Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries

Relations with Latin American and Caribbean Countries

Maintaining the international support for its independence that Belize won in the 1970s and 1980s remained a main element of the country's foreign policy. Participation in the various regional organizations was seen as both a means toward an end and an objective of this policy. Although George Price and the PUP successfully campaigned against British Honduran participation in the proposed West Indies Federation in the late 1950s, Belize saw itself as a bridge between the English-speaking Caribbean and Central America. The nation had been a member since 1971 of the Caribbean Free Trade Association (Carifta), which later became the Caribbean Community and Common Market (Caricom--see Appendix C). Increasingly active on the political level within that organization, Belize supported an outward-looking strategy for the Caricom countries that would ensure international competitiveness, closer economic cooperation between Caricom and other Caribbean countries, and a common Caricom effort to preserve its limited preferential market access in the face of the growing importance of major trade and economic blocs in Europe and North America.

In November 1989, the OAS--with Guatemalan support--granted Belize permanent observer status and approved full membership for the country in January 1991. This event capped a long effort to overcome obstacles to membership in various regional organizations that had been erected by Guatemala in past years. The OAS charter had effectively barred membership to Belize and Guyana until their territorial disputes with OAS member countries were peacefully resolved. In 1985, however, OAS members signed modified the charter so that the bar to membership requests from Belize or Guyana expired on December 10, 1990. In February 1991, the Central American heads of government invited Belize to attend their December 1991 summit, the first such invitation received by the country.

During the 1980s, Belize remained on the fringes of the diplomatic initiatives and United States-coordinated military activities in Central America. This situation was due both to Guatemala's presumed opposition to Belize's participation and its fear of being drawn into the regional conflicts of Central America (by 1989, these conflicts had pushed some 30,000 refugees into Belize). Belize has steadfastly supported peaceful resolution of the region's disputes, political pluralism, and noninterference in the internal affairs of other nations. In the late 1980s, Belize stressed its support for the right of both Nicaragua and Panama, which were then under diplomatic, economic, and military pressure from the United States, to choose their own leaders and political systems.

Belize enjoyed warm relations with Mexico, its neighbor to the north. As early as 1958, Mexico stated its desire for a resolution of Belize's territorial problems that would respect the freedom and independence of the Belizean people. Mexico also provided critical support in favor of Belizean independence and territorial integrity in 1977. Although Mexico claimed parts of Belize during the nineteenth century, it signed treaties with both Britain and Guatemala in the course of that century to set the border definitively between Mexico and Belize. As part of its agreement with Britain, Mexico was guaranteed in perpetuity transit rights through Belizean waters connecting the Mexican port of Chetumal with the open seas.

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