Referendum On Pause, Renewed Effort At Confidence Building

Guatemalan Foreign Minister Fernando Carrerra and a delegation flew into Belize today for a lunch meeting with his Belizean counterpart and his own delegation which included an opposition representative. It's their first meeting of the New Year, which we thought would be the year for the bi national referendum, but it seems the focus is changing. Carrerra and Elrington explained:...

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"In order to start the dialogue 2014 on the right foot, in the right direction in a peaceful manner insist that dialogue is what we are looking for."

Jules Vasquez
"Will we have a referendum bi-national in 2014?"

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"We are not very sure so far, but definitely what we are going to have is a stronger and better measure of confidence. I think that is what is important today that we started to talk about measures of confidence from the beginning of the year and I think that is going to open the space for that."

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"What we have discussed with him today is a road map of activities for this year 2014 to enhance the confidence building measures always with the thought in mind that we are trying to reach as early as possible a definitive date to hold the referendum."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, are we changing our approach in so far as it was always thought that we need to move inexorably towards the referendum, but I see atleast it seems that we are moving away from that inexorably deadline and perhaps trying to reverse engineer the process by confidence building between the two population first and the from there we build the comfort towards a bi-national referendum?"

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Actually you are almost correct but not quite. Both of us are very much agreed that in fact having a judicial determination without a people buy in a political will and political confidence will not in fact be the ideal situation we both want to and aspire to. So that what we are working towards enhancing the good relationships, so that when we do get the judicial determination there is a buy-in by everybody and we can move forward as good neighbors and friends."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, that sounds all fine and good but in real terms, you know that we are facing a crisis on our border where every day we are facing encroachments. In fact it has increased we know in the gold panning area of the Chiquibul where they come to gold pan, so while it's all fine and well that we can agree to get along and build confidence, in fact Belize's sovereignty is being violated on a daily basis."

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"That's exactly what the Foreign Minister is saying; we have come together to work on a plan, a road map for 2014 which is going to help to eliminate or at the least minimized all those activities, enhance the relationship and strengthen the momentum and the conviction that we must all go to the ICJ as early as possible. That is really the intention."

Reporter
"Could you give us some examples of the confidence building measures that you all discussed?"

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We want to have much more meeting between parliamentarians because the Guatemalan parliamentarians have got to agree to this process so that they can sell it to their people. Just like the same manner in which our people have agree to the process, so as to get the politicians onboard - we have got to have meetings of the parliamentarians. We'll be having more meetings with the Guatemalan parliamentarians - with our parliamentarians, as a matter of fact one of them is here now, he has come along with the delegation. We'll have more meetings with the people in the business sector, Chamber of Commerce, so that people can feel comfortable about this. People can take ownership of this process, this decision to take this matter to the ICJ. We have to do it, it's for a successful referendum. You can't have a successful referendum unless you sell the idea to the people and you can't sell it to them successfully unless they feel confident about it. That is what we are doing."

Jules Vasquez
"Apparently we didn't know this in 2013 when we both agreed to on October referendum."

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"We have always been eternal optimist, both myself and the former Foreign Minister of Guatemala, the present Foreign Minister of Guatemala, but there are realities, there are people who were in the society who are opposed to it for one reason or the other. You have got to take everybody's view into consideration and try to win them over."

"One thing that we have reiterated and we have no doubt about is that the ICJ is the only way to go. We are resolve on that and we are moving towards that. Now we want to get people who have difficulty with that to come onboard with that view."

Jules Vasquez
"Foreign Minister, would you say what measures will be taken in your country to lessen the encroachments into the Chiquibul which are an aggravation to both sides because it creates difficult situations for Belize's security forces. Whose faults is it and who will fix it?"

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"What we are trying to do and what we have discussed today is that this measure of confidence also includes measures of promoting social and economic development on the adjacency zone. What is important is that we understand the security you have mentioning have social conditions that needs to be solved. Definitely, we haven't created the problem as government of Guatemala. The problems of poverty of Guatemala are structural, but we are doing our best and we are improving now. We have developed a new project of social development with communities in the adjacency zone. That would be our answer; promoting social economic development as a way of ensuring security in the area."

Hon. Wilfred Sedi Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The Guatemalans have also introduce programs along their border which is going to generate employment for their people and create the conditions whereby they won't have to come to Belize. They have already started taking initiatives to encourage their people not to come across Belize territory and they are stating very clearly that this is Belize territory."

Elrington noted that ads have been prepared by Guatemalan NGO's to explicitly dissuade their fellow citizens not to enter Belize. But, critics on this side of the border have said that the Guatemalan state is encouraging encroachments by endorsing and circulating maps which depict Belize as a joined to Guatemala - separated only by a dotted line. Senior Magistrate Sharon Fraser came across one of these at a conference in Australia recently, and that caused quite an uproar. Today, the media asked Cabrera about it:..

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"The government of Guatemala has never had any intention to include Belize within the map of Guatemala. We have an official map that is accepted for Guatemalan purposes and our passports indicate that and we have never done that, we never colored the territory of Belize within the territory of Guatemala. That is usual practice for several years; we have continued to do it. So I think it was a mal-intention for those who were saying we were doing that. Officially we haven't done anything like that and unofficially there is no map that includes Belize within the Guatemalan territory."

Jules Vasquez
"But in Flores, I recently flew through Flores and right at the immigration check point, there is the map right there on the wall."

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"Tell the immigration office it is not the official map."

Jules Vasquez
"Well I would hope you'd tell them because if I do, I may end up behind bars."

Minister Fernando Carrerra, Foreign Minister - Guatemala
"That's true. I can tell them as well."

The Ministers issued a joint communiqué today addressing the need to identify the necessary financing for the functioning of the OAS Office at the Adjacency Zone. The communiqué says they will meet again in June.

Channel 7