Because of the good offices of the Organization of American States, which was present as a silent observer, the visit of a group of more than a hundred and fifty Belizeans to Sarstoon Island last Sunday ended in the safe return of the protesters.
The mission to visit Sarstoon Islands to underscore Belize’s claim to it, was without precedent, and from Belize’s point of view, an enormous success. The Guatemalan Coast Guard, ever vigilant, was present in force to shoo the Belizeans away, going as far as to block the path of the lead boat of the small motor convoy of five.
One of the organizers of the expedition, Mr. Orlando de la Fuente in his report of what happened admitted that he personally took the helm of the lead boat to push against the Guatemalan boat blocking his progress. To his great credit, the Belizeans held firm and the Guatemalans backed off enough to allow the civilians to proceed on their mission, which was to steam once around Sarstoon Island in a symbolic gesture, and head back home.
The OAS presence was enough to constrain the Guatemalan Coast Guard, even though the OAS maintained its customary strict neutrality. It was there to observe, and observe is what it did.
It was enough, but all will agree that only a respected organization like the OAS could have pulled off such a feat. It was a textbook display of diplomacy at work, diffusing the tension and calming a potentially dangerous situation.
A Belizean Coast Guard vessel on the scene would almost certainly have provoked a different reaction, leading perhaps to arrest and detention of the Belizean patriots.
Later the President of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina in a televised report to the Guatemalan people, said he had given instructions to his military commanders in the Peten that they were to do “whatever was necessary” to protect Guatemalan interests and sovereignty.
The Government of Belize on the other hand is on record as having advised Mr. De la Fuente and his supporters not to do anything provocative or which in a tense border situation could be regarded as provocative.
Brig. General David Jones, Commander of the Belize Defence Force, has also added the weight of his voice saying the civilian efforts are not helping, but are making it more difficult for the BDF to do its work of border patrols.
On balance it appears that Mr. De la Fuente has done exceedingly well is a sort of daredevil way. He has confronted the Guatemalan border patrols and persuaded them by force of personality to back off.
But tensions have mounting at Belize’s southern and western borders, and Belize has no intention of being drawn into an armed conflict with Guatemala when there is a much better way of settling this dispute.
Mr. De la Fuente has made his point. He has done much more than anybody expected him to do. We believe that discretion should now prevail.
be the better part of valour, and he should not persist in his plans to lead more Belizean civilians into dangerous waters.