If we are to judge from the Wednesday evening television newscasts in our nation-state, there were at least three moments of varying degrees of discomfort when Belizean political and military officials went to the Sarstoon River mouth on Wednesday morning to break ground for a forward operating base on the northern, Belizean bank of the Sarstoon.
The Belizean delegation, reportedly accompanied by two representatives of the Organization of American States (OAS), included Minister of National Security, John Saldivar; Minister of Education, Patrick Faber; Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance, Frank Mena; Commandant of the Belize Defence Force, Brigadier-General David Jones; Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, Admiral John Borland; and the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Col. (Ret’d) George Lovell.
In response to an invitation to view the ground breaking ceremony, Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Raul Morales, a carryover Minister from the previous Otto Perez Molina presidency, had sent a diplomatic note, an excerpt from which Belize’s Minister of National Security read. That excerpt, translated into English from the Spanish by translators unknown, quoted from Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, and appeared to seek fishing rights for Guatemalans in Belizean waters. No doubt we will be hearing more of this diplomatic note, to which Belize has reportedly responded, but suffice to say on this Thursday morning, December 10, 2015, that the diplomatic note episode appeared to an episode of discomfort for the delegation. If it was not, it should have been.
The Guatemalan military presumably arranged for a drone aircraft to fly over and monitor and/or photograph the ceremonies, and their drone seemed to be operating in Belizean air space. This must have been a time of fairly serious discomfort for the delegation, because, in the first instance, there were Belizean officials standing there who are sworn on the Bible to protect the land, sea, river, and air sovereignty of Belize.
A third uncomfortable episode involved a Guatemalan navy boat following a Belizean military craft on the way to Belize’s Cadenas military base up the Sarstoon River. As we understand it, the Guatemalan boat did not continue to follow the Belizean craft, but broke off its pursuit and circled the Sarstoon Island several times.
We have noted what we described previously as “three moments of varying degrees of discomfort” in order to make the point that it appears to us that the events of Wednesday morning confirm the opinion of many Belizeans outside the circles of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) that Belize has a major problem with Guatemala at the Sarstoon River and its surrounds. Between February and August of this year, the UDP Government of Belize repeatedly chose to deny the evidence of its eyes and ears, with respect to Sarstoon River incidents, and instead decided to denounce various patriots who were asserting Belizean sovereignty in the Sarstoon area as “agitators,” “troublemakers,” and so on.
It may be that the Government of Belize will choose to continue the same line of denial it took between February and August, but, with three members of the Cabinet of Belize having experienced these incidents of discomfort on Belize’s sovereign territory, it will be more difficult for the Barrow administration to continue its denial.
When exactly did the Sarstoon River become a controversial and volatile border point? That is an important question to consider, we submit. It has been this newspaper’s opinion, over many years, that in the Toledo District it is the Maya who represent Belize’s first line of defence. So that, when the Guatemalan armed forces behaved disrespectfully towards Greg Ch’oc and the SATIIM (Sarstoon and Temash Institute for Indigenous Management) national park group on the Sarstoon in the year 2007, this caught our attention at the time.
Both People’s United Party (PUP) and UDP governments in the last decade have focused on fighting the Maya initiatives for communal land rights in Toledo. Communal land rights for the Mayas would make it more difficult for the U.S. Capital oil company to operate in the Sarstoon/Temash national park. The whole situation has to be viewed in the context of mineral resources and rights in the area. (Remember the Maritime Areas Act.) It is because of these valuable mineral resources and rights that whenever the PUP or the UDP form the national government, they oppose Maya communal land rights and support the oil company.
There is an even larger picture here. This larger picture involves the often bloody oppression of the Indigenous people of Guatemala, the majority Indigenous people of Guatemala, by various military and military-controlled Guatemalan governments which have served the interests of the neoliberal, neo-European, pro-American upper classes of that republic. In this century of climate change, Guatemala, and the Guatemalan upper classes who have dominated the natural resources of the republic for centuries, are classic examples of what you do not want to do with your land and waterways. Belize, whatever our problems and flaws, represents a relatively visionary approach to development tempered by respect for the environment. In the hands of the Guatemalan upper classes, Belize would become like Peten – denuded, deforested, and abused. Ask the Maya.
A class of Belizeans has emerged in politics, business, and industry in Belize, however, which is willing to copy the Guatemalan model. This class of Belizeans is very successful at the material level, because they think how Washington wants them to think, even as the Guatemalan upper classes, because of their neoliberalism, have always been the most favored allies of various administrations in the United States.
On Wednesday morning at the Sarstoon River mouth, Guatemala’s aggressive tendencies towards Belize were thinly disguised, if at all. We are only saying what we saw on television and what we feel as a result. It may be that the Cabinet Ministers who were on site will declare that they felt no discomfort at all during the ground breaking ceremonies. And remember now, these are our duly elected leaders, and we should respect them and their high offices.
In this essay, we have expressed our editorial opinion as the leading newspaper in Belize, a nation-state which became independent on September 21, 1981, with all our territory intact and our borders as demarcated in the Treaty of 1859 between Great Britain and Guatemala. The sacred responsibility of securing and maintaining these borders lies with the Government of Belize. In the matter of territorial integrity, the Government of Belize and the people of Belize should be as one.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.