by Compton Fairweather
Next month will make it exactly 81 years since the United Kingdom made the suggestion to Guatemala in May of 1937 that they agree to take their unfounded claim of our territory to the Hague Court, now the ICJ.
Guatemala’s capable envoy, Jose Matos, who led the delegation to the coronation of King George VI, 12th May, 1937, met with officials of the British Foreign Office regarding Belize following the ceremonies. Matos was a member of the League of Nations/United Nations/ICJ, so he knew full well that his country had no valid case to take to the court, hence his insistence on going “ex aequo et bono”.
Unfortunately for the Guatemalans, they were ill-advised by a few Central American lawyers at the time that they could claim Belize through the process of devolution, i.e., they could inherit Belize from Spain. Even if they had occupied any part of Belize they would still be wrong, because nowhere on this planet has any territory been “inherited” from another state. Territories can only be bought, ceded or won by conquest (spoils-of-war).
Only property can be inherited, never territory. That is one reason why Guatemala never includes St. George’s Caye in their claim. I can remember when I had invited my friend, the late Professor Louis M. Bloomfield, to have lunch with me in the Delegate’s Lounge of the United Nations. He and I were sitting at the table alone. We were discussing the Belize/Guatemala dispute; he informed me among other things that the 1798 “victory” at St. George’s Caye is a plus for us in this dispute. Remember the caye was at one time the capital of all Belize. Bloomfield is considered to have written one of the best, the most concise study of the dispute, having being commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom to do the research.
Another blunder committed by Guatemala is to spend so much time and effort repeatedly trying to repudiate, reject, void, ignore the 1859 Boundary Treaty which they voluntarily ratified and in the 1931 Exchange of Notes which were signed at the mouth of the Sarstoon River by Fernando Cruz of Guatemala and British surveyor general, Fred W. Brunton.
Belizeans should know that the boundary created by the 1859 Treaty is permanent and if the Treaty is somehow made to disappear, in Creole “drap da water,” the boundary will still be there. Now that Guatemala said “YES” in going to the ICJ and IF Belize were to say YES also, there is a worry in Guatemala that they may lose part of the territory they now have.
What will certainly stop is their continuous bullying of Belizeans in the Sarstoon because they may be forced to obey established international law or suffer the consequences.
The day following the signing of the compromise in Washington D.C. on December 8th, 2008 by Belize and Guatemala, the Guatemalans realized that “the jig is up”. I have enclosed editorials from two major newspapers, unedited except for my emphasis on important pronouncements.
“PRENSA LIBRE”, Tuesday 9th December, 2008 – Editorial
“Belize Differendum: The End appears to be Near”
The issue of Guatemala’s claim to the 12,700 sq. kms. of Belize, a little more than 50% of its territory and the cayes, appears to at least be heading to a definitive end, thanks to the “special agreement to submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claim to the ICJ”, signed yesterday at the OAS Headquarters in Washington.
After Jorge Serrano recognized the unilateral independence of Belize granted by Great Britain, the negotiations recommenced in 2005. The agreement contains a mutual commitment to fulfill the legal requirements, which in Guatemala’s case means that the Congress needs to approve and request that the Electoral Commission call a referendum, which in turn would allow the Court in The Hague to hear the case and whose decision is final, nonappealable and obligatory. This controversy began in 1821.
Guatemala, based on the way it has sustained its claim, needs to lobby that the issue be resolved by the Court of Arbitration of the ICJ, so that the case be tried on the basis of equity and where both countries jointly propose the matters for judgment, and where the historical facts can be taken into consideration. In short, if the parties decide to recognize that the controversy is a juridical one, it means that Guatemala would lose definitely whatever possibility it may have of a further petition.
The current conditions of the country appear to be against the referendum. Very few people would participate and a large amount of money would be spent at a time of financial adversity. The £200,000 or Q1.5 million available to finance the resolution process would be of no avail.
Guatemala’s position on the Belize issue has been one of many doubts. Despite the numerous attempts embarked on, national and international circumstances allowed Guatemala’s justified claim to lose momentum over time. Once the doctrine of self determination of the people took hold, it became a losing game. This country did little to allow relations and contact between Guatemalans and Belizeans.
Besides, the Belizeans knew how to defend their position in a better way and had direct or indirect collaboration with the English Government, the British Commonwealth, other countries and international organizations. All these factors combined allowed the issue to lose momentum with Guatemalans, with the current situation that we now see as a result.
There is still a lot of time before the Court in The Hague begins its work. However, yesterday’s signing is heading in the right direction. Let’s not take on too many illusions. The possibilities of winning the case are nil and very scant, with the added aggravation that in reality there are very few Guatemalans that are interested in the case, which is far and alien from their harsh daily reality.
Editorial “La Hora” Newspaper – 9th December, 2008
After the signing of the international Compromis between Guatemala and Belize to submit the differendum to the International Court of Justice, the Government of our country needs to start, by the beginning of next month, an intense campaign explaining the history of the controversy and the different possibilities which may come about as a result of submitting the case to said organization.
We repeat our point of view that after Guatemala virtually set aside its claim when it accepted the Serrano government’s decision to unilaterally and unconditionally recognize the existence of the State of Belize. Some consider that in the end it was an act of realism after years of unfruitful efforts to validate the rights largely enumerated by successive governments without any results. The national position ended during our years of armed conflict, when the persistent violation of human rights went against any effort to maintain international alliances, and we always fell into a position of marginalization.
There does not appear to be the flame once heard of “Belize is ours” amongst the new generation of Guatemalans. Quite the opposite, the young people of today were taught to coexist with Belize and many do not even think about a territorial claim. With this in mind, it would not be difficult for the Government to embark on an education campaign of the historical facts, the current reality and the possible outcomes of submitting the conflict for final resolution to the ICJ.
The current Guatemalan claim is no longer for the entirety of the territory as previously asserted by former governments, after Great Britain granted independence to Belize. The objective should now be to claim part of the territory and ensure access to the sea as we rightfully deserve.
We believe that it is important to be wary with regards to the issue of definitive demarcation of the boundaries, that is to say the border between Belize and Guatemala, as past experience has shown us that we could still lose our current territorial integrity and on this one the Foreign Ministry needs to demonstrate extraordinary zeal to prevent an outrage.
Moreover, not having much to win, whatever agreement which does not affect our current territory could be considered a positive/convenient one.