A bilateral agreement with thirteen points, aimed at confidence-building between Belize and Guatemala, was signed onto on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 when a delegation of Foreign Affairs officials from Guatemala were on the Placencia peninsula for a high level meeting of Central American leaders. The document looks at several areas where the two countries can work together including law enforcement, environment and education among others. This past weekend with a Belize delegation in Guatemala for the signing of amendments to the 2008 Special Agreement, Guatemala’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carlos Raul Morales Moscoso expressed to Belize’s Minister, Wilfred Elrington that they are now ready to move forward in implementing nine of the 13 points agreed upon some five months ago. Ambassador Stuart Leslie was there and he explained to Love News what areas both countries are looking to work together on.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in a sense, of Guatemala has been given approval to enter into negotiations for the implementation of nine of the thirteen agreements that were signed and so Guatemala is now saying that they are ready to move into that next phase of implementation and what are some of these agreements? The environment; the environment is so crucial because it covers everything, it covers salt water, it covers agreements and how we can cooperate with fresh water which we share so on the environment we have many areas. We have to sit down with the experts now and say to them: How do we make these agreements that we have on paper into a reality? So, there is the issue of the environment, the issue of the students, the issue of the visas, the movement of students across our border, there is this very important thing of seasonal workers. Thousands of Guatemalans come into Belize every year to work in the citrus industry to pick, to literally pick the grapefruits, the oranges; they work in the banana industry as well. Now this is dealing with the private sector; dealing with the public sector there is an agreement on sustainable tourism there are thousands of tourists who come, they want to go to Tikal, the want to go to Caracol they want to go to Altun Ha and Xunantunich and so every day buses full of tourists cross the Guatemalan border bringing tourists to Belize, we have an agreement on how we are going to work in cooperation with tourism. There are 14 million Guatemalans right next door and they are in some cases a footstep from coming to Belize for tourist activities. Guatemalans like to go to the casinos because there are none in Guatemala; they like to come to ours, they like to go to San Pedro and so on. We want the tourists to come for business opportunities and commercial opportunities.”
Ambassador Leslie went on to explain to Love News, the desire to have the Chamber of Commerce from each country meet and, in addition to see how the adjacent villages, particularly at the border areas, can work together as neighbors.
“Ambassador Rosado looked at me and said to me, “We have to get the two chambers of commerce together as soon as we can so that we can look at how we can expand the commercial opportunities between Belize and Guatemala.” There are many people in Guatemala and these people buy products and they go on vacation and so we have business opportunities and then we also have business opportunities between the communities. The last meeting of the referendum commission, the village council chairperson that represents the association of village councils was making the point about the relationship at the border areas. Can you imagine the relationship that happens at Jalacte and Santa Cruz, where one line separates the two? Look at the opportunities in Benque and Melchor and Arenal and Arenal … and so, again we have to try and get those village councils to get together and cooperate. Recently a Guatemalan was arrested and taken by the police in Benque and so immediately, we had to call the OAS, how do we deal with that? When Belizeans go over from Benque to Melchor and something happens to them? We have to have these kinds of agreements.”
The 13 agreement points came as a result of a set of confidence building measures that Belize and Guatemala had signed back in September 2005 as well as a Road Map signed before the OAS in January 2014. As we mentioned, the signing took place in Placencia Village and was done by Foreign Ministers for Belize and Guatemala and witnessed by the OAS Secretary General, Jose Miguel Insulza.