Consultation held to discuss Belize/Guatemala Facilitators Proposal

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 12, No. 38            October 3, 2002

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Minister Assad Shoman and Ambassador Fred Martinez

A very special meeting was held last Friday to give caye residents the opportunity to discuss the proposal aimed at resolving the territorial differences between Belize and Guatemala. On hand for the consultation were Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Assad Shoman, who gave a brief introduction and history of the proposal presentation and Ambassador Fred Martinez, who followed with an informative recount of the Facilitators' Proposal before a large crowd gathered at the Lions Den in San Pedro.

To begin, a complete copy of the Facilitators' Proposal and a booklet entitled "Ending the Claim: What the Facilitators Propose," a more condensed version of the proposal in easily readable text, written in both English and Spanish, were passed out to the audience. In his introduction, the minister mentioned the more recent history of border tension that preceded the facilitation process. It was noted that in 1991, Guatemala recognized Belize's independence from Great Britain but not its borders. In 1992, the Maritime Areas Act was passed providing Guatemala a three-mile access to the "high seas". Then, from 1994-99 Guatemala re-stated their claim to Belize "from the Sibun to the Sarstoon and all islands and seas," declaring the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala unconstitutional. Minister Shoman recalled the tension, violence, the loss of life and the threats to Belize's security over the past two years as a result of this unresolved dispute. In regards to this, Minister Shoman later stated how soured relations between these two countries had not only delayed the natural coming together of the Central American countries but the entire Caribbean community. The minister ended his introduction by emphasizing the fact that the proposal must be accepted or denied as a package deal, stating that the individual points included in it, cannot be voted on.

Ambassador Martinez then presented a summary of the proposal. Following his presentation, several members of the audience participated by asking questions on the subject. One bone of contention was the part of the proposal regarding Santa Rosa residents, which read: The Government of Belize shall offer said persons, at no cost to them, land for settlement within Belize, which they may accept if they voluntarily relinquish their right to continue to reside in Santa Rosa. One of the points clarified was this land would be financed by the Development Trust Fund. This fund is to be devoted to the development purposes of both countries, specifically, "for the implementation of these proposals and the subsequent Treaties of Settlement and the alleviation of extreme poverty and landlessness in the border provinces of Guatemala, the establishment of a special Human Settlement in Guatemala; and the establishment, development and protection of the Belize-Guatemala-Honduras Ecological Park."

Following another question from the audience, it was learned that as part of the implementation process, this fund would also facilitate marking buoys needed to establish border lines in the sea. This brought about additional inquiries as to the boundary lines and the fairness of the proposed Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Minister Shoman, following the maps included in the booklet previously handed out, outlined and explained the laws regarding territorial seas, internal waters, access corridors and the "straight baseline system" used to determine these geographical measurements. Quoting the principles as stated in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), he explained that coastal states are entitled to claim an EEZ of up to 200 miles if there is space in the sea. Because of the geography of the Gulf of Honduras, and our proximity to Mexico and Honduras, Belize cannot claim this amount. So, in these circumstances, international law requires the neighboring countries to delimit their respective EEZs "by agreement on the basis of international law- in order to achieve an equitable solution." The minister continued that Belize and Honduras are required by law to take into account Guatemala's "geographically disadvantaged" state. So, the Facilitators proposed that Honduras and Belize limit their claims, enabling Guatemala to have an EEZ of 2,000 square miles, Honduras on one side and Belize on the other. According to the proposal, both Honduras and Belize will have, on the half of Guatemala's EEZ nearest to them, "reasonable fishing rights and the right to carry out jointly with Guatemala the exploration and exploitation of any natural resources on the seabed or in the subsoil."

Another issue was the referendum and what would happen if both countries voted no. The minister answered the territorial differences would then go to international court and this would be unfortunate. He continued that the proposal was written with both countries in mind and that this proposal was based on the advice of Guatemala's own facilitator, Mr. Paul Reichler, an international lawyer. Minister Shoman further commented that previous negotiations between the two countries had never been as good as this proposal and that Mr. Reichler had stated Guatemala would lose if they went to court. He ended by saying, "If they don't listen to their own facilitator, who will they listen to?"

The minister also explained the continuing process should the referendum in each country result in a "yes" vote. He stated the Facilitators would then move forward with preparing, signing and putting into force the Treaties of Settlement. Minister Shoman added that throughout this process, as before, the full participation of the government's People's United Party and the opposition United Democratic Party would be required. Asked if an amendment to either country's constitution was needed, he answered that, based on the fact that this proposal is decided by referendum, or people's choice, it is not necessary. Minister Shoman ended the consultation by stating, "Thank you for coming. Now, it is all up to you."

Island residents listen as proposal is explained
On Monday, September 30th a ceremony marking the conclusion of the Facilitators' Proposals to end the Belize-Guatemala Territorial Differendum was held in Washington, D.C. Dignitaries from every country involved in the process was on hand as well as invited guests, such as US Secretary of State, General Colin L. Powell. Those in attendance listened to remarks given by the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Dr. Cesar Gaviria and Assistant Secretary General Luigi Enoudi as well as the Foreign Ministers of the parties involved in the process, Assad Shoman of Belize, Gabriel Orellana of Guatemala and Guillermo Perez-Cadalso of Honduras.

Belize's Minister Assad Shoman noted, "No previous attempts to settle this dispute- none, have come this close to, or shown this promise of, satisfying the yearning of the ordinary peoples of Guatemala and of Belize to put this thing behind us and work together to build a better life for ourselves and our children." He continued, "I believe this process has been successful because Guatemala and Belize took the decision to try to understand - and make provisions for - each other's concerns, limitations and susceptibilities." The minister thanked everyone involved in the process, making special mention of Honduras' generosity, stating, "I will go further; without Honduras' participation, a settlement of the Guatemalan territorial claim to Belize would not have been possible. Thank you, Honduras; your efforts to foster peace in our region exemplify what it means to be a good neighbor."

In conclusion, Minister Shoman explained how this facilitation process has shown what is possible when there is a will for two countries to settle undesired legacies of history. He stated, "It will teach us what it means for two neighbors, separated by accidents of history, buttressed by the winds of suspicion and hostility, but united by destiny, to be able to live in peace and harmony, to work together for the betterment of our peoples."

Also mentioned at Monday's meeting was the success of the confidence-building measures in "promoting the exercise of caution and restraint, and avoiding incidents on the ground." As such, a recommendation was made by the Facilitators for the Parties to extend all confidence-building measures and mechanisms agreed since the beginning of the Facilitation Process.

In addition, the Parties agreed to hold a technical level meeting to be followed by a ministerial level meeting this month to review and update these confidence-building measures, as they deem necessary.

Referendums are required to be held on the same day in both Belize and Guatemala. This should take place by the end of November 2002. Copies of the Facilitators' Proposal and the booklet "Ending the Claim" are available at the Belize Rural South office, above the San Pedro Town Library.
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