Guatemala has insisted that our “geography”, between the Hondo and the Sarstoon, blocks the development of a department in their country which they call, El Peten. It is a geographical truth that it would be easier, cheaper for Guatemalans in El Peten who wish to ship their goods to Europe, to do so across territory between the Hondo and the Sarstoon, than to send the goods down to their port, Puerto Barrios, in the Amatique Basin, and across the Pacific.
It is clear that a “moral” right exists. Mature, civilized nations recognize this moral right and come to sensible arrangements. Guatemala, however, is not content with its “moral” status. She has, and we can say, fantastically so, declared that her rights go beyond moral. Guatemala says that her rights are “legal”. That is fantastic. One hundred and forty-four nations of the world looked at Guatemala’s “legal” claim, and rejected it, declared it bogus. This is the clear message sent when the United Nations declared that Belize deserved to be a full member of that august body.
Guatemala has said that its legal claim is by way of inheritance – the territory was given to her by Spain, which country once ruled the area. Guatemala has said that a treaty it signed in 1859 with the British, in which certain markers were acknowledged as the border between the two countries, is null and void because the British “failed” to honor one of the articles.
Some people in Guatemala might not have read it. For their information, UNGA (United Nations General Assembly) Resolution 3432, December 8, 1975, “reaffirms the inalienable right of the people of Belize to self-determination and independence”; and “declares that the inviolability and territorial integrity of Belize must be preserved.”
This essay will look at a certain proposal that Guatemala, applying pressure with its greater size, has tried to force on Belize, and how the will, the determination of the Belizean people has, in the instance, saved one great natural wonder of the world from potential disastrous exposure.
Article 6 of the Heads of Agreement of 1981 is the worst article in that proposal. Article 6 says: “Belize shall facilitate the construction of oil pipelines between Guatemala and Belize City, Dangriga, and Punta Gorda”.
This is similar to the draft treaty of 1968, called The Webster’s Proposals. Article 2 of Webster’s Proposals says, “Using one or more transit routes, the products of Guatemala may be exported, and any goods destined to Guatemala may be imported, through Belize…Nothing shall be done to impose restrictions upon the proper use of the transit routes.” The Webster’s Proposals gave Guatemala so much power in Belize, it could have moved any product from El Peten, including oil, through Belize.
Notably, the Ramphal/Reichler Proposals (Paul Reichler represented Guatemala) of 2002 did not include any discussion about piping oil through Belize. Notably, the Guatemalan government announced to the world that they were not accepting these proposals.
Piping oil through Belize, to facilitate the oil companies, was a horrific idea. A pipeline has to be guarded at all times because it is a magnet for people who are not happy. Guatemala is still a very unstable country. It will remain an unstable country if it keeps stifling, even killing marginalized citizens who demand more from their government. A broken pipeline is an environmental nightmare. It could easily contaminate rivers and streams. It could easily help fuel forest fires.
But it is when oil reaches the sea that it presents the greatest danger. It was argued by some Belizeans, not many, when some oil companies were agitating for offshore oil exploration that those who were against it were overreacting because at least once monthly our reefs are exposed by oil tankers bringing fuel to our shores.
Belize must find a way to reduce this exposure. Belize should refine its own oil, and supplement its supply with purchases from Mexico that come by road.
Imagine the level of traffic, the constant exposure, the danger if a significant find of oil were piped to fill tankers at our ports. The chances of spillage would be magnified exponentially. Environmentalists in Belize, and Guatemala, and the world too, would have raised riot if we had agreed to Article 6 of the Heads.
Guatemala must ship any oil it finds in EL Peten, via the Pacific. The Pacific, where it kisses the Guatemalan coast, does not have the delicate reef system that we possess. It would be cheaper to pipe oil through Chiapas. Mexico is a mature nation. They most likely could make arrangements there.
The Maritime Areas Act allowed for joint exploration of the sea bed, a tripartite agreement among Belize, Honduras and Guatemala. Guatemala would not unilaterally have the right to do any kind of oil exploration there.
There are many persons in Guatemala who are serious about guarding the environment, but they are overrun by the rapacious greedy.
Big business in Guatemala is altogether too rapacious. Its greed disposes it to use every wile to try and get over its neighbor to the east. When UNESCO praised Belize, rightly, for her visionary steps to protect the barrier reef, the Guatemalans sneakily posed as concerned environmentalists, to win points. Guatemala’s representative told the World Heritage Committee that their country “would like to highlight that the barrier reef reserve system is of great value” and that “Guatemala feels that all effort should be taken to preserve this jewel of natural heritage and we think that it really is of the utmost importance that the site be preserved.”
No, no, no, Guatemala championed Webster’s Proposals, which would have allowed them to run anything through Belize, yes, oil. We didn’t hear any public announcements about the Heads, which put PIPELINE in bold letters. But when the Ramphal/Reichler Proposals were made, they jumped on to the rooftop and declared that they must get land, land so they can PIPE oil in El Peten to the Caribbean Sea, no matter the terrible exposure to the greatest natural wonder of the Western World, the Belize Barrier Reef, also called the Meso-American Barrier Reef.