAS, Jose Rodrigo Vielmann de Leon made a presentation to the Organization of American States (OAS) using a similar map, our Permanent Representative to the OAS, His Excellency Nestor Mendez, staged a protest, referring to the act as “Guatemala’s use of an erroneous map.”

As for the amendment to the Maritime Areas Act that the PUP is pushing for debate over at the Senate level, Elrington said the Government will not support the PUP. The PUP wants Belize to claim up to the 12 miles of international seas that we are entitled to under international law, rather than the just the 3 miles we agreed to in 1991 when the Act was signed to allow Guatemala free access to the Caribbean Sea while a peaceful settlement to our dispute was being sought.

Elrington said that Cabinet had already made a decision to deal with the amendment, “but dealing with the matters, one has to very conscious of the time and the circumstances because of the effect that it can have, so, basically the Government of Belize, the Cabinet, had taken a decision to deal with it legislatively as early as April, or maybe before that.”

Elrington said the Government had gotten legal advice on the same issue from as early as 2001 when the PUP was in power and did not do anything to amend the Act up to when it was voted out of office in 2008. He accused the PUP of “grandstanding” on a matter of national interest. “It doesn’t help a society to grandstand on issues like these, and the grandstanders need to be put to task. Well, when it was your turn, why did you not deal with it?” he questioned.

To this, Courtenay replied, “I will go on record to accuse him of one, dereliction of duty, secondly, ignorance of history, thirdly, a lack of understanding of the intricacies of this process.”

Courtenay said that the PUP could not have taken action during that time frame because it was Elrington, whose party was in government in 2008, when he signed the Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala. That was when the negotiations had stalled and it was concluded that we should settle the matter at the ICJ, giving Belize its right to reclaim all our territorial seas.

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