Belize government refuses protection to the nationalist group planning to cut border path between Belize and Guatemala – on the Belize side of the border!
Wil Maheia told Amandala today that plans for the Belize Territorial Volunteers to execute the project, “Clearing Our Borderline,” at the border between Guatemala and Belize on Saturday, March 2, remain the same.
The Belize Territorial Volunteers was formed, said Maheia, because “our borders have been neglected and as a result, there have been several incursions into our beautiful, sovereign country,” and their aim is “to ensure that Belize’s territorial sovereignty is never called into question.”
Guatemalans, said Maheia, “have come into the villages and pillaged people’s farms and stolen their horses, and when they are caught, they claim ignorance about entering Belizean territory.”
The plan, therefore, is to cut a path along the border three feet wide and in the first instance, six miles long, with “corn markers,” which are simply piles of rock, every 1,000 yards.
Maheia and the volunteers, made up of members of like-minded organizations such as The Belize Coalition for Justice, People’s National Party, COLA and others, will do so without protection from the Belize government, however, because last Friday, Belize Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington appeared on Channel 7 and warned the group that not only will his government not offer support, but that the group “could be arrested,” presumably by Guatemalan security personnel.
Elrington did not explain how it is possible for a Belizean to legally be arrested by a Guatemalan on the Belize side of the border.
Chief Executive Officer in the Belize Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexis Rosado, told Amandala today that the Guatemala Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a diplomatic note to Belize last week expressing their concerns about the planned project, and saying that what Maheia and the volunteers plan on doing might create some tensions along the border.
Rosado said that the Guatemalans have indicated that they would seek OAS intervention to diffuse any type of conflict or confusion that may arise.
Rosado said that Belize has not responded to the note.
Today, Monday, via the Belize Press Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a release which said, among other things, that it “advises all members of the public that any attempt on their part to clear the Western Border can give rise to serious danger to themselves and we therefore strongly advise against participation in any such action.”
The Ministry says that the actions by the group “may conduce to a disturbance of the peace and to unnecessary tensions between [the] two countries…”
In an attempt to drive home the point, the Ministry referred to a press conference called almost exactly thirteen years ago by then Prime Minister Said Musa, “concerning an incident that occurred on Thursday, February 24, 2000, in an area of Belizean territory near our Belizean Defence Force border posts at Treetops, south southwest of Jalacte Village in the Toledo District.”
In that incident, four Belizean soldiers were on routine patrol “along a route used by our security forces well within Belizean territory” when they encountered a group of “about twenty-five Guatemalan military personnel.”
The BDF soldiers insisted that they were in Belizean territory, but the Guatemalan soldiers disputed this, and the Belizean soldiers were arrested and taken to the Guatemalan post of Santo Cruz, then to San Luis, where they were handed over to police.
“They were later moved to Santa Elena [Guatemala], where there is a district court, to await the arrival of a magistrate …they are awaiting trial,” said Musa at the 2000 press conference, as reported by the Ministry.
Through diplomatic intervention, the soldiers arrived home on March 3, after spending about nine days in prison.
We asked Rosado if today’s Foreign Affairs press release was triggered by the diplomatic note from Guatemala. He said that the Ministry issued the press release merely to alert the group of the possible implications of their actions which they should consider before proceeding.
7News, on its newscast of Friday, February 22, 2013, had quoted Elrington as saying that no one knows where the border between Belize and Guatemala is, and those who participate in the project can risk being arrested by Guatemalan authorities. The Minister also said that the participants “can cause an international incident and likely all end up in jail.”
We asked Rosado today if the diplomatic note from Guatemala suggested that the Belizeans could be arrested, and he said no.
Activist and People’s National Party (PNP) leader, Wil Maheia, said that plans for the project are confirmed, regardless of the warnings by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“As Belizeans, we have the right to move freely in our country,” he asserted. “Because of the Minister of Foreign Affairs’ statement on Friday, concerns were raised, but I assure people that we will be on the Belize side of the border.”
Maheia said he is not blind to the safety concerns of himself and others, and he believes that the Government should offer protection for the Belizeans who choose to go out to the border. He said that he doesn’t know if the Government will provide any form of protection for them at all, but he has contacted the commander of the Belize Defense Force and the Minister of National Security informing them of the group’s whereabouts.
“We believe that the Government has a right to protect the Belizean public, and we believe that they would want to protect their own citizens, which is the duty of the Government to protect its people,” he said.
With or without protection, the group is sticking with its plans, because the members see it as their patriotic duty to stand up for what they believe is right.
“Too long our country has been neglected, about 30 years now our borders have been neglected and it’s time for us Belizeans to step up,” Maheia said. “It’s just too much that is going on at our border, too many incursions. I was there yesterday at the border, and it’s just alarming to see the amount of invasions that are taking place. We are Belizeans, Belizeans who want to stand firm: we’ll be out there. Guess we’ll see who will walk the walk and talk the talk right now,” he said.
Maheia said that he is aware of the diplomatic note from Guatemala, but will not allow that to deter their plans.
“I am in no way going to let the Guatemalans or the Organization of American States dictate my Belizean freedom,” he said.
Maheia said that he appreciates all the support that he receives from Belizeans countrywide, and he calls on everyone, including the organizations that have committed their support, to not be intimidated by the Guatemalans or the Belize Foreign Ministry.
The Belize Constitution defines the entire territory of Belize, and it stipulates that “the frontier with Guatemala is the line prescribed by the Treaty between the United Kingdom and Guatemala signed on 30 April, 1859.”
The document, captioned Legal Opinion on Guatemala’s Territorial Claim to Belize, by Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, Judge Stephen Schwebel, Professor Shabtai Rosenne & Professor Francisco Orrego Vicuña, legal advisors to Belize, points to a note from the British Minister to Guatemala dated 25 August 1931 stating that, “The boundary between British Honduras and the Republic of Guatemala was laid down in the convention between the Republic of Guatemala and Her Majesty the Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, signed at Guatemala on the 30 April, 1859, article 1 (paragraph 2) of which defines the line as ‘beginning at the mouth of the River Sarstoon in the Bay of Honduras and proceeding up the mid-channel thereof to Gracias á Dios Falls; then turning to the right and continuing by a line drawn direct from Gracias á Dios Falls to Garbutt’s Falls on the River Belize and from Garbutt’s Falls due north until it strikes the Mexican frontier.’”