June 25th 2016, 6:22 p.m
By Aaron Humes: An editorial in this weekend’s edition of the Reporter newspaper makes the case that the Sarstoon River and the Sarstoon Island are not unquestionably Belizean property. The editorial argues that in the case of Sarstoon Island, quote, “maybe as much as one half of this island is on the Guatemalan side of the center line. This means that Belize cannot justify a claim to the whole of Sarstoon Island.” End quote.
That was news to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and CEO Lawrence Sylvestre moved to nip that claim directly in the bud. A letter responding to Reporter owner and editorial writer Harry Lawrence which was also widely distributed points to Article 1 of the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan treaty which states that territory north and east of the mid-channel of the Sarstoon forms Belize’s southern boundary; and to Article 6, which states that any islands within the river shall belong to the country on whose side of the boundary they lie.
Sylvestre states that Sarstoon Island is completely north of the boundary line and is therefore Belizean territory, and invites the Reporter to correct itself at the earliest opportunity.
We note for the record that Guatemala no longer accepts the 1859 treaty and thus claims all of the Sarstoon River and indeed, portions of Belizean land as their territory.
CEO Sylvestre closes by noting that the 1859 treaty is the only authoritative document on the question of Belize’s entitlement in the Sarstoon River and the extent thereof and also on the issue of Sarstoon Island, asking that any future discussion be guided by it.
In related news, 7 News reporter Daniel Ortiz traveled to the Sarstoon on Friday morning, testing once again whether Guatemala would try to harass Belizeans going down the Sarstoon. The crew went alone, using the same boat captain as their rival station Channel 5 did a few weeks ago but asking Guatemala’s “chief troublemaker” Wil Maheia to stay at home.
The strategy seemed to work, as Ortiz reports that they made it further in and in fact circled Sarstoon Island into the Guatemalan side of the river without more than a few hard looks from Guatemalan civilians doing their business in the area. Indeed, they met no kind of military presence until passing directly in front of the Guatemalan naval base; the officers there responded by sending out a drone to capture the media crew at work.
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