Belize should claim all its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone allowed under international law, says the PUP
Belize City, Thurs. Nov. 2, 2017–The Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), on October 20th, filed a motion in the Senate seeking permission to debate an amendment to the Maritime Areas Act that was passed in 1992. The amendment is for Belize to claim all its territorial sea and exclusive economic zone allowed under international law.
In an interview with the press on Tuesday, Lead Opposition Senator, Eamon Courtenay, indicated that this move had been in the pipeline a long time ago. He said, “In terms of context, the party leader, Hon. John Briceño, had some time in the past called for an amendment to the Maritime Areas Act in a debate in the National Assembly. On another occasion in the National Assembly, the former Party Leader and former Prime Minister, Honorable Said Musa, had done the same thing.”
According to Courtenay, the PUP’s call had fallen on deaf ears, even though they expressed their concerns immediately after 2008 when the Special Agreement was signed. He revealed that the matter resurfaced during the PUP’s National Party Council meeting in September, in which a resolution was passed to commence a claim in the Supreme Court seeking a declaration that section 3 and 7 of the Maritime Areas Act were invalid and have no force of law. The PUP has not yet done this, but is hell- bent on doing so.
“We also felt that we should move the National Assembly, since the government has been sitting down, doing nothing on this issue, and so we prepared a notice of motion. We studied the standing orders, we prepared a draft of the amendment, we took some advice on the proposed amendment, and we sent a letter to the National Assembly on the 20th of October, asking for it to come up at the last Senate meeting,” Courtenay said. However, due to short notice, the motion will not be raised until the next Senate sitting.
When asked why the PUP want to amend the Maritime Areas Act, Courtenay told the press that when the Act was signed, its purpose then was to allow flexibility if a settlement could be worked out with Guatemala, which had always wanted free passage to the Caribbean Sea. And so Belize did not claim the entire 12 miles of territorial sea and 200 miles of exclusive economic zone as a sign of good faith.
However, that route to a settlement collapsed in 2007 after the then Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) indicated that there was no possibility of negotiating a settlement.
As a result, in December 2008 Belize and Guatemala signed on to a Special Agreement to settle the longstanding border dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). According to Courtenay, Belize should claim all it can under international laws, since there is no opportunity to negotiating a settlement as was the case previously.
He said, “The Maritime Areas Act was passed in 1992, and at that time from the Sarstoon River going north to Ranguana Caye, we did not claim 12 miles. Under international law, you can claim 12 miles of territorial sea, and then after that 200 miles of exclusive economic zone. Between Sarstoon and Ranguana we claimed only three miles. That left a portion of sea that we could claim as Belizean territorial sea, but we reserved our right to claim it at a future date.
“Legal advisors from as far back as 1991 had advised us that if a decision was taken to go to court, or to go to arbitration, you need to claim all your territorial sea and all your economic exclusive zone, so the amendment proposes to amend section 3, so we claim right up to equidistance line because there is not 24 miles between Belize, Honduras and Guatemala in that southern part of the sea.
“So we will take up to the maximum where the two lines, the two territorial seas between Belize and Honduras, would meet. And in so far as the exclusive economic zone, claim maximum 200 miles, subject to where we meet Honduras and Guatemala.”
When asked why the Government of Belize had not proposed the amendment, Courtenay said he didn’t know.
“I have no idea why the Government has not done this. I am sure that the government has seen the same advice that we have seen, where the Government of Belize is advised that if the Belize-Guatemala dispute was not going to be resolved by negotiations, then one of the first things to do is to amend the Maritime Areas Act to protect Belize’s interests, and to claim all our territorial sea and all our exclusive economic zones as provided by international law,” Courtenay said.
Courtenay told the press that PUP Senator, Paul Thompson, had already embarked on a campaign to gather the support of their colleagues in the Senate. So far, all non-governmental senators have expressed their support for the motion, except for Church Senator, Ashley Rocke, who has not yet been reached.
“I would hope that the Church would see its way to raise the Belizean flag, to be nationalist and patriotic, and not be political on this issue, and to support the motion,” explained Courtenay.
Courtenay hopes that the government-appointed senators will also join in support of the motion.
He opined, “I can only assume that if the government wants to be nationalistic, if the government wants to be patriotic, it will fully support the PUP, and support our leadership on this issue.”
“I think this is one that I hope is going to be different. No Belizean who loves his country can say that he or she is going to vote against this. I don’t think that any politician, who is a truly nationalistic and patriotic politician, regardless of political party, can come up with any kind of explanation that would justify a no vote on such an important piece of legislation. We dare the United Democratic Party to vote against this. A vote against this is a vote against Belize,” Courtenay said.
When asked to predict Guatemala’s response to the motion, Courtenay made it clear that was not his concern, that his concern is protecting the interest of Belize.
“I can only expect that they will not like it, because our advice is that this is something that should be done in order to protect our interest. And my interest, and our party’s interest, is the interest of Belize, and so we need to do what is right,” he said.