Have diplomatic relations failed Belize?

Posted: May 29, 2016. 1:50 p.m. CST.

By BBN Staff: As the tension between Belize and Guatemala has ramped over the last year-and-half, and as it climaxed with the death of 13-year-old Julio Alvarado, Belize’s government has sought diplomatic means of easing that tension but Guatemala seems resolved to continue creating friction.

This has been made loud and clear just this past week as a Belizean vessel carrying media personnel was stopped by Guatemalan Armed Forces as they tried to enter the Sarstoon river and were told to turn back. The Sarstoon has been the cause of a lot of controversy between the two nations recently.

Tensions were so high that the government even passed a Statutory Instrument temporarily banning Belizeans from going to the Sarstoon. The government took heavy criticism from the opposition and many members of the public for that decision. GOB justified it by saying it was only put in place to reach a solution on protocols regarding the Sarstoon.

To this end, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington, who attended a meeting with Gatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Morales in Istanbul, Turkey to discuss the situation in the Sarstoon said there was positive development in that regard. According to GOB, Morales agreed that there was need to develop guidelines to ensure equal access for Belizean and Gatemalan citizens to the Sarstoon.

That message, though, obviously hasn’t been sent from Guatemala’s top officials to its military. After the incident, Prime Minister Dean Barrow described it as “unacceptable” and said he would “get to the bottom of it.”

According to Barrow, he was told Morales was still traveling and hadn’t gotten a chance to relay the outcome of the Istanbul meeting to the Guatemalan military officials. Barrow said he was distressed to learn this. He said it emphasized the need for the parties to meet and draft the protocols for use of the river.

Barrow said he wanted the Organization of American States (OAS) to be a part of those meetings to ensure that it would be done rapidly. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro had promised if there was no progress he would convene a meeting to speed up the process.

But Guatemala, it appears, has figured out that diplomatic meetings mean little, especially when there are no repercussions for defaulting on agreements made in those meetings. Guatemala seems content rattling the cage knowing there will be no backlash, just more meetings, and if they behave really badly, another meeting.

Meanwhile, Belizeans have been locked out of the Sarstoon and subjected to intimidation and the threat of arrest, not just from the Guatemalan Armed Forces, but also from our own government by way of its recently lifted ban. So while these diplomatic efforts are necessary, just who is all the diplomacy really for?


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