San Pedro, host for Guatemala negotiations

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 15, No. 45            November 17, 2005

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San Pedro was the site for the most recent negotiations between Guatemala and Belize. Amid a contingent of heavily armed soldiers and security, the representatives for both countries and the Organization of American States (OAS) arrived in San Pedro Monday morning for a day and a half session of talks to resolve Guatemala’s claims to Belize.

   Behind closed doors at the Belize Yacht Club Convention Center, the two parties met for the first time since signing the ‘framework of negotiating and confidence building measures’ on September 7th. The agreement binds both countries to either resolve the dispute around the negotiating table or let the International Court resolve the dispute.

   Belize’s Lead Negotiator in the talks is Senior Ambassador with Ministerial Rank, Assad Shoman. Foreign Minister Jorge Briz represented Guatemala. Ambassador Shoman spoke of the importance of a Joint Commission in the negotiation process. The discussions were conducted by Special Representative of the Secretary General of the OAS, Raul Lago.

   During a press conference during a break in the talks on Tuesday, Ambassador Shoman said the parties have agreed to pick up where discussions have stopped. “We’ve asked the OAS to bring together everything that we have put to them (in the past), and it’s a big job because we have thousands of pages of documents that are lodged there, both from Guatemala and from Belize, and to distill what is there into something that we can work with, and continue to deal with in a certain order.”

   Shoman said that Guatemalan claim involves both continental territory, island territory, and maritime areas. They will next proceed on the advice of the OAS regarding if these claims are based on fact or law in order to move in an orderly fashion at the next meeting.

   Shoman stressed that both parties are seeking a resolution that will benefit both countries. “We are here to work for a good understanding and for an agreement that will benefit both countries and both peoples. So there’s no question of our accepting any bad arrangement, we are here to work for a good resolution; as the thing says, an honorable and equitable and definitive resolution of this dispute.”

   Minister Briz said (translated) “As you know, this issue is sensitive and delicate. Such a territorial dispute requires strong cooperation from both countries. We have the firm belief that by working together, responsibly we are going to find a viable solution so that each country can see this joint working relationship, giving the people of each country many results. And we are trying our very best, with a lot of creativity and responsibility, to find a just, equitable, honorable and permanent resolution to the territorial differendum.”

   Shoman said this dispute has gone for far too long and it is time to resolve it and move forward. “The word my friend (Minister Jorge Briz) uses is, ‘nueva era,’ a new era of working together in order to attack the real problems that affect us and our people.”

   Shoman said that in this new era, Guatemala and Belize need to be united when dealing with international issues that will impact both countries. “We are convinced that it is not healthy to have a situation in the Twenty-first Century where two neighboring states are fighting over something that they inherited from centuries past. And that something, that dispute is limiting in their possibilities for development, especially for joint development, for working together for the development of their peoples, and it is something that is an obstacle to better relations between the two countries, and most of all to the development of the two countries, because both of us have the same kind of problems, both of us have poverty that we need to eradicate, both of us have problems of development, we have problems of fitting into this globalize world.”

   Guatemala’s Jorge Briz agreed. “We are living in a new era of cooperation, working together in friendship, which is very important to reach a peaceful resolution for both our peoples in Belize and Guatemala.”

   The agreement includes that both sides hold dialogue not longer than 45 days apart. They have agreed to meet next in Guatemala and Shoman challenged his Guatemalan counter-part to pick a place “as beautiful as San Pedro.”
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