ICJ Referendum: A Moratorium



By: Dr. Gerald Zuniga
Studies in Political Science

It is not clear whether our intention of going to the ICJ is a referendum or a plebiscite? What is a referendum? What is a plebiscite? Some schools of thought consider the words to be interchangeable. Others consider them to be different in usage and meaning.
What is a referendum? Plu. referenda.

A referendum as defined on www.merriam-webster.com is the principle or practice of submitting to popular vote a measure passed on or proposed by a legislative body or popular initiative.

What is a plebiscite?
As defined in www.britannica.com, a plebiscite “is a vote by the people of an entire country or district to decide on some issue, such as the choice of a ruler or a government, option for independence or annexation by another power or a question of national policy.” A plebiscite is an important tool in participatory democracies but participatory democracies are now countable worldwide. Now it is easier to impose using the coercisive measures and entities of the state. However, a plebiscite could be binding and nonbinding. In a plebiscite, a government is not obliged to act upon the result rather accept as an advice.
This is a matter of sovereignty so ideally it should be compulsory or least absolute majority and the same it should have been in Guatemala more so that they are the ones claiming or having a dispute over Belize and that their Constitution talks about a referendum to solve the dispute.

After making the necessary analysis including an intuition of political moments nationally, regionally and on the world stage like the events unfolding with Brexit, like Mr. Eamon Courtney, Louis Wade Jr., Mr. Lindsay Belisle, Mr. Troy Gabb, among many others, I myself, as a Belizean citizen by birth with ancestry rooted for more than 200 years, in exercise of my political, civil, and human rights, humbly and solemnly request from our Prime Minister Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow a moratorium on this April 10th, 2019 referendum. This referendum call has placed our citizenry into a state of shock and need to be resuscitated and the only way to do so is thru balanced education and participation. There were negotiations between the parties, whom acted largely on behalf of governments than their states that the citizenry was not informed of. Neither were there assurances that the legal pathways being undergone both here in Belize and in Guatemala.

Here are some reasons for my request for a moratorium as I stated in a previous article.
Guatemala claim over Belize has been more political than legal and filled with a high dosage of capriciousness but we legitimized the process by poor negotiations practiced by weak negotiation teams and strategy for years who seemingly were overwhelmed by the Guatemalan counterpart. Language is very important in negotiations. Language barrier can indeed create a barrier. However, our legitimization of the claim didn’t go thru the due process and violates both our Constitution and the Guatemalan’s. Hence, the process and the call for referenda is illegal in both countries based on their respective constitutional superstructure. Whatever was negotiated should have been presented to the House of Representatives here as a Bill, whom were granted the mandate to represent the interest of their respective constituency in the last general election and ratified by the House of Senate.

Guatemala’s Congress should have also done the same and that could have overridden Art. 19 Transitory in their Constitution. It was not done. So the Special Agreement is ‘nulo ipse jure’ or null and void. The Constitution of Belize in Chapter 1 Art.2 states that “This Constitution is the supreme law of Belize and if any is inconsistent with this Constitution that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.”

The question is, is the Governor General, Dr. Colville Young, as the Head of State, exercising the power bestowed on him by our Constitution in representation of her Majesty the Queen? Our Constitution continues by saying ‘Where as the People of Belize require policies of state which protect and safeguard the unity, freedom, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Belize.” By going to the ICJ if the majority votes yes, we will be renouncing our sovereignty because we would be granting jurisdiction to the ICJ but more so, our territorial integrity because of the question formulated, contrary to the stipulation and spirit of our Constitution.

There is widespread usage of the phrase “of Guatemala’s unfounded claim”. This has to be clarified. It is important for you to know that only a court could rule that the claim is unfounded. Such ruling has not happened. Also, the fact that Guatemala has a claim because they consider it to be founded. That is precisely what we should ask the ICJ. Is Guatemala’s claim over Belize or part of Belize founded? There is where they would use the principles of international public law to rule if the claim is founded or not? Then if they rule that the claim is founded but only after exhausting negotiation and the authorization of the House of Representatives and Senate thru a Bill we grant jurisdiction to the ICJ to the solve the claim. Hence a moratorium of 10 years at minimum. Could Guatemala’s restriction of free transit on the Sarstoon River be founded? Such practice is in frank violation of international public law because what is observed internationally is that a river when a river forms the boundary of two nations, the river is of mutual benefit and no expressed protocol is used rather the principles of international relations.

I will not expound on the 1859 Boundary Treaty nor on the so unpopular Adjacency Zone. Those have been expounded on by the media and other means. The risk of incursions that they argue about, however, is absurd. Not even the United States of America being a world power has been able defend and secure their border especially the southern border from incursions and invasions. They need the help of a wall. But theirs is thousands of miles.

Ours is a little over a hundred which our defense should be able to protect granted the available resources. So, the argument of incursion is naive. With all fairness to Guatemala, the incursions at our borders are not institutionalized, with the exception of the occupation of the Sarstoon River including its island. Those incursions are by rouge individuals on their quest for economic satisfaction. They even invade their own reserved area like the Mayan Biosphere in Peten. Do you react when something happen to your citizens. Yes! It is the duty of a state to protect the life and human rights of her citizens. That is what a state is organized for. Do Guatemala use it for their political benefits and even exaggerate? Yes! Those are strategies used in international relations and human beings are human beings. See what happens between Israel and the Palestinian Territory, a very good example.

2. The nation of Belize is young and fragile, only 37 years old. When you are young, you don’t go to mature people’s party. So the minimum we can do is visibilization. How can we go about with our visibilization process? It is important to internationalize the matter. We need to let the world know about this dispute. This is not a matter of a territory. It is a matter of a nation and a nation is a state with its people and territory and whose human rights could be violated. Belize in 2019 is not the Belize of 1859. We need to educate our nation on the matter objectively. It is not us claiming Guatemala. It is the contrary. So our strategies in our foreign policies and international relations should reflect such. The world needs to know about us. This referendum shouldn’t pretended to be a government type election, neither a mandate. The outcome could be far reaching. Let us try to play the game right with the right equipment, players, and strategies. We can’t afford to lose this game. We only have 8,867sq miles that our forefathers bravely protected and cherished. Will the coming generations be able to say the same about us?

3. The Belizeans in the diaspora should be invited to participate. That is our leaders moral responsibility and obligation with them. That is also a recompense of their remittances which plays an important role in our unjustifiably weak economy. There are ample technologies for this to be a reality, if there is the political will. Allowing the recently nationalized Central American to vote is very risky based on the navel string phenomenon and even subconscious identity matters that could impact the results of the referendum.

4. With Art. 19 Transitory in Guatemala’s Constitution it is in vain going to the ICJ, if the majority vote yes. This is because the resolutions from the ICJ are not binding and that such resolution if we go there, must be presented to the Guatemalans in another referendum according to their constitution based on that same Art. 19. Who will finance that referendum? Are these friendly countries aware of that constitutional predisposition?

Dr. Gerald Zuniga
Studies in Political Science
School of Political Science
San Carlos Univsersity
Mariano Galvez University
Guatemala City