One of the crucial steps that John Briceno made when he took over as the Party Leader for the PUP, was extend a hand to the Government in working together on the Belize/Guatemala issue. For the last weeks we have seen the Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington attending meetings with the then representative for the Opposition, Ambassador Assad Shoman; a unified approach which Briceno says he stands by but that the Government of Belize has seemingly abandoned.
“To defending the territorial integrity of our country that this is a national effort that we should not play party politics on it. That is why when I became the party leader I decided immediately that we are going to cooperate and work with the government, the government has assured us that we are going to be partners with them and that we are going ot be consulted every step of the way when it comes to issues pertaining to Belize/Guatemala. Unfortunately certain actions that the government has taken has shown that they no longer believe in this bipartisan effort. I give you just three recent examples; the passing of the SI of the Sarstoon law we were not consulted or a part of that discussion.”
In this afternoon’s press conference, Prime Minister Dean Barrow responded to this matter, referring to the series of events and meetings as fluid.
“That’s because no opposition representative is involved and that is for the very simple reason that we did not get the meetings until Monday when Ambassador Andrews called me at 5am to say that he just had a communication from the state department and giving me the times for the meetings. Now we had been trying before Monday in fact pretty much all weekend to set up the meetings and the foreign minister who was supposed to have over nighted in Miami on Sunday and come back to Belize on Monday was asked to hold on in Miami so that we could make certain that we would get these meetings. He was then once the meetings were confirmed asked to go directly from Miami to Washington. Alexis Rosado was in Guatemala and I think I spoke to him on either Saturday or Sunday at which time again the meetings were not confirmed but I nevertheless told him to make preparations to be immediately available for travel should the meetings be confirmed. That is the reason why in such an incredibly fluid moment by moment situation we did not get a chance to involve the opposition.”
Party Leader Briceno predicted the Prime Minister’s response on the issue and refers to is as unacceptable.
“The meeting that is going to take place sometime this week, the government will point out that it was a last minute meeting that was not a planned meeting but if they can summon our Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado to fly to Washington to meet with the Foreign Minister so they could prepare for that meeting with the foreign minister of Guatemala they could have also called us to see if one of our members of the team could fly up to Washington to strategize as to how and what should be the position when we meet the foreign minister from Guatemala so I don’t think there is any excuse why we were not invited to participate in this last minute meeting that they are trying to put together in Washington.”
So, why has the Government abandoned the bi-partisan approach? Could it be the recent removal of Ambassador Assad Shoman as the Oppostiont’s representative on this issue? We asked Briceno.
“No I don’t think it has anything to do with Assad Shoman. First of all Assad Shoman was not moved. Eamon Courtney was always the designated person on Belize Guatemala but Assad was helping us in working with the protocol on the Sarstoon and we did that and it failed. After that Mr.Shoman decided that he thinks he could be more helpful in other ways so then he decided not to continue working with our group so I don’t think one is tied to the other at all.”
The idea of a bi-partisan approach was based on the fact that this territorial issue transcends party colors and politics and with the increased tensions between both countries it is interesting to see if our local officials will play nice. According to the former Prime Minister of Belize, Said Musa, things have never gotten this heated before.