BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 28, 2016–Since Prime Minister Dean Barrow called off a Belize Coast Guard reconnaissance mission from Sarstoon Island last May, he has been faced with the pressing urgency of the Sarstoon River flashpoint, where Guatemala has been exercising de facto sovereignty by its military presence in Belizean territory.
Guatemala’s military presence on the Sarstoon River and threats made that it would enforce its “ownership” of the island and river has hardly been a deterent to the nationalist Wil Maheia, founder and leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV).
On Monday, no less than Prime Minister Barrow warned Maheia and his territorial volunteers not to venture onto the Sarstoon—not until some protocols are worked out, he pleaded.
Today, Belize government officials; the Commandant of the Belize Coast Guard, Rear Admiral John Borland; Belize Defence Force Commander, Brigadier General David Jones; and Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Sylvester, met with Maheia in Punta Gorda, the home of the BTV.
The meeting was an attempt to convince Maheia to call off the BTV’s planned trip on Saturday up the Sarstoon River to commemorate the signing of the 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Guatemala, which defined the borders between the then British Honduras (now Belize) and Guatemala.
All bets are off, however; as Maheia emerged from the meeting announcing that the BTV’s Saturday trip up the Sarstoon River “is still on, as of now.” He did say, however, that he would report on the meeting to his BTV members, since the trip is not until Saturday.
It was reported tonight on other media that the Guatemalan military knows of Maheia’s plans and has said that they will stop him and his contingent from accessing either the river or the island.
Maheia has said that the BTV will make the trip in a peaceful and non-violent manner, and he has issued a “Code of Conduct” and a “Declaration of Peace” in advance of the trip, with guidelines for all participants on the excursion to follow (See page 6.).
In a telephone interview with Amandala just before we went to press tonight, Maheia told us that the government officials tried to impress upon him that Guatemala is laying claim to the entire Sarstoon River.
Maheia added, “They [the BDF and Coast Guard] would be willing to provide an escort to the BTV on Saturday, but that decision would have to come from the Prime Minister.”
Maheia continued, “I am saying to the Prime Minister that he has an obligation to protect all Belizeans. If something should happen to us, then the PM should be held responsible.”
In February, the BTV attempted to go to the Gracias a Dios border marker down the Sarstoon River, but they were prevented from doing so by the Guatemalan Armed Forces, which has taken up a permanent position on the Sarstoon River.
In the February incident, Prensa Libre reported that the Guatemalan military had prevented a group of Belizeans from invading the island on the Sarstoon River. Prensa Libre reported that Belize claims the island on the Sarstoon River.
The Coast Guard, under orders from the Prime Minister, withdrew from the island when they were challenged by the Guatemalan Armed Forces during the Belizean officers’ search for a site to construct a Forward Operating Base (FOB).
Recently, Belizean military and diplomatic leaders met in Belize to discuss the Sarstoon River situation and Belize submitted an 11-point set of protocols for working with Guatemala on the river.
Guatemala immediately rejected the Belize proposal in its entirety.