Facilitators present proposal to end Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 36            September 19, 2002

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History was in the making this week as a proposal aimed at resolving the territorial differendum between Belize and Guatemala was presented on Tuesday at the Cahal Pech room of the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City. Facilitator Sir Shridath Ramphal presented the proposal to the people of Belize present at the meeting and those who listened in via live radio broadcasts. This final proposal was first presented at a meeting between the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Belize and Guatemala, H.E. Assad Shoman and H.E. Gabriel Orellana Rojas, and the Facilitators, Sir Shridath Ramphal of Belize and Mr. Paul Reichler, representing Guatemala. The meeting was held Monday evening at the headquarters of the Organization of American States (OAS) in Washington, D.C. with the Secretary General and Assistant Secretary General of the OAS.

    The Secretary General noted that the completed proposal is the product of over two years' worth of patient, deliberate effort on the part of the Facilitators. Also mentioned were the extensive consultations with not only both governments, but with the Secretary General, the Inter-American Development Bank, the United Nations and with governments "friendly to the facilitation process, in particular, the Government of Honduras."

    The Belize/Guatemala territorial dispute has been one of the longest running border disputes in Central American history. At the presentation on Tuesday, Sir Shridath Ramphal stated that the proposal was comprised of three principal elements: 1) Land, 2) Maritime and 3) a Development Trust Fund.

    Since the entire proposal is said to be forty pages in its entirety, the following is a brief description of the three main points of this proposal.

    In regards to land, Guatemala will recognize Belize land boundary based on the 1859 treaty lines. The areas east of the line belong to Belize and those west of the line to Guatemala. The proposal stated, "Belize borders are intact and secure." A model, human settlement will be established in Guatemala to relieve pressures in Belize of landless Guatemalan farmers; these settlers will have first priority. The proposal further stated that this settlement include all the modern amenities as an incentive for them to voluntarily move out of Belize. Otherwise, the 134 settlers can remain in Belize for the duration of their lifetime.

    On the Maritime subject the proposal read that an Economic Zone be established for Guatemala along the Belize/Honduras border, an area approximately 2,000 square nautical miles. All three countries will establish a marine park including the coastal areas of Guatemala and Honduras and southern cayes of Belize. Belize and Honduras retain full fishing rights and 50% of the mineral rights in the seabed. The park will be dedicated to conservation and eco-tourism and managed by a tri-lateral commission; rights of sovereignty will be preserved.

    The Development Trust Fund will be established in the amount of $200 million monitored by the Inter-American Development Bank and used to alleviate poverty in both countries. The fund will be used to facilitate the model settlement "Peace Village" in Guatemala. Belize and Guatemala will negotiate a free trade agreement and a bi-lateral investment treaty.

    The proposal will soon be made available to all residents of Belize and Guatemala. From the date the proposal was presented (September 17th, 2002), both countries will have 75 days to decide. Both Belize and Guatemala were instructed to hold referendums on the same day.   

    Following this formal presentation, a question and answer period was held with members of the Belize press. Many questions centered on the settlements that have cropped up besides Santa Rosa. The Facilitator stated that the OAS was conscious of what was happening in respect of the encroachment on the adjacency line and they are verifying the facts first. He explained that following an investigation the Facilitators would make a proposal for another resolution to these incidents. Others expressed their opinion that Guatemalans had gained where Belizeans had lost. When asked about a "line veto," or whether Belizeans could vote yes or no to each point on the proposal, the Facilitator answered no; it is a single package. Sir Ramphal stated that each of the agreements balanced one against another, and needed to either be accepted or rejected, as a package deal, by the people of Belize and Guatemala. He described the agreement as "an honorable prospect of peace."

    Another important issue raised was whether Guatemala would amend their constitution to recognize Belize's territorial borders and, if not, what would happen if the next Guatemalan government decided not to accept this treaty because it was unconstitutional and therefore null and void. Sir Ramphal replied that he could not predict the future. He added, "The Facilitators have done their job," and he could only hope that they (the Guatemala government) will accept the decision of their people.

    Sir Ramphal explained that the Facilitator's proposal, finding a permanent resolution to the territorial differendum using government negotiating teams, was a novel approach to an international conflict situation. He added that the Honduran government played a valuable "third party" role in the settlement. Sir Ramphal assured those attending that the OAS would continue to monitor the proposal and subsequent referendum process in both countries. He concluded that, if approved, the implementation of the proposal would entail drafting it into formal treaty documents, or three treaties of settlement, under the supervision of the OAS. Following this, maybe as early next year, the draft copies would be deposited to the United Nations.

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