Editorial — 15 March 2016
Defiance and disrespect
BELMOPAN, March 13, 2016–The Government of Belize confirms that a confrontation between Belize Security Forces and Guatemalan Armed Forces occurred late evening of Saturday, March 12, at the Sarstoon in the area of Belize’s Forward Operating Base. The GAF approached the FOB, though they never actually attempted to come on to our land, and behaved in an extremely hostile and threatening manner, insisting that our troops should not be at the Sarstoon.
– press release from the Belize Press Office

One of the first things that occurred to us, on being informed Sunday evening about the aforementioned incident at the Sarstoon, was that the Government of Belize’s position, for more than a year, has been that Belizean civilians have been endangering Belize’s military by taking trips to the Sarstoon River and border areas in the Toledo District. Belize’s political leaders, as organized in the Cabinet, have instructed the Belize Security Forces not to provide escort and protection to these excursions of Belizean civilians, excursions within the territory of Belize as defined by the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and Guatemala, and as recognized by the United Nations on the occasion of Belize’s becoming independent on September 21, 1981, because these excursions would offend or provoke the Guatemalan Armed Forces.

“Late evening of Saturday,” March 12, 2016, elements of the Guatemalan Armed Forces, presumably the same elements which entered the Belize side of the Sarstoon River on Saturday morning, February 27, 2016, used their boats to blockade the entrance to the Sarstoon, and prevented the civilian Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) from travelling upstream to the Gracias a Dios border marker, extended their field of operations to the southern mainland of Belize on the bank of the said Sarstoon River. In so doing, the Guatemalan military defied the 1859 Treaty, violated Belize’s sovereignty, and disrespected the Belizean military. In refusing to stand by the entry of the BTV into the Belize side of the Sarstoon on February 27, the Government of Belize exposed their own military forces to disrespect on March 13, just two weeks later.

Another major Belizean consideration should be this. The elements of the Guatemalan military behaving so defiantly and disrespectfully at the Sarstoon are either rogue elements of the Guatemalan military, or they are righteously acting for and on behalf of the political directorate in Guatemala City. Whichever of these two scenarios is the case, Belizean Cabinet Ministers should not be consorting publicly with their counterparts in the Guatemalan government until it is established precisely what the situation is. For more than a year, the Cabinet of Belize has carried on as if nothing is amiss, choosing to focus on dismissing and deriding the patriotism of the civilian BTV, their affiliates and supporters, as “misguided.” In so doing, it is now established that the Government of Belize was giving aid and succor to, at the very least, those elements of the Guatemalan military operating around the Sarstoon, and now the Guatemalan military has advanced even further north, openly defying the 1859 Treaty and dangerously disrespecting the Belizean military.

This is not a time to be pointing fingers. It is not a time to be saying BTV or anyone else told Cabinet so. But, there was a need to clarify the circumstances surrounding this incident “late evening of Saturday, March 12.” Those circumstances having been clarified, we can say that it is plain to see that Belize is in a serious situation, and that there is a need for Belizeans to consult with each other and to work towards unity in the face of Guatemalan aggression. In this regard, the press release sent out by the Belize Press Office on Sunday, March 13, noted that the Prime Minister of Belize, Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, “has personally briefed Opposition Leader John Briceño on the Sarstoon incident.”

Now, let us look more closely at the Guatemalan mindset which led to Saturday evening’s defiance and disrespect. That mind set is racist, aggressive, hostile, and contemptuous. The Guatemalan mindset towards Belize is embedded in the Guatemalan constitution, and that fire is fueled every day in the schools in Guatemala. Belice es nuestro. It is partially because of that known Guatemalan mindset that some Belizeans are wary about going to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Because if Belize even won at the ICJ, racism, aggression, hostility and contempt towards Belize would remain characteristics of the Guatemalan upper classes.

It should be noted, moreover, that the Guatemalan upper classes have made it an annual Easter holiday custom to enter Belizean waters and cayes in the South in their luxury yachts. This newspaper recommends that the Government of Belize pay special attention to this annual Easter holiday custom because of the heightened tension around the Sarstoon. There will be increased contact between the Guatemalan upper classes and Belizean citizens beginning next week.

Power to the people. Remember Danny. Big up, Wil.

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