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The Courtenay Doctrine

Eamon Courtenay (Attorney for SATIIM)

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2019. 9:18 am CST.

Posted: Friday, January 18, 2019. 9:16 a.m. CST.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
By Lisa Shoman: What is a doctrine? It’s a creed, a belief; but also a stated principle of government policy, for example, the Monroe Doctrine. The Latin root is “docere”, to teach.A doctrine is therefore supposed to teach something. So what does the “Courtenay Doctrine” teach us?

A quick word about the origin. Although the ideas contained in the doctrine are the intellectual property of Senator Eamon Courtenay, the term can be laid at the feet of the PUP Party Leader and LOO, John Briceño.

Since Courtenay himself has not specifically embraced the term, nor set out a formal formulation of the doctrine named in his honor, it is necessary to cull the elements from his recent remarks to the media. So what is in this doctrine?

First and foremost would be a postponement of any referendum or any resolution of the unfounded Guatemalan claim. The Courtenay Doctrine proposes a deep freeze. In his own words, EHC says : “My belief is that we should agree with Guatemala for a minimum for twenty five years that there will be no attempt to resolve the territorial dispute, there would be no negotiations unless Guatemala is prepared to accept our borders.”

Secondly, there would be the need for what he calls a “defence non-aggression pact”, as he puts it : “In the meantime, we have to sign a defense non-aggression pact.”

Thirdly, we would need to get Guatemala to sign and operationalize a series of bilateral agreements, in his words “We have to sign and implement a treaty that protects the environment that fights crime and fights illegal immigration.”

Courtenay asks, “You will recall that two years ago they signed thirteen agreements between Belize and Guatemala. Why haven’t we implemented that?”

Fourthly the Courtenay Doctrine calls for both Belize and Guatemala to live in peace as good neighbors without problems and let an acquisitive generation pass; then negotiate – “…my position is let us put to one side the dispute, let’s live as neighbors and I believe that another generation who have lived together without aggression, without education people about ‘Belice is nuestro’ we can resolve this by negotiation”.

There may be more, but these are the key ingredients of the Doctrine. Let’s examine them in turn.

The deep freeze. The deep freeze suggested is for 25 years. This is about 1 generation and it kicks the can down the road for our children, and maybe grandchildren to solve. In the meantime, time does not stand still and the geopolitical global outlook is not the same it is today.

Plus, the cost of such delay isn’t calculated, either in lost economic opportunities or in missed political opportunity. And that is a serious issue.

The second consideration is the “defence non aggression pact”. The Guatemalan government with whom we signed a compromis (that Courtenay helped to draft over ten years ago), is not the same government now. This is the Jimmy Morales administration. The CICIG defenestration administration.

Does anyone really believe that they will sign “defence non aggression pact” when we can’t get then to the table to discuss and ink a Sarstoon Protocol? If they don’t, then what?

Do we wait two years to try to negotiate a pact with a future government? And do we hope they will not just negotiate, but sign and uphold such a pact? So many ifs.

Third ingredient is the bilateral approach. This isn’t new, nor is it radical. In fact, after many years of discussion, in 2014, both parties embarked on a dual approach to bifurcate the process, and walk towards referenda while simultaneously working on the bilateral relationship. Guatemala is the only nation with which we have a full bilateral trade agreement.

This has been the hallmark of the process which commenced since 1999 to present. It has produced CBMs, protocols on removal of illegal entry and settlements, and 13 signed agreements in December 2014 by PM Barrow and President Otto Perez Molina.

These included prisoner exchange, operating hours at legal terrestrial entry points, program on seasonal workers, the recovery and returns of items of cultural and natural patrimony, visa waiver for students, deportation, electric power trade, transmission interconnection and grid connectivity, mutual recognition of driver’s license, movement of students via land entry points, protection of the environment and sustainable use of resources, degree equivalence and recognition of education documents, sustainable tourism and stolen vehicles. Most have have been ratified.

BUT, and here is the but, some of the critical ones have not operationalized. The one on hydrocarbons has not been concluded. Oil or more properly, petroleum and natural gas are hydrocarbons.

This work must continue and it must continue regardless of vote yes or no in a referendum, whether we go to the ICJ or not, or whether we put the dispute in a deep freeze, lock box or Pandora’s Box.

Finally, the “good neighbors” principle. That is critical. I believe in it as being essential. In fact, it was one of the bases for why I was objecting to the holding of a REFERENDUM (not the ICJ), in late 2016. We need to be good neighbors.

The referendum is now a reality we must face, and which we will respond to. Guatemala needs to be a good neighbor, but are you prepared to give Guatemalan a potential veto over resolving this unfounded claim by first requiring them to live in harmony with us AND stop educating their citizens that Belize is theirs? And we are giving them 25 years to do so?

When I objected to holding any referendum until certain minimums were met, I had to factor in the cost on insisting on those minimums. Some have been met, some still not.

But the fact remains, how it stands now, we are going to a referendum on April 10, 2019. And we must grapple with that, like George Cadle Price grappled with moving ahead to Independence without an explicit defence guarantee.

What you have is now. Gambling on a future that is guaranteed not to look like the present is a huge risk. And for the past 80 odd years since the 1930s Exchange of Notes, we got nothing more for the effort of any freeze. All you have is now.

The Courtenay Doctrine is very much like another – the Monroe Doctrine – which formulated for an ostensible good purpose, ended up having one fatal flaw. Geopolitical time, like your watch doesn’t stand still.

Neither should we.


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