In our Previous newscast, we told you about Former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega’s speech at the 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States held in Havana, Cuba, June 2nd – 4th. In his remarks to the 25 member countries and numerous observers from South America, Europe and Russia, Hon Vega took the opportunity to inform of Guatemala’s shift in foreign policy towards Belize where Guatemala has recently been exhibiting aggressive military behavior on the Sarstoon towards Belizean Civilians and military. The speech was well received by the overwhelming majority of Belizeans as many have been clamouring for Government to internationalize Guatemala’s recent aggressive behaviour. In an interview earlier today with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Wilfred Elrington, he told our colleagues at KremTV that the speech was prepared by the capable staff at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is made up of a number of very talented professionals who literally put together everything we say so that declarations are never impromptu, they’re always prepared by officials of the government and they always have the full backing of the government whenever they are made. Whatever forum that we go to, whatever is said, is always the position of the government and sanctioned by the government, that was no different.
Guatemala’s President Jimmy Moralez was also at the meeting when Hon. Vega told the Latin American Heads of States that Guatemala’s military behaviour on the Sarstoon is in contravention with the Cumbre de la Comunidad de Estados Latino Americanos (CELAC) agreement. Guatemala’s president did not receive the speech well and complained that the forum was not an appropriate one to raise the issue. Hon Elrington says, on the contrary, the decision was a calculated one, with Cuba being a most appropriate place to bring the matter up.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: You have to appreciate that we see things differently you know. President has his own constituency to be responsible to. We have our own. The summit of the ACS really is a political organization. It is an organization where you bring up these issues and what the deputy Prime Minister simply stated was that both our civilians and military personnel were being intercepted by the Guatemalan personnel and that was of recent vintage. It has been happening for maybe a year and a half now and we cannot countenance it because the mid channel of the Sarstoon constitutes our Southern border. We have always used it, we have been using those waterways even before 1859, both for civilian and military purposes. Therefore we cannot countenance it being a restrain now, and that’s all the deputy Prime Minister was saying and that is the forum to say it in. That is the forum where you raise all these political matters so we were quite proper to raise it there but it was not anything that was not true. He was basically reporting as far as I know what had been happening in our rivers.
Elrington says that like the Cuba and Istanbul meetings, Belize must continue to use Diplomatic means to deal with the issues arising from Guatemala’s behavior on the Sarstoon River.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: The last position we arrived at in Washington was that we would work together to formulate a mechanism whereby we could use the waters in the Sarstoon without hindrance. And I think all the pronouncements that have been made by the international forum were to support that. They basically support that we live in harmony, peaceful coexistence and they support that we take the matter to the ICJ. We don’t have a military, we don’t have any military alliance with any other country to protect us and we have got to be protected by these diplomatic means. The Prime Minister, as far as I knew, articulated what was our understanding at the meeting in Istanbul. You see the entire reason for us meeting with the Guatemalans over the past months is to ensure that we will work on a mechanism whereby Belizeans—military as well as civilians—can use the Sarstoon as of right without hindrance. But ultimately what has to prevail is our international law rights…our rights under international law. And our rights under international law, as far as we know, give us to right of ingress and egress on the river and we cannot not protect that right
And as it relates to the recent prevention of the media from entering the Sarstoon river even after the Istanbul agreement to allow Belizeans to traverse the river unimpeded? Elrington says it is still his understanding that Guatemala had agreed to this position to allow for freedom of movement on the river until a mechanism can be worked out.
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs: My understanding, as of today, is that we continue to use it without let or hindrance and in the meantime we are working on a formal mechanism in the event of any untoward incident taking place, we have a way to resolve it harmoniously. We haven’t heard from the armed forces but what we got from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was that the foreign minister had not had enough time to be able to brief the military as to what in fact we had agreed to in Istanbul. He was traveling, and you know they have the chain of command. people are not going to do things unless they get instructed to do so. That is the explanation we got.
In the media interview which lasted a little over 40 minutes Hon Elrington reiterated that Belize needs to use brain over brawn approach as we deal with the differences we have with Guatemala because we need them and they need us. We will have more on that interview in tomorrow’s newscast.