Editorial — 05 June 2015
The turkey and the Sarstoon River mouth…

What you never do in the desert, though, is allow concessions to be arbitrarily imposed on you. If someone steals half your water, you can never say, “Well, this time I will let it go, but don’t ever let me catch you doing it again.” Because in this world of lone wolves, anyone who becomes viewed as a sheep is in trouble – a point underscored by the Bedouin legend about the old man and his turkey. One day, according to this legend, an elderly Bedouin man discovered that by eating turkey he could restore his virility. So he bought himself a turkey and he kept it around the tent, and every day he watched it grow. He stuffed it with food, thinking, Wow, I am really going to be a bull. One day, though, the turkey was stolen. So the Bedouin called his sons together and said, “Boys, we are in great danger now – terrible danger. My turkey’s been stolen.” The boys laughed and said, “Father, what do you need a turkey for?” He said, “Never mind, never mind. It is not important why I need the turkey, all that is important is that it has been stolen, and we must get it back.” But his sons ignored him and forgot about the turkey. A few weeks later, the old man’s camel was stolen. His sons came to him and said, “Father, your camel’s been stolen, what should we do?” And the old man said, “Find my turkey.” A few weeks later, the old man’s horse was stolen, and the sons came and said, “Father, your horse was stolen, what should we do?” He said, “Find my turkey.” Finally, a few weeks later, someone raped his daughter. The father went to his sons and said, “It is all because of the turkey. When they saw that they could take my turkey, we lost everything.”

– pg. 89, FROM BEIRUT TO JERUSALEM, by Thomas L. Friedman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York

On Channel 5 Wednesday morning, Belize Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington confirmed that it was Prime Minister Dean Barrow himself who on Friday morning, May 29, defused a standoff situation between armed elements of the Belize Coast Guard and armed elements of the Guatemalan Navy by instructing our Coast Guard to “stand down” from their positions on an island at the mouth of the Sarstoon River, an island which is clearly in Belizean territory.

When this newspaper went to press on Monday night, June 1, this week, more than 80 hours after this border incident, which actually began at the Sarstoon on Thursday morning, May 28, the information confirmed on Wednesday morning by Elrington had, for whatever the reason(s), not been available to our assistant editor, Adele Ramos, when she wrote a front page story for our Tuesday issue titled, THE COAST GUARD – BELIZE’S NEWEST HEROES!

At the time of this latest Sarstoon River incident, which lasted from Thursday morning to Friday morning last week, Minister Elrington had been in Guatemala City. He had been there for days. What he was remaining there for is not clear, because it was THREE DAYS BEFORE the Sarstoon standoff began that he had “signed a protocol to amend the ICJ special agreement, to permit Guatemala to proceed ahead of Belize to hold its national referendum on whether its unfounded claim … should be heard at the ICJ.” (pg. 1, Amandala, Wednesday, June 3, 2015.)

Since it was the Guatemalans who wanted to amend the ICJ special agreement, should it not have been their officials who flew to Belize to have it signed by our officials? And after it was signed, should our Foreign Minister and his entourage not have returned to Belize forthwith after the signing on Monday, May 25, in Guatemala City?

The Belizean politicians, diplomats, bureaucrats, and other officials involved with this ICJ (International Court of Justice) referendum business are apparently living large. There are several million dollars, about ten or eleven millions, which have been made available by the so-called Friends of Belize for this project, and it seems everyone is flying first class, staying in five star hotels, and wining and dining like royalty – FIFA mode.

We want to note here that when 40 Belizeans were abducted at the end of February this year from the Sarstoon and forcibly taken to Livingston by elements from the same Guatemalan navy base, the owner of Belize’s only radio station with a national signal was in Guatemala City being wined and dined by wealthy Guatemalan Rotary Club officials. The coverage of the story by his national radio station, at a time of national crisis, was weak. That is our considered opinion.

Belizeans are being careless and frivolous with our national patrimony.

By Sunday, May 31, Foreign Minister Elrington had returned to Belize and was present at the ruling United Democratic Party’s (UDP) Belize Rural North standard bearer convention at Sandhill. He was approached and questioned by local television stations, and our sense is that this was when he first revealed the Prime Minister’s role in the Sarstoon standoff and stand down. Strictly speaking, this newspaper should have been in Sandhill, but apparently we were not.

Amandala has been laboring with a mid-week issue for several years now. We maintain the publication because it is our firm belief that the financial and population center of the nation should have a newspaper being published more than just once weekly. In fact, if this newspaper were at the financial level our newspaper counterparts are in other parts of the region, we would have been in Guatemala City last Monday, May 25, for the ICJ signing. Channel 5 was, and their Marleni Cuellar got a scoop interview with the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Carlos Raúl Morales.

At the time of the February 28/March 1 incident at the Sarstoon involving the abduction of Belizean civilians by the Guatemalan navy, our KREM Radio and KREM Television began broadcasting live coverage Saturday evening, February 28, around 5 p.m., into the night until 11, and we resumed that coverage early Sunday morning, June 1. For some time, we had been warning our employees on Partridge Street that news does not stop happening just because it is the end of the week. The world doesn’t come to an end on Friday. But, at Kremandala we are limited by our resources when it comes to our vigilance.

This is a very serious incident that happened between Thursday, May 28, and Friday, May 29, at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. This could have gotten ugly. Long term, the disturbing aspect of the incident will be that Belizean military personnel were instructed by the civilian leadership of Belize to “stand down” from Belizean territory. This is troubling, and our thesis is that the Hon. Prime Minister himself should have come to the nation and given us all relevant updates on the incident. He should have done this from Friday, May 29, the “stand down” having taken effect on that Friday morning.

As it is, when Belize’s leading newspaper hit the streets on Tuesday, June 2, we were substantially under-informed on the details of the Sarstoon matter. You may blame this on our inadequacy or even incompetence, and we would accept your criticism. But, what about the leadership of the nation­? It cannot be argued that the May 29 Sarstoon incident was not serious. Belizean military lives were on the line. The incident, however, was not treated as serious by Belizean officials. They did not come to the Belizean people as soon as reasonably possible.

In Ms. Ramos’ article in our mid-week issue on Tuesday, she informed Belizeans of a pattern of Guatemalan provocation in the Sarstoon area which began as far back as October of 2007. Nothing that happens at the Sarstoon should catch Belizean authorities by surprise. In the aftermath of this latest Sarstoon incident, probably the most serious such incident ever, one question that arises has to do with what level of coordination and interaction exists between our Ministry of National Security and the Foreign Affairs Ministry, in the first instance? Again, how closely are our army (the Belize Defence Force) and our Coast Guard cooperating?

During the mid-1960s, the visionary Philip Goldson called for us to establish a Belizean army. (Belize had become a self-governing British colony in 1964.) In 1978, the ruling People’s United Party (PUP) finally established the Belize Defence Force. Guatemala, however, is a militarized and militaristic nation. Guatemala is now attempting to intimidate us at the Sarstoon. For Belize to survive, the whole of our able-bodied population may need to be trained and mobilized. This is where we have reached today.

Power to the people.

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