Features

In defense of the OAS

By: Alejandro Vernon

The Organization of American States is made up of 35 members of this Western Hemisphere. It was established on April 30th, 1948 at Bogota, Columbia, was reorganized and strengthened the inter-american system, which dates from 1820. It is a regional agency within the United Nations. Its role is to strengthen the peace and security of the Western Hemisphere; to ensure pacific settlement of disputes; and among other things, to promote mutual economic, social and cultural development.

In 1962 Cuba was excluded from the OAS because of its flagrant association with the Soviet Bloc, which policies were not in harmony with the western bloc. In 2009 Cuba’s membership was renewed and now works with the OAS. Belize applied to be a member of the OAS but was blocked by Guatemala in its claim over Belize. Eventually Hon. Said Musa, Minister of Foreign Affair in Hon. Price’s government was successful in getting Belize its seat in the OAS.

The Amandala states that the OAS has “brokered a number of initiatives between Guatemala and Belize and has implemented a number of policies for the two neighbors to peacefully co-exist while at the same time work at trying to resolve the old territorial dispute between the two countries.”

Contrary to the role that Belize’s Territorial Volunteers expect, the OAS’s role is to referee two disputing factions, including the military, in their role in protecting the borders of respective countries, like what occurred on Sunday August 16th, 2015 at the Sarstoon Island. The OAS is confined to being an observer only, in such cases and makes an official report to OAS headquarters, for follow up action. But it would be contrary to the OAS Act, for its observers to take sides at sea or land and to visibly show its preference to any given side.

The request for a Forward Operating Base (FOB) to be built on Sarstoon Island appears not to have the support of the BDF and I wish to agree in view that the island, which is made up of sand, mud and silt will not produce safe drinking water even if a submersible pump were to be installed. An elevated tank with a catchment would not render the gallons needed by the military unit and electricity generators would be costly. In fact the Base with security personnel could be burglarized or attacked by the enemy from all sides of the island at night.

Solution to Sarstoon Island
I would suggest that a concrete monument be erected at Sarstoon Island at the south-east corner of Belizean territory. While there is a concrete monument at Gracias a Dios; one at Garbutt Falls and another at the north west corner at Aguas Turbias (where Mexico, Guatemala and Belize meets) there is none at our south-east corner. Sarstoon Island is ideally suited for a Belize monument to be erected at the entrance of the Sarstoon.
Contrary to the BTV argument of Guatemalan aggression along the Sarstoon River, nothing is further from the truth. Except for the stance taken by Guatemalan military personnel at Sarstoon Island, when Belizeans travelled up the Sarstoon to Gracias a Dios and even to Cadenas on the Guatemalan side, Belizeans are not molested.

From time immemorial, Guats on the Guatemalan side of the river and Belizeans on the north side of the river have lived in harmony.
This is supported by our BDF and Coast Guard who have confirmed that it is the recent attitude of the BTV under Maheia and De La Fuente, who have incited the Guats to illegally try to possess the island at the mouth of the Sarstoon.

In 1975 when British troops were deployed to protect Belize’s borders, British soldiers made friends with Guatemalan counterparts and exchanged beers, chocolates, and sandwiches at the Sarstoon, Gracias a Dios and Cadenas.

Toledo has a population of 31,000. But Maheia and De La Fuente’s BTV only mustered 150 volunteers with half coming from Orange Walk and Belize City to go to the Sarstoon on Sunday 16th.

What happened to the residents of Punta Gorda Town (5,000) and Barranco, and San Antonio and Forest Home to name a few? Why did Toledo not converge at Barranco to send off the daring volunteers? Toledo has thousands of vehicles. Why did Toledo’s residents not support Maheia’s volunteers?

The stark fact is that Toledo does not subscribe to the BTV manner of doing things and does not support Maheia’s PNP. The PNP has lost (including himself) three consecutive elections in Toledo.

The 1859 Boundary Treaty signed by Great Britain and Guatemala describing our Borders with Guatemala, clearly showed Sarstoon Island to be in the British Settlements (Belize). But in 1991, ten years after Independence from Britain, Hon. Price along with Hon. Esquivel travelled the country explaining the Maritime Areas Act which would take care of the overlapping territorial waters down at the cone, where such waters converged at the mouth of the Sarstoon.

With the help of law experts of the sea of the UN, the Maritime Areas Act preciser a median line to run from the mouth of the Sarstoon north-eastwards to Ranguana range of cayes. Territorial waters to the west of the median line would be Belizean and those to the east would be Guatemala’s. This exercise and legislation was done in order to establish with precision the division of waters between Guatemala and Belize, which were not described in the 1859 Treaty.

Mr. Price’s PUP with UDP Esquivel, passed the Maritime Areas Act. Yet we will continue to have problems in this area – starting from Sarstoon Island. Because of the over-riding problem with our territorial waters down in Toledo, and because there also exists a surveyor’s inadvertent mistake in lining Belize’s border at the north-west corner of Belize where Mexico, Guatemala meets with Belize at Aguas Turbias (Rio Hondo).
It is even more imperative that we go to the International Court of Justice, which should define with precision these areas.

Even though the 1859 Treaty described the borders generally, and that description appears as the Schedule in our Constitution, these two problems have to be addressed by the World Court – the ICJ that is entrusted by the United Nations to attend to these and other border problems.

Legal opinions state that the ICJ will not entertain and will throw out the claim for Belizean land by Guatemala, so this is the opportunity for Belize to have territorial waters down south described and the sliver of land at Aguas Turbias properly delineated by the ICJ.
The OAS has played perhaps the greatest role in assisting Belize to twist Guatemala’s arm to sign the compromise in Washington in December 2008 to submit the unfounded claim to the International Court of Justice.

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