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The Senate met today at the National Assembly and there were two important matters on its agenda. The first is the ratification of a special agreement which would see the Government amending the Referendum Act to lower the threshold that speaks to making a referendum binding for GOB, from 60% to 51%. The move by the Government has become very controversial because it is seen as appeasing Guatemala, who has complained before international forums that it will not proceed with holding a referendum on whether to take the age-old dispute between both nations to the International Court of Justice. Today as the Senate reviewed the issue, Attorney General and Senator Vanessa Retreage shared the Government’s views as to why it was taking this decision.

Screen_Shot_2016-11-30_at_8.18.18_PMVanessa Retreage on Special Agreement

“The history of reneging on agreement in relation to this issue sends far back and it is for that reason that I support the approval of the Special Agreement and its Protocol.  How long will we allow Guatemala behaviour to determine how we act, how long will we accept that as a reason for us not to put this issue to the citizens of this country for them to decide how they want to resolve this issue, the claim of Guatemala is not solely a PUP issue, it is not solely a UDP issue, not solely a Chamber issue, not solely a Union issue, not solely a church issue it is a National issue a Belizean issue and more importantly in keeping with the sentiment of the Prime Minister in 2008 once this agreement is approved by the Senate the government will be obligated to and will ensure that citizens are fully informed of the difference between the two parties before any referendum on this issue is held, article (1) of the Protocol of the Special Agreement obliges the government to do so, some may question the timing of this agreement but to those persons I say why not now, I think Mr. Courtney highlighted the fact that it has been eight years since the Special Agreement was signed it has been fifteen months since the Protocol was signed why wait longer for someone else to determine how we deal with this issue.  Some of the objections to the agreement has been focused on the precise nature of the Guatemalan claim to this I say it matters not what they claim because any good attorney will tell you what matters is what can be proved, it will be an indisputable fact before any tribunal that both Britain as the Colonizer and Belize as the Independent Nation has physically occupied and exerted full control over the entire territory of Belize for upwards of two hundred years.”

Lead Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay was not convinced however and spoke against the move, saying it is highly suspicious.

Senator Eamon Courtney - Senator People’ United Party

“We insist that the referendum act be amended and that the Senate knows what the propose amendment is before we give authority to the minister to ratify the agreement and we say the same thing with the Sarstoon Protocol.  Guatemala cannot be treating us like Pinkney and tell us that they will agree to a Protocol by the end of the year and the end of the year come and say I am not talking to you and then we are going to say we are happy with you we are going to go ahead and ratify the Protocol and the Special Agreement, no Mr. President, we are saying that we must have the Sarstoon Protocol in place and a Protocol that respects Belize’s rights to its part of the Sarstoon river before this Special agreement is ratified. The republic of Guatemala at its highest level of government has and are and apparently intend to continue to behave in a hostile manner toward the government and people of Belize, when you sign a treaty, an agreement, and a Protocol and commit in good faith to tis implementation you do not behave like a rob, you do not behave like a tyrant, you do not malign your neighbour, you do not lie on our Foreign Minister, you do not tell lies on our Prime Minister and ask us to believe that you are acting in good faith, we in the People’s United Party have said it and we say it again, until the government of Guatemala adopts a good neighbourly attitude towards the government and people of Belize we say it is not an appropriate time to embark on a road to a referendum, we do not Madam President, believe that now is the appropriate time, it is remarkable to us that the government of Guatemala has withdrawn its Ambassador to Belize, he has not yet returned to his post which is a diplomatic insult to Belize in those circumstance we reject any attempt to move this process forward.”

Courtenay also called on the Constitutional and Foreign Affairs Committee to hold a meeting in which officials leading the negotiations with Guatemala can be held accountable by the people of Belize.

Screen_Shot_2016-11-30_at_8.17.48_PMSenator Eamon Courtney - Senator People’ United Party

“It is the firm proposal of this side that the constitutional and Foreign Affairs committee which is a committee of the whole Senate should meet, we should request the presence of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the CEO of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala, Brigadier General of the Belize Defence Force, and all other persons who are concerned and wish to be heard on whether or not there should be a ratification of these two instruments before we approve it, we cannot truly say that we are discharging our constitutional duty today if we simply go through our motion here and say we approve, we need to know why, the government is saying to do this now, we need to know what the Ambassador to Guatemala is saying, we need to know why the Foreign minister can’t speak to his counterpart and why the General can’t speak to his counterpart, in essence what we are calling for Mr. President is an informed consent and informed decision by the Senate by this very important matter, nothing more and nothing less, we have a duty to perform and I am calling on my colleagues we have waited for eight years let us with for eight more days or eight more weeks or eight more months there is no rush, let us not rush into this let us do it right.”

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