Protest note to be sent to Guatemala over Sarstoon Island incident

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Updated: August 19, 2015

There has been much talk about the expedition led by the Belize Territorial Volunteers to the Sarstoon Island. Earlier this week participants of the expedition shared their story which included being intercepted by Guatemalan naval authorities. Yesterday the Opposition People’s United Party shared their view, urging the Government of Belize to act. Today Prime Minister held a press conference at which he shared that the Government is indeed sending a note of protest to Guatemala over the incident.

 Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“The question that at once arises is whether those four boats that transited the two channels at any point went over into what we consider the Guatemalan side of the river and whether at any point the Guatemalan Navy came over into our Belizean side of the river. The OAS reports that even the four small Belizean boats were at first intercepted by the Guatemalans before they were able to proceed towards the island and both that temporary interception of the small boats and the permanent interception of the bigger boat took place as I understand Ms. Talamas at what she describes as the mouth of the Sarstoon River. It is my belief that what the OAS calls the mouth of the Sarstoon River is clearly in Belizean waters and that the Guatemalan Navy committed and incursion when they intercepted our boats at that spot. The territorial volunteers and the Belizean media confirmed the fact of that incursion and General Jones and Admiral Borland after viewing video footage fully concur. Now whether our four volunteer boats also went into Guatemala during the course of entering, circling and existing the area of the island must remain unanswered for now. The volunteers say, no and the OAS doesn’t say yes. But regardless of what may later be established on that score the Guatemalan incursion certainly happened first. And any unwitting Belizean entry into Guatemala by unarmed civilian boats is of a different order completely from the deliberate violation committed against us by a presumably well-armed Guatemalan Navy. An extremely strong protest note has therefore been prepared by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs and was approved just now by the NSC for immediate dispatch to the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry with a copy to the OAS.”

While the protest note is reportedly on the way, Prime Minister Barrow said the narrative being told that the security forces have in fact abandoned their duties in the area is erroneous. He said the security forces protect and defend our Sarstoon River sovereignty on a continuing basis.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

We don’t just lay claim to our sovereignty we act upon it. Every Tuesday the Belize Defense Force takes a replacement contingent of soldiers up our side of the Sarstoon River to our military outpost at Cadenas and brings back down the river the troops being rotated out from Cadenas. In doing this and consistent with our assertion of sovereignty we ask neither leave nor license from the Guatemalans. Indeed our BDF are routinely challenged by the Guatemalans and as happened just last Tuesday, frequently told to turn back. Our soldiers never retreat and are never deterred by these stand offs. They always complete their mission even when, as also happened last Tuesday, they are threatened by the Guatemalan Navy with the ramming of their boat and or a fire fight. In the circumstances for anyone to claim that there is a sovereignty vacuum regarding our half of the Sarstoon River or that our troops are anything less than resolute and courageous in maintaining our sovereignty does an intolerable disservice to the brave men and women of the Belize Defense Force and the Belize Coast Guard. So the fact is that our security forces protect and defend our Sarstoon River sovereignty on a continual basis operationally demonstrated every Tuesday of every week of every year without fail.”

The Prime Minister said the Belize Territorial Volunteers have been acting on the basis of misinformation.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

Arising no doubt from a lack of information and a great deal of misunderstanding the territorial volunteers came to the opposite and patently wrong conclusion proceeding from this mistaken premise they decided to show that they could fill, what in reality was a nonexistent void. That they should assert a sovereignty that albeit seemingly unknown to them was already being asserted by those both charged with and capable of doing the job, our Belizean Military.”

Prime Minister once again urged members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers to desist from their actions as he said it has been creating problems. He said should they decide to repeat their actions, Government would once again not provide military accompaniment.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

We are convinced that if our security forces were to provide and armed escort and so militarize the situation there would be a quantum increase in the likelihood of a fight with our civilians caught in the cross fire.  In the circumstances we appeal to the territorial volunteers not to return. The point you thought necessary to make has been made, your courage and patriotism were on display for all Belize and the world to see and no one was hurt. Let that be enough and for the sake of all especially the children do not let us tempt fate a second time.”

Commander of the Belize Defence Force Brigadier General David Jones said the actions of the Belize Territorial Volunteers has heightened the tension with the Guatemalan military.

Brigadier General David Jones

The Guatemalan patrols follow our vessels sometimes for a kilometer up the Sarstoon but recently they have been going all the way to Cadenas to follow our patrol that isn’t normal. Apparently they were informed at the lower level that they are not supposed to go all the way there but of recent because of the traction of what is happening with the territorial volunteers wanting to go to the Sarstoon Island and wanting to show their patriotism in the area they have escalated their interest in what’s happening in the Sarstoon. I must add that this can change the status quo with the relationship that we have military to military because we have been going through that river unimpeded for decades without incident and for the first time we have had the interception is after when the territorial volunteers is showing their patriotism in the area that is the first time we’ve had any interception of this sort that could have resulted in an incident.”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow said he has a meeting set for tomorrow with Orlando de la Fuente of the Northern Territorial Volunteers.