Lessons from Belize- Guatemala row Guest editorial
Guyana Chronicle
September 4, 2002

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CARIBBEAN COMMUNITY states, and Guyana and Suriname in particular, would have welcomed the news at the weekend of a significant breakthrough in negotiations to resolve, finally, the 150-year-old territorial dispute between Belize and Guatemala.

As CARICOM countries that have also inherited, like Belize, age-old territorial controversies, Guyana and Suriname, both mainland states on South America, would need to closely monitor the final recommendations submitted by the two Facilitators for the Guatemala-Belize negotiations.

The facilitation process, held under the auspices of the Organisation of American States over a two-year period in Washington, ended last week with a report submitted to OAS Secretary General Cesar Gaviria.

Playing key roles in the process were two highly rated legal luminaries, Sir Shridath Ramphal, for Belize, and Paul Reichler for Guatemala, along with the Foreign Ministers and legal experts of both countries.

The people of Belize and Guatemala are to be provided shortly with the details of the recommendations and will subsequently have the opportunity to endorse or reject them at a referendum to be held simultaneously in both countries.

If, as is the hope of both sides, Belize and Guatemala have now reached the stage where they can live at peace as good neighbours without a border dispute that dates back to their colonial history, then why should Guyana and Venezuela also not seek to resolve, as speedily as possible, their own intractable territorial row?

In the Guyana-Venezuela dispute, which has arisen out of Venezuela's refusal to abide by the award of an 1899 international tribunal that ruled the existing borders to be a full and final settlement, the Barbadian diplomat, Oliver Jackman, is filling the role of a broker through the Good Offices of the United Nations Secretary General.

It may be useful for the Guyana Government to also seek to benefit from the wide experience and knowledge of Sir Shridath, a former Foreign Minister and Attorney General of Guyana, as a Consultant, now that his work as a facilitator for the Belize-Guatemala negotiations has been completed.

There is also the territorial dispute between Guyana and Suriname, also rooted in their colonial past, and which is militating against development of their natural resources and to the loss of both, as evidenced in the controversy over exploitation of potential off-shore oil resources in disputed waters.

CARICOM has been consistently supportive of Guyana's stand in rejecting the claim of some two thirds of its 83,000 square miles by Venezuela.

But the Community has also been urging both parties, as is the case also in the Guyana-Suriname dispute, to find peaceful and practical solutions to their territorial controversies.

There may be something to learn by Guyana, Venezuela and Suriname, from the approach adopted in the facilitation process for a resolution to the Belize-Guatemala dispute, the details of which are now anxiously being awaited.
(Reprinted from yesterday's Barbados Nation)