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(CMC) – Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland has ended a two-day visit here pledging the 53-member grouping’s support for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country in its long-standing border dispute with Guatemala.
The Secretary General, who held talks with Prime Minister Dean Barrow on his return to office following spinal surgery in Cuba, said that they had discussed the proposed 2019 referendum, when Belizean voters will decide whether or not to take the dispute with Guatemala to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final resolution.
“I have made it clear during my visit that the referendum is entirely a matter for the Belize electorate. What I was able to do is to reassure the Prime Minister of the trenchant support of the whole of the Commonwealth family. This was reaffirmed by leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in April.
“Heads expressed their support for Belize’s efforts to implement a Special Agreement and submit Guatemala’s territorial, insular and maritime claims to the ICJ for a final determination,” she said, adding “the meeting in Belize gave me the opportunity to discuss the country’s legal position and the strength of Guatemala’s claim – considering this matter was settled 159 years ago.
“It is the clear position of the Commonwealth that Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is established and supported by international law, and it is a fact that Belize therefore continues to enjoy the support of the international community.”
Scotland said that during the discussions, she also updated Prime Minister Barrow, who was unable to attend CHOGM, on other outcomes of the meeting. They include the launch of the Commonwealth Blue Charter to protect the ocean from climate change and overfishing, a connectivity agenda on trade and investment and revised Commonwealth election observation guidelines.
The meeting also explored a possible collaboration to help small businesses through microfinance – a banking service tailored for unemployed or low-income individuals or groups who otherwise would have no access to financial services.
The Dominica-born Secretary General presented Prime Minister Barrow with the Commonwealth’s 43 implementation toolkits, together with the Sustainable Development Goals implementation toolkit and a copy of a recently published performance management guide.
The Prime Minister expressed his gratitude for the organisation’s support.
During her visit to the country, Scotland met with a range of stakeholders and visited the Organisation of American States (OAS) community and peacebuilding project in the “Adjacency Zone” – an area extending one kilometre east and west from the border between Belize and Guatemala.
“I was touched and inspired. I saw children from Guatemala and from Belize, playing music and creating art together, sending a strong message about the urgent need for the two countries to reach a peaceful resolution,” she said.