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CARICOM supported Belize for 50 years

Photo: Ambassador David Gibson is the Director of the Center for Strategic Studies, Policy Analysis and Research based in Belmopan

by Orlando Pulido

SANTA ELENA, Cayo District, Mon. May 15, 2023

Belize’s relations with Guatemala have been shaped by the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) support, which spans half a century. This support has been crucial in the context of the territorial dispute between the two countries and the recent developments in the region. Ambassador David Gibson, the Director of the Centre for Strategic Studies, Policy Analysis and Research, gave a rare overview of CARICOM’s support for Belize at the 50th anniversary celebrations of CARICOM held at the Leigh Richardson Building in Belmopan. He also traced the historical origins of CARICOM itself.

In the most recent developments, Prime Minister Hon. John Briceño led Belize’s delegation at the IX Summit of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) held in Antigua, Guatemala, on May 12. Prime Minister Briceño also held bilateral meetings with H.E. Dr. Alejandro Giammattei Falla, President of the Republic of Guatemala. Belize’s delegation included Ms. Narda Garcia, Chief Executive Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister; H.E. Jose Alpuche, Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala; and Mr. Idelso Leslie, Counselor at the Embassy of Belize in Guatemala.

Ambassador David Gibson reported that British Honduras joined the Caribbean Free Trade Association (CARIFTA) in May 1971, aware of the structural economic limitations on participation in the Central American Common Market and the increasing Guatemalan hostility following the rejection of the Webster Proposals of 1968.

Building on the achievements of CARIFTA in expanding intra-regional trade and functional cooperation, the Treaty of Chaguaramas established the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). The treaty was signed on 4th July 1973 in Chaguaramas in Trinidad by Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. It took effect on 1st August 1973. With headquarters in Georgetown, Guyana, this treaty established a long-lasting regional institution now known as CARICOM; replacing CARIFTA, which ceased to exist on 1st May 1974.

According to Ambassador Gibson, the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas established the Caribbean Community and Single Market on 5th July 2001. The revised Treaty formed the Council for Foreign Community Relations (COFCOR), which served as an important force in supporting Belize.

On 1st July 1974 in the communique of its first meeting in Saint Lucia, the CARICOM Heads expressed opposition to all policies calculated to impede the fulfillment of the wishes of the people and the Government of Belize to secure and preserve its sovereignty.

Ambassador Gibson continued that at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Jamaica in 1975, the Prime Ministers of CARICOM urged the UK Secretary of State to provide a defense guarantee for Belize to proceed to independence. There were repeated threats of invasion by Guatemala in 1976. The United Kingdom doubled its defense presence, including air assets, deterring the planned invasion.

At the Organization of American States General Assembly in Guatemala City in June 1977 at which Belize was present, CARICOM member states spoke strongly against Guatemala. At the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in London in June 1977, they persuaded UK Prime Minister Callaghan to publicly assure them that there would be no settlement of the territorial dispute without consulting the people of Belize.

Also, at a meeting of CARICOM Foreign Ministers in Belize in early 1978, Premier George Price revealed the persistence of UK Secretary of State Owens in pushing for a land cession, much to the ire of the British.

Not surprisingly, CARICOM Heads of Government continued to review semi-annual reports by Belize and reaffirmed its support of Belize’s post-Independence efforts to resolve the dispute.

Ambassador David Gibson concluded his PowerPoint with the note that more recently, in an extract from a communique issued after the 4th regular meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government, an update was received on the progress of Guatemala’s Territorial Insular and Maritime claims at the International Court of Justice. He noted that Belize submitted its counter-memorial to the Court on 3rd June 2022. Heads of Government also urged Belize, Guatemala, and the Organization of American States OAS to continue implementing fully the existing confidence-building measures.

Ambassador David Gibson was part of the negotiating team between Belize and Guatemala from 1993 to 2003, serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He referred to the Prime Minister’s recent visit to Guatemala and said that “our relations [between Belize and Guatemala] are fairly stable.” He also mentioned the partial scope agreement that is being updated between Belize and Guatemala. He said that Belize is exporting grain and cattle to Guatemala and that “the partial scope agreement is to facilitate trade.”

David Gibson also said that “CARICOM has been supporting Belize for 50 years.” The reality is that CARICOM, which has a similar life span from 1973 to 2023, has had a solid foundation to build on.

In the Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge Stephen Shwebel, Professor Shabtai Rosenne, and Professor Francisco Orrego Vicuna claim that such a situation has stunted Belize’s development. But CARICOM has been there with us, despite all the challenges just mentioned.