Senator says referendum could be years away

[Linked Image] Earlier in the newscast, Senator Eamon Courtenay, was critical about the use of the word artificial to describe the borders with Guatemala. When he appeared this morning on Open Your Eyes, Courtenay also said that the possibility of an early referendum to take the dispute to the International Court of Justice for resolution, could be years away. The referendum has to be held in both countries at the same time and according to Courtenay, because of the political climate, it may take as much as seven years before both parties can convene the poll.

Eamon Courtenay, Senator

"As you know, the government in Guatemala has not been having particularly easy time the last year. And therefore, I'm not sure-let me put it differently-evidently they are not yet ready to start a full-fledged education campaign. We are aware that they have voted significant resources into doing their legal preparation. But they have given a significant estimate as to what it would cost to do the education campaign and how long it would take. They have not started it and so I think the question is, looking at the election cycle in Guatemala and the election cycle in Belize as well, I'm not quite sure how early we are going to have a referendum. But it is not a wait and see; it is a constant discussing between the two countries to see when is a propitious time, when is a good time for both sides of the border. Next year Guatemala moves into the run-up to an election cycle, which is not the appropriate time to be conducting such a campaign. 2012 Belize will be in a run-up to an election, which has to be held very early-at the latest, very early in 2013 which would not be an appropriate time to hold that sort of education campaign. So if you talk about having an education campaign beginning some time in 2013 or after and if you say that, as Guatemala had estimated, it will take them about a year to do it, you are talking about holding a referendum some time in 2014. If one were to assume that the referendum would receive a positive vote in Belize and Guatemala let's say in the middle or towards the end of 2014, you remember the compromise has a three year period to work out the process so we're back at 2017 before we reach the first day in court."

Moving forward, Courtenay says that while the dispute remains the number one national issue, there are cross border issues that both countries can agree on, including environmental and immigration matters.

Eamon Courtenay
"We need to review whether it's in the interest of Belize to emphasize the legal settlement. Is that the main issue affecting Belize today? Or is it the incursions? Is it the deforestation? Is it the overfishing in the Gulf of Honduras? Is it the pollution in the Gulf of Honduras? Is it the crime and drug smuggling that is happening on the border and in the Gulf of Honduras? Are those the issues-environmental degradation both on land and sea-are those the more important issues when we have, at best, a seven year time period before we can really, in a best case scenario, bring the matter to court? I quite frankly think that the time has come for us to put the question of the referendum, put the question of the legal fight to position two and to bring forward the environmental, deforestation, immigration, the issue of overfishing, the horrendous exploitation and pollution that is happening in the Gulf of Honduras. I think we need to focus on those issues across the border between Belize and Guatemala and to reach the appropriate agreements and protocols on those issues to aggressively deal with those issues."

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