Friday, June 26, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington has been battling public perception of being soft and appeasing after repeated run-ins between Belize and Guatemala in recent weeks.
There was the encounter between Coast Guard personnel on reconnaissance on Sarstoon Island with their Guatemalan counterparts, where rumors persist that the Belizeans were ordered to retreat, official denials to the contrary notwithstanding.
Previously there was alleged lack of support for the Belize Territorial Volunteers during their involuntary stay in Livingston after being escorted from the Sarstoon River at its westernmost point where they were planting trees to mark the border.
Most recently there was the Guatemalan gun boat that drifted out of international waters into Belizean territory, ran aground on the Barrier Reef, and then was assisted by a fellow vessel to leave before final assessment of damage was made.
Minister Elrington has denied being soft on Guatemala before and speaking with reporters in Belize City on Thursday, he repeated that the actions of the Guatemalans in recent weeks are a matter of misunderstanding, not aggression.
The Minister compared what he called the “hysteria” of the moment to that occasioned between Guyana and Venezuela which remain locked in a territorial dispute on their own. As for what actually happened on Sarstoon Island, Minister Elrington noted that there was no prior communication of the Coast Guard exercise to Guatemala and their personnel got worried on seeing armed Belizeans in the area.
While ruffled feathers were eventually soothed in this scenario, Elrington notes that life does go on away from the border, and Belizeans are living and working in Guatemala without any hint of hostility or mistreatment.
Speaking off-camera to reporters, CEO in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Sylvester, said in relation to the gunboat that they are seeking legal advice and must ensure that the claim for compensation that will be sent to the Guatemalan officials is clear and sound and that there aren’t any ‘loose ends’. He told us that the official claim for compensation should be sent in about 2 days.
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