BELIZE CITY, Mon. Oct. 5, 2015–The following diplomatic notes–the first from the Belize Government to the Government of Guatemala, and the second, a response from the Guatemalan Government to the Belize Government–came to Amandala today, courtesy Senator Lisa Shoman, former Foreign Minister 2007-2008, permanent representative to the OAS and Ambassador to the United States during the PUP administration of Prime Minister Said Musa.
We have her permission to publish the diplomatic notes for the edification of the Belizean public, whom have been denied access to the notes by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington on the excuse that the observance of “diplomatic protocol” prevented them from doing so.
We need to point out that the Hon. Philip Goldson, in April 1968, returned with the infamous Webster’s 17 Proposals that was handed to Belizean officials in the form of a draft treaty at the UK Embassy in Washington, DC. Goldson did not waste any time in informing the Belizean people of the horrible plot against Belize by the British government.
We shudder to imagine what would have happened to Belize if the Hon. Goldson had been afraid of contravening “diplomatic protocol” and had not revealed the contents of the proposed agreement to a public ignorant of the British government’s duplicity, cynicism and betrayal.
We need to ask the question: which is more important – the observance of “diplomatic protocol,” or the education of Belizeans about the true nature of Guatemala’s hostility and naked aggression against Belize in pursuit of their unfounded claim to our country?
The Belize Government’s “extremely strong” protest note to the Guatemalan Government following the August 16, 2015 incursion of Guatemalan Navy boats into Belizean waters, and the hostile, aggressive actions of the Guatemalan soldiers towards an excursion to Sarstoon Island by the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), led by Wil Maheia, and the Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV), led by Orlando De La Fuente, was not made available to the public, despite many appeals to do so.
Below is Belize’s diplomatic note to Guatemala, and following that, Guatemala’s response to Belize’s note.
Belize’s “extremely strong” protest note to Guatemala
Our Reference: FA/SORG/BM/01/15(17)
NOTE No. 551
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize presents its compliments to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Guatemala and has the honour to refer to the incidents of Sunday 16th August 2015 during the visit of a few unarmed Belize civilians in the Sarstoon River by the Sarstoon Island.
As is well known, the Government of Belize is on record as not supporting the activities of the individuals and groups that visited the Sarstoon River last 16th August. Indeed, the Government of Belize actively tried to dissuade the Belize civilians from engaging in their planned activity. It was, therefore out of prudence and restraint and for the abundance of caution to avoid any possible confrontation or mishap with Guatemalan civilians or authorities that the Government of Belize withheld its armed forces from being in the immediate vicinity of the planned activity.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, having now seen pictures and videos from the event last 16th August in the Sarstoon, is very concerned by the behavior of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) who accosted the Belize civilian vessels and tried to impede their free navigation on the Sarstoon River; and by the fact that GAF elements led by a Vice Admiral further attempted to intimidate and harass unarmed Belizean civilians on the Belize side of the river.
As the Government of Guatemala was fully aware, the Government of Belize was committed to exercise every precaution to prevent any confrontations between the two countries. It is regrettable to note, however, that the Guatemala Armed Forces apparently did not receive the relevant instructions to exercise such restraint. The Government of Belize therefore protests the uninvited incursion of the Guatemalan armed forces into Belizean waters in the Sarstoon and for GAF behavior against unarmed Belize civilians and their vessels. Putting Belize civilian vessels and their passengers in danger by ramming Guatemala military vessels against them, obstructing free navigation and entering illegally into Belize waters for such purposes cannot be construed as neighbourly conduct on the part of the GAF.
The Government of Belize reaffirms its often repeated and long established position that in accordance with the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty, the mid-channel of the Sarstoon River is the line constituting the boundary between Belize and Guatemala; that the river shall be equally free and open to vessels and boats of both countries, and that any islands found therein shall belong to that party on whose side of the main navigable channel they are situated. Nothing in law and practice has changed to this day, except that law and practice has consolidated this position.
Until such time as the Guatemalan claim to Belize is finally and permanently resolved, the Government of Belize reiterates it commitment to abide fully by the Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) between Belize and the Republic of Guatemala. Whereas these CBMs do not establish a specific regime for the Sarstoon, the Government of Belize recalls fundamental principles of behavior that govern the agreement on CBMs and that both Parties have an obligation to fulfill; namely, that as stated in Section D. paragraph 4 “Neither Party shall use force, or the threat of force, to pursue their positions with respect to the Territorial Differendum”; and at Section D. paragraph 18 that “Parties shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the ground conducive to tension between them”, as well as Section D. paragraph 24 that “The Parties agree to exercise caution and restraint in the treatment of all issues related to the Territorial Differendum”, among others.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize remains committed to finding an early and definite resolution of any and all Guatemalan claims as agreed in the Special Agreement to Submit Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime claims to the International Court of Justice, subject to approval by the will of the people in a referendum in both countries. In the meantime, the Government of Belize invites the Government of Guatemala, along with the Organization of American States, to engage in efforts to establish clear mechanisms of confidence building along the Sarstoon River to avoid further incidents and to improve on our neighbourly relations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize avails itself of this opportunity to renew to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Guatemala the assurances of its highest consideration.
BELMOPAN, BELIZE 19th AUGUST, 2015
The Guatemalan Government’s response to Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s “extremely strong” diplomatic protest note
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Guatemala
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala presents its compliments to the Honorable Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize and makes references to Diplomatic Note No. 551 of 19th August of 2015 in relation to the incident instigated by the Belizean non-government organization “Belize Territorial Volunteers” and the illegal incursion by its members and accompanied by Senator Lisa Shoman to the Guatemalan islet situated at the mouth of the Sarstoon River on Sunday 16th August of this year, and remarks made by the Honourable Prime Minister of Belize on the aforementioned incident.
The Government of the Republic of Guatemala categorically rejects said Note, specifically the affirmations made by the Honourable Government of Belize in respect to an incursion of Guatemala Armed Forces vessels into alleged Belizean waters in the Sarstoon River. Guatemala asserts that until the Territorial, Insular and Maritime claim against Belize is resolved at the International Court of Justice it does not recognize the existence of borders with Belize and it considers that the River Sarstoon and the islet situated at its mouth as Guatemalan territory and therefore, any foreign national who visits without the permission of the Guatemalan authorities could be considered as illegal and are subject to Guatemalan law.
The events of 16th August of 2015 were not “a visit of a few unarmed Belizean civilians” to Sarstoon island, as stated by Belize; rather it was an activity planned and executed by the NGO “Belize Territorial Volunteers”.
The group which included Senator Lisa Shoman, the Belizean media was comprised of over 100 people. Its organizers provoked and verbally abused the Guatemalan authorities and attempted to illegally enter Guatemalan territory but were prevented from doing so by the professional actions of the National Marine Defense who acted without the use of arms and in accordance with national laws.
The Government of the Republic of Guatemala holds the Government of Belize responsible for having allowed the NGO “Belize Territorial Volunteers”, to risk the lives of civilians by overloading the vessels, not having enough lifejackets on board, attacking the Guatemalan marine vessels with their own and furthermore attempting to disembark at unsafe and inappropriate spots and for doing so without the permission of the Guatemala authorities; all with the full knowledge of the Government of Belize.
The Honorable Government of Belize recently issued a statement affirming that the Belize Armed Forces have exercised sovereignty over the northern part of the Sarstoon River by having transported troops in military vessels to the operating base of Cadenas. In this regard, the Government of Guatemala has allowed the navigation of said Belizean vessels, escorted by a Guatemala military vessel as a sign of cooperation with Belize. However, it is evident that the good will and spirit of cooperation of the Government of Guatemala has been distorted by the Government of Belize, interpreting said cooperation as a non-existent act of sovereignty.
History and antecedents distinguish the Republic of Guatemala as a peace advocating nation respectful of international law as demonstrated by the significant advances in the bilateral agenda and the continuous dialogue between both countries in relation to Guatemala’s Territorial, Insular and Maritime claim against Belize. It therefore reiterates its commitment to resolve the aforementioned claim in accordance with peaceful means of conflict resolution, legitimizing it by submitting it to the International Court of Justice in accordance with international instruments subscribed by both countries such as the 2005 Agreement of a Framework for Negotiation and Confidence Building Measures and the 2008 Special Agreement.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Guatemala takes this opportunity to reiterate to the Honorable Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize its highest and distinguished consideration.
Guatemala, 24th August, 2015.