SARSTOON ISLAND, Toledo District, Mon. June 6, 2016–The Leader of the Opposition, flanked by his chairman, deputy party leaders, senators and other party officials, led a successful expedition to the Sarstoon on Friday, June 3.
The Prime Minister quickly sprang into action, contacting the Guatemalan Foreign Minister and then the OAS Secretary General, after he was informed in an act of courtesy on Thursday by Hon. John Briceño about the PUP’s proposed Sarstoon trip.
Senior PUP officials claim that the purpose of this trip, organized by the PUP leader, was not to gain political mileage nor to stir provocation, and therefore, none of the media houses were initially invited to join. However, word was leaked to them and they soon found themselves onboard.
The large blue boat which carried the senior PUP officials was scheduled to leave the docking area by Joe Taylor Bridge, near Punta Gorda, at 10 a.m. However, it left almost an hour later, as the contracted captain almost abandoned the PUP expedition, as was the case when the first Sarstoon trip was announced by the PUP.
The PUP’s first stop was at the Forward Operating Base (FOB) of Belize’s military where they were freely allowed to disembark and speak openly with soldiers of the Belize Defense Force (BDF).
After that, their boat went around the southern tip of the Sarstoon River into Belize’s half of the Sarstoon, and around the Sarstoon Island and exited from around the Northern Canal before heading back to the mainland.
This time, there were no Guatemalan gunboats patrolling the river, no military “metal shark” boats to stop them in their tracks, as is the norm these days — only Guatemalan fisherfolks draining the Sarstoon of its diminishing marine life.
“I did inform the Prime Minister that we’re coming, we’re parliamentarians, we’re elected members in this country and I think it was the right thing to advise the Prime Minister that we’re coming and I am told that he did indicate that he sent a message to Guatemala that we were going to be visiting the area.
“But apart from that, as I was speaking to different members of the BDF, they are saying that tensions have eased down quite a lot,” said Hon. John Briceño.
“I left the BDF in 2004 and at that time we did not have the kind of difficulties that we are now seeing on the ground. Those changeovers went without incident, without challenges, and it is only recently that we began to see the Guatemalans testing our sovereignty by attempting to restrict access into the area, and as we know and as the records show, that has reached the point now where it has created extreme tension between the two countries, but I am happy to see that we are asserting our sovereignty. We’ve got to find a way now to roll the Guatemalans back from this position that they have taken, that all of the Sarstoon belongs to them. I think this is a good step,” declared Major (Ret.) Lloyd Jones, PUP standard bearer.
“I think it is a good sign. I am not particularly confident that that will remain the situation. I think, as you are aware, there was some information given to the Guatemalans to expect this visit and therefore they are perhaps under good behavior. What we need is a permanent longstanding arrangement that the Guatemalans respect our right. I mean, we understand that they have a dispute, but you don’t settle a dispute by enforcing what you believe to be your right. So, even though today so far we have not experienced any stopping by the Guatemalans, it is indeed a good sign that they understand that we have a right to come here. But as I say, this was told to them that we will be visiting, and the situation is what happens when there is no advanced notice. How will they behave?” added Opposition Senator Eamon Courtenay.”
“Being here, taking a firsthand look at what’s taking place — it allows you that whenever you are thinking about policy, that you can visualize what really is taking place on the ground. It is important for us as a party, to bring some of the leaders so that we could all take a good look and have a better understanding and appreciation about the challenges that we are facing here on the southern tip of our country,” remarked Hon. John Briceño.