MARITIME AREAS BILL
The sequence of events that followed which led up to Guatemala's recognition of Belize during a new government, headed by President Serrano who took office in January 1991, was significant since it reflected the success both countries gained after the long and tedious years of negotiations. The following is the sequence of events which followed:
On 6th August 1991, the government of Belize, after consultation with the Opposition, introduced a bill in the National Assembly for an Act to provide for the territorial sea, internal waters and exclusive economic zone of Belize. In introducing the bill, it was noted that the effect of it would be to allow Guatemala access to the high seas through its own territorial waters, and that this should be considered "as a sign of good faith on the part of Belize to pursue negotiations with the Republic of Guatemala in search of a settlement of the outstanding dispute." (130)
On 14th August 1991 the Guatemalan government declared that "it recognizes the right of the Belizean people to self-determination," and announced that it will continue negotiating and will exhaust all legal and proper procedures which lead to a definitive settlement of the territorial dispute. (128) (This supersedes the Heads of Agreement, where Guatemala said it would not recognize Belize as an independent state until a definitive settlement of the claim was reached) (129)
On 5th September 1991, a Guatemalan government statement in effect recognized "the independent State of Belize' and expressed its willingness to continue direct discussions with Belize in order to arrive at a definitive solution to the dispute. (131)
On 6th September 1991, the British government issued a statement saying that "...in recognition of the political and economic scope of this decision (of Guatemala to recognize Belize) and wishing to support the development of full and normal relations between Belize and Guatemala, HMG have agreed to commit £22.5 million as an initial contribution to launching the joint project to renew and extend the road network linking the two countries..." (132)
On 11th September 1991, the governments of Belize and Guatemala announced their decision to establish full diplomatic relations with immediate effect and to exchange Ambassadors at the earliest opportunity. (133)
With recognition and the establishment of diplomatic relations, the doors were now open to negotiating for a final resolution as well as negotiating agreements relating to normal agreements relating to functional co-operation without any need to submit those to a referendum. i.e. cultural exchanges, scholarships, co-operation in the war on drugs, etc. It was agreed that the outstanding territorial dispute should not preclude co-operation on economic, social and cultural areas between neighbouring states, Belize and Guatemala, as in Chile and Argentina.
This diplomatic and political victory was enormous, but there had to be a quid-pro-quo for Guatemala in order to get this far and this manifested itself in the Maritime Areas Act, 1992 which made "provisions with respect to the Territorial Sea, Internal Waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone of Belize...." (134)
In essence "the amended Bill declares a territorial sea of twelve miles, except for an area in the south from the Sarstoon river, Belize's southern boundary with Guatemala, to the Ranguana Caye, where a territorial sea of three miles is proclaimed. It also declares an exclusive economic zone to two hundred miles, all these distances being measured from the declared baseline, in accordance with international law....for a temporary period until, negotiations with Guatemala produce an agreement as to how much of that area Belize will cede to Guatemala in order to assure it access to the high seas through its own territorial waters and for agreeing to drop its claim. (Annex F) Such a proposal would have to be agreed by Belizeans in a referendum, failing which Belize would claim the full amount allowed by international law." (135)
As was previously pointed out, the Miami talks, in essence, led to the Maritime Areas Act, and a draft Treaty of Economic Co-operation. The economic elements discussed above in the economic package were articulated in the meetings and the implementation was to follow the recognition phase. Both countries would then have taken measures to cooperate in a number of joint economic projects in addition to exchanges in culture, education, sports, etc. And the participation of the private sector would have been encouraged.
Belize 's Foreign Minister, Hon. Said Musa at the time, during this period, embarked on an extensive campaign to negotiate with the Guatemalan government on the Maritime Areas issue. In Belize, Mr. Musa also followed through on a country wide public relations campaign, ("Give Peace a Chance"), to gain support to the Bill but was met with a great deal of opposition and it became a very controversial issue in Belize. The Hon. Said Musa, in a public address said that he was hopeful that the future would hold positive things and that through further negotiations, it would hopefully lead to mutually acceptable agreements which will enable Guatemala to formally drop its claim with regard to Belize and allow the two countries to enjoy the friendly and respectful relations which both peoples have long desired. (136)
This moment was short-lived when during the course of 1992, internal events occurring in Guatemala took another turn. In particular, a case had been presented to the Constitutional Court, spurred on by a virulent political campaign carried out by the Congress and the media who challenged President Serrano's recognition of Belize.
On November 3rd, 1992, by a vote of 4 to 3, the Court declared that the President's action in recognizing Belize did not violate the Guatemalan Constitution but it referred several matters to the Guatemalan Congress for ratification. (137)
The Congress on 24 November 1992, by a vote of 78 to 24, with 13 abstentions, and lengthy debate, approved the President's actions and authorized him to continue negotiations including the use of international courts, in order to validate Guatemala's territorial rights over Belize, and upon arriving at a definitive settlement, to submit to popular consultations in accordance with Article 19 of the Guatemalan Constitution. (138)
During a speech the Guatemalan President gave to the people of Guatemala, in an attempt to convince them to relinquish the claim said,
"In respect to the territory of Belize, we come to the conclusion that the most important thing was to recognize the right to self-determination...I believe .....that we will respect the law and if the President of the Republic, who is the maximum authority in the nation, respects the law, then all Guatemalans must respect it. History shall judge what this has cost and the benefits that shall be derived". (139)
Unfortunately , Serrano's message was short-lived and little heeded. One week after suspending the constitution and saying that he would rule by decree, he was ousted in a popular army-led coup, The seven-member Constitutional Court was presented with a petition lodged by 50 Guatemalan nationals asking the Court to declare that Serrano committed treason by recognizing the independence of Belize without first consulting Congress. (140)
The present Guatemalan government's position is that it acknowledges the interim agreement but does not agree to be bound by its terms. In essence, "until there is a final treaty resolving the claim, Guatemala's interim acceptance of Belize's land borders must not be interpreted a renunciation of that claim". (141) Unfortunately this is the position today. However, the act of recognition is done and in accordance with article VI of the 1933 Monte video Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, to which Guatemala is a party , such act is irrevocable and unconditional. (142) Belize's position remains and that is that "the interim demarcation previously agreed to is in conformity with her Constitutional definition of her land territory". The Declaration of 31 July 1992 gave written and formal expression to what had been earlier agreed on 9 July 1990 with the then Guatemalan President Cerezo in Roatan: that pending a final treaty, relations would proceed on the basis of Guatemala's acknowledgment of Belize's existing land borders". (143)
The recent Guatemalan stance delays progress that could be made between Belize and Guatemala . There have been no formal talks between the two governments and there has not been an initiative to do so recently. However, how much longer can this situation be ignored? Daily, endless possibilities are lost between the two countries because of this issue which seems to remain frozen.
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1997 Janine Sylvestre and Copyright © Naturalight Productions Ltd.