On Wednesday, April 13, Belize’s Foreign Minister Wilfred Sedi Elrington in the company of former Foreign Minister, Assad Shoman addressed the media in a press briefing at the NEMO’s Conference Room in Belmopan where a list of protocols presented to Guatemalan counterparts were shared. In that brief, Elrington says that they had given the Guatemalans one week to respond to Belize’s proposed protocols; that one week was up on Friday, April 15 and up to that time there was no official response forthcoming. Love News has learnt, however, that the response may have come in over the weekend and all proposed protocols were rejected by the Guatemalans. For good measure, we bring back Minister Elrington with what those proposed protocols are as they relate to the Sarstoon.
“The proposal which we came up had 11 paragraphs. The first paragraph says this “The parties agree as follows” and these are the proposals, none of this has been formally agreed to by the Guatemalan side this was the proposals that we put them last week Friday but it has not been agreed to by them yet formally and we are hoping that they will signal their position on them as soon as possible. The first one was this “The channels of the Sarstoon shall continue to be freely navigable by vessels and boats of each of the two countries without any interference or trailing by the other.” “Whenever any vessel of any one of the parties approach the base of the other party or any other vessel it shall reduce its speed as a token of respect and friendship and to avoid injury or damage to persons or property.” Three “The law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall refrain from any threatening, abusive or unfriendly actions words or behavior of any kind with respect to each other in and around the said river.” Four “Law enforcement and armed forces of both parties shall respect the rights of the citizens of each other to make lawful and environmentally sustainable use of the river for fishing and recreation.” Five “The parties shall cooperate to prevent or limit hazards and reduce and eliminate adverse consequences arising from floods, droughts and incidents involving substances hazardous to water.” Six “The party shall cooperate on the basis of sovereign equality, mutual benefit and good faith in order to promote and achieve the goals of this agreement.” Seven “The party shall cooperate in preventing and countering any illegal activities including drug trafficking, human trafficking ,arms smuggling, contraband and other illegal activities of a transnational nature and to this end the parties may develop plans and conduct joint law enforcement and military patrols or operations including search and rescue which may include the participation of third countries.” Eight “The parties shall cooperate to avoid incidents on the Sarstoon River conducive to tensions between them. In the event of such an incident the party shall immediately communicate with one and another to contain it, resolve it and prevent its recurrence.” Nine “As a matter of courtesy and to promote good working relations commanders, assigned to the Sarstoon River may visit each other by mutual arrangement to discuss matters of mutual interest.” Ten “The party shall on a regular basis exchange information this includes an undertaking for any one party to inform the other party before hand of any non routine activities in or near the Sarstoon River by mutual arrangement the party shall install practical means of radio and other communication to facilitate these exchanges.” Eleven. “If a dispute arises between the parties as to the interpretation or implementation of this protocol they shall seek as soon as reasonably practicable to resolve it by negotiation and should they fail to satisfactorily resolve any such dispute either of the parties may request the Secretary General of the OAS to use his good offices to propose a solution to the dispute and the other party hereby agrees to accept such offices and to comply in good faith with the recommendations of the Secretary General.”
As we mentioned earlier, these eleven proposals have been rejected by the Guatemalans with no alternatives proposed other than keeping the status quo in place …. And that is where the problem arises since the status quo by Guatemala’s definition requires that Belize seeks permission for its citizens to traverse the Sarstoon; Belize’s status quo derives from Article One of the 1859 Treaty which states, quote, “It is agreed between her Britannic Majesty and the Republic of Guatemala that the boundary between the Republic and the British Settlement and Possessions in the Bay of Honduras, as they existed previous to and on the 1st of January 1850, and have continued to exist up to the present time, was and is as follows: Beginning at the mouth of the River Sarstoon in the Bay of Honduras, and proceeding up the mid channel thereof to Gracias a Dios Falls; then turning to the right and continuing by a line drawn direct from Gracias a Dios Falls to Garbutt’s Falls on the River Belize, and from Garbutt’s Falls due north until it strikes the Mexican frontier. It is agreed and declared between the High Contracting Parties that all the territory to the north and East of the line of boundary above described, belongs to Her Britannic Majesty; and that the territory to the south and west of the same belongs to the Republic of Guatemala.” End of quote. Earlier this year, in response to a statement issued by CARICOM, Guatemala’s Foreign Affairs ministry responded by saying that their country’s congress had denounced the 1859 Treaty in 1946 and therefore it no longer applies; thus their claim over the entire Sarstoon. Despite all the efforts being placed by Belize in settling this territorial differendum and the resistance encountered by the Guatemalans, Minister Elrington remained hopeful, at least up until Friday last as he announced at the BNTU’s forum in Benque that the Guatemalan officials are showing a willingness to work together. Former Foreign Minister Assad Shoman, however, wasn’t so hopeful and spoke of a more aggressive approach towards the Guatemalans.
“We put forward proposals, three. It started out with Alexis Rosado and myself and then others came in. We asked the Guatemalans to respond within a certain time, we said within a week. Guess what today makes one week and they have not responded yet. Now the Minister and I have different views, the Minister feels that on the whole over the air system with them the Guatemalans have delivered when they say something they will do it etc. I don’t have that same feeling, I do not trust Guatemala, I don’t believe what the officials say but please I want to make it crystal clear, I mean that official officers, the elite, the ruling class, I don’t trust them and therefore what I would want to say and let the Minister hear this, if one week has passed and another week passes and we don’t get a reply they are refusing our proposal I think we should go on the attack, then it will be time. If they don’t agree to it or they take too long to come back to us we should go on the attack, that is my position.”
Love News understands that Belize will be responding to Guatemala’s rejection shortly. It is also expected that Belize’s Government officials will be meeting with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, who is currently in Belize on an official visit.