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Belize Receives More International Support on Guatemala Issues: PM Barrow Says

At the press conference last week Monday, April 25, 2016, Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow, attempted a detailed review of the crisis situation that had arisen following the incident at Cebada where a Guatemalan minor lost his life in consequence of an exchange of fire after a BDF/FCD patrol had come under a nighttime attack. Today, Tuesday, PM Barrow issued another statement during a press release in which he indicated that Belize has even more international support on the Guatemalan territorial dispute and that government’s decision to restrict civilian entry to the Sarstoon area was to maintain diplomacy and the protection of lives.

Below is Prime Minister Barrow’s Most Recent Statement

“All the world now knows of the unjustified, disproportionate and incendiary response of Guatemalan officialdom to the unfortunate death of their citizen. That response precipitated the crisis in which it appeared that a fundamental breach of the peace between Guatemala and Belize was an imminent possibility. In the circumstances, I set out what Belizean diplomacy had done and would continue to do to avert the chance of military hostilities. In the circumstances I also made a foursquare appeal for the Belize Territorial Volunteers to call off their planned trip to the Sarstoon, which had become the hottest of spots and a particular powder keg in the sharply deteriorated climate that had overtaken Belize/Guatemala relations. This was in contradistinction to, for example, Garbutt’s Falls where the situation is not the lightning rod that the Sarstoon is. Thus, we had no fear for the safety of the Northern Territorial Volunteers and their planned visit to Garbutt’s Falls on Saturday, the same day that the Belize Territorial Volunteers wished to go to the Sarstoon. Indeed, the NTV proceeded with that visit and it went off without a hitch.

So I limited my appeal to the BTV, and made it on two bases: I felt that if they insisted on going the BTV could well be putting their own lives as well as the lives of Belizean soldiers at risk; and I felt that the trip could irreparably set back the diplomatic outreach we were mounting to preserve the peace and find an operational solution to our standoff with Guatemala over Belize’s Sarstoon rights.

That Monday appeal was followed by a meeting on Thursday, for which Belize’s military commanders and Foreign Affairs CEO Lawrence Sylvester travelled to Cattle Landing in the Toledo District to dialogue with the BTV. That last effort by GOB notwithstanding, the BTV refused to call off their expedition. As a result, and in keeping with Government’s responsibility to do everything to safeguard the national interest and Belizean lives, we procured passage of a Regulation under the Public Safety Act. This prohibited civilian entry, without official permission, into Belize’s portion of the Sarstoon. And when the BTV nevertheless attempted to set out for the Sarstoon on Saturday, we stopped them.

Government is in no doubt that it was the right thing to do. We made clear, and repeat today, that our actions were one-off. The Regulation will remain in force for only one month, during which time we redouble our efforts to secure a guarantee regarding the Sarstoon. If those efforts do not succeed, then all bets are off. We will not again stop the BTV from going to that portion of the Sarstoon that belongs to Belize. And our ownership, as recognized and demarcated by the 1859 Treaty, can never be in doubt. In the normal course, therefore, all Belizeans have a perfect right to traverse our half of the Sarstoon. And, in fact, the very prohibition that we passed in these one-time, exceptional circumstances, is predicated on Belize’s sovereignty and jurisdiction over our share of the Sarstoon. 

So we did what we had to do on Saturday, but that is only one half of the equation. Let me therefore turn now to the diplomatic front and what is happening on that score.

You are all aware of last week’s Resolution of the 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific states (ACP) in support of Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland, was also very forthright in reiterating her organization’s position that Guatemala must respect our 1859 borders. Baroness Scotland will now convene a meeting of the Commonwealth Standing Committee on Belize so that they might step up their monitoring of the Belize/Guatemala situation. And on Friday in Freeport, Bahamas, our Foreign Minister got support for us from Caricom and the UK.

Belizeans should note that these results so far make clear that our position, our cause, is understood and accepted by the international community. In other words, they know that our security personnel came under attack yet again, this time under cover of darkness, from Guatemalan civilians squarely in our territory; they know that these civilians were engaged in their continuing illegal activity which, in the Chiquibul alone, has cost this country tens of millions of dollars in plundered resources and environmental degradation; they know that the BDF, small in number, strapped for resources and facing almost impossible odds, continues to wage a heroic struggle to protect and preserve Belizean patrimony.

The international community knows, to sum it all simply up, that Belize has the right in this matter.

Still, our work proceeds and there will be no let up. Thus it is that our Foreign Minister has been dispatched directly from the Bahamas to Washington, where we have succeeded, with the help of the Americans, in arranging a number of meetings. These are with the OAS, the State Department, and a Guatemalan delegation led by their Foreign Minister. The talks are taking place today, are particularly about the Sarstoon, and Foreign Minister Elrington is accompanied by Ambassador Alexis Rosado, Ambassador Pat Andrews, and National Security CEO Colonel George Lovell.

Clearly, then, we continue to pursue all means to dispel any threat from Guatemala and to secure an international diplomatic shield for Belize’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Foreign Minister Elrington will report to the nation as soon as he gets back.” – End of Statement

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