BELMOPAN, Cayo District, Wed. Dec. 13, 2017– Opposition Senator, Eamon Courtenay, today tabled a motion to amend the Maritime Areas Act, to allow for Belize to claim its 12 miles of territorial sea under international law.
Courtenay explained that when the Maritime Areas Act (MAA) was passed into law, in the 1990s, Belize did not claim all of its territorial sea. This was done in an effort to reach a negotiated settlement with the Republic of Guatemala, which has maintained a claim over Belizean territory.
Courtenay said that in 2008, the Belizean and Guatemalan governments signed the Special Agreement to take the territorial dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), if the citizens of both countries vote in referenda to have the ICJ adjudicate on the matter, the result of which would be binding to both countries. Courtenay said when the compromis was signed between Belize and Guatemala, certain provisions of the Maritime Areas Act became redundant and Belize should have repealed them, but that was not done.
According to the PUP Senator, Belize has long received advice that if the matter is to ever be settled in court, then Belize should abandon some of the provisions of the Maritime Areas Act and claim all of its territorial seas. This would strengthen Belize’s case.
Senator Steven Duncan, a government-appointed senator, was the first to register his disapproval of the motion. He claimed that the matter had caused much upheaval in Belize and Guatemala and was very delicate. The matter had split the United Democratic Party, and led to the formation of the National Alliance for Belizean Rights (NABR).
In Guatemala, the MAA was one of the factors that led to their then president, Jorge Serrano Elias, to be deposed after serving a short term, from 1991 to 1993. He had to seek political asylum outside of Guatemala.
Attorney General and UDP Senator, Michael Peyrefitte, also registered his lack of support for the motion. According to him, Senator Courtenay was in no position to present the motion to the Senate.
“Are you, Senator Courtenay, the Leader of the People’s United Party? Because that is the person, that is the place, from which such an introduction should be attempted – not from the Senate. It flows naturally, whatever we may think about ourselves – from the people, to the House, to the Senate, to the Governor General,” Peyrefitte said.
UDP Senator Aldo Salazar also registered his disapproval. According to him, the motion does not bolster our sovereignty, since our sovereignty was always intact. “So let’s not prey on nationalistic tendencies and inflammatory remarks such as those; this has nothing to do with sovereignty. It had to do with negotiation. Negotiations, at the time as far as I understand it, was that this was put in place because we wanted to arrive at a settlement, and the understanding is that once we are certain that we no longer want to negotiate a settlement, this would have been changed. I don’t think we are at that point,” he said.
UDP Senator Carla Barnett weighed in and was of the view that the amendments were important, but questioned the timing. “There is no fight that there is a need to amend this legislation, repeal this legislation – there is no fight about that in the long run. I think it’s about timing, and getting the timing actually right,” Senator Barnett explained.
While the motion was rejected and voted down by the government senators, the Opposition and all the Social Partners voted for it, except for Church Senator, Ashley Rocke, who, as he had done on occasions before, sided with the Government-appointed senators. Rocke said he had not been convinced to support the motion. And so, with 7 votes to 6, the UDP Senators, and the Church Senator, Rocke, blocked the motion.