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Guatemala votes to have dispute with Belize settled by ICJ

Yesterday, one point six million Guatemalans voted in favor of taking their country’s territorial, maritime and insular claim on Belize to the International Court of Justice, ICJ. Guatemala is claiming half of Belize or about four thousand square miles as its territory. While in the early 1990s the Guatemalan Government recognized Belize as an independent nation, it did not recognize its borders.  Ten years ago, the Government of both countries signed a Special Agreement which would allow the public to determine via referendum whether the matter should be heard before the ICJ, the UN’s top court.  Although there was a low voter turnout, the majority of those who participated in Guatemala’s referendum voted a resounding ‘yes’. But did they know what they were voting for? Love News reporter Hipolito Novelo was in Guatemala City covering the historic event and here is his report.

For more than two hundred years, our neighbors to the west, Guatemala, has been claiming Belize as part of its territory. The dispute dates back to when Spain and England ruled the region. It is a dispute that Belize inherited and Guatemala adopted.

After so many border incidents, after so many lives lost along the border, and the desire to resolve the dispute peacefully, on December 8, 2008, in Washington DC Belize and Guatemala signed the Special Agreement. In that special agreement, the governments of both countries agreed to ask the United Nations to intervene by allowing the matter to be heard before the International Court of Justice for final determination. Guatemala is one step closer to that determination as its people voted a resounding yes in a referendum held on Sunday, April 15. The Guatemalan Government needed a simple majority, even if that majority can be considered low. Of the seven point five million people eligible to vote, one point nine eight participated. That represents a 26 percent of the voting population. Of that twenty-six percent, one point seven five voted yes as opposed to the seventy-five thousand seven hundred and sixty-four persons who voted no.

With the assistance of the Belizean Embassy in Guatemala, we visited several polling stations. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a single person who voted no. However, we did find a lot of yes voters. So we asked, why they voted yes. Their responses differed, indicating that Guatemala’s campaign was faulty, voters interpreted the basis of the referendum incorrectly or there was intentional misinformation.

Voter 1: “Was an agreement between England and Spain to create some road from Guatemala to Mexico and never gave them that money for the road. It’s 200 years fighting for that but now what really happened is that Belize is a country and Guatemala that is another country need to have the correct border and they don’t have a border and if we don’t have a borer it’s the problem right now. We need to define the border, it’s not that Belize will be a part of Guatemala, to, Belize is a country and Guatemala is a country but we have to define what is the border and that is why we are here and we have to find some legal medium to help us to resolve this problem and that is why we are going to the international court.”

Voter 2: “I think that Belize will be Belize and Guatemala will be Guatemala period.”

Reporter: You have two options, you have yes to take the matter to the ICJ or not to take it to the ICJ. How would you vote?

Voter 3: “I would vote yes. I need to get more information but they said that Belize should be Belize and Guatemala should be Guatemala and that’s it that is my opinion.”

Voter 4: “We he have more important problems to resolve than a problem with Belice so I think that if the result is yes or no I think that we have more problems to resolve like education, hospitals, and that kind of thing. “

Voter 5: ”I think that we should vote yes, I think that we all have this right to decide whether to have these set boundaries so that we could all get the benefit out of it, I feel like we need to have that piece of mind that we know what belongs to who; we just want the best for Guatemala and Belize wants the best for Belize and we are just looking for the best interest for the both of us. “

Observers from 25 countries were present for the referendum. Null votes amounted to forty-three thousand seven hundred and forty-six. Close to ninety-one thousand ballots were blank. More than eleven thousand ballots were invalid. Reporting for Love News, I am Hipolito Novelo.