Normally, the four major Belizean newspapers hit the streets as follows. The UDP Guardian goes on sale Thursday morning; The Reporter and Amandala are available early Friday morning; and the PUP Belize Times arrives from across the border anytime between Friday and Saturday. But all four weekend newspapers will be dated for the Sunday of that week. This Sunday dating is the handiwork of an extraordinary newspaper vendor by the name of Anthony “Panta” Belgrave (may he rest in peace), who prevailed on all the newspaper business managers to do this in order to make it easier for him to continue selling through the weekend.
This past weekend, The Reporter did not become available until around 6 a.m. Saturday morning, July 18. It was dated for the Sunday, July 19, but the headline story, entitled BASE WILL BE BUILT SAYS LOVELL and written by one Benjamin Flowers, did not have a dateline at the top of the article. The first paragraph of that story read as follows: “The Government of Belize (GOB) will establish a forward operating base on the Sarstoon River, despite Guatemalan concerns, declared George Lovell, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, this week.”
But in the headline story in Amandala, which had hit the streets more than twenty four hours earlier, on Friday morning, July 17, Rowland A. Parks, in a story datelined Thursday, July 16, 2015, said, “Today, reporters caught up with Foreign Minister Wilfred ‘Sedi’ Elrington just before he boarded an international flight at the Philip Goldson International Airport.”
Parks went on to say, “Asked if Belize will go ahead with the construction of a temporary base on Sarstoon Island, Elrington replied: ‘My understanding of the situation is that we are waiting to have a meeting at the OAS. After we have completed that meeting, then we will determine the way forward.’”
Parks continued: “Why is it necessary to consult with the OAS on the construction of an FOB in Belize territory, we asked Elrington.
“Elrington replied, ‘Because the Guatemalans are making an issue with respect to it, because they are claiming the entire territory …’”
Six hours after The Reporter had hit Belize City streets Saturday morning, July 18, around noon that Saturday The Belize Times arrived. Their headline read: GUATEMALA TAKES SARSTOON ISLAND. The story was dated “Belize City, July 16, 2015,” and was not bylined. In its second and third paragraphs, the story read: “As revealed yesterday by Elrington’s second-in-command, Chief Executive Officer George Lovell, the Government of Belize has given up sovereignty of our most southern caye, Sarstoon Island, to Guatemala. Lovell declared that the Government, at Guatemala’s command, has put its plans to construct a Forward Operating Base on the island on pause.”
In his Amandala headline story, Rowland A. Parks had written: “In late May, the Belize Coast Guard was deployed on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for the construction of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on Sarstoon Island, but the mission was aborted and the Coast Guard was ordered to withdraw from the island before completing its mission.
“The withdrawal was reportedly ordered by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who has refused to brief the nation about the stand-off between the Belize Coast Guard and the Guatemalan Navy.
“Since then, there has been no further mention of the plans to construct the FOB on Sarstoon Island until yesterday (Wednesday), when the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Col. George Lovell (Ret’d), told News 5 that Guatemala has objected to Belize building the FOB before the territorial dispute is adjudicated at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).”
In their anonymous headline story, the PUP Belize Times referred to Col. Lovell as Foreign Minister “Elrington’s second-in-command.” This was likely mischief on the part of The Times, since they should know that Col. Lovell is actually the Chief Executive Officer (“second-in-command”) for National Security Minister John Saldivar. But Saldivar almost never speaks about his portfolio matters when they have to do with Guatemalan military and naval behavior, which have involved four separate, major incidents since late February of this year. It is always Col. Lovell who does the talking, and since Foreign Ministry and National Security Ministry matters usually overlap and criss-cross in these Guatemalan military and naval matters, one has to allow, we suppose, for an honest mistake on the part of the anonymous Times’ writer.
The present Sarstoon situation became even more disturbing when it was revealed on Sunday, July 19, that Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who should ultimately be the one to make sure things are absolutely clear and transparent for the people of Belize where the country’s national security and territorial integrity are concerned, had decided to take ten days leave of absence/holiday from his official duties and travel to the United States.
In the absence of any statement by Prime Minister Barrow and/or National Security Minister John Saldivar on the most recent Sarstoon Island matter, and in the light of the specific Thursday afternoon statement by Foreign Minister Elrington (“… we are waiting to have a meeting at the OAS.”), it became very important to know exactly when Col. Lovell made the statement quoted by the headline story in last weekend’s Reporter. “This week” is not going to cut it. And, even more important, in whose name and on whose authority was the good Colonel speaking?
It is not this newspaper’s intention to alarm the Belizean people. We insist, however, that the people of Belize have a right to know exactly what is going on when it comes to the issue of the Guatemalans and our national security. Forty years ago, the British themselves felt it necessary to fly Harrier jets from halfway around the world into Belize because the Guatemalans were behaving too aggressively. Then, as now, it was a military general who was the Guatemalan head of state. These are not people one should take lightly. Human life means little to them.
Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie. Fight for Belize.