The Persistent Mixed Messages on the Belize Guatemala Issue

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Updated: June 16, 2016

For some time now the Guatemalan Armed Forces has laid claim on the entire Sarstoon River.  Their adamant and aggressive behavior has brought pressure on the Belizean Government as its citizens have been unaccepting of the actions of the Guatemalan military and have been demanding that the Government reciprocate in aggression.  The Barrow administration, however, has harped on the importance of a peaceful approach to the territorial issue with the most aggressive action being a speech delivered by the former Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega in Havana, Cuba on June 6.  On May 24 and 25, there were the bilateral talks in Istanbul, Turkey and coming out of those meetings both countries had agreed to formulate a mechanism that will state clearly how the issue at the Sarstoon will be handled.  Before the Belize delegation returned home, the Government of Belize issued a release, revoking the Statutory Instrument that banned Belizeans from traversing the Sarstoon.  On May 25, the Prime Minister spoke on the matter.

DEAN BARROW: There is an agreement now that we will negotiate a formal protocol for the Sarstoon and in the meantime clearly Belizeans can feel free to go to the Sarstoon that is why we have revoked the Statutory Instrument that was in place.”

Reporter: Is there any timeline for that ?

Prime Minister Dean Barrow: “For how soon the formal protocol will be fleshed out? No as quickly as can possibly be done but there is no fixed timeline.”

That was the message sent from the Prime Minister to the Belizean population.  But two days later on May 27 our media colleagues at Channel Five attempted to go to the Sarstoon but they were turned back.  The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister jumped on the incident, saying that Guatemala’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Carlos Raul Morales, had yet to return to his country and therefore the points agreed to Istanbul were yet to be passed down to the military.  The People’s United Party made their way to the Sarstoon on June 3 and the Leader of the Opposition, John Briceno reported that there were no problems in accessing the Sarstoon waters.  Today, however, our media colleagues once again ventured out to the Sarstoon and they were given a hard time to get through.  We’ll tell you how the Government responded to that incident later on in our news.  For those who have been following the entire Belize/ Guatemala issue, you will know that for some time now, there has been a constant disconnect between what the Guatemalan Government reports to its people and what the Belize Government reports.  It has left room for tons of speculations by the Belizean populace and there have been conclusions that perhaps there is some secret deals going on behind closed doors or the country is not being fully briefed on what is going on.  Either way, we bring back an interview we did with Senator Eamon Courtenay who is the representative for the Opposition Party on the Belize/Guatemala issue.  In this interview we had asked him to weigh in on the disconnect that seems to be a constant when it comes to this territorial differendum.

EAMON COURTENAY: “I think it’s’ one of two things and whichever of them it is it’s bad. Firstly it is possible that there is a serious disconnect between the civilian government and the military and the military is control and is a rogue military. If that is so that is a serious threat to democracy in Guatemala and stability in the region. The second possibility is of course that we are dealing with people who on the diplomatic level are not being honest and are not being forthright and they are giving us a story which we are believing. It cannot be that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala can be professing to the Secretary General of the OAS and to us and to others the intention of the Government of Guatemala to work peacefully to resolve this issue, that cannot be true when we see what is happening on the ground. So either he is being disingenuous and we should reject it and expose him for it.”

Today’s attempt blockage at the Sarstoon comes on the heels of the 46th General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Santo Domingo.  As we told you, in that meeting, an approval was given on a declaration of support for Belize and Guatemala in their ongoing efforts to find a peaceful solution to the border dispute.  The Government of Belize had issued a press release saying, quote, “ Speaking directly about the Belize-Guatemala border issue, Minister Elrington said, “My country, Belize, cannot overstate the debt of gratitude which we owe to the OAS and to former Secretary General Insulza and present Secretary General Almagro and their team for the tremendous efforts they have and are investing in helping our country and our neighbor Guatemala to arrive at a definite resolution of our centuries old territorial dispute at the International Court of Justice.”  End of quote.  Meanwhile, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister had stated, quote, “The OAS, with the financial assistance from the international community, maintains an important office in the adjacency zone between the two countries, promoting peace, culture and confidence between people of both countries and governments.  And recently, it has helped us develop local economic projects in the communities along the adjacency zone. Guatemala and Belize have reaffirmed their commitment to resolve their dispute in a definitive manner at the ICJ.”  End of quote.  Love News understands that both Foreign Ministers will be meeting in another round of negotiations on June 21 where the work in formulating a mechanism as was agreed to in Istanbul, Turkey, will begin.