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Sedi scolds Amandala, Finnegan says let “free press” reign

BELIZE CITY, Wed. Mar. 23, 2016–Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington opened day 2 of the budget debate at the National Assembly in Belmopan on Wednesday, March 23, but used the time to campaign for taking the Belize-Guatemala differendum to the International Court of Justice, and also to scold the media—and particularly the Amandala newspaper—for its coverage of the issue.

He said that when the Belize-Guatemala issue comes up, especially the Sarstoon situation, “the most prominent media,” referring to Amandala, finds the least informed person, referring to Wil Maheia, founder of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), “to interview ad nauseam.”

“People who they interview can’t even talk, can’t even articulate their views properly but the media invariably seek them out,” Elrington said, adding that the newspaper is, thereby, “doing a disservice to the population with an incident that is so important…”

“I’ve seen one newspaper last year, they publicized the fact that one individual asked us to get rid of the OAS. ‘It’s useless!’ And that newspaper put it with pride on the front page that this individual said, ‘Get rid of the OAS.’ But they don’t know what the OAS is. The OAS is the second most powerful multilateral organization in the region – it’s our hemispheric region, and it is made up of Canada, the United States, all the countries on the continent…,” he commented.

“What are you doing propagating that kind of ignorance?” Elrington went on to say.

Back in August 2015, Amandala did feature a front-page story captioned, “Useless OAS!”—a story triggered by the incident on the Sarstoon, during which the Northern Territorial Volunteers, supported by the Belize Territorial Volunteers, had been intercepted by the Guatemalan military on the Sarstoon River. Maheia did not request that Belize’s government get rid of the OAS, though. What he said was, “We need to run the OAS out of Belize.”

Maheia’s protests were in light of concerns that Guatemalan aggression at the Sarstoon had continued –even in the presence of the OAS, which had been present on the Sarstoon expedition as observers.

As we had reported, Maheia, NTV leader, Orlando De La Fuente, and supporters “were under constant threat from the Guatemalan navy, whose boats were deliberately bumping their boats, while the largest of the small flotilla was blocked by Guatemalan navy boats from going any further to circle Sarstoon Island, which was the goal of the expedition.

”When someone from one of the Belize boats asked an OAS observer to share their GPS coordinates to verify that the expedition was indeed in Belizean territorial waters, the OAS official, presumably from the OAS Adjacency Zone office, simply shrugged her shoulders, indicating that she didn’t know, would not share that information with the besieged BTV, or could do nothing about the belligerence of the Guatemalans.

”As it turned out, however, not even the OAS observers were exempt from the Guatemalan aggression [emphasis ours]; because their small boat, named Good Times, was intercepted by the Guatemalans but was released shortly after.”

This morning, Elrington said, “I can’t comprehend it at a time when our people are so confused, a time when you do have intelligent people, knowledgeable people, informed people who could properly educate the public; we seek to find the least informed, the least educated, the least knowledgeable and give them prominence. As a matter of fact we go further, we call them national heroes. They are in my view born- again patriots—people who were nowhere around when the country was really in trouble. The country is not in trouble now; the country is in good hands.”

Elrington announced that in the future, he would only give press interviews if a member of the Opposition People’s United Party joins him. When asked for a press interview, he said, he would contact the Opposition and ask them, “whom shall you send?”

The United Democratic Party’s member for Mesopotamia, Hon. Michael Finnegan, although on the same side of the Parliament with Elrington, was not on the same page where his assertions about the Belize media are concerned.

“If the press does something that you don’t like, it does not mean that the press is bad and you will vilify the press or you will run down the press. We don’t want to run down the media.

We cannot afford to run down the media. The media must operate with freeness. The media must operate under a fair mind; the media must be free to criticize and critique anyone of us in this House and the media must be free to critique our policies. The media must be free to critique how we handle the Guatemala issue. It doesn’t mean that the media is against us, but that is their job and we must congratulate them,” Finnegan said.

According to Elrington, “The practice of the media has been to come, take you and your view and then twist it in a way that you don’t recognize it, seeming to have one thought in mind: confuse the public and try to make you look bad. They have not had much success…”

Elrington went on to reiterate, “I will no longer give any interview on my own.”

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