“If I had known, I would have sent a note of protest,” says Hon. Sedi
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. March 1, 2018– Guatemala has taken control of the Belize portion of the Sarstoon River without as much as a word of protest from the Dean Barrow-led United Democratic Party government. At least that is the perception when the Guatemalan military is allowed to exercise sovereignty over the entire Sarstoon River and there has been no urgency on the part of the Belize Government to lead protest in the international community, to alert the “Friends of Belize” to what has been happening on our southern border with Guatemala’s armed forces.
On Sunday, February 25, around 11:30 a.m., the leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, Wil Maheia set out on a journey along with a local journalist and two Spanish journalists from Spain. They were travelling on the Sarstoon River in Maheia’s 23-foot boat, which is powered by a 90-horsepower engine.
Maheia said that when he entered the Sarstoon River, the GAF was at their base, but as soon as they saw his boat, “they got their guns ready and set chase after us”, he said.
Maheia and his group were heading to the border marker at Gracias Adios. After they passed Sarstoon Island, however, a Guatemalan military boat set chase after them and intercepted them “because they have a faster boat than us,” Maheia said.
The GAF told Maheia and his team that they were not allowed to go up the river and that they should turn around and head back.
Maheia said all the men on the river craft were armed. That, however, did not prevent the two Spanish journalists and two Belizeans from challenging them with the fact that they were in Belizean waters.
When the news team told the GAF personnel that they were on the Belize side of the river, the GAF told them that Belize does not have any water in that area. The GAF told them that they were in disputed waters and they (the GAF) were in control of it.
Amandala asked Maheia if he has made any report to the Belizean civilian authorities.
“Jokes,” Maheia remarked. “The BDF and the Coast Guard were present when the GAF intercepted us,” he said.
Today, Thursday, Amandala asked Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, about the incident, and what, if anything, is done by his Ministry of Foreign Affairs when incidents of this nature are reported to the ministry.
Elrington told us that he is not aware of the incident, and his ministry did not get any report from either the BDF or the Belize Coast Guard.
We asked Elrington what the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have done if the incident had been reported by the security forces at the forward operating base.
“We would have definitely sent a note of protest to the Guatemalans,” Minister Elrington replied.
Amandala has been calling the Belize Defence Force (BDF) headquarters at Price Barracks, Ladyville, to find out what measures were taken and if the incident was reported to the civilian leaders of the government, but an operator told us that she would call us back to enable us to speak with the person who can answer our questions.
The BDF operator never called back. We called the BDF a number of times and were told that they would call us back, but up to press time tonight, we have not received any response from the BDF.
On Monday of this week, the Leader of the Opposition People’s United Party, Hon. John Briceño, held a press briefing at his Belize City office and commented on the situation between Belize and Guatemala. Hon. Briceño was also shown a video of Guatemalan soldiers taking a Belizean back across the border, because he had allegedly committed an offense on the Guatemala side of the border.
“I saw the video and I’m quite disturbed that the Guatemalan military have become so brazen. But I think that is the result of our government not having a proper plan as to how we are going to address the Belize-Guatemala issue, the unfounded claim that Guatemala has over Belize. We have been alerting the government from last year that we need to change direction, that we need to change tactics as to how we are going to deal with Guatemala,” he said.
“We have alerted them about the issue of the Sarstoon. We have been pushing for a Sarstoon Protocol and that protocol has always been that half of the river is for Guatemala and the other half belongs to us, and we have unimpeded access to the river. I believe that the response from our government has been weak; they have not been aggressive enough; they have not been out there internationally, alerting our friends of Belize as to what has really been happening on the ground or what is happening at the Sarstoon.
“And I’m hoping and I’m crying out to the Prime Minister that we need to take action, and we need to take action now. We can’t continue to allow the Guatemalan military to aggress us the way they have, and the only way we can do it is by being more aggressive in our campaign,” Briceño commented.