BELIZE CITY, Fri. Apr. 26, 2019– The Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) has been aggressing Belizeans and violating the country’s territorial integrity in the Sarstoon River for a number of years now. In fact, it has been documented since 2002, that the GAF has been continuously violating the rights of Belizeans, both military and civilians, during terms of both People’s United Party (PUP) and United Democratic Party (UDP) governments.
Between the period at the end of the Said Musa-led People’s United Party administration and the period approaching the second year of the Dean Barrow-led UDP administration, the GAF has been incrementally stepping up their aggression in the Sarstoon area, and there has been practically no resistance from two of the key government ministries, National Security and Foreign Affairs.
At the very least, Belize should have been showing diplomatic good-sense by mentioning these acts of aggression in its annual address to the United Nations General Assembly, but these opportunities to do real sovereignty-work are literally squandered.
Instead, Mr. Barrow and his government have been hell-bent on securing a “Yes” vote to drag the ancient Guatemalan claim to the International Court of Justice—adding a further, existential risk to the country. Why has the government been so silent on this issue (Sarstoon invasion) internationally, and why is it that when they speak domestically, it amounts to a nonsensical premise, missing the entire point of the aggression, which is never addressed?
Under the grand caption, “Ministry of National Security Clarifies April 25, 2019 incident at the Sarstoon”, after the Belize Territorial Volunteers leader, Wil Maheia had made the media rounds to alert the country that the GAF used one of their larger gunboats to block the entrance to the Sarstoon River on the Belize side, the Ministry of National Security issued its press release today, Friday, April 26.
“Belmopan, April 26, 2019. The Ministry of National Security clarifies that contrary to reports by Mr. Wil Maheia with regard to his attempted visit to the Sarstoon on April 25th, the Belize Defence Force/Belize Coast Guard Forward Operating Base (Sarstoon FOB) was in fact completely aware of the events that occurred,” the press release began.
The two-paragraph release continued: “The Sarstoon FOB reported that about 10:30 a.m. on April 25th, they observed a civilian vessel coming from the direction of Punta Gorda approaching the mouth of the Sarstoon and stopped about 1.5km from the FOB. The patrol noticed that upon seeing the civilian vessel, the Guatemalan Armed Forces base deployed two Metal Shark vessels and a Columbian-type boat toward them. The BDF and the BCG also deployed one of their metal shark boats toward the civilian vessel but noted that it had turned around and was heading back towards Punta Gorda.”
The press release in the first paragraph explained that the BDF and BCG were fully aware of the events that occurred. Although mentioning that these two entities were fully aware, the release studiously failed to mention anything about the larger gunboat. It is precisely that boat which made Maheia decide to turn back, because there was no Belize boat in the water at the time. Now the Ministry of National Security is saying that they had dispatched two vessels.
As these scenarios have been playing out in the Sarstoon over the years, Maheia has developed a healthy respect for the work that the BDF and the Belize Coast Guard do at the FOB and he has praised their professionalism more than once. Therefore, if the FOB had deployed a patrol boat as the release asserted, why would Maheia abandon his trip? One would think that the presence of our men from the FOB would have emboldened Maheia and his companions to continue their journey.
In our interview with Maheia yesterday, he was very candid in telling us that from where he was approaching the mouth of the river, he could have seen the FOB and they had not deployed any craft.
Apparently, the GAF in the larger gunboat had radioed to their base and the three other GAF boats were dispatched to intercept Maheia’s boat.
The Ministry of National Security, however, in attempting to make Maheia appear to be a liar, completely missed the point, that the GAF deployed three boats to intercept a Belizean vessel traveling in Belizean waters. There was no condemnation of the GAF’s maneuvers and deployment of boats that were heading toward the approaching Belizean vessel.
As a Belizean national, Wil Maheia is entitled to the protection of the BDF and the Belize Coast Guard whenever he enters the northern channel of the Sarstoon River. Why has the Ministry of National Security embarked on a campaign to demonize Wil Maheia, instead of addressing the real issue of the GAF violation of Belize’s territorial integrity?
If the GAF continues to harass and turn back Belizeans at the Sarstoon River, the mission of the FOB is failing. What would be the use of the FOB if Belizeans cannot freely utilize the river which divides the two countries? The Ministry of National Security needs to do its work and stop trying to make the Belize Territorial Volunteers leader, Wil Maheia, a scapegoat for Guatemalan aggression in the Sarstoon River area.