What’s The Status of ICJ Campaign?
At the top of the news, we showed you our interview with the National Security Minister John Saldivar and Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington. They were discussing the latest confrontation between the Guatemalan Armed Forces and the Belize Territorial Volunteers on the Sarstoon River.
Of course, the from the Foreign Minister's perspective, these confrontations will continue to occur, unless and until Belize finds a way to resolve Guatemala's territorial claim over our country. And the mode of resolution that the Government is pushing at this time is to take the Guatemala claim to the International Court of Justice.
Its been a few months now that the Government launched it's ICJ campaign, and so, the press asked the Foreign Minister for an update on how it has been going. He said that he is has been surprised by the the amount of Belizeans he's encountered so far who don't know much about the history of the claim:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington- Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The thing that has surprised me most and continues to surprise me up to this day is the absence of knowledge on this issue on the part of most Belizeans. Belizeans high and low really don't know the details of it. And we have tremendous work ahead to educate and inform people. My own experience is that invariably when we inform people and we show them the history and we tell them the circumstances they are modified and say yes we think we should go to the ICJ. Some said, 'why didn't you tell us that long ago?' There are a few who seem to have resolved quite early that they will not go and they will seek to advise Belizeans not to go. They don't seem to have an alternative but they seem to get some kind of pleasure out of telling Belizeans not to go. And of course they have been doing that for months and months and months."
Elrington also shared a few details of how exactly the information campaign will take form from now until April 10th of next year, when Belize holds the national referendum, and asks Citizens whether we should go to the ICJ:
Hon. Wilfred Elrington- Minister of Foreign Affairs
"The campaign is headed by ambassador Rosado and ambassador Rosado has divided it into three phases. One phase, where we will simply be telling people to know the facts. At this point in time all we are doing is disseminating information and we are disseminating information in many ways. We are going to have it on a lot of billboards when you pass through driving; you will see billboards in the air. We are going to be putting posters on buses and vehicles. We are going to use Facebook and the other social media; we are going to use television and radio. And then as the date becomes nearer, we are going to be using messaging which is going to be more ones that are inducing people to come to a more favorable response. Rather than just information, we added those messaging which is going to induce people to vote towards a yes."
Daniel Ortiz- Reporter
"When you say induce what do you mean exactly?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington
One big question on the minds of some Belizeans is what happens to the territorial claim if the majority of voters say no to taking it to the ICJ. Right now, there aren't many options being discussed, and when the press asked the Foreign Minister about that possibility, he said, there will be no new tactics to try:
"What is the alternative to the ICJ being that there are people pushing for no. Is there any alternative?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"There are no new alternatives. Those who are saying no seem to be suggesting that we can continue the negotiation. The problem with that is that going to the ICJ is like getting married. You have to have the two parties to agree, you see. One person cannot get married. It has to be two. So, to reach any consensus the two countries have to agree. At this point in time we are at the stage where Guatemalan government has agreed to go to the ICJ and the Belize government has agreed to go to ICJ and the Guatemalan populace has agreed to go to the ICJ. Now, if we want to do any other thing, we would have to get the Guatemalan's to buy into that. And it took us over 70 years to agree to go to the ICJ. So, the likelihood that we would be able to get them to agree to any other thing is highly unlikely. The Guatemalan's have been insistent either that they get our land or that they get land and control over our foreign affairs and defense and that kind of thing. That is what has been the history of negotiations. They want to be responsible for foreign affairs, hey want to be responsible for defense or they want land down from the Temash or the Moho or whatever it is to the Sarstoon. Or they want Rambutan or the Sapodila range. That is what they have been asking for insistently. They are not asking for money, they want Belizean territory. The problem is that if you give them an inch, they will take the whole country."
Briceno Says The British Must Pay
And responding to that controversial statement from Elrington today, Opposition Leader John Briceno was reserved, but used the opportunity re-state his confidence in a favorable judgement form the ICJ. In an interesting historical revision, he says that if anyone is made to pay or give anything to the Guatemalans, it should be the British who entered into the 1859 treaty and then failed to honor its obligation to build a road from Guatemala City to the Caribbean sea.
Here's Briceno's reaction and reasoning:...
"The Foreign Minister stated that the people in the disputed area in the south could become refugees if the ICJ rules against Belize. You are an ICJ proponent, have you considered at all the possibilities of litigation risk or do you only stick and look at what the legal arguments are?"
Hon. John Briceno- PUP leader
"Respectfully I think that's...I don't agree with him. I don't want to be disrespectful to the Foreign Minister because yes there is litigation risk like in everything but what risk? At most, I believe that we are not going to lose any land. I really believe that. So, I don't agree with the Foreign Minister when he says that. I believe that the British may have either a legal or moral obligation to live up to their commitment and a financial commitment. So, at most I see that a financial commitment may come about but that is something that the British should have to pay not us Belize."
"The British is not a factor anymore."
Hon. John Briceno
"It is. They don't resolve themselves by saying, 'Oh, it's your problem.' They are the ones that caused that problem. But yes, we as a nation have to do everything possible to be able to find a solution to this unfounded claim by Guatemala which we do not support for a minute. But if there is anybody that should be held responsible it is the British."
What Happens If I.C.J. Rules in Favor of the Guats?
On the eve of independence, the question of going to the International Court of Justice is front and center in the minds of Belizeans. On Tuesday night, things got a bit heated during a town hall meeting where the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington was responding to questions on all things I.C.J. Held at the University of the West Indies Open Campus in Belize City, the session was open to the public to allow them to directly seek clarity to their concerns. Attorney Kevin Arthurs and I moderated the robust discussion which was organized by Great Belize Productions/Channel Five with support from U.W.I. During the question and answers segment, an online viewer asked that if the I.C.J. rules in favor of Guatemala, what happens to Belizeans who occupy the piece of land that Guatemala wants. The minister’s response caused tremors. This is what he said.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“If the courts were to find that the land belongs to Guatemala, that is what he is asking, well that is the end of the matter.”
Marleni Cuellar, Moderator
“What happens to us who occupy the land?”
“We will very likely become refugees but it is for that reason that I started out by explaining to you how the court works and what the facts are because it is next to impossible for the courts to come to such findings because I have said at no time has Guatemala occupied it. At no time has Spain occupied it. Belizeans have been on for over two hundred years. We in fact have three border treaties. We have the right for self determination. We have the right to territorial all pronounced by the international community and the law. So that is an improbable outcome, highly improbable.”