By Marion Ali
A recently “leaked” document written by a senior officer in the Belize Defense Force to the former Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security Colonel George Lovell, shows that aggression and confrontation from Guatemalan military personnel in the Sarstoon River has been going on for many years.
The leaked memo, written by Major R. Beltran of the Belize Defense Force, and dated October 22, 2015 described the aggression towards the BDF, while shift changes were in progress at the Cadenas station. It further spoke of incidents as far back as 2003, with tension reaching boiling point in 2006. The tension eased when Belize and Guatemala’s armed forces agreed on protocols that were implemented for encounters in the Sarstoon.
The peace lasted for three years, until late 2009, when the BDF reported that there was an encounter by a Guatemalan army vessel that was anchored on the Belizean side, at the entrance of the Sarstoon. It reported that a Guatemalan flag was flying atop a tree on Belizean territory. It stated that the BDF removed the flag, but that the Guatemalan military promised to replace it. The Guatemalan military informed the BDF soldiers that it was their superiors who, after discussing the matter with the BDF, allowed its soldiers passage to the river.
The memo came at a time leading up to the General Elections, when the Barrow administration was widely criticized for the way it handled the Belize/Guatemala dispute and its diplomatic approach in dealing with recent confrontations with Guatemalan military at the Sarstoon entrance.
Barrow spoke to media personnel a week before the elections, stating that “Belize will not be bullied.” This comment was in response to the newly elected Guatemalan president’s pledge to pursue its claim to Belize.
But in a congratulatory note to Morales on the occasion of his victory at the polls, Barrow softened his message. Instead he penned: “I want to assure you that Belize wishes only to live in peace and harmony with our neighbours.
“Over the past few years, Belize and Guatemala have engaged in constructive engagement to build bridges of functional cooperation, even as we pursue the path we have already defined to definitively resolve our historic differences at the International Court of Justice should our people so desire. I wish to assure you that under my government Belize is committed to continue along that path, for which I extend a hand of friendship.”