Assad Shoman Delivers Definitive History of Guatemalan Claim to Belize
If there is one person whom most Belizeans believe could write the definitive history of Guatemala’s claim to Belize, Assad Shoman would be a safe bet. The former politician and diplomat is a long-time historian and was present, at least in the modern era, for much of the discussions and decisions that have shaped the history of the claim and its impact on the two nations. While he did not plan it that way, his new book, “Guatemala’s Claim to Belize: The Definitive History,” is being launched on Friday as the public education campaign leading to Belize’s April 2019 referendum heats up. While Shoman does not aim to make a case in favour or against going to the International Court of Justice, he hopes that, as Aaron Humes reports, the new work will provide the necessary information to make making that decision easier.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
When you say that something is “definitive,” it better well be. And for the past three years, Cuba-based historian, former diplomat and politician Assad Shoman has been digging deep into the origins of the Guatemalan claim to provide a new and unique perspective – just in time for the critical decision on settling the claim at the International Court of Justice.
Assad Shoman, Author
“A lot of the research had been done years before, for other books and in other periods, but for this particular book, it’s been the last three years I’ve been working on it. Because there’s been a lot of research I have had to do; the stuff from ’81 to now, especially, I have voluminous quantities of papers, email, correspondence, so it’s taken a long time. And then I wrote and then I found out it was twice the length of what this is now. I said that won’t go; so I have to work – it’s very hard to work on reducing something, so I had to work a few months reducing it and so. The first thing I had to be careful about is to be as objective as possible, to be as factual as possible. Since I was involved in the work, it’s easy to have a bias one way or the other and I had to make sure that that did not happen. So I tried to be as fair as possible to everybody, including to the Guatemalans, and to just state the facts, and as much as possible, which is almost all the time, to support those facts by evidence that is there for anybody to see.”
Shoman told us his book is not about presenting the case for going to the I.C.J. It presents a broad overview of how Belize successfully resisted pressure from the United Kingdom and United States of America to end the claim before pursuing independence. He gave an example of an incident in 1975 in Jamaica that led to a threat in Washington.
“It was that claim that delayed, and could have made impossible, our independence. And so I think one of the biggest things to learn and get from this book is how was it possible that a little country like Belize, under pressure from the United States of America, from the United Kingdom, not just from Guatemala, was able to overcome those pressures and become independent without any ties to Guatemala, and with all its territory. That’s one of the major parts of the book. One of them was for example in 1975, when you had the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Jamaica, in Kingston. George Price went there and he had support from Caribbean countries and he got support from the others and the British were trying to not have anything stated in the resolution about territorial integrity, because they mi wah give away our land, so they didn’t want that in the resolution. And so they took it out; they actually succeeded in taking it out; and they said that the way it was written it was obvious – you know how the British go. What I didn’t know is that the [British] Foreign Minister, [James] Callaghan, went on to Washington to meet with his people there, and he said, ‘If George Price continue with his foolishness we will have to take our troops out.’ Dig what I’m saying? So I said what? I never knew it had reached that kind of point. So it was a very difficult game that Price and the rest of us had to play. We had to keep the British on our side; we couldn’t alienate them, because they were the ones defending the country. On the other hand, we couldn’t do what they wanted, which was to give up land, or give up sovereignty.”
It was a game Belize ultimately won in September of 1981, though British troops continued to stay in Belize for another decade and more. But as Belizeans continue to contemplate the decision awaiting us next April, Shoman says even Guatemala is not sure of its case.
“In 2000, Guatemala started its campaign that we must take you to court, and then during that process – I think it was 2001 or early 2002 – we published a legal opinion written by four international lawyers of great repute, headed by Sir Elihu Lauterpacht. That was so definitive, it was so clear and so obvious what that said, that the Guatemalan leaders and negotiators started to take back – they didn’t want to go to court again. And it took us a long time and different ways which you will see in the book, to kind of bring them back to the idea of going to court. They had turned against it after seeing that judgment, but also after they had a judgment from a European judge that they had asked privately to write an opinion for them. His name is Eric Soie, Belgian fellow who died recently, and he told them you have no case. So they didn’t want to go to court, and we in effect had to pressure them to the point where they agreed to go to court.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
The book will be launched on Friday night at the Image Factory starting at seven p.m. Limited copies will be on sale for thirty dollars. We are told it may take as much as a month to reprint copies for sale at the regular book store outlets.