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Guatemalans do not control Sarstoon River, says Minister Elrington

During the ICJ referendum campaign in Guatemala, President Jimmy Morales said that while past Guatemalan Governments have recognized Belize’s independence, growing population and functioning government, it has not recognized Belize’s borders. It does not recognize Sarstoon Island and Sarstoon River as part of Belize. In fact, the Guatemalan Government is claiming approximately 12,200 square kilometers or about half of Belize including Sarstoon Island.  The Sarstoon River has been a place where we have seen Guatemalan Armed Forces repeatedly aggress Belizean vessels, preventing Belizeans from traversing the river.  Just recently a group of working professionals who were on their way to Graham Creek for drilling were intercepted by Guatemalan Armed Forces. It’s an occurrence that keeps on happening and, without a proper Sarstoon Protocol, it is expected that Guatemalan military men will continue to stop Belizean vessels at the Sarstoon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs, says that Guatemalan Military does not have control over the Sarstoon River.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “The Guatemalans have sought to stop them but they have continued because its our right to do that, the treaty provides that it is our right but you have rogue elements in the police force in the military in the navy who are going to try to interfere with normal ordinary citizens carrying on. So these things happen in real life and you just have to be able to deal with them.”

Reporter: And those things have been captured on video. The GAF would usually tell any Belizean Civilian Vessel going up the Sarstoon that they need to ask permission. So would you agree that the GAF has total control of the Sarstoon or has more control of the Sarstoon that our own military people.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “I think that that somehow or the other I form the sense that there is a certain section of our population who would like to spread that rumor that in fact the Guatemalans completely control the Sarstoon, there is no truth to it, it is mythical there is no truth to it. It is correct to say that from time to time elements in the Guatemalan navy seek to try to restrain our access and our two and fro and unimpeded to and fro of the river but it is not a case that the Guatemalans have complete and total control over it for the very simple reason that our military go through it, have to go through it on a weekly  basis without let or hindrance and other Belizeans go as well. So it is not true and I don’t think it is helpful for anybody to want to give the impression that this is in fact the case, it is not the case. Belizeans can use it, have been using it, will always continue to use it just like it would not be fair and correct for me to say the the police men are always stopping all the young men that they see when they are walking or riding along the street in Belize City- that happens but it is not true that Belizeans can’t walk the streets of Belize City without being stopped or interrogated by the police. It happens but it is not true that in fact we can’t do it. We can walk up and down it is our right-“

Reporter: At your own risk.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: “Whatever you do is at your own risk but this is your right and you’re never to be allowed to be intimidated by that.”

In a release earlier this month, the People’s United Party demanded that the government regularize its position in the Sarstoon by the re-establishment and enforcement of Belizean sovereignty and territorial integrity.