No one has approached the Reporter to ask for clarification of its editorial published last week, October 4, but the paper will gladly provide one to end any confusion or misgivings our editorial comments may have caused.
The first point we want to make is this: an agreement on confidence-building measures signed between our two countries in 2005 lay the ground rules for Belize and Guatemala to work in harmony to prevent a further escalation of tension. These are not confined to the Western border.
The ground rules to which both sides agreed, require Belize to “exercise caution and restraint in the treatment of all issues related to the territorial differendum.”
There is a good reason for this! We are coping with a potentially explosive situation, and we are dealing with an unpredictable adversary in the Guatemalan armed forces. If tempers flare and there is an outbreak of violence over the border situation, it won’t matter much who was strategically correct or who was strategically wrong when the body bags start coming home.
By scrupulously respecting the terms of the confidence-building measures Belize is acting without prejudice. We are not giving up any of our rights, but we are voluntarily restraining ourselves so that we do not create a situation which could lead to a flare-up that would have lethal consequences.
We in Belize own this country by virtue of two centuries of continuous occupation. It is Belizean blood, sweat and tears that have built Belize. Even if the Treaty of 1859 is not taken into account, Belize still has an iron-clad title to this land by virtue of uninterrupted occupation.
Even if the Battle of St. George’s Caye does not award us “right by conquest” (by virtue of the Treaty of Amiens* , which restored to Spain the lands taken in war), Belize is still the master of its territory by virtue of more than 200 years of uninterrupted occupation, and because both Spain and Guatemala have tried, but never succeeded in occupying any part of our land.
The question of Sarstoon Island is different! Belize has never occupied Sarstoon Island, though we claim it as our own. That claim rests solely on the merits of the 1859 Treaty, a treaty which Guatemala now repudiates.
In other words, our claim to Sarstoon Is-land is not a claim we can defend by virtue of occupation. We can only make that claim on the basis of the 1859 Treaty, which as we pointed out earlier, is no longer supported by Guatemala. .
Clearly then, our claim to Sarstoon Island is not as strong as our claim to the rest of the country. The reason is that we have never occupied or “possessed” the island.
* In the Treaty of Amiens Great Britain agreed to restore to Spain all possessions and colonies occupied or conquered by British Forces in the course of the war, with the exception of the island of Trinidad.