Classified By: PolCouns David Lindwall for reason 1.5 (d).
1. (C) In a March 11 meeting with PolCouns and PolOff, the Belize Border Commission of the Guatemalan MFA said that resolution of the long-running border dispute would be passed along to the new Guatemalan government that will take office in January, 2004, and said the new government will have to decide if it submits the Facilitators' recommendations to a national referendum, or if it opts for seeking an opinion from the ICJ or an arbitration. The Guatemalan diplomats believe that a referendum now would fail, and said Guatemalans' "spiritual" attachment to Belize will make this referendum "a challenge" even for a new government. They said that the MFA will try to keep the Belize issue from becoming part of the partisan political debate during this electoral year, and would focus its efforts in the remainder of the year on implementation of the confidence and security building measures. The Guatemalans were pleased with the decision of the OAS to place a permanent observer on the border, and believe this will help reduce incidents that lead to border tensions. They noted that many of the incidents are driven by pervasive poverty in the border areas, and argued for international assistance to address poverty concerns in those zones.
2. (C) Poloffs noted that the international community had placed a lot of hope in the OAS Facilitators' process, and were disappointed when no action was taken on the recommendations. In an era of growing globalization, it is critical that countries overcome the obstacles to greater integration, such as Guatemala's border differences with Belize. Greater integration brings benefits for both sides, and delaying the resolution of differences -- as would occur if the matter is referred to the ICJ -- would needlessly delay Guatemala and Belize reaping the profits of greater economic integration. The Guatemalans acknowledged the point, and said the GOG would seek an expedited process at the ICJ or from arbitrators in the event the new government should not believe it could win a national referendum on the Facilitators' recommendations.
3. (C) In a separate meeting with the local OAS office Director, Ambassador Jose Felix Palma, Poloffs discussed implementation of the permanent observer mission. Palma said installation of the office was taking more time than anticipated. All sides have agreed that bringing in a pre-fabricated structure will be necessary due to lack of suitable infrastructure and facilities in the border area. Palma estimates the observer mission will be operational by mid-April, but cautioned that the date could slip if a suitable director and assistant cannot be found. Palma said the candidate pool was somewhat limited since the director would need to be someone senior enough to command respect, but willing to live in the relatively remote border area. Palma also said the director would probably have to be from South America. He expects that the observer mission will eventually be made up of 4 - 5 people. HAMILTON