A ground breaking ceremony for the construction of a forward operating base was held on Wednesday morning at the northern channel on the mainland along the mouth of the Sarstoon River.
Three government ministers namely, National Security Minister, John Saldivar; Education Minister, Patrick Faber; and Minister of State responsible for Public Service, Energy and Public Utilities, Frank Mena; were present for what Commandant of the Belize Defense Force (BDF), Brigadier General, David Jones described as a, “historic occasion”.
Two representatives from the Organization of the American States (OAS) were also part of the contingent that journeyed go to southern Belize. Security forces, such including armed members of the BDF, the Belize Coast Guard and senior police officers were also present.
The base, which is set to cost the Government of Belize more than $100,000, is scheduled to be completed in three months. According to Saldivar, the base will be a basic structure which will include living quarters, kitchen and other living necessities.
Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Retired Colonel, George Lovell said he does not expect to see any difficulties in the building of the base which will host BDF soldiers, Coast Guard, and at times, police officers.
It was initially thought that the forward operating base would have been built on Sarstoon Island itself but Saldivar explained why it was placed along the coast on the mainland at the mouth of the Sarstoon River instead. He told reporters, “This was determined by the military experts that this is the best place to get the best vantage point because it is not necessarily just to watch the river but to watch the coast as well. This will be a base where we can have storage for instance and assist with the movement of our troops in and out. It is another point from which we can depart.”
An invitation was sent to Guatemala’s Foreign Ministry through that country’s Embassy in Belize, however, no Guatemalan government official was present.
Saldivar also pointed out that GOB received a diplomatic note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala in reference to the invitation sent from Belize. Saldivar read an excerpt of the diplomatic note, “On this particular and specifically concerning Forward Operating Base, this ministry would like to remind what was stated by the Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred P. Elrington in respect to that same base for the coast guard of Belize. That is to say of a policing character. In that same order of ideas, this Ministry expects that the operations that will take place in the base will not interfere with the artisanal fishing activities of the inhabitants of the area.”
While Saldivar did not indicate what GOB’s response to that diplomatic note was, he said Belizean authorities including the Belize Coast Guard as well as the BDF would continue to patrol along the long-established navigation route at the mid-channel of the Sarstoon River, which has always been observed and respected as the territorial limits of Belize and Guatemala.
Saldivar said: “I want to give assurance to our neighbour, Guatemala and all other friendly nations that our law enforcement authorities will conduct their operations along the Sarstoon in a manner that is conducive to cooperation and good neighbourliness. It is not the government’s wish to encourage or condone behaviour that will disturb the peace and security between Belize and Guatemala.” However, he pointed out that Belizean authorites will enforce the law within Belize territory, including illegal fishing.
Saldivar also called on the Guatemalan government to join in the efforts to fight regional threats affecting both countries.
When asked if this occasion was a result of the public pressure especially from the ‘Build the Base Now’ campaign by the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), Saldivar responded, “Absolutely not”.