Belize/Guatemala proposal
Region can learn from this
- Ramphal, Jackson
Stabroek News
September 19, 2002

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The proposals for the resolution of the Belize-Guatemala border dispute may hold some lessons for the territories of the Caribbean in resolving their various border disputes.

This is the view of two former distinguished foreign ministers of Guyana, Sir Shridath Ramphal and Rashleigh Jackson. Sir Shridath, named by Belize, is one of the two facilitators who have come up with some novel ideas for resolving the 143-year dispute. The proposals have the support of Honduras, which with Belize has ceded some of its maritime territory to create a maritime zone for Guatemala in the Caribbean Sea.

Guatemala would get no land under the OAS-brokered proposal but stands to gain most from an offer from Britain and other donors of $200 million in development cash for a tense border area where spats have claimed six lives since 1999.

Speaking with the Stabroek News from Belize yesterday, Sir Shridath described the proposals he and his counterpart for Guatemala the Washington DC-based lawyer Paul Reichler constructed, as “a novel and creative approach which holds great promise for conflict resolution in the region”.

With reference to the Guyana/Venezuela border controversy, Sir Shridath declined to speculate as to which country in the region could play a role similar to Honduras. However, Jackson to whom the Stabroek News also spoke offered that perhaps Trinidad could play such a role as it has a maritime agreement with Venezuela. Guyana has expressed reservations about that agreement struck by Venezuela and Trinidad and Tobago in 1991.

In the Sir Shridath and Reichler proposals, Honduras and Belize delineated their exclusive economic zones to provide for a 2,000-square-mile Guatemalan Maritime Area in which they retain fishing rights as well as 50 per cent of the marine resources that may be located there.

But Jackson cautions as to the willingness of Guyana to cede any territory, whether on land or in its maritime territory; and of Venezuela to settle for access to the sea in return for dropping its claim to nearly three-fifths of Guyana’s territory.

However, Jackson is not surprised at Belize’s willingness to cede some maritime space, as it was always willing to do so in contrast to its rigid position not to cede any land.

He observed that it was Guatemala’s insistence on acquiring territory that had prevented a resolution of the issue before now.

The proposals were hammered out in over two years of negotiations under the aegis of the Secretary General of the Organisation of American States. They provide for the establishment of a free trade area between Belize and Guatemala, which has the blessings of the Caribbean Community of which Belize is a member; and the present borders between the two countries to remain as drawn since 1859; and the establishment of a development trust fund.

The proposals were handed over to the OAS Secretary General on Monday after negotiations between the Guatemala and Belize, which Sir Shridath and Reichler facilitated.

In New York, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan welcomed the agreement and encouraged voters in both countries to approve it. According to a Reuter report, UN chief spokesman Fred Eckhard said: “This groundbreaking accord sets an example for the region, and offers hope that other such disputes can also be resolved promptly and peaceably.”

The agreement permanently defines the countries’ mutual border and marks out an ecological marine park to be jointly managed by Guatemala, Belize and Honduras.

It also allows Guatemalans squatting in one trouble-plagued jungle village across the Belizean border to live there the rest of their lives and offers them Belizean citizenship.

Both countries have 75 days to make final changes to the pact before calling simultaneous plebiscites in which voters will decide whether to end the dispute.

If either country votes “no,” the dispute will go to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

The 250,000 inhabitants of Belize, which won independence from Britain in 1981, are expected to approve the plan.

But Guatemala’s government will have more trouble convincing voters in a country where `Belize is ours’ has been a political rallying cry for decades and most maps still portray Belize as part of Guatemala.