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Belize

Volume 959: debated on Wednesday 29 November 1978

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asked the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the negotiations with Guatemala about Belize.

As I informed the House on 8th November, my right hon. Friend put forward in September proposals designed to speed up negotiations and end the controversy. A British statement on these proposals was made at the United Nations yesterday. The text is as follows: —In accordance with the wishes of the people of Belize, the recommendations of the Commonwealth and of the United Nations, Britain is determined to bring Belize to secure independence as soon as possible. We believe that the best way of achieving this is by a settlement of the present dispute with Guatemala.Over the past three years we have been engaged in negotiations with the Government of Guatemala in an attempt to find a settlement. The Guatemalans wanted territory to be included in a settlement and, while we were prepared without commitment to look at this possibility it proved to be unacceptable, not only to the representatives of the people of Belize, whose wishes we are bound to respect, but also to other States in the region including some of the Latin American members of the Organisation of American States. They were concerned at the implications of any redrawing of any Latin American boundaries. After consultation with the Belizean parties, and in conformity with the Memorandum of Understanding which they had signed on 5 June 1978, the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Dr. David Owen, discussed the situation with the Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Senor Castillo Valdez, over four days in New York in September. Dr. Owen suggested that a new approach should be adopted, aimed at eliminating the original cause of the dispute.The present Guatemalan claim to the territory of Belize was first formulated in 1939 on the grounds that Article VII of the 1859 Treaty, by which Guatemala recognised the already existing boundaries of Belize, had not been fulfilled. Article VII of the Treaty called on Britain and Guatemala jointly to use their best efforts to build a road from Guatemala City to improve Guatemalan communications with the Atlantic (i.e. Caribbean) coast. That road was never built jointly and this fact led to Guatemala's present claim.A road to the Caribbean coast has subsequently been built by the Guatemalans alone. Successive Guatemalan Governments have stressed the need for better access to the Guatemalan province of Peten which is adjacent to Belize.We therefore proposed to the Guatemalan Government in September that we should help with a major road project. Such a project would be a modem equivalent of the provision in Article VII of the 1859 Treaty and would be of considerable economic benefit in helping to develop the Peten. We also proposed that Guatemala should enjoy free port facilities in the Belize City port and access by road to the port. The free port facilities (such as several maritime states provide to other countries) would enable Guatemala to import and export goods from its department of the Peten by the most direct route free of customs formalities.The Guatemalan Government have also stressed their need for secure, permanent and guaranteed access to the sea from their Caribbean ports. At present they enjoy such access but believe they may be deprived of it after Belize becomes independent. We have therefore proposed that a seaward boundary should be agreed by treaty as part of a settlement which would guarantee Guatemala permanent secure access from her ports to the high seas through her own territorial sea. Such an agreement would eliminate all doubts and problems for the future.We have further suggested a separate Treaty of Amity and Mutual Security between Belize and Guatemala, with provisions covering non-aggression and subversion, to ensure the security of the area. These would include limitations on the stationing of foreign, but not British, armed forces.We believe these proposals are constructive and fair to both sides. Guatemala's complaint that the road envisaged under the 1859 Treaty was never built would be satisfied. In addition she would gain greatly improved communications to assist the development of the Peten and permanent access to her Caribbean ports through her own territorial sea guaranteed by the Treaty. Belize would gain security once the Guatemalan claim had been withdrawn following a settlement of the problem. She would have an agreed seaward boundary which would eliminate future disputes. (No seaward boundary has previously been agreed). The settlement of the problem would enable Belize to go to secure independence, and to concentrate on the development of the country which has been inhibited by the present uncertainty caused by the dispute.We hope therefore that Guatemala will accept these proposals and that an early settlement can be reached, so establishing a basis of friendship between Belize and Guatemala, to the benefit of stability in the whole area.