BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug. 26, 2015–Opposition Senator Lisa Shoman, a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bipartisan Commission on the unfounded Guatemalan claim to Belize’s territory, has written to Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington today, requesting a copy of the diplomatic note of protest that the Belize Government sent to the Government of Guatemala over Guatemala’s military incursion in Belize’s internal waters. The letter also requested a copy of the Organization of American States (OAS) Report on the Sarstoon incident involving the Belize Territorial Volunteers, on Sunday, August 16.
Senator Shoman’s letter, written on behalf of the Leader of the Opposition, characterized the incursion of Guatemalan Navy vessels into internal Belizean waters as a “…hostile, aggressive and unacceptable confrontation and the detention of a vessel with Belizean citizens in our waters…”
Senator Shoman also offered to provide the Foreign Minister with “a full first-hand brief of the unwarranted and intolerable actions taken in internal Belizean waters on the Sarstoon River, on August 16, 2015 by the Guatemalan armed forces…”
In a briefing with reporters today, Senator Shoman said, “At the Prime Minister’s press conference, you will recall that he told the media that the protest note was being delivered to Guatemala. The Prime Minister at the time also said that he had received the report from the OAS; it was only in Spanish, but he didn’t see why, at least, a summary of that report could not be provided to the media. As far as I am aware, no summary to date has been provided, and no one outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who is not speaking, knows if the protest note was even sent, or even what were the contents.”
Senator Shoman added, “As you know, I am the Leader of the Opposition’s representative on the Bipartisan Commission. I have not been provided with any brief regarding the OAS Report. I wish to see that Report. That is customary; it should have come to me at the same time it was sent to the CEO or anyone else. I have not seen the protest note, which again normally, I would get a copy of immediately.”
“If these things are classified information, I could respect that, but I wish for there to be a formal record, that I have requested both of those documents from the Government of Belize. If this Bipartisan Commission is to mean anything, then my participation in it must be meaningful,”
Senator Shoman said, adding, “And that means at the very least I must be provided with the material.”
The CEO in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Sylvester, has replied, telling Senator Shoman that he has received her letter and he will make sure that the Foreign Minister gets it.
“If my request is not granted, I would like to know why, but we will wait and see,” Senator Shoman said.
Senator Shoman said that there have been other protest notes in the past and they all have been, efforts to address certain incidents.
“There should, for instance, have been a protest note sent to Guatemala when the dory and its passengers were taken to Livingston earlier this year,” she said.
“Diplomatic note, that’s the proper name, is a fact of life between countries. This is how foreign ministries formally correspond with each other, via diplomatic note,” said Senator Shoman.
As recently as yesterday, Tuesday, there was an incident with Guatemalan Navy boats and Belize Defense Force soldiers on the Sarstoon River. Senator Shoman said that she was shocked to hear that these incidents have been ongoing, because, she noted, “I have never received a brief as a member of the Bipartisan Commission, or otherwise from the BDF, from the NSC, from Ministry of Foreign Affairs that this is what was occurring.”
“But I can tell you definitively, before October 2007, Greg Choc mentioned to me that that had happened to them. So if this has been an ongoing pattern since I left government and up to now, I can tell you definitively that I have not received a brief, verbal or written, to say to me that we were being required to haul over, allow an escort, or threatened to be shot, and that is something very serious and very grave; and we should be at all times, acting in such a manner that the Guatemalan Government is under no illusion that we are not going to tolerate that,” Senator Shoman explained.
She said, “I am still operating on the premise that they are claiming half the country from the Sibun to the Sarstoon. That means including the Sarstoon River, all of our territorial waters, except St. George’s Caye. They claim everything else. There has never been any trajectory to treat the Sarstoon differently.”
Senator Shoman said that up to the midpoint of the channel in the Sarstoon River is Belize internal waters. “It’s not international waters, its internal Belize waters, and we will not give up our claim to that navigable channel, and we claim that island,” she said.
“For 200 years we have asserted control over the Sarstoon; this is not the time to let go,” said Senator Shoman.