Now that the end is in sight for resolving the territorial differendum between Guatemala and Belize, could it be time for the two countries to think about an electricity interconnection? At the Fourth Ministerial Meeting of the Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas (ECPA), Guatemala said it would like to sit down with its neighbor and talk about it.
The territorial dispute between the two countries dates back centuries. Belize and Guatemala have been working for two decades to try to resolve the situation under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS). The OAS maintains a presence in the so-called Adjacency Zone between the two countries and works to maintain peaceful relations in the local communities and verify the facts of any incidents that may occur.
In the last two years, voters in both countries agreed through referendums to submit the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final, definitive ruling. Even though the legal process will still likely take a few years, the fact that both countries have agreed on the path forward provides an opportunity to start talking about something as tangible as interconnected electric grids, said Guatemala’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Alberto Pimentel Mata.
He raised that possibility during the ministerial meeting held recently in Montego Bay, Jamaica. In a subsequent interview, Pimentel said that while neither country knows yet where its exact boundary line will end up, the decision to go to the ICJ clears the way to do business together.
To Pimentel, who represents the brand-new administration of President Alejandro Giammattei, an electricity interconnection make sense for both countries. Guatemala, which produces an excess of electricity, is interested in gaining a new market—Belize—as well as increasing its sales to Mexico. (A new high-power transmission line could extend beyond Belize to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.) For its part, Belize would have access to cheaper power than it now buys from Mexico, Pimentel said.
Acknowledging that it would require “head and heart” to make this a reality, Pimentel said such a project could represent another step toward “normalizing” relations between Guatemala and Belize. “This electrical connection could be the definitive signal between the two peoples to understand that it’s time for the era of cooperation,” he said.
Asked for his reaction to the suggestion, the head of the Belizean delegation at the ministerial meeting—Peter Allen, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of the Public Service, Energy and Public Utilities—said his country was interested in closer ties with Guatemala and other nearby countries.
“Of course, Belize has always offered the opportunity for collaboration, for further coordination and integration with Guatemala for economic benefits,” he said. Allen pointed to ongoing cooperation between the two countries on education, environmental, and public health issues along the border area, praising the role of the OAS as a “neutral arbiter” there.
As a member of the Central American Integration System (SICA), Belize has been looking at regional integration and regional initiatives related not just to Guatemala but to the other SICA members and Mexico too, Allen said. “We firmly believe that ties such as the integrated grid, ties such as economic development and economic partnership, are a true reflection of the close ties that bind our people, and they represent opportunities for our countries to work more closely together,” he said.