Turning to the Belize/Guatemala issue: On Monday, July 27, a press briefing was held with the Foreign Ministers of Belize and Guatemala being at the head table to answer questions pose by the media as well as to update them on the current relations between both countries. One of the sticking points that came out of that briefing was a statement made by the Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales.
CARLOS RAUL MORALES
“We agree to the confidence building measures, the first one was in 2000 and the second one was in 2005, we took the decision to not increase the military bases in the vicinity of both countries with the objective to avoid incidents and this is important to understand and we agree to work together on our security initiatives.”
While others did take note of the error in that statement, the opposition was the one that issued a release three days later officially disputing the minister’s statement, saying that nowhere in the document does it state that military bases would not be built in the area. We asked the Prime Minister to weigh in on the matter.
“I completely accept that he mis-spoke and I think he does too. The records are there and it is a fact that there is not that kind of language. I also understood him to say though that he accepts as well that what we mean to do with the Forward Operating Base is not to be viewed by them as any kind of a threat; this is for purposes of our internal security arrangements and indeed we invite them to coordinate with us so that the illegal fishing and other illegal activities that typically take place in the area might be more effectively interdicted. Look, the Americans in particular who have this overriding interest in Central American Security and especially in the trafficking in drugs are aboard, are very much aware of what we wish to do and supportive and I believe that at the military level there is understanding on the part of the Guatemalan officials. Now at the political level it seems to me that there is also agreement and so we will proceed.”
Also weighing in on the issue was Commander David Jones of the Belize Defense Force who also confirmed that the Guatemalan Foreign Minister was mistaken when he made reference to the Confidence Building Measures.
“In the confidence building measures it doesn’t specifically say that we are restricted from constructing military bases along the border. What I do recall is in the confidence building measures is that each nation is not supposed to be expressing or showing that they are exerting their sovereignty over the other but it doesn’t actually restrict us from building other bases. The measures primarily address the western part of the border from up Arenal down south where Cadenas is but it didn’t really specifically address the area of the Sarstoon which is the Southern Border with us and Guatemala but just out of a matter of courtesy similar in regards to the confidence building measures on the west if Guatemalan patrols are near the border of if Belizean patrols are near the border we do inform each other so it wasn’t expressly so for the Sarstoon however out of a matter of courtesy we do consult with each other and we regularly consult with them and we discuss with them really to let them know of operations that are happening along the border just to let them know that there are Belizean troops along the Sarstoon because there are a lot of illegal activities that occur within the Sarstoon, it could be Honduranian, Salvadoran, all the way from South America that illicit activity traverses through the Sarstoon so it’s only prudent that we talk to each other and try to work together inside the Sarstoon. That is what we are trying to achieve with the Guatemalans to work with them jointly in the Sarstoon because it’s of both of our interest. I wouldn’t be able to say precisely that he misled the people that would have to be answered by him. He read the confidence building measures, he probably has a different interpretation from what we have here in Belize, from what we interpret we are aware and I am quite sure that it didn’t specifically say that we are restricted from constructing military bases on either side but just as a matter of not exerting sovereignty it’s just a matter of discussing with each other.
But with all talks about the construction of a Forward Operating Base, we found it pertinent to ask Jones what is the purpose of the base and how important is it.
“The base is particularly important because there are a lot of narcotraffic activity that occurs in the Sarstoon. North of the central line that runs through the rive belong to Belize in our mind and in south in their mind belongs to them. So if anything occurs north of the river technically they don’t have any rights or jurisdictions to interdict anything that happens there and it’s the same for us. If anything happens south of the median line we don’t have that jurisdiction so it’s only sensible that both of us have a base there and both of us work jointly together to interdict whatever comes through the Sarstoon. We traverse that river every week because we have an observation post that goes to Cadenas where our BDF patrol has to pass through there. If a coast guard base is there we talk with them and we work with them and the eventuality is, and our intent is to have the BDF there as well so BDF and Coast Guard can work there jointly so that is going to happen.”
While there is no timeline for the Forward Operating Base to be constructed, the media did ask the Prime Minister about the financial aspect to the construction.
“I haven’t yet been approached for the funds and I believe that especially because as I understand it there is now this willingness on the part of the Guatemalans to collaborate with Belize in the same way on land there are link ups and joint patrols that sort of thing because there is now that willingness that has been formally expressed I think it might take a little while longer for them to work out the logistics of the exercises that will take place in the area so I can’t really give a timeline.”
Love News understands that the base will be constructed at a time to be determined and will have the joint presence of Belize Defense Force soldiers and members of the Belize Coast Guard.