AVENUES FOR FUTURE CO-OPERATION
This thesis has made an attempt to take the reader through a journey of the past, showing how the dispute has developed, the people and circumstances which have steered the direction it has taken so far. More importantly, factors or interests, unique to both, have greatly influenced the outcome. Belize has fought to gain its independence and territorial sovereignty, while Guatemala has tried to gain or recoup what historically she believe to be theirs and be compensated by the British for non-fulfillment of Article 7 of the 1859 Treaty. The past chain of events shows that political and historical considerations have outweighed the economic ones. This has led to a long and tedious process where although it has been a peaceful process, many economic losses have occurred for Belize and Guatemala. Therefore, perhaps after 200 years of spending their energies on issues that will only prolong a resolution and hamper progress in economic co-operation, the parties should consider another direction.
In the context of this new economic world order when realities such as NAFTA, GATT, etc start to take effect, developing countries like Belize and Guatemala will certainly be affected if not swallowed by the tidal waves of these inevitable forces. The danger lies in the fact that once these free trade agreements become a reality, they will overshadow agreements like the preferential treatment in the Lome Convention, and CBI for example. The development of the Asociation of Caribbean States (ASC) is an integration initiative with CARICOM, Central America, Mexico and Venezuela to join forces and in this context, Belize and Guatemala will be playing a pivotal role in the integration scheme. The perpetuation of this dispute is detrimental to both sides and they may be sowing the seeds of each others' decline.
Essentially, the whole core of the dispute is based on economics. It can be argued that the historical origin of the dispute is economic i.e., Spain's inability to overcome British incursion into the territory she considered hers. Although it never went beyond the discussions and what was put on paper, the idea of economics and other co-operation has been a salient issue since the beginning of negotiations but particularly since the negotiations of the "Two Treaty Package", followed by the Heads of Agreement and the Miami talks: the latter two were focused and more precise proposals.
The three proposals had the recurrent element of economic cooperation, but were only realizable if the political conditions were met. The political conditions were never met because of a number of factors, therefore, the economic components never went further than what was put on paper. Perhaps this was a mistake, on the part of all parties concerned. Where would Belize be today if greater economic ties with Guatemala had been sought? Let us examine the hypotheses of such an agreement, let us assume that though the political, historical obstacles were insurmountable, the leaders of the three disputing parties, examined certain geographical and cultural realities. Belize and Guatemala, sharing a common border, a steady flow of immigration into Belize since the early twentieth century from Central America, and a prohibitive distance from its Caribbean brothers, to ensure that it would never substantially benefit from its CARICOM membership at the expense of its C.A. membership. If these leaders had encouraged investment in agro\industry, tourism, communications, student exchanges, sister city relationships, with little regard for hostility and suspicion perhaps Belize's economic situation would be considerably different.
The negotiators of the past acknowledged that the economic aspect was important as was pointed out during the meetings for the "Two Treaty package", "While political problems were of great importance, ultimately the parties should be concerned with the welfare of their peoples and this is why economic development as an area of wide co-operation is needed." Therefore, it was stressed that political stability was vital but not possible without economic and trading circumstances in which people could live together happily, that economic co-operation would lead to political co-operation without any diminution of sovereignty.
Today, the issue is no longer of political independence. In the intervening years since 1972, the aspect of recognition was focused on and by and large these conditions of recognition were met. However, the treaty of co-operation was almost completely left out. While it would not do to down play the importance of recognition, it must be stressed that not pursuing the Treaty of Co-operation resulted in a great disadvantage to both countries. The following are some points that should be pursued, (extracted from both the Economic Co-operation Treaty Two Treaty package and the Miami negotiations) and could still form a basis for joint cooperation with Guatemala, leading to improved bilateral relations and the putting to rest the divisive territorial claim. The idea of a regional development corporation which was suggested, to study, recommend and facilitate the idea of trade and investment projects with economic, scientific and technical expertise, could be a viable possibility today, especially if there was a joint balanced approach between public officials and the private sector.
The areas of joint infrastructure projects as well as other joint projects, which were brought up during the Two Treaty Package, and which were featured in the Miami negotiations, are basic factors which could be pursued:
Other areas that could be viable today are, free-trade, free movement of people, free movement of capital and the free transit of goods. The idea of a monetary system was a consistent idea during negotiations. However there was not consistency in its form and function and these difficulties in the technicalities proved to be confusing and not viable.
In 1994 Trade with Guatemala reflected imports to Belize ,$ 17,309,220 (millions) exports to Guatemala, $ 33,038.00 (Department of Statistics) (Annex G.) This is a gross deficit for Belize. As the graph clearly shows, since 1988, Belize's exports to Guatemala have been steadily declining, while its imports have been continuously increasing. The year 1988 accounted for Belize's biggest economic growth, 10%-12% and it shows that this was the lowest for exports as well as imports. This great imbalance will undoubtedly need to be addressed by Belize if it hopes to be a trading partner with Guatemala and the rest of Central America. However, what does Belize have to offer a country that produces everything that Belize produces but in major volume and with a capacity to supply its 10 million inhabitants in addition to meeting its export markets. The following points, could be examined.
AGRI/INDUSTRY - There should be encouragement offered to the productive sector in Guatemala to set up branches of their factories, in Belize. The latter's membership in CARICOM, and the Commonwealth could provide a ready market for these products. The canning and processing factories could utilize products grown in Belize.
TOURISM - Instead of competing with Guatemala for scarce tourist revenues from the U.S. and Europe, Belize could actively seek tourists from Guatemala and other countries in C.A. by offering low-cost packages in the off-season for diving, fishing, etc. If 30,000 Central Americans visited Belize and spent an average of US$ 1,000.00 it would mean US $30,000,000.00. Not limiting the influx of tourists to only Central America, package tours could be made with the Guatemalan tour operators in bringing their European tourists to Belize as a second destination after visiting Guatemala. Belize's comparative advantage is that it is keeper of the largest Barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere, and possesses numerous cayes, spectacular flora and fauna and other attractions that Guatemala does not offer. Likewise, tourists visiting Belize would be encouraged to visit Guatemala.
The Mundo Maya project, which is a modern-day version of La Ruta Maya project discussed during the "Two Treaty Package" meetings, is now a major tourism co-operation initiative which has been embarked upon by the Central American countries who are blessed with a common Maya history. The idea behind this project is to include all the areas of the ancient classical Maya world encompassing Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. This 1,500 mile Ruta Maya area will be marketed as a single destination without borders. The participation of both the public and private sector from the participating countries is important to the success of this project. (144)
COMMUNICATIONS: After the historic agreement with Guatel in 1975, both countries did not avail themselves of the telecommunication resources that existed at the time. They could now use each other as links to both the Caribbean and Central and South America, taking advantage of the technology available in this new information age and increase the inflow and outflow of information bridging the English Caribbean and Central and South American countries.
SERVICES: Besides the countless possibilities that exist in the area of tourism, as the only English speaking country in Central America, Belize is in a unique position to offer language services to Guatemalans and the rest of Central America who presently travel to the United States to learn English. The language center being sponsored by the Taiwanese government will have bilingual facilities in English and Spanish offering students from Central America and CARICOM an education in Spanish and English. With NAFTA, comes a demand for translation services and Belize could be the link to offer these services to Central America and Mexico through its language center.
Any or all of the above could result in the benefits for both countries; but besides the obvious benefits of increased revenues, a greater understanding, friendship and respect could gradually replace the suspicion and hostility that currently exist.
These factors are part of the framework that could be used for future co-operation. If analyzed more closely, some of the components of the economic packages which were proposed in the past could hold promising possibilities for the future. But political will is essential. Both countries will have to adopt pragmatic policies that will achieve results in real terms. Parallel to the government level efforts, the participation of the private sector is fundamental to the success of this plan. They are and will be the driving force to a closer and stronger relationship. This is already an inevitable reality. There have not been any traces of Belizeans investing in Guatemala but the reverse has not been the case. During the latter eighties which led to recognition, a number of private Guatemalan investors came to Belize, investing along with other Belizeans and Americans in business projects such as, Pepsi-Cola, the Biltmore Plaza Hotel the Ramada Royal Reef Hotel, the Sun Breeze Hotel, Cemcol and a number of other investments. This in itself, is testimony that once there is a favorable climate, many possibilities are open to both countries that could look at each other's comparative advantages and link the two. The present Guatemalan Ambassador in Belize, Mr. Antonio Castellanos, who fully supports the participation of the private sector, believes that they are the machinery that will start the ball rolling. Inspite of his government's inflexible political position on Belize, the Ambassador is also of the opinion that economic co-operation would be a viable and pragmatic approach to the dispute and would perhaps eventually defuse the political tension. In an interview he stated:
"The key is not to rely too much on the government to accomplish these goals, we are just bureaucrats who are absorbed by policies, we are "boxed in". The real movers and shakers are the private sector".
Another factor that is sometimes overlooked or rather underestimated, is the enormous human and commercial activity at the Belize/Guatemala border. As was seen earlier, they have remained and continue to be oblivious to the political issues and squabbles, and carry on business as usual. The dependency of the Peten/border area on Belize for its livelihood because of its geographical isolation to Guatemala City continues to be substantial. The level of economic activity in this area has never been measured but one only has to be there once to see that the impact is tremendous.
Interestingly enough, visitor statistics show that for all but three years during the period 1981-1990 tourist travel overland exceeded arrivals by air travel, in some cases by more than 100 percent and the scale of transit through Belize's border with Guatemala is significant, numbering almost 116,000 in 1991. (145)
The past is past, but perhaps we can learn from the errors and omissions of the past. While bearing in mind that we must one day come to the conclusion of the long standing dispute, I shall endeavour to put forward some suggestions that need not wait for final resolution of the dispute. The active participation of each of the three parties will be essential to the successful outcome of this exercise.
GREAT BRITAIN - This country committed itself to 22 million pounds in 1992, a pledge to help the initial process of building the infrstructure needed to facilitate communication. Although there were no conditions stipulated such as a need for a definitive settlement before the money could be released by Britain, today Britain still has not delivered on this pledge to Belize. When will there be an understanding by all parties concerned, that before any settlement could be reached there will be a need to invest in resources and time to realize the final settlement desired. Fundamental to the realization of trade and tourism between Belize and Guatemala, is the question of transportation links. The British could assist in the infrastructure of roads and improve transportation by sea and air to facilitate the purposes of trade and tourism. Currently, the main road network in Belize is reasonably good. There are only two external connections, the Northern Highway which runs through the Orange Walk and Corozal districts into Mexico is used extensively for transshipment business to Mexico, both from Belize and from Guatemala through Belize, by the sugar industry and for the carriage of garments to a port of exit. The Western Highway links the Cayo District to Guatemala by means of a road running east-west from Belize City through San Ignacio and Benque Viejo del Carmen, the only direct road link with the rest of Central America. There are long stretches of road linkages on the Guatemalan side from the town of Melchor de Mencos to Flores, the capital of the Peten Department, and southward on the long route to Guatemala City. (146) In addition, hydroelectricity could service the Peten area, as well as Belize. Also trade could be facilitated by setting up a British presence in the Free Zone area to market British products to Central and South America and Mexico, as was done in the past.
GUATEMALA - Enshrined in its constitution, is the commitment to develop economic ties with Belize. This gives Guatemala the ability to immediately put in place investment and development projects that would be mutually beneficial to both countries. Joint ventures with Belizeans would ensure that Belizean citizens would be active participants in this endeavour. Guatemala has an advanced indigenous production of crafts and textiles that are in great demand in the eco-tourist trade. Belize has a substantial indigenous population but little skill in producing these crafts. Guatemala could contribute substantially to Belize's development of these skills. They have advanced marketing skills for their agricultural products, such as cardamom, sesame seeds, cashews, and they could include Belize in their marketing and provide joint venture capital for the production of these non-traditional products
Another possibility that Guatemala could offer Belize is to provide training in engineering design and construction services, as well as turnkey agro-industrial installations and sanitary installations.
BELIZE - Of the three participants, Belize has been the major loser. It has suffered regional isolation economic deprivation, and a burdening of its infrastructure and services because of uncontrolled immigration. Economic concerns and plans took a back seat to other more pressing political and ideological concerns. However, Belize stands at the threshold of a new economic order and it must now place its economic health at the forefront of its agenda. What then should Belize's role be in relation to Guatemala.
Belize 's participation in a trade integration arrangement with Central American countries, whether through SICA (Sistema de Integracion Centro Americana) membership or through some special arrangement with these countries, could induce Central American investors to develop greater interest in accessing the CARICOM market through Belize. CARICOM's market is considerably less (5.7 million people) in comparison to that of Central America, (25 million people). In spite of this difference, CARICOM import values in 1990 totaled U.S. $7,350 million as compared with the CACM figure of U.S. $6,650 million. Hence Belize can serve as a transshipment center between CARICOM and Central America. (147) The fact that the figures show that CARICOM's economy is still based on imports while Central America's is on exports is an indication that perhaps the former, including Belize, need to redirect its efforts to being export-oriented instead of import-oriented.
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1997 Janine Sylvestre and Copyright © Naturalight Productions Ltd.