The year 2015 is shaping up to be an election year, and all of us know that during an election year people become high-strung and emotional.
The insistence of the Belize Territorial Volunteers on their right to visit certain parts of the Belize Border which are under dispute with Guatemala arises partly from a sense of patriotism, but now it seems, also from a desire to put the Barrow Government on the spot by making it appear to be callous and uncaring. The Territorial Volunteers are now asking for the Belize Coast Guard to accompany them on future visits to Sarstoon Island.
To get a balanced view of the situation and to escape the pre-election hype, we have to go back in history to an important event in 1946.
In that year the President of Guatemala, Juan Jose Arrevalo, renounced the 1859 Treaty between Britain and Guatemala and launched Guatemala’s claim to all the lands in Belize south of the Sibun River.
Arrevalo was a reformer who confiscated several foreign-owned estates and re-distributed the land to landless Guatemalans. Encouraged by the success of this move and his rise in popularity, he renounced the 1859 Treaty which defines Belize’s borders, and paved the way for the border dispute which has caused Belize so much pain.
Over many years of painstaking negotiations, Belize has been able to establish a confidence-building protocol with Guatemala over the Western Frontier. The Organization of American States has come in to play a peace-keeping role and Belize has been able to stabilize relations with regard to our western border.
But we have not been able to establish a protocol in the South with respect to the River Sarstoon, which establishes Belize’s southern border.
Guatemala does not recognize this border. Under Guatemalan law all of the Sarstoon along with Sarstoon Island are Guatemalan territory.
. Confidence-building measures introduced in 2005 bind both countries to tread softly. In the 2005 Framework Agreement Belize and Guatemala agreed to work together to avoid future border incidents.
Section 18 of this Agreement states: The Parties shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the ground conducive to tension between them”.
Section 24 added: “The parties agree to exercise caution and restraint in the treatment of all issues related to the territorial differendum”.
The Organization of American States, which has been helping to broker a peaceful solution to our border problem, has reported on the expedition of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, which visited Sarstoon Island on Sunday, August 15. In its report the OAS noted:
“During the circumnavigation (of Sarstoon Island) some of the Belizean civilian passengers were verbally abusive and provocative towards the Guatemalan Navy and towards the OAS officials.”
The Government of Belize has been trying to persuade the Belize Territorial Volunteers to tone down the rhetoric and refrain from visiting those places which are areas of vulnerability. These areas of vulnerability are the border positions where Guatemala can exert its will from a position of military strength. They are the areas where, it would be difficult if not impossible for the Government of Belize to protect or rescue Belizean civilians who run afoul of Guatemalan law.
Leaders of the Belizean Territorial Volunteers know all this. Still they insist on exercising their right as citizens of Belize to go wherever they wish!
Supporters of the Belize Territorial Volunteers will continue to follow their leaders as long as they can see that their intentions are honourable and they have a sincere heart. The minute they begin to understand that these people are leading them into danger to satisfy personal ambition, they will begin to have second thoughts.