Historic end to age-old Belize-Guatemala border row By Rickey Singh
Guyana Chronicle
September 18, 2002

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A UNIQUE accord to resolve an age-old territorial row between neighbouring Belize and Guatemala in Central America, was formally handed over to their governments last evening, paving the way for a simultaneous referendum in both countries to secure an expected endorsement before year-end.

The negotiations for the settlement to the dispute were conducted over the past two years under the auspices of the Organisation of American States (OAS) in Washington.

OAS Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria, received the settlement report on Monday before it was officially transmitted to the governments of Belize and Guatemala for simultaneous public disclosure.

The most critical feature of the agreement hammered out by the negotiating delegations that were headed by the Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala, Assad Shoman and Gabriel Orellana, respectively, and facilitated by two distinguished experts, is that there will be no ceding of Belizean territory to Guatemala.

However, while Belize's 8,800 square miles will remain as originally demarcated in 1859, there is to be the establishment of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EZE) to facilitate the creation of a special 'Guatemalan Maritime Area', covering some 2,000 square miles.

Guatemala is a Central American state of 41,800 square miles and approximately 13 million people.

Belize, a member of the Caribbean Community, has a land area of some 8,800 square miles and a population of approximately 260,000.

Their neighbour, Honduras, is reported to have played a key role in the negotiating process that has resulted in the historic settlement agreement to the age-old territorial conflict.

The 'Chronicle' was reliably informed about some of the details of the agreement.

It provides, for example, for Honduras, which acted as a goodwill neighbour in the negotiating process, to make available 1,000 square miles of its maritime area -- the same amount to be contributed by Belize -- for the proposed 'Guatemalan Maritime Area'.

Belize and Honduras will, however, retain fishing rights in the identified 'Guatemalan Maritime Area' as well as up to 50 per cent of any mineral resources that may be located in the seabed of that area.

Further, in the efforts to bring to an end, finally, one of Central America's longest border controversies, a source of tension and embarrassment in the hemisphere, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras will be involved in a proposed Tripartite Regional Fisheries Management Commission in the Gulf of Honduras.

This is another major element of the settlement facilitated by Honduras whose role has been hailed by the negotiating parties as creating "an honourable precedent of great hemispheric significance".

Belize, Guatemala and Honduras are also committed to establishing an Ecological Marine Park comprising some of Belize's Cays and parts of the coastal areas of Guatemala and Honduras.

This park will be managed by a separate tri-national Commission with a view to "conservation of the resources of the area, including in particular, the marine resources and the development of eco-tourism", according to recommendations obtained by this newspaper.

Britain, the former colonial power in Belize, that became independent in 1981, has been in close contact with the negotiations.

The British Government has been "very encouraging and stands ready to be of future possible assistance", according to the negotiating parties.

For the first time in the history of the OAS two of its member states -- Belize and Guatemala -- have come up with an accord they feel could be a model in conflict resolution of that nature for other countries of the hemispheric body.

Currently, two other OAS members -- Venezuela and Suriname -- have territorial disputes with Guyana, all three located in South America and members of the Caribbean Community and Association of Caribbean States (ACS).

The ceremonial handing over of the report on the agreement on the 150-year-old territorial dispute, arising from Guatemala's shifting claims to Belizean territory was witnessed by the two Facilitators for the process, the Caribbean's Shridath Ramphal (for Belize) and the American lawyer Paul Reichler (for Guatemala).