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Senate debates Maritime Areas Act amendment

National Assembly building

Posted: Tuesday, May 21, 2019. 2:48 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The upper house of the National Assembly is currently in debate over the amended Maritime Areas Act, passed unanimously and without rancor in the House of Representatives on Monday.

In opening the debate, Leader of Government Business, Senator Godwin Hulse paid tribute to his opposite number, Eamon Courtenay, whose 2017 introduction was not accepted as Government accepted legal advice to wait until Belizeans approved going to the International Court of Justice.

Courtenay signaled support, making note that Belize’s maritime areas are defined in the First Schedule to the Constitution and that the Act only “suspended” our right to define and demarcate that area (south of Ranguana Caye to the mouth of the Sarstoon) pending negotiation.

Courtenay called for a “living of our sovereignty,” ensuring that the legal authorities such as the Coast Guard get the resources to properly police, develop and operate in the area that we fully now claim as our own.

Our efforts must be national, Courtenay said: not only for the lawyers, or for the politicians, but crossing lines of political parties, religions, classes and other divisions.

It is Guatemala’s fault, Courtenay said, that this issue has not been resolved over 50 years, referring to the Ramphal-Reichler proposals which were shot down in 2002. Now, he says, they must be respectful of Belize and recognize our rights along the borderline for the three-to-five years in which the case is being litigated in The Hague. The government must be supported and we do not give up our rights anywhere – “8,867 sq. miles of our territory, maritime area, and exclusive economic zone,” and Guatemala must prepare itself to respect the ultimate decision of the court, in which Belize will retain its territory.

Courtenay is a member of the new four-member bipartisan commission that will manage interaction over the case.

Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte made note that Belize is a peaceful nation and will not provoke anything, but he warned that war is not necessarily bloodless on Belize’s part. He said Belize ‘has not given up’ on a Sarstoon Protocol, and that we have the support of the United States and other international partners in doing so.

The Bill will be approved as expected, and signed into law by the Governor General later this week.

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