HEADS OF AGREEMENT
In March of 1981, Britain prevailed on Guatemala to sign a document agreeing to recognize the independent State of Belize and respect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with the existing and traditional frontiers. A very important element which influenced the shift in Guatemala's inflexible stance was the fact that Britain, backed by the 1960 U.N. Declaration on the granting of independece to colonial countries and peoples, Great Britain has made it clear that whether or not Guatemala was ready to recognize Belize, Belize would become independent. Another vital factor which motivated Guatemala should take the step that they were ag to recognize Belize on which recognition was contingent on that which was agreed opon. In other words they were hoping they could negotiate the rest of articles "economic and territorial" concesions in a way that would have been favourable to Guatemala so that the pill of recognition would not have been too hard to swallow. This in itself, was a tremendous achievement, since Guatemala was not only agreeing to Belize's independence and full sovereignty, but also relinquishing its claim to any Belizean territory, Article #1. This, however, was made conditional on the completion of treaties to give effect to certain clauses in the document. The document was called "Heads of Agreement", (bases de entendimiento). "This means that only the headings, or subjects, are set out, over which it is hoped agreement will be reached later on. It is not in any way a final agreement". 109
Article #2 granted Guatemala the cession of territorial seas as would ensure Guatemala "permanent and unimpeded access to the high seas" together with rights over the adjacent sea bed. Article #3 stated that Guatemala "shall have the use and enjoyment of the Ranguana and Sapodilla cayes and rights in those areas of the sea adjacent to the cayes.". Article #4 entitled Guatemala to free port facilities in Belize City and Punta Gorda. Article #5 promised to improve the road from Belize City to the Guatemalan frontier and a road from Punta Gorda to the Guatemalan frontier would be completed and that Guatemala would have freedom of transit on those roads. Article #6 stated that Belize would facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda. The areas agreed on shall be concluded between Belize and Guatemala for purposes concerned with the control of pollution, navigation and fishing was contained in article 7. Article #8 stated the areas of the sea bed and the continental shelf to be agreed for the joint exploration and exploitation of minerals and hydrocarbons. Article #9 provided that Belize and Guatemala shall agree upon certain developmental projects of mutual benefit. Article #10 entitled Belize to any free port facilities in Guatemala to match similar facilities provided to Guatemala in Belize. They would sign a treaty of co-operation in matters of mutual security concerns as stated in Article #11. Article #12 provided that the rights or interests of Belize or of the Belizean people would not be prejudiced. Article #13 stated that Guatemala shall re-establish normal relations with Great Britain and Article #14, Guatemala would support Belize's membership in the United Nations, the Organisation of the American States, Central American Organizations and other international organizations; and finally Article #15 and #16, dealt with administrative details as to the final settlement of the dispute. 110
The Belize government officials at the time, believed that the Heads of Agreement may have been doomed from the beginning, but it was an exercise that they had to go through in order to keep the British on board. The main issue was to gain independence without giving any land cession and this was what was on the Belize agenda first and foremost. As it was so aptly put by a former government official who was involved in the negotiations, "The Heads of Agreement recognized the failure to reach an agreement, but it promised to reach an agreement." Perhaps this is why essentially, this agreement did in no way secure any real economic benefit to Belize. There was no framework implemented for improving the economic infrastructure and development for Belize. Guatemala would have gained far more economically than Belize. The goods coming in would have been duty free and the trucks etc, would not have been subject to an intransit fee. In exchange for the recognition by Guatemala, Belize was granting them the "use and enjoyment" of the cayes, but in reality, this was a defacto ceding of territory since Guatemalans really have always had the right to come to Belize and visit, as a tourist would any of Belize's tourism sites. And if given this right, would they in turn have developed resorts and gear their efforts to a viable tourism plan for Belize?
The Prime Minister of Belize at the time, Hon. George Price, stated in government propaganda that there were other benefits of practical value which Belize would have received from the Agreement. This included increased trade and commerce at Belizean ports, the right to use Guatemalan ports, regulation of fishermen poaching on Belize's fishing grounds, sharing high capital development projects and so on. ‘While this type of co-operation is a vital part of the business of the independent state of Belize it is a secondary function of this Agreement from the Belizean point of view". 111
It appears that there was some consideration given to the economic benefits. However this was without explicitly saying so in the agreement, forcing the reader to conclude that this was only lip-service to gain acceptance of the Agreement by the Belizean people who felt cheated by the Agreement. On the other hand, perhaps these discussions were a part of private meetings which the average Belizean was not privy to. Admittedly, politically Belize would have gained since the Heads would have guaranteed final recognition of Belize's sovereignty and independence and it would have marked a significant political victory for Belize.
It also "represented a significant withdrawal from the historical inflexibility of the Guatemalan position."..."Guatemala had always insisted on the total absorption of Belize"... and "her acceptance of the Heads of Agreement then, must be viewed as the end result of a process in which her foreign policy had suffered sustained reversals". 112
This reversal in her foreign policy in essence paved the way to future negotiations whereby the door was now open to negotiating an agreement that would have considered Belize's territorial integrity and sovereignty.
There was widespread opposition to the Agreement both in Belize and Guatemala. The phrase ‘use and enjoyment' contained in Article 3 elicited conflicting interpretations and, in Belize, it was characterized as a "sell-out of Belize's sovereignty. The public demonstrations and rioting in Belize City and in the districts in Belize was so overwhelming that a state of emergency was called by the Governor. The Government of Belize assured the public that on this point, "...the Belizean representatives will fully protect our territorial integrity, our full sovereignty, and all the rights and interests of Belize and the Belizean people". 113
The United Democratic Party, the Opposition Party and the Public Service Union rejected the Agreement. The United Democratic Party, issued a statement claiming that"...the Heads of Agreement form a basis only for the eventual control of an independent Belize by Guatemala," and went on to reject it because' "...it grants Guatemala concessions, rights, powers, interests, and even land in Belize to an unwarranted and dangerous extent". 114 Prime Minister, Hon. George Price, in a radio address, assured Belizeans that "we have given a commitment to submit any final agreement which may emerge...to the people for their decision in a referendum," and reiterated the nature of the Heads of Agreement. 115
Groupings in Guatemala, such as the Frente Unidad Nacional, and Mario Sandoval Alcaron's Movimiento de Liberacion Nacional, called the Heads "unpatriotic", an, "unacceptable affront to the national dignity" and "the product of an erroneous and mistaken foreign policy". 116 Obviously the talks broke down after the negotiations showed that it would be impossible to reach an agreement. At this point the British finally agreed to maintain a military presence in Belize "for an appropriate period" to guarantee its defense.
Formal powers were transferred by the United Kingdom to the nation of Belize on September 21st, 1981. On the 25 September, 1981, Belize became the 156th member of the U.N., despite Guatemala's objections. Belize was also invited to the next meeting of the Permanent Council of the O.A.S. which had also passed the previous year a historic resolution endorsing all the terms of the U.N. resolution of 1980 on Belize.
Given the dominant regional and world role of the United States, it is perhaps necessary to say a few words about her position on the events that led to Belize's September 21, 1981 Independence.
Certainly, since the 1960's, the U.S. had, because of its economic and security interests in Guatemala on the one hand, and its NATO partership and historical special relationship with the U.K. on the other, pursued a course of neutrality where the Anglo-Guatemalan dispute was concerned. Even the Webster proposals reflected, in the U.S. view, this middle ground.
At the U.N., this position of the U.S. had caused her to abstain in the General Assembly whenever the Belize question was put to a vote. But in 1980 there was a sudden shift and the U.S. voted ‘yes' to the pro-Belize resolution of that year.
The explanation of this about-turn is perhaps to be found in the regional strategic interests of the U.S.: No Latin American country supported Belize in this cause, until 1980 when all of Latin America voted for an independent Belize. The U.S., after abstaining on three occasions during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, finally threw in its vote for Belize on the fourth occasion. Perhaps she realized that it would be foolhardy not to vote in Belize's favor since it would have been the only country in the hemisphere not to do so. Also, by then, Belize had sufficient world -wide support and Britain, Belize's biggest allay was pushing for Belize's independence.
An interesting economic twist to the Heads of Agreement is the oil connection attached to it. Head 6 stated that Belize would facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda.
"The Guatemalans had been exporting oil since April 1981 from the Rubelsanto and Chinaja wells via a 200-kilometer pipeline which ran through Alta Verapaz and across Lake Izabal to Puerto Barrios". In addition, "the French company, Elf Aquitaine, reported new oil reserves in Alta Verapaz with a capacity of 800 bpd". 117 Texaco-Amco operation which had a 147,000 acre concession on the northern tip of El Peten, a month after the Heads of Agreement was signed reported a large oil strike and it appeared that it was economically feasible to export the oil from this reserve by running pipelines to some point in Belize. It is speculated that in the face of Guatemala's dire economy in 1981, oil exploration was still a viable sector in the economy and the inclusion of Head 6 in the Heads of Agreement suggests that this possibility must have been seriously considered. 118
Ironically , a theory exists that the issue of oil was present as far back as the 1859 Treaty. One author, in fact, claims that the core of the claim in the first place, was oil and not the famous Article Seven of the 1859 Treaty. Apparently in the nineteen-thirties there was a rumour that petroleum was to be found in Central America. Oil was found in Mexico and Venezuela and it was hoped that in the middle, "just where Peten and British Honduras languished forgotten, there may be an oilfield?" 119
For some, the clause in the Heads of Agreement helps to explain Guatemala's readiness in recognizing an independent Belize since the construction of pipelines through Belize fell within their projected framework for increased oil exportation. But the general Belizean opinion regarding this was that "it threatened the security of Belize since the construction of Guatemalan pipelines in Belize raised the issue of their protection against sabotage by Guatemalan guerrillas operating in the Peten".
But Belize's real concern should have been the failure by Belize's delegation to recognize the enormous implication that would have allowed Guatemala to explore for oil in Belize without Belize sharing the fruits. Article 6 fails to specify what benefits Belize would have derived from this, if any, since the clause simply states that Belize would "facilitate the construction of oil pipelines".
With all due respect to the Belizean leaders at the time, who were concerned more with the question of independence and domestic political and ideological concerns, ignored economics and how Belize could be developed.
The private meetings on the "Two Treaty Package", up to this point in time was indeed the closest Belize came to defining an economic plan that would have perhaps paved the way for development, as a new independent country that would have perhaps played a key role in the region. There was vision and meticulous planning occurring during those sessions. But as discussed earlier, the overriding issue that has always hampered progress with the claim is the internal political and military upheaval in Guatemala and perhaps the divided partisan views and philosophies on the issue in Belize.
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1997 Janine Sylvestre and Copyright © Naturalight Productions Ltd.