Offshore oil exploration in Belize now requires a national referendum

Monday, November 13th, 2023


The Referendum (Amendment) Bill 2023 is now law, compelling the government to hold a mandatory referendum before oil exploration in Belizean waters. The Bill went through the stages of approval in the House of Representatives and the Senate. It was then assented to by Governor General Dame Froyla Tzalam on November 9th, and two days later, it was published in the government’s Gazette.
The Bill, now law, was initiated via a campaign led by Oceana Belize in November 2022 after they suspected the current government was showing intentions for offshore oil exploration in Belizean waters. The government denied such allegations, and following a successful signature petition held by Oceana Belize, the two parties agreed on a referendum on the moratorium regarding offshore oil exploration in Belize. With the country’s commitment to consult Belizeans on such a delicate issue, Oceana Belize explained that this new law expands the circumstances in which a referendum must be held to include any proposed amendment or repeal of the Petroleum Operations (Maritime Zone Moratorium) Act or to any proposed legislation affecting the carrying of petroleum operations within the maritime zone of Belize.
On Monday, November 13th, the non-governmental organization said that the amendment directly responded to the 22,090 Belizean registered voters who participated in the signature petition some months ago. Oceana said that such achievement has laid the foundation for a profound shift in people’s participation in the Belizean democracy. “The consistent actions of the Belizean people have led to this pivotal achievement of people power. We commend the Briceño administration for exerting leadership on this national issue and recognizing the importance of the people’s participation in decision-making around a precious resource – our Caribbean Sea”, stated Janelle Chanona, Belize Vice President, Oceana. “We look forward to promoting this exemplary achievement as an example for the rest of the world to follow,” Chanona added. She and her team remain committed to safeguarding the country’s shared natural heritage, including the Mesoamerican Reef system, the second longest in the world.
Prime Minister Honourable John Briceño shared that any change to the prohibition of offshore petroleum operations will only happen through a national referendum. “The amendment is a testament to cooperation and collaboration in protecting our invaluable natural resources,” noted Briceño.
The biggest concern is that an offshore oil industry in Belize could be detrimental to its marine natural resources. It is believed that by impacting these resources, the fruitful tourism and fisheries industries could be jeopardized, affecting thousands of Belizeans relying on these industries for livelihood. These efforts to raise awareness and protect Belize’s marine ecosystems have been ongoing since 2009, and, as per Oceana, the work does not end with this new law. They emphasized the responsibility to continue advocating for conservation as long as necessary.


 

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