Letters — 13 March 2015
Gracias a Dios incident—neighborly military intimidation

Dear Editor,

I, a Belizean American, was the only person from the Diaspora to join the Northern Territorial Volunteers on the expedition to install a plaque and rejuvenate the monument which demarcates the southernmost border of the country of Belize which, to the best of my knowledge, since the country was known as British Honduras.

The group comprising 37 volunteers departed from the Punta Gorda Immigration Station at 9 a.m. proceeding along the coast in a southerly direction passing the coastal village of Barranco and shortly thereafter entered the Sarstoon River to the left of which we saw at a distance a small settlement and the Guatemalan flag.

Shortly afterwards a small vessel speeded towards us and as it approached, we saw that it was the Guatemalan military who came alongside and ordered the Captain to stop.  There were 8 soldiers all with military rifles at the ready.

Shortly thereafter a second vessel with 7 military service men again with rifles to the ready joined the party but remained a short distance away.  A conversation in Spanish ensued from which I later learned (I do not speak or understand Spanish) that he was in Guatemalan territory and that he would escort the vessel to the correct location.

The meeting seemed to be amicable and non-confrontational. The Guatemalan military then escorted us to the monument site.  Both military vessels and crew went to the opposite bank of the river and from what I later learned were given food and drinks from the group.

We all went to the site of the monument where the area around the monument was cleaned and the monument cleaned, painted and the plaque—BELIZE—installed.  This was followed by a short ceremony after which we all left the site.

It should be mentioned that while we were at the site some members of the group were interacting with members of the Guatemalan military who were patrolling on their side of the border and were invited to purchase snacks or soft drinks from the Guatemalan shop across the border.

Upon completion of the mission we boarded our vessel for the return trip to Punta Gorda. As we started down the Sarstoon River we noted that the Guatemalan military was again following, which seemed suspicious. We were traveling slowly, which according to the Captain was to conserve fuel as he anticipated that he would not have sufficient fuel for the return but wanted to be as close as possible where someone could bring him some fuel.

When we were near the entrance to the ocean, the original military vessel approached us, a conversation between the Captain and the military leader ensued in which two military personnel boarded our vessel and the vessel started towing us.

The second vessel later joined in the tow.  And from what I was told we were being taken to Livingston, Guatemala, for reasons that were unclear to everyone since we were clearly in Belizean waters. There was some back and forth.

The two military vessels were dislodged and the Captain was ordered to steam to Livingston while the patrol boats followed. By now the sea was very rough with waves of 7—10 feet with gusty winds and we all arrived in Livingston soaking wet.  There were conversations between the Captain and the military brass and phone conversations between members of the group with Belizean government authorities and others.

The Captain returned saying that we were free to go and that he was prepared and fully capable of getting us safely to Punta Gorda as he now had the fuel. However, the majority felt that returning under the present weather conditions was unsafe and the decision was made to spend the night and return in the morning. We were then provided with food and lodging.

On the morning of March first, the Belizean Ambassador to Guatemala, Alexis Rosado, met with us at the hotel to reassure us that we will be leaving today and the matter is being investigated. We departed Livingston shortly after 10 a.m. and arrived at the Punta Gorda immigration station at about 11 a.m. to a very warm reception by several dignitaries and the local community.

Finally, it is my opinion that the Guatemalan government’s sole purpose was military intimidation by behaving like a schoolyard bully and not as a friendly neighbor. They are doing this by exploiting the political incorrectness that the Belize’s borders are “artificial” whereas Guatemala clearly demonstrated, by their actions, that their borders are fixed. And indeed the Belizean borders are fixed as is clearly demonstrated by the monument at Gracias a Dios.

It is now the responsibility of all truly patriotic Belizeans to make frequent visits to all border areas of the country of Belize, if necessary, with appropriate military escort.

R. A. Clinton, MD.

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