According to international law many countries claim their 12 miles of territorial waters and enforce their jurisdiction over it. There is also a 20-mile and the Exclusive Economic Zone for drilling and other rights that Belize can control in their southern border with Guatemala and Honduras. Then come international waters. Belize would like to do the same but the Guatemalan claim is standing in the way. Guatemala is claiming the whole or part of our country for years now and there is no end in sight. If Guatemala was to drop their claim, then they will be land locked and have no access to the Atlantic Ocean for their commercial and military vessels. Guatemalan vessels have always and continue to traffic through Belizean waters without any action taken by the Belizean government. Is there a secret agreement between Great Britain, Belize and Guatemala to allow their vessels to traffic through our territorial waters? If there is then it should be made public to we the Belizean citizens. The failure of the Belize government to stop these vessels to continue travelling through Belize waters gives me the impression that there is an agreement. Or, Belize may be allowing Guatemala to use their waters as a Good Neighbor Policy to avoid increasing tensions over the Guatemalan claim. These are the type of discussions that our leaders from the political parties should be discussing to educate us about the Belize-Guatemala dispute.
The withholding of information from the Belizean citizens will make us not trust our government in dealing with this Guatemalan claim. I am not against signing a conditional agreement with Guatemala, to allow their commercial vessels the right to go back and forth through Belizean waters to the Atlantic Ocean as a Good Neighbor Policy but military vessels no. Unless, their commercial vessels are being threatened while trying to move back and forth in Belize’s territorial waters with their goods.
In fact, indirectly it seems as if this has been the position of the British and all the Belizean governments PUP and UDP since we obtained our independence on Sept. 21, 1981. Do you all remember The Maritime Areas Act? The Belize government was forced to withdraw it because of pressure coming from Belizean citizens. I just hope and pray that some provisions of this proposed agreement were not signed later in bilateral agreements without our consent and approval. They cannot say that they have changed their positions on this issue because they have not publicly stated their position to we the Belizean citizens. Belizean fishermen are at risk if they travel in this area and encounter Guatemalan patrol boats. Offshore drilling is another issue that is being discussed constantly by the Belizean government that will be affected as well.
If Guatemala does not have a 12-mile territorial waters in the region because they are landlocked, then the issue of having “markers” to identify our territorial waters is insignificant. For anyone to raise the issue that there is need for “markers,” make me suspect that there was and is an agreement between Britain, Belize and Guatemala for the use of our Territorial Waters. The use of military vessels to traffic back and forth through the territorial waters of a nation state without their consent and approval, is in violation of international law and can be deemed a hostile act leading to a conflict and war. I call on my people in Belize to start asking these types of questions in this debate.
Wellington C. Ramos is an adjunct professor of history and political science