The Government of Belize has issued what it is calling “an extremely strong protest note” to the Government of Guatemala, following the attempted interception of Belizean vessels at the mouth of the Sarstoon River on Sunday.
“It is my belief that what the O.A.S. calls the mouth of the Sarstoon River is clearly in Belizean waters and that the Guatemalan navy committed an incursion when it intercepted our boats at that spot. The territorial volunteers and the Belizean media confirmed the fact of this incursion and General Jones and Admiral Borland, after viewing video footage, fully concur,” said Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
The PM says that while the Guatemalan incursion is quite clear, what is not so clear is whether any of the Belizean vessels that circled Sarstoon Island drifted into Guatemalan waters.
\Be that as it may, he insists that, “the Guatemalan incursion certainly happened first, and any unwitting Belizean entry into Guatemala by unarmed civilian boats is of a different order completely from the deliberate violation committed against us by a presumably well-armed Guatemalan navy.”
The strong statement came at a Prime Minister’s press conference on Wednesday, where the PM was accompanied at the head table by the Ministers of Foreign Affairs and National Security, as well as the Commanders of the BDF and Coast Guard.
Interestingly, Belize’s lead diplomat and the man who has carried Belize’s foreign policy to the Guatemalans, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, did not speak. According to the PM, in a not-so-subtle reference to Elrington’s handling of the matter, “there are ministers, they are responsible for their portfolios…they make their statements in connection therewith. Ultimately…if I have to speak on any issue in any minister’s portfolio, that becomes the authoritative line.”
The line taken by the Prime Minister at the press conference is decidedly different from what has been largely perceived as a foreign policy of appeasement and uncertainty –
“We unequivocally maintain that the boundary between the two countries is the mid-channel of the Sarstoon River through knowledge from time immemorial and stated in the 1859 treaty. And we accordingly continue to declare that we are sovereign over our half of the Sarstoon River. We say this, we mean this, and we will never change this.”
The Prime Minister praised the Belize Territorial Volunteers for their patriotism which he said is not only “commendable but inspirational,” but as to rumours of another expedition to the area soon, but appealed to them not to return, claiming that, “the point you thought necessary to make has been made. Your courage and patriotism were on display for all Belize and the world to see, and nobody was hurt. Let that be enough and for the sake of all, but especially for the children, do not let us tempt fate a second time.”
The BDF echoed the sentiment of the PM, but Brigadier General David Jones went further to accuse the BTV of increasing the risk to BDF soldiers who must routinely use the Sarstoon to reach their observation post at Cadenas.
According to Jones, Guatemala aggression toward his officers has ramped up since the BTV went to the Sarstoon, and now the good relationship between the BDF and the GAF has been damaged –
“It has been unimpeded until now the Territorial Volunteers have started to show their patriotism and have now interrupted the status quo and also interrupting the good relationship that we have military- to -military with the Guatemalans that has been there for decades.”
There is no word at this time if the Belize Territorial Volunteers will heed the warning and rethink any further expeditions to the Sarstoon.
As to the “extremely strong” protest note, the Reporter is informed that it was sent out on Wednesday afternoon. As in the past, Guatemala can chose to respond, or not respond.