To say that tensions are high between Guatemala and Belize would be an understatement at this time and with every new encounter between the two countries’ militaries and civilians, that tension increases; and there has been another incident. A Guatemalan, in Belizean territory illegally, was shot and killed by a Belize Defense Force soldier. It has prompted a statement from the President of Guatemala, presenting a 5 point ultimatum of sorts to the Government of Belize. The Guatemalan press jumped on the story first and reported that a minor died as a result of the shooting while his 11 year old brother and 40 year old father were both injured by gunshots. The incident happened on Wednesday April 20 when 40 year old Carlos Alvarado, and his sons , 11 year old Carlos and 13 year old Julio Alvarado, were found in Belizean territory illegally poaching. The reports are that the father and sons were along with a group of Guatemalans in the area when the BDF found them. According to the Guatemalan account of events, the BDF just opened fire on the group, injuring some, while others made their escape, but killing the 13 year old. . The Guatemalans were quick to publish their version of events which prompted Guatemalan President, Jimmy Moralez to release a 3 minute 11 second message to his nation which in essence recalls Guatemalas’ Ambassador to Belize and confirms that Guatemala will step up what it calls exercising its sovereignty over the Sarstoon to stop more abuse by the BDF. Here is his statement in full.
Jimmy Morales, President of Guatemala: People of Guatemala, with profound sadness and total condemnation of the state of Guatemala, I wish to communicate to our people that yesterday, members of the defense forces of Belize killed another Guatemalan, with the aggravating circumstance that this time, the victim is a thirteen year old. The cowardly and unconscionable attack was against the child Julio Ruano Rene Alvarado, a thirteen-year-old whose body still lies in the hands of the authorities of Belize. In the attack, also wounded with a firearm were his brother, Carlos Alberto Alvarado just eleven years old, and his father, Carlos Alvarado Alfredo Ramirez, forty-eight, who were planting pepitos at the time. I ask the authorities of Belize: what threat do two children pose to their sovereignty? One thirteen and the other, eleven years old. This incident causes real outrage and condemnation. I want to express strong condemnation of this cowardly act of aggression and excessive use of force against minors by the defense forces of Belize.
For all the above reasons I state:
- That the Government of Guatemala demands that the Government of Belize place the person or persons responsible for the death of the Guatemalan minor before the authorities so they can be tried in the appropriate courts.
- That we have informed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of this human rights violation by the defense forces of Belize against Guatemalan minors.
- I am requesting from the organizations which look after the protection of human rights to investigate this cowardly act by the defense forces of Belize.
- That considering the goodwill of Guatemala and the conciliatory work by our Foreign Ministry to find a peaceful and permanent solution to the claim we have with Belize, as well as with maintaining and developing good relations, which is not supported by such actions of Belize, we have decided that from now on, we will exert a strict protection exercise over the sovereignty of the Sarstoon river and the entire adjacency line, to ensure that further abuses on the part of the defense forces of Belize against the territory and the Guatemalan population do not occur.
- That I have decided to call in our ambassador in Belize for consultation until the authorities of that country clarify this unfortunate incident.
Finally, I extend profound sorrow to the Alvarado Ruano family for this irreparable loss, and I share my solidarity with them in these difficult moments.
People of Guatemala, God Bless you.
Following that message by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, the Guatemala military this afternoon posted pictures on its Twitter account showing Navy Engineers preparing to move materials, purportedly to the Sarstoon to follow their Commander in Chief’s directive to enforce strict protection of what it calls its sovereignty of the Sarstoon River. There are also posted pictures of the Guatemalan army preparing to patrol the adjacency zone between Belize and Guatemala. Belizean authority was a bit slower in getting Belize’s side of the story out but just before news time, the Government issued a press release via the Government Press Office which says that GOB has requested the support of the Organization of American States (OAS) in conducting a verification exercise to ascertain the facts surrounding the shooting incident which occurred on Wednesday, 20th April, 2016 in the Cebada area of the Chiquibul National Park in western Belize. The Statement from Government says,
“According to initial reports, Belizean security forces were on a patrol to investigate illegal clearings in the protected area. At about 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, 20th April they detained without incident, 33-year-old Guatemalan national Jose Maria Antonio Reyes, who was found conducting illegal activities in our Chiquibul National Park. As darkness descended later in the day, at about 7:00 p.m. the patrol came under fire. The patrol returned fire in self-defence and decided to depart from the location which is approximately 580 meters east of the border. Prior to departure they conducted their standard clearance procedure and discovered the seemingly lifeless body of a minor. The body was later identified as that of Julio Alvarado, he was transported to the nearest hospital where he was pronounced dead.”
Authorities say that Jose Maria Antonio Reyes was transferred to the custody of the San Ignacio Police where he awaits an appearance before a Magistrate. The Government of Belize says it very much regrets any loss of life and will be conducting its own investigation. The release ends by saying that
“The Government remains concerned about illegal activities along our borders and will continue to engage the OAS and the Government of Guatemala with a view to stemming the illicit activities of Guatemalan civilians who are becoming increasingly more violent toward our security and law enforcement authorities.”
No mention was made in GOB’s statement regarding the Guatemalan President’s 5 point presentation to Belize via his national message to his country.