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Guatemala’s claim to more than half of Belize has gone on way too long, say Belizean officials, and last night in an extensive interview on Channel 5 with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Sedi Elrington it was revealed that Government has agreed to amend the Special Agreement signed between both countries in 2008.  Viewers may recall that in December 2008, Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed an agreement with Guatemala submitting the issue of the Belize/Guatemala Territorial dispute to the world court for it to be resolved. Under the agreement a referendum was to be simultaneously in Belize and Guatemala on Oct. 6th, 2013. But, of course, that never happened for several reasons brought up by Guatemala. But that does not mean that the claim has been swept under the rug.

The Foreign Minister went on record to state that he will be travelling to Guatemala later this month to sign the amendment to the Compromis at the request of the Guatemalans. So what is the reason for this and why weren’t the people informed? Well, according to Elrington, the request was made on the grounds that Guatemala wanted to cut costs in holding the referendum.

Screen_Shot_2015-05-13_at_8.04.33_PMWilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs

“We were approached perhaps two months ago by the Guatemalan foreign minister who indicated to us, first through Ambassador Alexis Rosado, that they would wish to have their referendum hopefully by the month of November 2015.  The reason for that is that they are going to be going to general elections in September.  They believed at that time that they would have a second round of elections in November and thought that it would be convenient to do it at that time largely because of cost considerations.  If they did it together with the general elections it would be much cheaper for them.  To do it by itself it would cost a lot of money, millions of dollars.  Also too, and very fortuitously for them, perhaps the first time in their history that all the political parties were in agreement that the matter should be taken to referendum at that time.  When the proposal was conveyed to me, I indicated that I had to take it to the Cabinet.  I brought it to our Cabinet and our Cabinet agreed with the proposal.  They had no difficulty with us agreeing for us to amend the protocol, the Special Agreement to allow for us not to have do [referendum] simultaneously, at the same time, but to allow the Guatemalans to go ahead since they are ready so to do and then we would go when it is convenient for us.  So we have the blessings of the Cabinet, the prime minister communicated that information to the Leader of the Opposition personally, perhaps a month ago.  He informed me that the Leader of the Opposition had no difficulty with that, he agreed that that was acceptable to them and the new proposal then is for me to journey to Guatemala on Sunday.  That is not this coming Sunday, but the following Sunday, I think it’s going to be the twenty-fifth or the twenty-fourth and then I would sign the amended Special Agreement on the twenty-fifth, along with the Guatemalan foreign minister and that would be witnessed by the outgoing Secretary General of the O.A.S. Miguel Insulza and that would be his last working day as O.A.S. Secretary General.”

For nearly two centuries, Guatemala has claimed the 12,272 square kilometers of Belize south of the Río Sibún as its own. The controversy dates to 1821, when Guatemala gained independence from Spain, and England was occupying what later became Belize. And while Belizeans have been clamouring for the issue to be resolved or at least informed on the discussions and dialogues, Elringtons interview with the news station ended stating that and we quote, “Under our system of government political leaders are elected for five year terms and are given responsibility to handle these matters and so it is not our obligation to go back to the public every time we are taking an action,” end quote. We’ll keep monitoring this story and bring you updates. 

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