“Amandala tried to get a word with Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who reportedly made the intervention at the official level with the Guatemalans, but he declined an interview. He said that enough has already been said on the matter.
“Last week, when we spoke with Col. George Lovell, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Natural Resources, we were not informed that the Belize Coast Guard had actually cut short its trip to the Sarstoon area because of the challenge by the Guatemalans. We asked Lovell why he did not explain this to us, and he told us that we did not ask. How we were supposed to know that the mission had been cut short, he did not say.
“Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington has said that they were supposed to stay for 10 days, but the Belizeans left on the second day of their mission, on orders by GOB because of the challenge by the Guatemalans.”
– pg. 55, Amandala, Sunday, June 7, 2015
It is clear that there was an organized attempt at the highest levels of the Government of Belize to downplay the incident at the Sarstoon River Island which took place between Thursday, May 28, and Friday morning, May 29, when armed elements of the Belize Coast Guard and armed elements of the Guatemalan navy confronted each other.
At the time of an incident, exactly three months before this May 28/29 incident, when armed elements of the said Guatemalan Navy kidnapped 37 Belizeans who were under the banner of Belize’s Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV) from the same location in the Sarstoon River mouth and forced them to go to the Guatemalan port of Livingston, the response of the various Cabinet Ministers of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) had been inappropriate. One high-ranking leader of the Belize Government actually referred to the NTV mission as “misguided patriotism.” In the House of Representatives, the Toledo East area representative of the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP), it should be noted, took a similar line, when he criticized the NTV and similar groupings for behavior which he said would provoke violence from “those people” (the Guatemalans).
Smart people sometimes do dumb things, we all know that, and it now appears that the adjacency zone decision some years ago was a bad idea. What that adjacency zone business essentially did was create a third millennium vagueness where there had previously been historical precision – in the matter of the border between Guatemala and Belize. The intention of the adjacency zone initiative was to reduce the chances of border incidents between Belize and Guatemala, by creating more room for honest error. It is the Guatemalans, mostly civilians, who have always been looking to make incursions into Belize, so that the adjacency zone move facilitated their adventures. But, more than that, the adjacency zone mentality appears to have contributed to Belize’s Foreign Minister’s sounding more and more as if everything, where the Belize border with Guatemala is concerned, lies in the projected jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). So that, in his articulated viewpoints, Belize would be moving from ignorance, or perhaps uncertainty, to specific border knowledge once we embraced the ICJ. (Belizeans had border knowledge before “adjacency zone.”)
Roots Belizeans viewed the matter differently. They are convinced, relying on the internationally accepted terms of Belize’s 1981 independence, with our border delineated and specified before the United Nations, that Belize has a clear, definitive border with the claimant republic to the west. This is where all negotiations should begin, our people believe, not from any recent, artificial ambiguity of the adjacency zone nature.
The UDP Government of Belize, in pursuance of whatever is their strategy, has repeatedly hung the various branches of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) out to dry, from the first time, years ago, when Toledo’s Wil Maheia decided to clear and clean the border line. The UDP administration’s line was and is that you are on your own, and we will not commit any of our armed forces to your protection.
This approach blew up in Government’s face on May 28/29 when the same elements of the Guatemalan Navy who have been bullying Belizean civilians, decided to bully members of the Belize Coast Guard. The bottom line is, all these incidents have taken place in Belizean territory. But, partly because the adjacency zone mentality had become pervasive in Government circles, a decision was made on Friday morning, May 29, to have the Belize Coast Guard withdraw from what is historically Belizean territory. I could refer to this as a disgrace, but I will be lenient.
It was absolutely noteworthy that our newspaper competitors did not publish a single word about this May 28/29 incident in their weekend issue, their first issue since the incident. At very high levels, we conclude, it had been decided that all efforts had to be made to keep the people of Belize in the dark, as much as it was possible, with respect to May 28/29.
Last week Mose Hyde pointed out on his morning talk show that it was the same people who lead the celebration of the September 1798 incidents who are in charge of Belize’s responses to Guatemalan provocation, and specifically the May 28/29 incident. There seems to be a contradiction between the two positions, he was saying. I agree with Mose.
At the same time, I have an understanding of Belize’s constitutional democracy. There are Belizeans elected to office in free and fair elections who have portfolio responsibilities for our defence, our foreign affairs, and so on. As nationalistic Belizeans, we ordinarily try to support our duly elected government leaders.
Now, the fact of the matter is that we Belizeans have a problem at the Sarstoon River mouth, and that problem involves the Guatemalan Navy. The Guatemalan claim to Belize is a threat to Belize’s very existence, and therefore anything having to do with the claim is a serious issue. The incident at the Sarstoon Island on May 28/29 is more than serious: it was dangerous.
The Prime Minister of Belize owes the people of Belize a detailed recounting of the incident and an explanation for his decision. I am not a politician. I don’t want to replace him in his honorable office. All I am is a Belizean who has no place to go. Belize is my home.
Power to the people.