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EDITORIAL – November 16th. 2018

EDITORIAL – November 16th. 2018
November 16
10:15 2018

TO GO OR NOT TO GO !  That is the question

By: Harry Lawrence

The decision which Belizeans will be called upon to make in the Referendum of April 10, 2019 to go or not to go to the International Court of Justice is perhaps the most important decision we will make since the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798.

This one vote may well determine the future of Belize because it involves our land and our sovereignty.
Let us pause to reflect on what will happen if Belize loses this opportunity to go to court to defend our land and to refute Guatemala’s claim of ownership to half of our country.

If we do not go to the ICJ, Guatemala will claim a great victory. She will tell her people: “We have won!”
“We have tried to settle this century-old problem according to International Law. We have done everything we have been asked to do. But Belize does not want to settle the border problem. From now on, we will do as we see fit!”
That will be the signal for a wave of illegal immigrants to start crossing the border and taking possession of the Chiquibul Forest Reserve.

If they come in large numbers, Belize with her limited resources will not be able to keep them at bay. The countries of the world will look on, but they will not intervene. Many will express support and sympathy for the land-hungry immigrants.

The Friends of Belize will not come to our aid because they have advised us and urged us to take our case to court. Guatemala with its weak case has done so. But Belize, with her strong case has faltered and failed to rise to the occasion in self defence.

Guatemala, who today is applying pressure on the Sarstoon and in the Chiquibul, will be encouraged to exert even more pressure.

Those who expect that things will be the same as before are not reading the signs of the times. They are under-estimating the resolve of Guatemala to pursue her claim against Belize. In compensation for a road which may have cost a couple of million in those days, Guatemala now wants to claim half of our country, which is worth billions.

This is the kind of nightmare which Belize will face if we do not anticipate the danger which is facing us.
This claim by Guatemala is different from past claims. This claim is a claim under international law, to be tried by an international court, the highest in the world. If Belize cannot win here, the future for our country will be bleak indeed.

Now let us pause to reflect on what will happen if Belize resolves to take our case to the ICJ. This is a border dispute, a claim for land, so Belize is going to be expected to produce her land papers.

The first document Belize will produce is the 1859 Convention in which Guatemala recognized the western and the southern boundaries of Belize.

Guatemala is making the claim that when she renounced the 1859 Convention in 1946 under an initiative by its dictator President Jorge Ubico, she also changed the western border, meaning that all that land east of Melchor de Mencos, as far as the Caribbean and all its territorial seas and extended maritime economic zone now belongs to Guatemala.

After producing the 1859 Convention, Belize will produce the 1931 Exchange of Notes which confirms the border established in 1859 and gives the lie to Guatemala’s claim that the border no longer exists.

Belize will point out that even though Guatemala renounced the 1859 Treaty in 1946, that act of renunciation using Guatemalan law as its tool and authority has no power to destroy the border, which was established by Treaty, under international law.

Finally Belize will produce the Belize Constitution, the document which gave birth to Belize as an independent nation and defines her land area, her territorial seas and her beautiful coral islands.

Belize will point to past cases of the ICJ where the Court ruled that once a border has been defined by treaty, that border has a life of its own. It is safe and cannot be manipulated or changed to suit the whims of any bully country. Belize will not have to go into any useless details of who owned what at any time in the past. All we have to show is that we own this country by continuous occupation ever since the Battle of St. George’s Caye in 1798. We built the country and we own it, and Guatemala has never owned any part of it or administered any power over any part of Belize.

We are saying that in the face of all this incontrovertible evidence, it is impossible for any court on earth to say that Guatemala has the right and the power to manipulate our borders.

If the border stands, Belize also stands!

As long as our borders prevail, Guatemala has no power over us. The ICJ will rule inevitably against her, and all the world will know that her spurious claim has been discredited and has no basis in law.
After this declaration by the ICJ, Belize will still have problems. There will be resentment in Guatemala, and maybe there will be some incidents.

But after the ICJ ruling, sooner or later Guatemala will have to come to terms with reality and with the law. She will have to give up her claim on Belize.

Belize has so much to gain by going to the ICJ, and so much to lose if we do not go, that this really is a no-contest situation.

Once the people of Belize understand what is at stake, and what we must do to defend Belize, they will agree that the ICJ makes a lot of sense.

Indeed, it is the only sensible way for Belize to go if we want to secure our future.

So let us put aside the party politics. This is not about PUP. It is not about UDP. It is not about any P. This is about Belize and its future and the tranquility of the Belizean people.

ICJ is not a threat! It is an opportunity for Belize! It means deliverance from a claim which has been a scourge for the people of our country.

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