UK Minister Swire visits Belize Says ICJ Belize’s best bet to end claim

Six weeks into his role as the British Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Minister Hugo Swire prioritized a Latin American tour, winding up in Belize on November 15th.

His visit gave Belize the opportunity to renew ties with England and garner support on important issues.

While here the Minister met with BATSUB (British Army Training Support Unit Belize), the BDF (Belize Defence Force), and RESTORE Belize officials and later paid courtesy calls on the Minister of Foreign Affairs  Hon. Wilfred Elrington, the Minister of National Security Hon. John Saldivar and the Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow.

At a reception held at the Radisson Fort George to  welcome Minister Swire, the Reporter got a chance to talk to him and ask him about several issues of interest.

Among them, the Belize-Guatemala sovereignty claim, the drug trade and crime topped the list.

Minister Swire said the way forward for Belize was to resolve the sovereignty dispute with the help of the referendum and the ICJ (International Court of Justice).

With both countries committed to the ICJ’s ruling, the minister envisioned an end to the claim.

He said  his country was intent on seeing the claim issue resolved, so that Belize could concentrate on other pressing issues such as crime and the drug trade.

He reiterated Britain’s support for Belize and declared  that Britain cared about the outcome, and he referred to Prince Harry’s memorable visit to Belize as a evidence of that.

Referring to the drug trade and crime, Minister Swire said that their anti-narcotics agency, SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency), was working with Latin American countries to counter violent trends and to promote peaceful solutions.

Many times, he said, Belize is used as a transhipment point that results in drugs reaching  Europe and the United Kingdom.

Mr. Pat Ashworth, the British High Commissioner,   elaborated on these issues. In the interest of all countries affected by the drug trade and crime, the British High Commission in Belize often finances the training of BDF and police personnel.

“There is always training,”  he said , to enable better policies.

With regard to the claim by Guatemala, Commissioner Ashworth explained that the UK  maintains a great interest in the matter and supports the issue going to the ICJ.  He said the UK had  tried  to take the matter to the ICJ in the 50’s.  The matter did not progress then but he feels that the time for a permanent solution is now.

He advised Belizeans to settle the issue once and for all, and  learn about the strengths, weaknesses and the ICJ process. With the referendum afoot, he said: “I think people will quickly realize this is a good route to take.”

Mr. Alexis Rosado, the chief executive officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, also offered comments on the Guatemalan issue.

He explained that Guatemala was not interested in a ruling based on International law when the United Kingdom proposed the ICJ in the 1950’s because Guatemala  did not feel confident it  had sufficient  grounds to make a  strong case in court.

In fact, Rosado said, Guatemala sought legal advise on two different occasions and on both occasions legal minds recommended that they drop the claim.

After decades of proposals, including the Maritime Areas Bill, and various failed attempts at arbitration, both countries are interested in finding a permanent solution through the ICJ.

To that end, Rosado said,  both countries will each hold a referendum on Oct. 6, 2013.

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