SARSTOON, Toledo District, Thurs. June 4, 2015–We have yet to receive a report on Guatemala’s official response to Belize’s protest note on the Sarstoon Island incursion by Guatemala’s Fuerza Especial Naval, a special arm of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF). We also have no information detailing the exchanges between the Government of Belize and the Government of Guatemala.
Amandala tried to get a word with Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who reportedly made the intervention at the official level with the Guatemalans, but he declined an interview. He said that enough has already been said on the matter.
Last week, when we spoke with Col. George Lovell, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources, we were not informed that the Belize Coast Guard had actually cut short its trip to the Sarstoon area because of the challenge by the Guatemalans. We asked Lovell why he did not explain this to us, and he told us that we did not ask. How we were supposed to know that the mission had been cut short, he did not say.
Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington has said that they were supposed to stay for 10 days, but the Belizeans left on the second day of their mission, on orders by GOB because of the challenge by the Guatemalans.
On the Love FM Morning Show today, Elrington was asked what Belize could lose at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and in his response Elrington suggested that Belize could lose some of its remote island territory.
While officers of Guatemala’s Fuerza Especial Naval were demanding that members of the Belize Coast Guard leave Sarstoon Island, territory internationally recognized to belong to Belize, Elrington and Guatemala’s Foreign Minister, Carlos Raúl Morales Moscoso, were in meetings with the new OAS Secretary-General, Luis Almagro Lemes, in Guatemala City, where the parties talked about resolving their issues in a peaceful manner.
The meeting came on the heels of the signing three days earlier of an amendment to the agreement between Belize and Guatemala to have the territorial differendum adjudicated at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), subject to affirmative votes by the electorates of both nations.
We do know that the Government of Belize has maintained the position that the Sarstoon Island remains Belize’s territory, but Elrington evidently made “a slip” in an interview he did with News 5 this past Sunday, when he accidentally said that the Sarstoon Island “belonged” to Belize. The public’s response, of course, is that Sarstoon Island still belongs to Belize, and Elrington himself has subsequently gone on record to affirm Sarstoon Island as Belizean territory.
We understand that not only were the Coast Guard officers, who were challenged by the Guatemalans, originally tasked to find a suitable location for the forward operating base, but they were also supposed to proceed to establish that base before returning to station. Had they decided that Sarstoon Island was the most suitable, they would have proceeded to use materials found on that island to build the base. However, Government officials decided to end the mission, for the time being, on Friday.
Lovell told us that the officers began their Sarstoon mission at about 7:00 that Thursday morning, and a few hours later, between 10:00 and 11:00 that morning, Guatemala’s Fuerza Especial Naval told the Belize Coast Guard to leave the island.
We understand that the Guatemalans were persistent in their stance, and each time they challenged the presence of the Belize Coast Guard on Sarstoon Island, it was done through someone of increasing rank, from lieutenant, to colonel, to general, to admiral, and each time they came, they insisted that the Belizeans should vacate the island.
The Guatemalans insisted that they are responsible for the island and that they administrate the island, but while the Belize Coast Guard officers were able to produce their maps showing that Sarstoon Island lies within our national boundaries, the Guatemalans were unable to produce any such map.