By CELESTE NIXON
Tribune Staff Reporter
AFTER almost 40 years of negotiations, the Bahamas and neighbouring Cuba have signed an agreement outlining the country’s respective territories and boundaries.
During a press conference held yesterday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at the Goodman’s Bay Corporate Centre the Bahamas signed an agreement delimiting the maritime spaces between the Bahamas and the Republic of Cuba clearly defining the maritime boundaries between the two states.
Describing the signing ceremony as a “momentous occasion”, Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette said the event is of great national significance and has been a long time national goal since the country’s birth in 1973, “determining the very notion of where the Bahamas begins and ends.”
He said: “For any country, delimitation of its maritime boundaries are an important undertaking as boundaries express in concrete terms the space in which a country has the right to fully exercise its sovereignty.”
The delimitation of the maritime boundaries between the two countries is required by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). The agreement also has “practical importance,” because of the various interests in drilling for oil by both the Bahamas and Cuba.
In December 2008, the Bahamas successfully established its straight archipelago baselines through the UN.
The proclamation defines the boundaries that enclose all of the islands inside the archipelago.
According to Mr Symonette in June 2009 technical talks between the Bahamas and Cuba resumed, culminating on September 7 when maritime delimitation boundaries between the bordering countries were agreed upon and thereafter approved by Cabinet last Friday.
As one of his last events as Ambassador of the Republic of Cuba to the Bahamas Luis Ponce Caraballo, who signed the agreement on behalf of his country, said it was a great privilege to be a part of the process and witness the event that was only made possible through the successful collaboration and hard work of both nations.
“The signing of this agreement,” he said, “represents a great moment of bilateral relations between the Bahamas and the Republic of Cuba – reaffirming the goals of friendship and mutual respect” between the countries.
Mr Caraballo said in accordance with the agreement the Bahamas and Cuba agree to cooperate on areas of safety, scientific research, preservation and protection of marine resources and other areas of mutual interest.
Mr Symonette said the historic agreement defines what is Bahamian territory and the exclusive national rights over the “mineral and biological resources within its defined territory allowing the country to exercise full national jurisdiction over maritime spaces that include significant fisheries zones and potentially significant areas for hydrocarbon exploration.”
He added that the agreement also has implications on national security and the effectiveness of law enforcement in the Bahamas’ maritime areas, including a management of marine resources.
The agreement will facilitate further cooperation between the Bahamas and its neighbours “contributing to the maintenance of peace, security and economic advancement” and in particular future relations with Cuba, said Mr Symonette.
He said “indeed the agreement which the Bahamas and Cuba will sign, besides defining the maritime boundaries also affirms the bonds of friendship, mutual respect and understanding that exist between the Bahamas and Cuba.