BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 2, 2019– Three years ago, the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) wanted to celebrate the signing of the April 30, 1859 Treaty between Great Britain and the Republic of Guatemala, but they were restrained from doing so by a Statutory Instrument that the Dean Barrow-led government passed into law.
On Tuesday, April 30, another group of patriotic Belizeans, Belize People’s Front (BPF), led by Nancy Marin Juan, visited the Sarstoon River and were escorted around Sarstoon Island by Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldiers at the Forward Operating Base (FOB).
After going around the island, the group hurriedly planted a Belize flag on the Sarstoon Island, after their BDF escort had returned to the FOB.
The GAF, however, which had been following the Belizeans’ boats, immediately removed the flag and handed it back to the civilians, who departed the area without further incident.
All of these incidents in the Sarstoon are pregnant with a disturbing meaning, and our government continues to look away.
In their press release on this latest incident, the Ministry of National Security tried to shrug off GAF disrespect with the explanation that when Guatemalan civilians place the Guatemala flag on Sarstoon Island the Belizean soldiers and Coast Guard officers at the FOB take it down and give it back to the Guatemalans. The huge difference here is that the Sarstoon Island is Belizean territory, has been so at least since 1859.
The government, through Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington, has embarked on the scare tactic of telling Belizeans to keep away from the area, because “it is a disputed area.”
It appears that the Foreign Minister is using the rationale of resolving the Guatemalan claim at the ICJ as an excuse for doing nothing about the GAF violation of Belize’s territorial integrity—otherwise his ministry would have spoken out about it a long time ago.
In the legal opinion commissioned by the Belize Bar Association, Professor Steven Vasciannie says, “(a) Evidently, Guatemala hopes that by closing off access to the Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island, it will either obtain title to both the river and the island or will confirm title to these areas.
“(b) If the objective is to obtain title, then the actions by Guatemala will amount to an attempt at annexation of areas not currently belonging to Guatemala. Guatemala would be seeking to obtain title by one of the traditional modes of acquiring territory, most probably prescription. For title to be acquired by prescription, Guatemala would need to establish that Belize has ‘slept on its rights,’ that is Guatemala would need to establish that it has had undisturbed continuous possession over the area for some length of time. Although the period of time is not specified for prescription, activity by Guatemala since 2015 would not be sufficient for title to be acquired.”
The point of this argument is that Belize needs to continue to protest vigorously. Not only that, the opinion also said that Belize needs to establish its administrative control over the area.
That will not happen with the present mindset of the government, especially the Minister of Foreign Affairs who is advising Belizeans to keep away because it is a “disputed area.”
Feature image photo caption: 2019 GAF IC hand over to Belize Popular Front patriotic group, Belize flag placed by them on Sarstoon Island