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Sarstoon post-mortem

SARSTOON, Toledo District, Thurs. June 4, 2015

We have yet to receive a report on Guatemala’s official response to Belize’s protest note on the Sarstoon Island incursion by Guatemala’s Fuerza Especial Naval, a special arm of the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF.) We also have no information detailing the exchanges between the Government of Belize and the Government of Guatemala.

– pg. 1, AMANDALA, Sunday, June 7, 2015

We have listened carefully to an interview which Belize Foreign Minister, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, gave to Channel 5’s Mike Rudon on Sunday, May 31, at the Belize Rural North convention of the ruling United Democratic Party (UDP) at Sandhill. And we have read carefully the comments of the Chief Executive Officer in the Belize National Security Ministry, Col. George Lovell (Re’td.), in an interview he gave to the Assistant Editor of Amandala, Adele Ramos, on Monday, June 1.

As far as we know, Mr. Elrington’s comments were the first official comment on an incident which had occurred more than forty eight hours before at the mouth of the Sarstoon River in which armed elements of the Belize Coast Guard were confronted by armed elements of the Guatemalan Navy. Col. Lovell’s comments would have been given roughly seventy two hours after that faceoff.

In the issue of the ruling UDP’s newspaper, The Guardian, published on Thursday morning, June 4, there was no mention of the Sarstoon River incidents of Thursday, May 28, and Friday, May 29. In the issue of The Reporter published on Friday morning, June 5, there was no mention of the incidents.

The Hon. Prime Minister, Dean Barrow, who gave instructions to the Belize Coast Guard on Friday morning, May 29, to vacate the Sarstoon River Island which is known to be Belizean territory, has not said a single word about the incidents of May 28/29. He has, in the words of Ms. Ramos, declined an interview. Mr. Barrow specifically said to Ms. Ramos, ” … enough has already been said on the matter.”

The specific point of this editorial is that enough has not been said on the matter. Enough was never said on the matter, from the very beginning, and enough has still not been said. The fact of the matter is that the Sarstoon River mouth is a hot spot insofar as contact between Belizeans, both civilian and military, and the Guatemalan Navy is concerned. This has been the case for years. That spot became the hottest it had ever been before on February 28, 2015, when elements of the Guatemalan Navy forced 40 Belizeans at gunpoint to leave the Sarstoon River mouth and go to Livingston, a Guatemalan port some miles away.

We have been monitoring the two main Guatemalan newspapers, Prensa Libre and Siglo 21, to see if there is any mention of the incident, but we have not seen any such report. We only began monitoring on Sunday, May 31, so it is quite possible that we missed something. In the cases of incidents at the border between Belize and Guatemala over the years, Prensa Libre has been known to publish reports which seem designed to inflame nationalistic elements among their readers, it being the case that all Guatemalan children have been taught in school for many decades that Belize belongs to Guatemala.

The Guatemalan ruling party would benefit politically from a border incident between Belize and Guatemala because there have been seven consecutive weeks of mass protests in Guatemala City calling for the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, in the wake of the resignation of his Vice-President following a major corruption scandal. The Guatemalan ruling classes need something to distract the Guatemalan masses, especially since general elections are due to be held soon in the republic. But, we do not know of any Guatemalan media report about May 28/29 at the Sarstoon.

As a politician, Mr. Barrow’s strength, to a significant extent, lies in words and gestures and his interactions with the media. It is therefore noteworthy, in fact disturbing, that he chose silence on the Sarstoon River incident from the very beginning, and that he has maintained that silence for a full ten days now.

This newspaper is of the opinion that we normally have to allow the Prime Minister a modicum of space, some leeway, because he will almost always have access to more information than we do. Mr. Barrow is the head of the Belize state. Constitutionally, it is Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, now the People’s United Party (PUP), which should be bringing the fire to Mr. Barrow’s political feet. In the May 28/May 29 matter, nevertheless, we are looking at a decision which is unprecedented: the civilian leadership of Belize prevailed upon a military detachment of Belizeans to withdraw, under pressure from Guatemalan armed forces, from Belizean territory. This incident is more than political: its implications are existential.

Mr. Barrow’s ruling UDP, buoyed by Petrocaribe funds, has been riding high politically for the whole of 2015. Their party fanatics should note that May 28/29 was not political: it was a military incident with diplomatic repercussions and serious implications. In the United States, which is a constitutional republic, the President of the United States is considered the commander-in-chief of their armed forces. In the rhetoric subsequent to May 28/29 incident, we have heard Mr. Barrow referred to as the “commander-in-chief.” We are not sure how this works here constitutionally, since it appears that Queen Elizabeth II is Belize’s head of state and that she is represented by the Governor-General of Belize. The Belizean people would benefit from some clarification on this score.

Whatever the case, we Belizeans are yet to know from whence exactly came the order for the Coast Guard to set up camp on the Sarstoon River Island and to remain there for ten days. The one thing we are willing to bet on is that such an order did not come from the Hon. Prime Minister. What this means is that coordination/communication between the Belize military (the Coast Guard) and the Belize political directorate (the Prime Minister) was, for lack of a better word, inadequate. We are reminded of the embarrassing snafu for which the Coast Guard was responsible when the Prime Minister of Dominica, the guest of the Prime Minister of Belize, was humiliated in Belizean waters a couple years ago.

After an unprecedented military incident occurs which has existential implications for the nation-state of Belize, then we, the Belizean people, demand to know the facts. We have not been given knowledge of the facts. On the decided contrary, we have good reason to believe that important information has been deliberately withheld from us, the people of Belize.

Power to the people. Remember Danny Conorquie.

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