Two opposing parties back ICJ border mediation

two opposing parties

Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington presents the historical case for Belize’s sovereignty at the Radisson Hotel, Belize City.

BELIZE JOURNAL PT.2 on two opposing parties. On May 25 at the Radisson Hotel, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington made the case to church leaders for going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to resolve Belize’s border dispute. Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado also came. So did Ambassador of Trade Stuart Leslie of the People’s United Party, showing that the two opposing parties support the ICJ mediation. Elrington related how Guatemala’s claim to Belize started with Spain’s 1494 claim to all of the New World except Portugal. But in the 1670 Gondolphin Treaty, Spain conceded that Britain could hold all lands it had already settled.

The British first landed in Belize in 1638. They started permanent settlement in Belize in 1662. They spread westward, northward and southward over the next two centuries. In 1859 the Guatemalans and British drew up the Wyke-Aycinena Treaty. Guatemala agreed to recognize British Honduras. Elrington showed markers markers they erected to establish the borders which remain till now. In turn British Honduras (now Belize) promised to build a road from Guatemala to the sea, ending at Punta Gorda.

two opposing parties

Guatemala officially considers Belize, here to the east of the Peten Department, to be its 23rd department.

That road was never built. Still, Belize stands on the principle of international law, uti possidetis juris, roughly meaning squatters’ rights. People own the land they have long occupied. Accordingly, Elrington said, the Belize Supreme Court recently ruled that the Maya had legal title to their local ancestral lands. We should add that the Maya never claimed the whole of either Guatemala or Belize. In fact, we have no record that any of the various Maya kingdoms ever claimed territory beyond its own local group of neighboring city-states. That is why the Maya victories are local victories.

Guatemala later disputed the 1859 treaty because of Belize’s failure to build a road to Punta Gorda. So the British were prepared for a Guatemalan invasion. In 1948 the British brought huge military ships full of extra troops to protect its crown colony. The troops remained until 1992. Some troops still remain, but not to guarantee Belize’s sovereignty.

Elrington pointed out Belize’s precarious position. Guatemala has 17 million people compared to Belize’s 350,000. Guatemala has a battle-hardened military compared to the Belize Defense Force, which has never been tested by war. Also, Guatemala has few civic or social authorities near the border. Therefore many Guatemalans feel free to cross the border illegally and rob Belize of millions of dollars of resources a year. Furthermore, Guatemala refuses to acknowledge the border. Officially they call the area around it the Adjacency Zone.

The blurred distinctions encourage Guatemalans to come to Belize to stay. More and more are managing to get the right to vote. Elrington said that is why we must vote on the referendum as soon as possible, right after the government’s promised re-registration campaign. Both major political parties in Belize now strongly support voting to go to the ICJ. It is the only court all nations must abide by. And Elrington told us that international jurists say that Belize has the stronger case.

Lance agreed. He said we have such a strong case, due to our long occupancy here and the old boundary markers, that Guatemala may be delaying the referendum. George quoted the Scripture “Do not move the ancient boundary” (Prov. 22:28; 23:10). Many Guatemalans who get stirred up against Belize by a nationalistic referendum campaign, and then lose, may cause even more border problems.

George added that NEAB leaders met many friendly Guatemalan evangelicals at our border prayer meeting last May, and at their nationwide evangelical conference last July. But most of them have little idea of Belize being sovereign in its own right. Many unthinkingly accept the official line of their government that Belize is part of Guatemala. The more we strengthen our ties with Guatemalan evangelicals, the more opportunities they will get to understand Belizeans and learn that this is a much different country. Ambassador Rosado gladly offered his help with those opportunities.

Lance said that Belizeans need more education on this issue too. He asked Elrington and his team to bring this presentation to pastors in Belmopan. Border disputes make for some of the thorniest issues between nations. We must believe that God “made every nation of men…and He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live” (Acts 17:26). Let’s pray that He sets the times for our border decisions, and that He confirm to all the exact places where the borders fall.

Read more

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