What Will Guatemala Do?

Fred Martinez and 25 other UDP candidates went on to lose the election, which was held a few weeks after that interview. It’s worked out better for him, and for the country because instead of becoming a transient politician, he became a career diplomat, serving an unprecedented 13 years uninterrupted as Belize’s ambassador to Guatemala. That’s given him an unmatched perspective on Belize Guatemala relations and negotiations. And this morning we spoke to him about the latest round of talks at the OAS in Washington. Those took place last week and while Press Releases have been issued, Martinez allowed us to peep behind the diplomatic velvet rope – where he revealed the OAS had heard talk for Guatemala.

H.E. Fred Martinez - Belize Ambassador to Guatemala
"I was very pleasantly surprised to see the aggressiveness of the Secretary General towards the whole issue and especially towards Guatemala insisting that twice already Guatemala would have backed down from an agreement to hold a referendum. If you remember the first occasion was in 2002 for the proposals and the facilitators and now again. Both Belize and the Secretary General made it very clear that this was a matter of survival for Belize to get this to closure somehow or the other. For Guatemala it may be a luxury to just keep pressing down a claim whilst its people benefit handsomely along the border and Belize works as an escape fall for their poverty levels in the Peten. But for Belize this could not be a luxury - for Belize it is a matter of utmost national security necessity and survival. The special agreement therefore which gives an option for a solution at an international court of justice must remain alive. Changing the date of the referendum is not a substantial breach of the agreement itself because the agreement does not have a date. The Minister of Guatemala mentioned once that we could have the referendum in 2014. Belize therefore did not break away from the agreement and I think that it was unilateral on Guatemalan side but we are willing to proceed in 2014 if you are. We would like you to process in 2014 because that's the last window of political opportunity. Allow me to explain why - by September 2014 goes into it's presidential campaign, 2015 is the Presidential campaign and election so that is out for a referendum. Then 2016 the new government takes office in January but then Belize enters a General campaign for elections the ending of 2016 and the beginning of 2017. So we said we are posing to you that we want to go to a referendum and soon. Whatever is the soonest for you - then we are ready"

Reporter
"Did you get assurances now that they won't change their minds in 2014 or will that come until June to set and say yes we will have it for sure in 2014?"

H.E. Fred Martinez
"Marisol with all due respect to our neighbors we didn't get any assurances from them on anything and that is part of the problem. They can promise but they won't live up to it. To begin with we need to get them to agree that 'Yes there will be a referendum'.

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, how do you respond to the criticism that their country has acted dishonorably in every way in the unilateral vacating of the agreed upon date in announcing it in the press - it's almost roguish behavior. How do we then sit down with them and enter honorable, amicable talks when it is clear that there is a pattern of behavior on their part?"

H.E Fred Martinez
"Jules that has always been the whole part of the process with Guatemala - it is nothing new. Hence the reason we chose to have the Secretary General of the OAS as a witness of honor to the entire process because we could not be doing this alone with them and in isolation. We had to have witnesses to what was happening and I always repeat that Belize must always maintain the moral high ground. We are being claimed, we are the smaller, we don't have the military mite, the economic clout but we do have the moral high ground and the support of the international community."

Jules Vasquez
"We've started to talk again. June we'll have more talks and we can talk about 2014. However the petrels in that country which are essentially domestic petrels - the cost of the referendum, which forced them to move the date and the fall back excuse that they continue to site that we have this unreasonable threshold; those things will remain and it will still cost 300 million quetzales."

H.E. Fred Martinez
"Well as there foreign minister indicated to us at the meeting that it was unfortunate that the media in Guatemala demonized the entire 60% threshold and made it an issue in their media. But we likewise responded but so did some of your officials so it was not only the media that did it. Therefore, the damage has been done and hence there has to be some kind of mechanism whereby some confidence is rebuilt."

And while confidence building is one thing, in Guatemala right now, there’s a high level of social agitation. That’s after former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was found guilty of the genocide of his own people!

The judgment was read on Friday, and here’s how Judge Yasmine Barrios pronounced it.

Yasmin Barrios - Guatemalan Judge
"By unanimous decision the court declares that the accused Efraín Ríos Montt was responsible of the crime of genoicde. He is responsible as the author of the crimes against humanity that committed against the life and integrity of the civilian residents of the villages and hamlets located in Santa Maria Nebaj, San Juan Cotzal and San Gaspacho. Immediate detention is ordered to show the result of this court process because of the nature of the crime committed for which he has been condemned. Then I hereby order that he enter prison directly."


Rigoberta Menchu - Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
"We are using the universal law. In other words each person has inherent rights and that it is a farce to say that if one is judged then all we judged. We are not all - we are not things. If someone else is guilty of a crime then he is welcome to come and sit and be accused."

Ríos Montt was sentenced to 80 years for overseeing the slaughter of more than 1,700 people in Guatemala’s Ixil region in the early 80’s. Today he was taken to a military hospital after fainting while on his way to a court hearing today. Martinez told us today that the Rios Montt situation and the possibility that current president Otto Perez Molina could also be charged once he leaves office, has made Guatemala a nation in turmoil.

H.E. Fred Martinez
"The reality on the ground is that it is a very polarized nation and it has nothing to do with the Belize issue. It has everything to do with this trial of Rios Montt which came up to a close on Friday where he has been sentenced to 80 years in prison for genocide and that is major. First time a country has tried one of its own leaders for genocide and finds him guilty. I think it is enough social turmoil right now in Guatemala with Rios Montt being charged with genocide and it is not only genocide in the country that will have it. You can imagine the terminology 'Genocide' internationally. We've spoken about genocide in an African country of two, I think in the ex Yugoslavia and now here is the first time that a country tries its own leader and finds him guilty of genocide. That's major - I don't think we’re understanding the dimensions - not only locally but internationally that Guatemala will carry this stigma of having committed genocide perpetrated by one of his own leaders."

Martinez now moves on to prepare for the Belizean contingent as it travels to Guatemala for the OAS General assembly next month.

Channel 7