On Wednesday morning, April 20th instant, there were different, dynamic modalities operating at the mouth of the Sarstoon River, which constitutes Belize’s southern border with Guatemala, and at Benque Viejo del Carmen, a town next to Belize’s western border with that same, hostile Central American republic.
At the Sarstoon on Wednesday morning, Belize’s Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, accompanied by Ministry officials and the commanders of the Belize Defence Force, Brigadier-General David Jones, and the Belize Coast Guard, Rear Admiral John Borland, and representatives of the Belize media, was officially opening a forward operating base for our military on the northern bank of the Sarstoon. Ambassadors from Panama and Honduras were also present, but the ambassadors of the United States and the United Kingdom found reason(s) to be absent from the Sarstoon ceremony.
It appears that tension was pretty high at the Sarstoon River mouth, as uninvited Guatemalan naval vessels clearly and disrespectfully entered the Belize section of the Sarstoon to monitor(?) the ceremony, while a drone originating from Guatemalan air space entered Belize air space. At least one Belize television station reported in its Wednesday evening newscast that the Belize Coast Guard commander had aimed a weapon at the drone, which then quickly returned to Guatemalan air space.
At the Benque border the same morning, the new Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS) was being hosted at a ceremony, the Belizean guests including Belize’s octogenarian head of state, Governor-General, Sir Colville Young, which was designed to show Belizean and Guatemalan children from opposite sides of the border having fun in dance and performance with each other. The mood was so positive and upbeat that even the OAS Secretary-General and the Belize Governor-General danced briefly for the audience and the cameras.
The different, dynamic modalities at the Sarstoon and in Benque the same morning being broadcast on the same national television newscasts could not help but increase the confusion amongst Belizeans at home and abroad. What exactly is the situation and the relationship between Belize and Guatemala? There were two different modalities in play at the Sarstoon and in Benque on the same day.
To make matters even more dynamic, and therefore confusing for Belizeans, the Belize Minister of National Security chose yesterday’s ceremony to issue the first known statement by a United Democratic Party (UDP) Cabinet Minister unconditionally praising the courage and patriotism of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV). The BTV members and supporters have been repeatedly maligned by the Belize Minister of Foreign Affairs, other UDP government spokesmen,and the UDP’s newspaper and radio station since February of 2015.
Meanwhile, in Belize City, the nation’s population center, our desperate young men continue to slaughter each other at civil war rates. While this bloodshed is going on, we received news of a dispute between Barranco, a Garifuna village, and Midway, a Maya village, over a sign. The dispute between Barranco and Midway is only at the letter writing stage, it appears harmless, but it troubles us at this newspaper. It troubles us even more that the UDP newspaper and radio station have already taken sides in the dispute. Barranco and Midway are the inhabited Toledo communities which are nearest to the Sarstoon. The Belizean unity between Barranco and Midway should be supreme. Let’s hope the leaders of these two villages nip the sign problem in the bud.
Even as the religious preachers claim that our problems will all go away once we cease to sin, the Belize Foreign Minister, throughout all the Sarstoon, Chiquibul, and other problems with Guatemala, has been offering the International Court of Justice (ICJ) as the medicine for all our ills. From the very beginning of the so-called Special Agreement between Belize and Guatemala in 2008, with ICJ arbitration as the ultimate goal, there have been Belizean individuals and groups who have rejected the ICJ option. Mayhap it is these people, the ICJ naysayers, on whom the Foreign Minister is focused, to the point where he has rejected the classic advice of the one Horace: in time of peace, prepare for war.
This newspaper has never rejected the ICJ option. Yes, we have been leery of it, but we have not rushed to judgment. The modern history of the Guatemalan claim has included two specific sets of proposals – Webster’s Seventeen Proposals in 1968 and the Heads of Agreement in 1981, which were immediately and violently rejected by the Belizean people. Webster’s Proposals came from the United States of America, with the blessing of the United Kingdom. The Heads of Agreement came from the United States of America and the United Kingdom jointly. The Special Agreement, with the ICJ end game, has come from the so-called “Friends of Belize,” who are led by the United States and the United Kingdom. You can see there would be a historical basis for our being leery in Belize.
At the same time, let it be understood that we treasure and respect our Belizean democracy. That democracy is based on free and fair elections. Our elections are flawed. For instance, Belize has not had a re-registration of voters since 1997. Campaign financing, moreover¸ has become a sinister weapon in the sabotage of our democracy. Still, what we have of democracy here is all we have, and it is better than what most of the people on planet earth enjoy. We give thanks.
So then, be minded. The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs is a democratically elected representative of the Belizean people. He was appointed to his Cabinet position by a Prime Minister who ascended to that high office by virtue of being the uncontested Leader of the political party which won the majority of House seats in free and fair general elections held on November 4, 2015.
The general elections of November 2015, to be sure, did not have the Special Agreement/ICJ option as a core issue. The ICJ option is supposed to be the subject of a special national referendum to decide on that issue, and that issue only.
There is no doubt, nevertheless, that the Belize Foreign Minister has been campaigning for the ICJ option for years now. The Rt. Honorable Prime Minister, for his part, has said that he supports the ICJ option, but that the people of his party and of Belize will be free to vote how they wish. On the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) side, there are different ICJ views amongst their leaders. This ICJ matter is one which most Belizeans have hitherto seen as one down the road, so to speak.
But because of his personally sincere focus in favor of the ICJ option, it is possible that Belize’s Foreign Minister has been giving his Guatemalan counterparts the wrong impression. Since February of 2015, the Guatemalans have ratcheted up their claim-to-Belize rhetoric, zeroing in specifically on the Sarstoon while continuing to play their serious games in the Chiquibul. Because the people of Belize have been concentrating on their daily lives within the sovereign territory of Belize, as opposed to focusing on the ICJ option as our Foreign Minister has been doing, a disconnect has been growing between the Foreign Minister and the Belizean people. Sarstoon and Chiquibul are our pressing concerns. The Foreign Minister has been broadcasting on his own ICJ-obsessed wavelength. The Belizean masses are turned off. We do not believe the Foreign Minister to be a timid man, but he has been coming off as timid. This is real.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Honor Staff Sgt. Richard Lambey. Big up, Wil Maheia and the Belizean Territorial Volunteers. Support the park rangers of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD). Salute SATIIM. Stand strong, BNTU!