“Preventative Diplomacy,” is the term used by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to describe the call for Belize’s Coast Guard to retreat from the Sarstoon Island after they were accosted by Guatemalan military. In an interview with Wilfred Elrington yesterday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs said the Sarstoon Island is and always will be Patrimony of Belize even if the border dispute goes to the ICJ. Another media station quotes Minister Elrington as saying, ” We stand to get rid of this claim that has been hanging over our heads for all these years even before I was born and we will not give it to our children because one way or the other we will get a decision. The most I think we could lose, the very most, may be something to deal with the maritime areas outside but nothing terrestrial; largely because the basic international law principle is once a border always a border…If there needs to be any adjustment or alteration it will involve some of the cayes or the waters of the cayes east of the country…So we don’t have to worry about our land and the Sarstoon” But while that may be a given, the Sarstoon Island remains the subject of much dispute, and while the Government continues on the road of preventative diplomacy, Guatemalan fisher folk continue to reap the bountiful waters of Sarstoon river, while Belizean fisherfolk watch gawking from the shoreline. A few months ago, Wil Maheia and the Belize Territorial Volunteers visited the Sarstoon Island and planted a Belizean Flag. He tells us more about that expedition.
“When we went there and we circled the island because we know that the island belongs to Belize and it is a part of our territory. So we had the flags and we climbed a tree, one of the guys that was with me climbed the tree to tie the flag on what we call mangrove. While we were there, the Guatemalan Militare came over and told us that we cant put that flag there. I said look, ‘this is Belize, this is our country. we cannot have you tell us where we can put up flags and where we can’t put up flags. ‘ They just kind of shook their heads and went back. So we put the flag up and left. But we had a feeling that they would take it down, so by the time we circled back, the flag was taken down. It had to be them that took it down, the Guatemalan Military. “
BDF personnel are not always posted near the Sarstoon river but when they are, Wil says, they prevent anyone from going near the island; another method of preventative diplomacy.
“That base that the BDF had already cleared the land to build a forward operating base at Sarstoon and I believe because of intimidation by the Guatemalans, they have backed down. I believe that some years ago, they went there and they cleared it and there was an incident similar to what had happened a few days ago. Because of that incident, our country backed down and did not continue the building of that forward operating base. “
Emanuel Pech – Plus TV Reporter
“So right now, they are not allowing anybody to even get close to the Sarstoon?”
“Well, they are not there because you can go physically, because the BDF or the Coast Guard does not have a 24 hour presence there, so you can go there. My point is that Belizeans on a whole are now afraid to go to the Sarstoon. “
“So Guatemalan fishers are the only ones fishing in that river at the moment?”
“Yes. And not only in that river – south of Punta Gorda. I would say 90% of all the fishing that is taking place south of Punta Gorda is done by Guatemalans.”
A protest has been submitted to Guatemala for the incursion of Guatemalan navy officials into Belizean Waters. There has since been no update on the protest and We have not received a clear timeline for the construction of the Forward Operating Base on the Sarstoon Island.