On Friday, the Government of Belize released signed electronic copies of the 13 bilateral agreements penned in Placencia by Belize and Guatemala on Wednesday, December 17, 2014, on the occasion of a high-level meeting of Central American leaders in Belize.
Those agreements, according to the documents, were formulated within the context of a set of confidence-building measures Belize and Guatemala signed back in September 2005, and a Road Map which the parties signed in January 2014 – both under the auspices of the Organization of American States (OAS).
The 13 agreements were signed by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington in the case of Belize, and Carlos Raul Morales Moscoso for Guatemala, and the signing was witnessed by Secretary-General of the OAS, Jose Miguel Insulza.
The agreements were signed amid a renewal of calls for the parties to allow the International Court of Justice to adjudicate the matter of Guatemala’s unfounded claim over Belizean territory.
The agreements note, though, that they “…shall not constitute a total or partial waver of sovereignty over any territory (land, insular or maritime) claimed by either party; nor shall any rights of any party to such territory be prejudiced; nor shall any precedent be established for the strengthening or weakening of either party’s claims to any such territory. Each party expressly reserves its right with respect to its claims of sovereignty over any territory (land, insular or maritime).”
The agreements will come into force when parties confirm that respective legal requirements have been met.
The agreement on Expedited Deportation is for persons with “irregular migration status,” who can face immediate deportation if they are first-time offenders who are only guilty of illegal entry. However, the automatic deportation provision would not apply to persons who are repeat offenders or who have committed offenses other than illegal entry. The deporting country would pay the expenses in such cases.
A related agreement covers the Serving of Penal Sentences. The 9-page agreement says that the sentences of persons convicted in the neighboring country can be served in the home country of the person sentenced, allowing that person to achieve social rehabilitation in a more meaningful way and to ensure general welfare.
The agreement specifies that a sentence imposed on a Belizean national in Guatemala may be served in Belize.
The only case of which we know, of a Belizean sentenced for a criminal offence in Guatemala, is that of Joseph Budna, who is serving two sentences in Guatemala, one for 25 years and another for 30 years for kidnapping and extortion convictions.
The agreements inked by Belize and Guatemala indicate that the transfer must be made by one of the two countries, and the receiving state (in Budna’s case – Belize) can decide whether it will accept or deny the request. The legal representative of the prisoner must also give consent for the transfer on the inmate’s behalf.
Also, any pending extradition orders by a third party (such as the United States) would have to be taken into account. The expenses for the transfer would be borne by the sentencing state.
The greatest cross-border tensions between Belize and Guatemala are fueled by illegal incursions through the western border, primarily for illegal logging and gold panning, as well as the looting of Belizean artifacts.
Towards this end, the parties also signed an agreement for the Protection of the Environment and Sustainable Use of Resources.
The agreement states that the parties will design a framework for cooperation and strategic collaboration with the aim of improving the protection and conservation of the environment and of protected areas through joint efforts. It calls for the establishment of a joint coordinating mechanism, which would then form working groups with members drawn also from civil society, who would meet not less than semi-annually.
The joint coordinating mechanism will formulate a plan of action which should, among other things, identify critical areas, threats and impacts, as well as the strategies to reduce them with funding from the state parties and alternate sources.
Belize and Guatemala also inked an agreement on the Protection, Conservation, Recovery and Return of Items of Cultural and Natural Patrimony Which Have Been Stolen, Pilfered, Looted, Exported, Imported or Trafficked Unlawfully.
The agreement stipulates that cooperation constitutes an effective manner of protecting and recognizing the right of each country as the original owner of the said assets; in the context of the agreement, these are archaeological, artistic, historic, religious and cultural patrimony.
It notes that both state parties are signatories to the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World, Cultural and Natural Heritage of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and the Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.
Three of the agreements address education. There is one agreement to Facilitate the Issuance of Student Visas, under which the governments will grant an exemption to students registered in local institutions, but their entry must be in accordance with respective national laws and the students must enter through legal entry points.
A second agreement covers the Movement of Students Through Terrestrial Ports of Entry, and aims to facilitate swift and safe passage of preschool, primary and secondary-level students who move daily from one country to another for academic studies and who daily return to their country of origin.
At the Placencia signing, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that, “On a daily basis over 800 Guatemalan children cross from Melchor into Benque Viejo Del Carmen to go to school here in Belize. Side by side, these Guatemalans and Belizean children learn and play, never for a moment concerned about boundaries or claims.”
It must be noted that it is to a far lesser extent that Belizean students travel to Guatemala for study, and they usually do so for higher education.
The third agreement looks at the Equivalency of Studies and the Recognition of Educational Documents. It says that, “The promotion of the education integration process will foster higher learning and reciprocal benefits through the equivalency of studies and recognition of educational documents,” and sets a framework for collaboration of the respective Ministries of Education of both countries
Belize and Guatemala signed the Harmonization of Operating Hours at Legal Terrestrial Entry Points, under which both parties agree to maintain 24-hour operations at their legal entry points, such as the Benque del Carmen border.
Another agreement looks at the Mutual Recognition of Driver’s Licenses, which authorities of either receiving country would recognize, in concert with national legislation, as long as the driver’s license is issued by competent authorities in the respective countries.
There is also an agreement on the Recovery and Return of Vehicles Stolen, Confiscated or Impounded Illegally or Inappropriately. Under this agreement, the parties undertake to promptly return vehicles found stolen or taken illegally to the other country. Each party to the agreement will have to have a Search and Recovery Unit. If the vehicle is found with someone who purchased it in good faith, the party in question will notify the other party of the legal position in respect of that case, the agreement says.
One of the 13 agreements calls for the establishment of a programme for seasonal workers, and the establishment of a framework for such a seasonal workers program. That programme would be supported by the OAS.
The parties also addressed sustainable tourism. In the tourism agreement, they undertake to enhance cooperation and collaboration in the tourism sector based on equal rights and mutual benefits. The program would also involve exchange programs for the training of personnel.
Finally, the agreement on the Electric Power Trade and Transmission Interconnection and Grid Connectivity looks at establishing a connection between Belize and Guatemala through which Belize can export or import power. It points to the June 15, 2001 adoption of the Plan Pueblo Panama (PPP), now the Mesoamerica Project, the strategies of which include electricity interconnectivity. It notes that the projects for interconnection across the Central American region and Guatemala and Mexico are completed, and only the Belize-Guatemala portion is pending.
Under this agreement, it said, Belize could be connected to the Regional Electricity Market of the Central American Isthmus and participate in energy exchange via interconnection.Amandala