POST-INDEPENDENCE NEGOTIATIONS: MIAMI TALKS
Although Belize became independent with the claim still unresolved, it had to focus its efforts on securing its sovereignty. Thus, its foreign policy was primarily geared to that end, and it succeeded in consolidating its international position in the decade after independence. (120)
While Guatemala had already been admitted to various international institutions, Belize as a newly independent country had to consolidate its independence and insert itself into the international sphere. Gradually, Belize was admitted to a variety of international and regional memberships such as the Non-Aligned Movement, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), ACP, a group of former European colonies that now benefit from Lomé Convention, the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), the Caribbean Basin Initiative (CBI), the International Sugar Association (ISA) and the International Whaling Commission (IWC). (121)
Although the O.A.S had passed a resolution for Belize's secure independence and territorial integrity, Belize still could not become member of Article 8 of the Charter, which stated that a country could not seek membership in the organization if there was a claim to it by a current member of the OAS and not until the dispute had been ended by some peaceful procedure. December of 1985 marked a great diplomatic victory for Belize when the O.A.S. Assembly determined that in five years time that article's operation would be suspended. Finally December 1990, Article 8 fell and Belize's victory came when on 8 January, 1991, it became a member of the O.A.S.
One fundamental factor that cannot be overlooked in understanding the decade after independence, is the difficult economic circumstances in Belize. Belize's independence coincided with the 1981-82 world economic recession that contributed to the sharp decline in the world sugar market, falling commodity prices, and the effects of the second oil price shock. Coupled with this reality, thousands of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala, flooded into Belize fleeing political violence and repression in their countries, thereby additionally burdening Belize's social services and economy. Another contributing factor to Belize's economic crisis was the period of mismanagement by the Peoples United Party in the early eighties. A great majority of Belizeans who felt that Belize was not ready for independence and who felt that Belize was a lot better off economically and politically under the British, were convinced during these dire economic times that independence may have meant freedom, but it also meant economic hardship.
A new attempt to solve the dispute between Belize and Guatemala was made in March 1987 in Guatemala, when Gen. Efrain Rios Montt came to power. Although the new Guatemalan regime maintained the country's refusal to recognize the independence of Belize, the then Foreign Minister, Mr. Eduardo Castillo Arriola, proposed that negotiations should be opened with the United Kingdom in order to reach a negotiated settlement. (122)
The United Kingdom refused to enter into strictly bilateral talks with Guatemala on the grounds that Belize was an independent country and should therefore be fully represented, but Mr. Castillo said that Belize could only have observer status. The formal Guatemalan offer of negotiations was made in July through the Swiss Embassy in Guatemala (which had represented British interests since the breaking of consular relations.) It was announced on January 6, 1983, that tripartite talks would open in New York on January 24, and a spokesman for the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that similar discussions had taken place in secret in October and November. President Rios Montt announced on January 13 that "previously Guatemala claimed all the territory of Belize, but now the Guatemalan position has changed: we want the district of Toledo to form part of our territory". (The Toledo region lay in the south of the country, occupying 4,852 sq km of the country's total area of 22,965 sq km, including the town of Punta Gorda.) President Rios Montt said that the Guatemalan claim was based on considerations of cultural traditions, geography and national security, and that if the claim were met Guatemala would recognize independence. The offer was strongly opposed in Belize, especially by the 11,000 Indians living in Toledo. (According to some reports the Guatemalan initiative was related to the US decision to restore military aid to Guatemala after President Reagan's meeting with President Rios Montt in December 1982. (123)
The negotiations opened in New York on January 24 as planned but broke down the following day. Belize refused to make any territorial concessions and Guatemala rejected Belize's counter-proposals, under which it would have gained a sector of Belize's territorial waters, transit rights through the south of Belize and the establishment of a 6km joint economic development zone on either side of the Sarstoon River (which rises in Guatemala and forms Belize's southern border with Guatemala). After the Guatemalan coup of August 1983 the new Foreign Minister, Sr. Fernando Andrade Diaz Duncan, said on August 24 that "Guatemala will now claim all Belize", indicating also that the new regime would not renew the offer of restricting the claim solely to the Toledo region. Over the succeeding months, the Guatemalan government made repeated calls for further talks, although no initiatives were advanced by any of the parties involved. New talks between British, Guatemala and Belizean representatives opened in New York on May 9, 1984, but they were described as being "strictly informal and explanatory", and Mr. Andrade stressed that there would be no change in Guatemala's stance on the issue of Belize's independence. (124)
Little progress was made during this period to the long-standing dispute. Finally, on May 27, 1985, the Guatemalan Constituent Assembly, whilst drawing up a new civilian constitution, approved an article empowering the Government to take appropriate action to resolve the dispute "in conformity with national interests". Although it was stated that any solution would have to be approved by a referendum, the new constitution differed from its predecessors in that it did not state explicitly the claim that Belize was part of Guatemala. A six-member select committee drawn from the House of Representatives in Belize had been created to examine Guatemala's territorial claim. New President Cerezo indicated his willingness to meet a delegation from Belize to explore the possibility of establishing formal talks aimed at resolving the dispute. (125) President Cerezo's government was the first civilian one in Guatemala since the Second World War and marked a significant historical event.
The first direct talks between the governments of Belize and Guatemala on the latter's claim over Belize's territory were held in Miami, USA on April 29, 1987. The bi-partisan Belizean delegation was led by Hon. Dean Barrow, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Economic Development, while Guatemala was represented by its then Foreign Minister, Sr. Mario Quinionez Amezquita. A UK delegation acted as observers. Relations between the two countries, and Guatemala and the United Kingdom, had improved throughout 1986 and hopes were raised that some progress could be made towards a resolution of the dispute. The civilian government of President Cerezo was widely seen as more amenable and President Cerezo made several statements showing a willingness to accept Belize's existence, without abandoning its country's territorial claim. The resumption of full diplomatic relations between Guatemala and the United Kingdom on December 29, 1986, was also seen as assisting the process of reconciliation. At the April meeting no new initiatives were produced and Mr. Quinonez reiterated Guatemala's demand for the cession of a large area of Belize's territory, a condition which the Belizean delegation found unacceptable. (126) Quinones' main demands were for:
In return he offered joint development projects and full recognition of Belize. Minister Barrow then expressed regret that the Guatemalan position had apparently "hardened". During the 42nd United Nations General Assembly speech given by Minister Barrow, he was confident that the recent Guatemalan position was only a "temporary hiccup in the negotiating process..." and "we will look forward not only to a diplomatic accommodation with Guatemala, but also to the economic cooperation which should surely follow...the quest for national dignity can succeed only when we satisfy the economic needs of our peoples...their need for food, clothing, shelter, and jobs". (127) Both sides, however, stressed their commitment to further negotiations.
The latter part of the 1980s involved a series of meetings in Miami Florida. During that period, after discussions between Belize's and Guatemala's Foreign Minister, a Permanent Joint Commission was established comprising five representatives of Belize and five representatives of Guatemala and additional representatives of the United Kingdom.
This commission was charged with the preparation of a comprehensive Treaty to resolve definitively the situation between Belize and Guatemala in a political, economic and security framework resolution. This draft Treaty prepared by the Commission would be presented to their respective Governments, and submitted to the electorates of both countries in a referendum before signature.The following framework was agreed upon and was put at the negotiating tables between the parties for discussion and negotiation:
The political components were divided into three areas:
On economic elements, it was agreed that the Joint Development Zone would be situated on both sides of the border between Belize and Guatemala (Bifinio) and that short and medium term projects would be developed which would benefit both populations in the zone. The nature and scope of each project would determine the location of the project and its economic impact.
It was also agreed that simultaneous to the signing of the Treaty parallel agreements between Belize and Guatemala would be subscribed to, directed towards the strengthening of the economies and the relationships between the two countries. These agreements would contain stipulations for co-operation in economic, commercial and financial matters, as well as the funding of physical infrastructure in communications, tourism and for technical, technological, cultural and educational co-operation between the two countries.
The specific projects discussed and that could form the basis for a draft Treaty were:
It was mutually agreed that both Belize and Guatemala would consider that in projects related to the above, the financial and other support of the United Kingdom would be necessary. The United Kingdom confirmed its willingness to support the settlement of the dispute by contributing to a suitable development project or projects of benefit to both sides. The U.K. was also willing to seek to enlist also the financial assistance of the European Community and other donors.
As in the days of the "Two Treaty Package", the idea of a compensatory package appealed far more to the Guatemalan delegation than the political package. This latter was the foremost on the agenda for the Belize delegates. This reflected the dire economic situation at the time in Gautemala and there was a need to explore all avenues available. Guatemala also suffered in their international image as a result of the claim and if a resolution was reached then it was believed that the dispute could improve their international image, which would then allow them access to economies in the international community, while at the same time they would gain from accessing the Atlantic and the CARICOM markets through Belize.
For the Belize delegation, the political package weighed a great deal more and it was explicitly communicated that there was a need for a definitive resolution of the problem in a peaceful manner and that the possibility of land cession would not be contemplated. Unlike the "Two Treaty package", where land cession was not a part of the negotiations, the possibility of cession of the cayes was an issue for the Guatemalans. However, it was made clear by the Belize side, that it was not to be even contemplated. These steps would be taken all in accordance with the principles of international law, and the Charter of the United Nations. The position of the Belize delegation was that once there was recognition by Guatemala of the reality of Belize, then development of consular, economic and trade contacts would be established.
The general idea of the economic package was acceptable to the Belize delegates, however there were some concerns which needed to be further defined. Any area in this economic package that may have eroded Belize's sovereignty was studied carefully and was subject to rejection on those grounds. i.e. proposals including free movement of people, oil pipelines, free ports, free transit, national treatment in relation to the use of ports and airports.
Once again the issue of Belize entering into the Central American integration scheme arose . As when the idea of Central American integration first arose during the negotiations for the "Two Treaty Package", the Belize delegation decided that this proposal still needed a great deal more study since there were still reservations regarding this possibility. Some of the concerns expressed during the negotiations for the "Two Treaty Package" were the same at this time which was, how such a move would affect Belize's present obligations to CARICOM and how membership in both institutions could be reconciled. In this same context, its membership in GATT, LOME etc, would need to be considered. The Guatemalan delegation continuously assured the Belize delegates that Guatemala had no intention of removing Belize's roots in the Caribbean, but that it is essential that Belize understand that as under-developed countries, both need help, and integration and co-operation was the key to making each other more competitive in the face of this new economic reality.
Belize began to gain momentum on the political package, when in January 1990 at meetings in Roatan, Honduras, in which Belize was represented by a bi-partisan delegation along with officials, it was in effect agreed in principle that Gautemala would accept the long established and existing borders of Belize. Also, any delimitations of maritime boundaries would be limited to the areas of sea in the south which Belize never claimed or exercised jurisdiction over but to which it is entitled in international law. It was specified that Belize would limit its territorial sea to 3 miles from the Sarstoon up to a point off Ranguana Caye.
During the latter part of 1990, in a meeting with President Cerezo of Guatemala and Prime Minister George Price of Belize following logging difficulties that arose in the Gallon Jug area of Belize, both parties agreed on a mechanism to resolve that issue, but the negotiations also went one step further: Guatemala agreed to accept land borders—something which had been tacitly agreed to in Roaten.
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1997 Janine Sylvestre and Copyright © Naturalight Productions Ltd.