Guatemala goes to Referendum on Belize on April 15 Print E-mail
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Thursday, 12 April 2018 00:00

Jimmy Morales, President of Guatemala, has been on a campaign throughout Guatemala. During that tour, the President used that time to educate his people of the nearing referendum, to be held on Sunday, April 15. Just over the weekend, President Morales was in Peten, Guatemala where he appeared as a guest on a TV show. That media appearance soon turned sour after the president seemed to become annoyed with the line of questioning.

The reporter asked what the Government of Guatemala would be prepared to do should Belize not hold a referendum. The president answered “But if you know the answer, why don’t you tell it to them. You keep interrupting me”. After insisting that she did not intend to interrupt him, rather than to ask the necessary questions, the president responded that “This is my message to the people of Guatemala. This being the reason why I’m here and with this I’ll leave: People of Guatemala, thank you for being attentive to the referendum that will take place on April fifteenth. The fifteenth of April will be a historic moment. In 1773, discussions began concerning this issue. In 2018, this generation has the opportunity to not pass on this problem to our children. The decision will be yours. It is your right; it is your civic duty. Thank you and may God bless you. Good night.” With that, the president left.

On another day, President Morales said that there is no problem between the people of Guatemala and Belize and even spoke of the invitation he has extended to Prime Minister Dean Barrow to attend his inauguration. He went on to say that Guatemala wants to see an improvement in the relationship with Belize but that did not last long. He eventually said that Guatemala will fight for the 120 square kilometers that are theirs, which is a little more than half of Belize. “We have excellent relations. We are not fighting with Belize. What we have is a claim for a territorial differendum. There are no borders between Belize and Guatemala, like the way we have with El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. What we have is an adjacency zone without any definite limits. We need to consult [on] all of this at the International Court of Justice. And on April fifteenth, we need Guatemala to take that step forward.”

Preceding the President’s last media appearance in which he contradicted himself, some in Guatemala brought up a legal challenge that stated that it is in the Constitution of Guatemala that the results of the case at the ICJ must be taken to another referendum. That challenge has since failed. In response to those challenges, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, made a statement that reiterated Guatemala’s challenge. “The indication that I am getting is that it (the referendum) is not likely to derail the process. That’s the impression that I’m getting. So long as they vote yes, that is the voice of the people; no matter what turnout, that is the decision of the country of Guatemala.”

He further explained that “If the Guatemalans vote no, we are exactly in the position we are now today. Where everything is up in the air; we don’t know what is going to happen in terms of the future resolution of the dispute; the matter is up and open in the air. So that is the consequence of that decision.”

That Channel 5 interview has subsequently caused a stir within the general public of Belize, especially in the PUP who are “extremely concerned.” As a result, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent out a press release which serves to clarify the words of the Minister of Foreign Affairs. The release quotes “The clips used in Channel 5’s report gave the mistaken impression that Minister Elrington was stating that it is his or Ambassador H.E. Alexis Rosado’s own view that after the International Court of Justice rules on a decision the “constitution of Guatemala provides for them [Guatemala] to then go to a referendum to, as it were, ratify that position of the court”.  What the Minister was explaining to the journalist was his understanding of the basis of the constitutional challenge in Guatemala; not his personal views or that of Ambassador Rosado. In any case, such legal challenges have been dismissed in Guatemala’s Courts.”

The Ministry clarifies that in accordance with the Special Agreement of December 2008, “should the electorates of Belize and Guatemala approve the submission of Guatemala’s claim on Belize to the International Court of Justice for a final settlement, there can be no question of another referendum on the Court’s ruling.” Under Article V of the Special Agreement, the parties have already agreed to “accept the decision of the Court as final and binding, and undertake to comply with and implement it in full and in good faith”.

What remains is that Guatemala will hold its referendum on the territorial dispute with Belize on Sunday, April 15, 2018. The question of the referendum will ask “Do you agree that any legal claim of Guatemala against Belize relating to land and insular territories and to any maritime areas pertaining to these territories should be submitted to the International Court of Justice for final settlement and that it determines finally the boundaries of the respective territories and areas of the parties?”. A total of 7,522,920 registered voters, not including members of the armed forces (Air Force, Army, and Navy), people in prison, and Guatemalans living abroad, are eligible to vote. With about 340 municipalities in Guatemala, the results of the referendum are expected to be officially announced on Monday, April 16. The results of this referendum will not determine whether Belize will be holding a referendum of its own.