Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington’s meeting with his Guatemalan counterpart Sandra Jovel Polanco produced a number of updates on critical issues between the two countries. After months of tension due to confrontations at both the western and southern borders, Guatemala appears to be signaling a return to diplomacy. Belize is soon to get back an Ambassador from Guatemala, replacing former Ambassador to Belize Manuel Estuardo Roldan Barillas. He was recalled at the height of the tensions when a young Guatemalan was killed in the Chiquibul in April 2016. He has since been named Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs. The countries are to name a bilateral commission to fully implement the thirteen agreements signed in Placencia in 2015, and work together on funding for the O.A.S. office at the adjacency zone. But Elrington says Belize does not support the removal of Magdalena Talamas as the O.A.S. Representative, despite Guatemala’s continued ire at the results of the report vindicating Belizean joint law enforcement team in the death of Julio Alvarado Ruano.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“We talked about the thirteen agreements that we had signed, of course, and we thought that it was very necessary that we have the joint commission reestablished and to see how we could move forward. We did not want the fact that we were going to the I.C.J. to stop us from continuing with this neighborly development of the relationship by implementing these proposals. So we are going to have the joint commission reestablished; [Belize Ambassador to Guatemala] Alexis [Rosado] is going to head it on our side. And a new Guatemalan ambassador is going to be posted in Belize, hopefully by the end of January, and his name is His Excellency [Georges] de la Roche, a very seasoned Guatemalan diplomat, and so he is going to head the commission on the Guatemalan side and we hope they will get to work sooner or later.   They had some problem at the O.A.S. office. They have always, since the incident with the young boy in Guatemala; they’ve expressed some reservations with respect to the O.A.S. representative, Ms. Talamas, overseeing the activities of the OAS. Well, it’s a matter that they wanted to raise with [Secretary General Luis Miguel] Almagro. We couldn’t oppose that, but we made it very clear to them that we had no difficulty with the lady. We have worked well with her. They have difficulty with her, and they wanted to have her removed. So, that was an issue which we would have had to raise with Almagro.”

Ambassdor de la Roche’s previous post was in India from 2014 to 2016.

Foreign Minister Says Belize Receptive and Reciprocal

Despite niceties over the years on the diplomatic front, relationships on the ground between the two countries have shown bumps and bruises. The two foreign ministers spoke of trying to reverse the situation, especially as it relates to the western border, where business to Melchor slowed down in the wake of the shooting death of Danny Conorquie at Caracol in 2015. His killers, believed to be Guatemalans, are still at large. Elrington says the task for both countries is to keep things peaceful.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“Of course I sought to assure her that Belize is interested in having good, cordial relationships with Guatemala. I took the opportunity to point out to her that the last time we had the incident with the young man, and Belizeans stopped going across to Guatemala because of the fallout from that incident, the authorities at Melchor had actually approached their administration to complain about the fact that they were losing business, they were not getting the necessary foreign exchange because of the cessation of business between Belizeans and Guatemalans in Melchor, so that for them it is a very important aspect of the relationship. The like manner in which Belize contributed largely to the development of Chetumal, we are doing the very same thing in relation to Guatemala, so that it is in Guatemala’s interests as much as it is in Belize’s interest for us to have a good, harmonious relationship between our two countries.”

Are Countries Ready for 2018-19 Referenda?

2017 is almost over and it was a big year news-wise. But 2018 is expected to be even bigger, as the question Belizeans and Guatemalans have been waiting for decades to answer will be asked separately. That question  is: “Do you agree that any legal claim by Guatemala against Belize on continental inland territories and any maritime areas corresponding to those territories be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final determination and that it determines the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?”  As we have been reporting, Guatemala goes to the polls first on April fifteenth, with Belizeans to follow later in the year or possibly early 2019. But after multiple date changes, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington cautioned Belizeans that it’s not over till it’s over.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“She inquired about the time table for our own referendum. I explained to her that we are constitutionally required to have re-registration, next year. And of course, we had given an undertaking to the Opposition that we would do that. And then, we are constitutionally required to have the elections, the municipal elections, and then we have a requirement, under the law, to do [re]-registration. So, I told her that we have to get those done before we would be able to go into our referendum, and because of those things, we did not see it possible for us to do so before the last quarter of 2018 and maybe the first quarter of 2019. But, I gave her the assurance that in fact, we were serious about moving ahead with it.”

Reporter

“Is it – I don’t want to say set in stone – it is fairly certain that April next year, their referendum should take place?”

Wilfred Elrington

“That’s the information that we now have. There is a suggestion that given the past performance of the Guatemalan government, anything can happen, but all indications we now have is that it is going to be for April. But Guatemala is a difficult country. They have all kinds of internal problems, and of course, they have a much greater financial obligation, and financial outlay in attempting to educate their own people on this issue. And Guatemalan resources are very limited, even more limited perhaps than ours, so, it’s going to be challenging for them to be able to conduct the kind of effective education within the timeline that they have. So, but we want to be optimistic.”

Channel 5