BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 10, 2015–The leader of the nationalistic organization, the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), Wil Maheia, told Amandala this afternoon that despite a singular lack of support from the Government of Belize and BDF Commandant, Brigadier General David Jones, he, the BTV and any volunteers who may accompany them, will proceed as planned on Sunday, August 16, to Sarstoon Island, the site of what has been seen as the most recent act of aggression by Guatemala’s armed forces on Belizean territory.
In that incident, in late May, Belize Coast Guard officers had visited Sarstoon Island to determine whether the island would be suitable for the establishment of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) which would be used by Belizean armed forces in their efforts to deter criminal activity, including encroachments by Guatemalans on Belizean territory.
While the Coast Guard officers were on the island, two Guatemalan naval vessels accosted them and told them to leave the island, because it was Guatemalan territory – a statement that is erroneous to the highest degree. The Coast Guard officers then left the island, mission uncompleted, on the orders of Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Since the incident, Guatemala has insisted that no military base should be built on the island until after their claim to Belize has been resolved by the International Court of Justice.
The incident caused a furor in Belize, with callers on the radio talk shows, and in other sections of the media lambasting the government for its “weak-kneed” response to obvious Guatemalan rhetoric and aggression.
The BTV’s primary mission, said Maheia, is to continue to try to demarcate the border between Belize and Guatemala, a solemn, nationalistic undertaking that he and the BTV initially made more than two years ago.
Last Tuesday, August 4, the BTV sent a letter to the Minister of National Security, John Saldivar, informing him about their planned expedition to Sarstoon Island.
“We have invited the Belizean public at large and various other organizations, political parties and NGOs. We plan on raising the Sub Umbra Floreo, singing ‘Oh Land of the Free,’ and feature a keynote speaker,” the letter explained.
The letter added, “This expedition is to further our stated vision of Belizeans learning their territorial borders, boundary monuments and landmarks. The standoff on May 29 between Belize Coast Guard and part of a detachment from the Guatemalan Navy on Sarstoon Island is a glaring example of Guatemala’s continued incursion into Belize territory. Though Sarstoon Island does not lie in the adjacency zone, and neither is it administered by the OAS, this incident is further proof that Belize was weak in its response against Guatemala’s aggression.”
The letter ended by asking for confirmation that it was received and requesting the Ministry of National Security’s commitment to ensure their freedom of movement and the protection of the Belize Defence Force “in the event of harassment or detention by Guatemala’s armed forces.”
The BTV letter was copied to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and to the Commissioner of Police.
To date, however, there has been no formal response to the letter.
Nonetheless, Government, through comments made on Friday, August 7, at a BDF recruit pass-out at Price Barracks, by the BDF Commandant, Brigadier General David Jones, made known its stance on the matter. Jones said, “If they would ask my advice, I would advise them not to go. The reason for this is because the country of Belize has a territorial dispute with Guatemala.”
General Jones said it doesn’t make sense for the BTV to go to Sarstoon Island: “It’s better for the people who have been elected to deal with such a situation, and don’t have our own civilians put our security forces at risk trying to escalate a situation for our military to have military-to-military confrontation; it doesn’t make sense. They will only put our security forces at risk and will jeopardize the relations that our Foreign Affairs [Department] have had with Guatemala, and also jeopardize the relationship that military-to-military, we share with each other,” he said.
Asked if the BTV has requested the BDF’s accompaniment, the general replied, “No, recently they have not.”
The BTV letter to the Minister of National Security, however, ended with a request for the BDF presence “… in the event of harassment or detention by Guatemala’s armed forces.”
The BDF leader, when asked if the force will be on alert when the BTV goes to Sarstoon Island, replied, “Well, not really, because that is an issue for Foreign Affairs. It’s a border dispute between two countries. It doesn’t make sense to put military there to show force against the Guatemalan military; it doesn’t make sense…”
Well, if Sarstoon Island is in Belizean territory, why does the government not want to extend protection for Belizeans on our sovereign territory?
While the Ministry of National Security has not responded in writing to the BTV letter of August 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent a letter, dated August 4, to the Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV) president Giovanni de la Fuente. The Ministry’s letter is in response to a letter the Northern Territorial Volunteers wrote on June 15, on its plan to plant Mahogany trees along the Western border in the vicinity of Garbutt’s Falls.
The Foreign Affairs letter is signed by CEO Lawrence Sylvester, and stated that the “…Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to reiterate our Government’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of Guatemala’s claim as agreed under the Special Agreement of 2008 and the continuing process under the auspices of the OAS to maintain peace and to promote confidence-building measures between the two countries.”
The letter continues, “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belize wishes to caution that while there are no areas in Belize where Belizeans are not permitted to visit, areas within the proximity of our western and southern borders continue to remain subject to an active territorial controversy with the Republic of Guatemala.”
“The Ministry maintains its view that it is imprudent and potentially dangerous for organizers of excursions of this type to expose innocent Belizeans to the risk of inadvertently entering into Guatemalan territory. It must be born in mind that any such entrance into Guatemalan territory constitutes a contravention of the Guatemalan immigration laws and can result in legal action being taken against those who contravene their laws,” said CEO Sylvester’s letter.
BTV founder, Wil Maheia, however, insists that Sarstoon Island is Belize territory.
“We will not back down based on the statements made by the BDF general,” Maheia told Amandala this afternoon.
Maheia said that sometimes, the Guatemalans claim all of Belize, then he referred to General David Jones’ comments that he cannot guarantee their safety.
“Sarstoon Island is important and we already have commitment from Belizeans in every district, and we are going to Sarstoon Island on Sunday,” he said.
Maheia added that the General Jones’ statement is ridiculous.
“The army general has made an error, and if he cannot do the job, he should resign and allow somebody who can do the job, to do the job,” Maheia said.
“So what is he [General Jones] saying – that he cannot assign men and women to these locations because their lives would be in jeopardy?” he asked.
Maheia said that General Jones is demoralizing our military, with his comments. “There is nothing indicating that Sarstoon Island is off limits to Belizeans,” he said.
Maheia explained that Sarstoon Island is a place that he has been visiting since he was a boy, and that it is not too far away from Barranco, the southernmost village in Belize.
The Government of Prime Minister Dean Barrow, through Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, had indicated that the FOB planned for Sarstoon Island was put on hold until after the matter is discussed between Belize and Guatemala at the Organization of American States (OAS).
Last month, however, Government said that they would construct the FOB, “as soon as it is convenient to us.”