Belize City --- 31 Dec. 2006 --- Channel5Belize.com:

Belize Prime Minister: Said Musa
“I believe that all parties now recognize that the claim to our land and our islands will never be resolved by negotiation, and that the only way of ever putting an end to the claim is by means of an independent international tribunal determining the matter in accordance with international law. Clearly the process leading to a submission to such a tribunal will take some time. We have still to agree what the questions will be and how the case will be dealt with.”

The Guatemalan claim began more than a hundred years ago, at the time against the British Government. When Belize gained Independence in 1981, the issue became our problem. Since then, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent in meetings at home and abroad under the auspices of the Organization of the American States to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the claim. In September 2002, specially appointed negotiators, Sir Shridath Ramphal representing Belize and Paul Reichler for Guatemala, presented their proposals, but that document was later shelved indefinitely. Since then, the presence of the O.A.S. in Belize has taken precedence to the issue itself ... that is until today. This morning, Prime Minister Musa discussed the implications of the latest decision.

Said Musa
“It means that both parties will have to agree to go either to the International Court of Justice which is in the Hague in Europe or some an International Arbitration body which could be anywhere, Toronto, Washington. We would have to settle on that issue, but there seems to be a growing agreement on both sides that this is the only way that the matter can be resolved. I am hoping that this year with the assistance of the O.A.S. Secretary General we will reach that point where we can both agree on that. Then the only questions to be resolved will be what is the question to be decided, what is the essence of the dispute, is it the failure of the British to build the cart road for instance and if so well then they are not a party to this, so Guatemala should really take its case up with the British. So what is the real essence of the dispute as far as Belize is concerned that is a matter yet to be resolved.”

Channel 5’s Janelle Chanona
“P.M. what are the implications if this was to go to referendum and the people of Belize and Guatemala would accept this, what would be the implications if the court decided in our favour or not in our favour? What would be?”

Said Musa
“Like you said the Belizean and Guatemalan people on their side would have to first of all agree in a referendum. They will be given a chance to vote on it. Whether or not we put this dispute to court, and that is an essential whole issue that the people will have to decide. We are prepared to put the faith of our country in the hands of a tribunal, of a court. I must tell you that all the legal advice that we have received, and this thing has been researched over many years is that Belize has an extremely strong case. An incontrovertible one that we have no doubt in our minds that if it were to go to court and a legal adjudication made on the matter that we would remain with all our territory in tack, we feel very satisfied about that. But it is a matter for the people to decide.”

Janelle Chanona
“Technically speaking what is the next step? Do we go back to the O.A.S to say thanks but …”

Said Musa
“Yes I believe that some time in the new year the foreign ministers and the negotiating teams will be meeting with the Secretary General of the O.A.S. to decide on the way forward.”

Janelle Chanona
“P.M. as a Belizean and as Prime Minister you are confident that the Belizean people can trust in this new process now?”

Said Musa
“I feel that we have tried everything else in the past, over the past forty years negotiations, discussions, we even went to mediation and the Webster proposal. We have tried everything and nothing has really worked to resolve this matter. We even had the most recent matter with the facilitation process, where we thought we had good chance to settle this matter, but once again Guatemala reneged on that process. I feel confident that legally our position is very strong and if we can get Guatemala to agree to this international legal process I think there is a very good chance that we will finally put this matter to bed. You might ask the question well why worry about it at all, can’t the claim just go on indefinitely into the future? Yes that is possible, but also it is also possible that with the claim being there some hot head will come along in the future—some future president or military in Guatemala that might to revive its aggressive pasture towards Belize. Maybe not an outright invasion but continue a process of sending Guatemalans into Belize, a sort of green invasion if you like, which is not healthy for our country. Furthermore, it affects our whole investment climate because whenever the question of Belize comes up in the international circles the first thing that arises is did they have a hurricane last year and the second thing is, is Guatemala still claiming Belize, so it does affect us. We need to get it out of the way and I feel very confident that through this process we can resolve this matter.”

Janelle Chanona
“Does the public campaign to sell this issue at home begin immediately?”

Said Musa
“Not necessarily because I think it will be quite a while down the road before we reach that point where we go to referendum. As you know right now the matter is being managed on a bi-partisan basis between the P.U.P. and the U.D.P. And it is good that the government and the opposition have put internal party politics aside because this is a national issue. So as long as we can keep it at that level I believe the time will come for us to do that type of campaigning. I don’t think now is the time.”

The Guatemalan claim to Belize has garnered bi-partisan support ... a factor that Leader of the Opposition Dean Barrow says will hold true before an international court, pending approval from the electorate.”

Dean Barrow, Leader of Opposition
“We would have to get approval by way of a referendum I don’t know of any other means of doing that. And I would hope that that would not be a matter for any kind of partisan disagreement. I would hope that by the time we reach a stage where that question would be put in a referendum that my party would have in fact weighed all the options and be able to take a position to recommend to the Belizean people and I would hope that whatever position we take would be one that would also be mirrored by the position taken by the ruling party, if they are still the ruling party at that time, and by all other political groupings. I really wish earnestly that whatever decision we make it would be one that commands a clear consensus in this country if not in fact unanimous consent.”

One man who has documented the claim from the sidelines is Ambassador James Murphy. Murphy has published three books on the claim and advises all Belizeans to educate themselves on the issue.

Ambassador James Murphy, Historian
“I think the most important document that people can read at this time is the legal opinion on Guatemala’s territorial claim to Belize, which I think is the January 2002 legal opinion that Belize got from the four imminent international lawyers. I think it is in everybody’s interest to be briefed on that.”