The United Democratic Party (UDP) says that the John Briceno administration is downplaying the recent aggressive incursions by Guatemalan civilians and armed military men. Last week, rangers of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD) were shot at by Guatemalan civilians who were illegally squatting inside the Chiquibul Forest and planting crops that were subsequently destroyed by Belize’s soldiers. Days after the incident occurred, the media had gotten wind of it and that was when a statement followed from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The UDP has taken issue with the statement saying that the grave confrontation on Belizean land had been reduced to a press release of nine sentences by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The UDP’s Shadow Minister of Defence, Senator Michael Peyreffitte says that the illegal Guatemalan incursion is a blatant disregard of Belize’s sovereignty which equates to an invasion and that the PUP government must treat it as such.
Michael Peyrefitte, UDP Chairman: “You have civilians firing at our BDF in Belizean territory and we just think that the response by the government is simply not an adequate response. We put in the release that there are certain things that we believe need to happen. We can’t just protest. Protest in what form ? Where is the protest note ? Where is the protest letter? We want this complaint to be registered to our group of friends and the international community. We want it highlighted as to exactly what happened and we want the Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs to make speeches at the next opportunity they can to make speeches detailing this incident for the world to know because we have to look at this situation as it gets more and more out of hand especially in the face of an ICJ court case that should be coming up in another couple years. So this is not something we can just gloss over. Remember you know this government in their Plan Belize manifesto said they would establish a special border protection fund to deal with matters specifically in the Chiquibul. Have they done that ? Have they made any moves towards doing that to make sure that we don’t have just regular BDF patrols but that we have special patrols and special systems set up in the Chiquibul for exactly this type of thing. So we believe that with all that is happening that this matter was kind of like dealt with too off handedly, too lightly, too softly and we are saying that this something that warrants a stronger response from the government. Now it pleased this Prime Minister essentially to divide national security into three ministers. You have Minister Mira, Minister Marin and Minister Musa and you said that you haven’t heard from the Minister of Foreign Affairs but where’s the Minister of Defense? Where’s the Minister of Defense on this matter ? Why haven’t they spoken about this matter not because we’re in COVID and we’re going through all these times means that we need to forget our borders and I think that the government needs to walk and chew gum and address matters like these not just by saying they’re going to protest but we want to know what type of protest they’re going to do, what specific action they’re going to take to make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
The former Minister of National Security also commented on the military helicopters that invaded Belize’s airspace during the heated confrontation.
Michael Peyrefitte, UDP Chairman: “These people show very little to no regard and if we don’t make them show that regard, we don’t lodge our protest and our complaints in an international forum where people can see. I mean I’m talking about head of CARICOM, head of SICA. Have these people been written to ? Have these complaints been lodged? I don’t know. These are the things that we need to do because then this is serious business. They essentially violated our air and land space and all we say is that ‘okay we strongly protest that.’ no man there has to be more. Where is the Minister of Defense, where is the Minister of State for Defense and so these are things that we need to speak out on more and as I said before it’s completely unacceptable that we just pass it over like nothing has happened. Even though that particular farm is in Belizean territory we knew that it always used to be used by Guatemalan farmers, illegal Guatemalan farmers and other civilians. Whenever we would move to clear those farms everybody would be informed you know. The Guatemalan armed forces would be informed, the OAS would be informed and the Guatemalan embassy here would be informed everybody would be informed as to when we were going in to clear those areas so as to avoid these very incidents similar to the one that just occurred. Now I don’t know if that’s still the protocol employed by this government but I know when I was in charge that’s what we did because we wanted it to be as incident free as possible with the people knowing clearly that they’re in Belizean territory. So when we went there we would have expected some sort of communication from the Guatemalans that they would assist us in some way to move their own people or that we would have at the very least their moral support at the time we were going in to make sure that this incident did not occur.”
The UDP Opposition calls on the Briceno Administration to demonstrate its unwavering commitment to the security forces, by providing the needed surveillance and other equipment necessary for them to deal with these encroachments in a timely fashion.