BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 5, 2015–In May 2015, Belize Coast Guard personnel were scouting the Sarstoon River area for a fit location to erect a forward operating base (FOB), in order to police illegal fishing, illegal logging, drug-trafficking and other clandestine activities in the area; but the group withdrew from the area before the completion of their mission after the Guatemalans challenged their presence on the island, and furthermore claimed it to be their territory—a claim which Belize flatly rejects, as the island is drawn, even on international maps, well within our national borders.
A few weeks later, when the mission was to resume, the Guatemalans, via official channels, insisted that Belize could not build a base at the Sarstoon before the territorial dispute is settled at the International Court of Justice.
Last week, Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales amplified the Guatemalan position when he insisted that under a series of confidence-building measures dating back 15 years ago, the parties had agreed not to build any new military bases in the border area.
However, the foreign ministers of Belize who served in the decade spanning 1998-2008 have insisted that Morales’ claim is false.
Ambassador Assad Shoman, the man who had for years been Belize’s foremost diplomat in the handling of Belize-Guatemala relations, has added his voice in support of a statement issued last week by ex-Foreign Ministers who served under the Said Musa administration of 1998-2008, categorically refuting claims made last Monday by Morales that the two countries had agreed to a freeze on the construction of military bases in the border areas.
“If you read the confidence building measures, it says that our commitment is to not build another base after this signature of this instrument. It was signed in 2000,” Morales had said.
However, the agreements we have seen, dated 2000, 2003 and 2005, have no such clause; and this was affirmed last week by the ex-Foreign Ministers.
As we told you last week, Assad Shoman’s niece, Lisa Shoman, the current representative of the Opposition Leader Francis Fonseca on Belize-Guatemala relations, had solicited his input before the joint statement was released but did not receive a timely reply.
Shoman told 7 News yesterday that he did not see the invitation to join the signing until it was too late, but he does put on record that he agrees with the position conveyed last week by his former colleagues in government: former Prime Minister Said Musa, Senator Lisa Shoman, and senior counsels Godfrey Smith and Eamon Courtenay – who all wore the hat of Foreign Minister of Belize at various points in the Musa administration.
Shoman confirms, as Amandala stated in its news report last week, that all three confidence building measures signed by Belize and Guatemala (2000, 2003 and 2005) were signed by him, and he goes on to assert that Belize made no concession, either in writing or otherwise, to desist from the establishment of military bases in the border areas.
He goes on record to say that, “…none of these agreements in any way contemplate any restriction on Belize creating as many military bases as it wishes to, as anyone who reads the agreements can easily verify.”
“Finally, I state that the Government of Belize between 28 August 1998 and 7 February 2008 did not, in any other document or statement, agree to not increase military bases in the vicinity of both countries, as alleged by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister,” Shoman declared.
However, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, who has held the post of Foreign Minister of Belize for the last 7 years, since 2008, seemed to concur with the statement by Guatemala’s Foreign Minister when he said, following Morales’ assertion, that “Since we have been in government in 2008, Belize has built no military base along the border anywhere.”
“We have been operating posts along the entire western border to protect the border from criminal activity and for people who are coming in unlawfully. A similar type of operation was agreed upon as early as 2008 to be put on the Sarstoon side of the river. As far as I am concerned, that decision still remains,” Elrington said.
The joint statement by the ex-Foreign Ministers said, though, that, “There never was, any commitment made between 1998 and 2008 by Guatemala, to Belize in respect of its own military bases, and any decisions made by them with respect to the same, were made unilaterally.”
The ex-Foreign Ministers, furthermore, contend that the agreements never included any decision or directive in respect of any military base, or any other manner of operation post, conservation post or forward operating base.