Posted: Thursday, August 17, 2017. 2:43 pm CST./>
By Lisa Shoman: Two years ago, I accompanied over a hundred Belizeans to the Sarstoon, one of the internationally recognized borders between Belize and Guatemala.
Despite the fact that my own government disavowed my participation as a sitting Senator, to Guatemala in a diplomatic note, and denigrated my motives publicly in Belize, I went to the Sarstoon with other committed Jewelizean women, men and even children on August 16, 2015.
Belizean major media houses all sent their most experienced journalists and cameramen to accompany the event, sensing the historic moment. And they were right to do so. The event was captured for posterity thanks to their unwavering commitment and bravery.
For many of us, that date is engraved on our hearts. We can never forget that despite OAS high level presence (in a small skiff ironically named “Good Times”) and a Coast Guard escort who were justifiably upset that they could not escort us the entire way, we were harassed and confronted with Guatemalan belligerence.
The now infamous Vice Admiral Carlos Thomas commanding a small fleet of naval vessels, and falsely asserting that we had entered Guatemala tried his level best to order our small flotilla of skiffs to return and not to navigate the river, or try to land on Sarstoon Island. His summary to the Guatemalan press was as follows:
Carlos Thomas, Vice Admiral “This is a manifestation of a lack of knowledge of some Belizean citizens, by attempting to lodge themselves or a Belizean flag in Guatemalan territory. This historically, the Sarstoon River, the waters of the Sarstoon River, are internal waters which belong to the Guatemalan state. We acknowledged it as such, and the Navy, the national defense, recognizes its sovereignty and it is an important mission which we are carrying out here. Simply, we did a containment movement of this civilian population, which was poorly oriented, I would say, because of their aggressive and abusive approach. They intended to take possession of property which belongs to the Guatemalan state.”
Containment? They impeded our progress in Belizean waters. They prevented our landing on Belizean soil, Sarstoon Island. Guatemalan Navy marineros rammed our small fiberglass skiffs with their own much larger metal boats, repeatedly. Repeatedly. They threatened to capsize us. It was only the cool, skill and committed care of our brave boat captains that prevented disaster. That and probably the camera crews and OAS accompanying presence at all times.
This brazen bit of Guatemalan revisionist mendacity was not just an off the cuff proclamation by the Vice Admiral. He like all members of the GAF followed his orders. The confrontation and its rationale was actually official Guatemalan government policy.
And faced with the negative, angry backlash at home to this audacious fallacious undeniable rogue behavior caught on camera, Foreign Minister Elrington and Prime Minister Barrow were finally forced to confront Guatemalan aggression against Belizean civilians in OUR OWN INTERNAL WATERS.
This is what our PM had to say three days later. Prime Minister Dean Barrow “Four of the territorial volunteer boats made it through to the Sarstoon Island and circled that island. They entered the Sarstoon River by the North Channel and exited by the South channel. At least one other bigger boat was prevented by the Guatemalan navy from attempting to do the same thing as the four smaller boats did. The question that at once arises is whether those four boats that transited the two channels at any time went over into what we consider the Guatemalan side of the river, and whether at any point the Guatemalan navy came over into our Belizean side of the river. The O.A.S. reports that even the four small Belizean boats were at first intercepted by the Guatemalans before they were able to proceed toward the island, and both that temporary interception of the small boats and the permanent interception of the bigger boat took place, as I understand Ms. Talamas, as what she describes as the mouth of the Sarstoon River. It is my belief that what the O.A.S. calls the mouth of the Sarstoon River is clearly in Belizean waters and that the Guatemalan navy committed an incursion when they intercepted our boats at that spot. The territorial volunteers and the Belizean media confirmed the fact of this incursion and General Jones and Admiral Borland, after viewing video footage, fully concur. Now whether our four volunteer boats also went into Guatemala during the course of entering, circling and exiting the area of the island must remain unanswered now. The volunteers say no and the O.A.S. doesn’t say yes. But regardless of what may later be established on that score, the Guatemalan incursion certainly happened first, and any unwitting Belizean entry into Guatemala by unarmed civilian boats is of a different order completely from the deliberate violation committed against us by a presumably well-armed Guatemalan navy. An extremely strong protest note has therefore been prepared by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was approved just now by the N.S.C. for immediate dispatch to the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry with a copy to the O.A.S.”
Underwhelming, as was that subsequent “extremely strong protest note”.
Neither did Barrow exactly take his Foreign Minister to task. Challenged by the media as to whether Elrington’s infamous comments (such as his artificial border remarks) were not a problem, this is what the “Boss” had to say : Prime Minister Dean Barrow “But, but…I’m not saying I don’t, I’m not saying I do, but you surely will understand I can’t answer a question that’s premised on your judgment. All I can do sir, is to repeat that there are ministers, they are responsible for their portfolios, they make their statements in connection therewith. Ultimately, if I have to speak on any issue in any minister’s portfolio that becomes the authoritative line.” We then spent a fruitless year and change doing from Istanbul (instant bull) to no bull, as “attempts” at negotiating a Sarstoon Protocol stalled and failed, dead in the water.
The truth is that Guatemala never intended to negotiate any Protocol no matter how reasonable. In 2015, they began their concerted, calculated grab at our southernmost border, the Sarstoon. Despite all the years they had claimed it, they had not acted on their ambitions in such a sustained and aggressive manner, commencing with. Preventing normal civilian Belizean riverine traffic was just the first step.
And here we are – from Instanbul, to no bull, to real bull.
Last night, on national television, Wilfred Elrington said, “Why we have to go to ICJ is because we don’t have borders that are internationally recognized and that can put us in trouble.”
For the FOREIGN MINISTER of Belize to make that statement is nothing short of ridiculous. And it is utterly wrong.
No, Honorable Elrington. Belize DOES have borders that are internationally recognized.
It is GUATEMALA that refuses to now recognize portions of those borders. They must and do recognize our border at Benque. It is an international border crossing. It is actually our public officials like Elrington who make this kind of statement that can put us in trouble. That statement must be rejected in its entirety by the PM and GOB.
Despite my well- known and publicly stated beliefs about the ICJ, I cannot now support going to the ICJ, or voting yes to any referendum.
Not until and unless we have a viable Sarstoon Protocol, a neighbor who respects our borders, and a Foreign Minister and Prime Minister who are not the current office holders.
And with all due respect, this ain’t no bull.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and not necessarily those of Breaking Belize News.
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