The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to comment on the news of Guatemala’s rejection of Belize’s proposal for a peace protocol in the Sarstoon. Today however, the Minister of National Security, Honorable John Saldivar confirmed the rejection and informed that the matter was discussed in Cabinet yesterday:
John Saldivar, Minister of National Security: We were informed officially in cabinet of the rejection of the Guatemalans of our proposal. We also saw what their supposed counter proposal was which we again flatly reject because it says precisely what was asked just now. They want us to ask permission and we flatly reject that so we’re going to continue to work the diplomatic channels to try to see some meeting of the minds, but in the meantime as you have also indicated, militarily, we believe we have some sort of agreement for there to maintain the peace in the area.
Saldivar vehemently rejected that there is any existing agreed protocol or status quo that requires Belizean vessels to check in at the Guatemalan base to traverse the Sarstoon River:
John Saldivar, Minister of National Security: It is absolutely clear, we had in possession yesterday in cabinet the minute of a meeting that was held I believe in 2005 if not in 2007 when a similar situation had occurred, we have minutes of that meeting that took place on the military level where it is clear to us that Belize never acceded to that point from the Guatemalans.
For his part, the Commandant of the Belize Defense Force, Brigadier General David Jones speaking about the presence of the Guatemalan Armed Forces in Belize’s territorial waters called it alertness:
Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, Belize Defense Force: It shows that they’re alert and they are going to continuously be alert. And apart from the B.D.F., the Coastguard, our security forces, our civilians also have to be aware that the Guatemalans are alert. This is an international border; it is shared between us and them and so they are rightfully concerned if anyone comes into the river; that they may be going into Guatemalan waters. So I am not surprised that they are here; I expected them here because that’s what they should do. If there was some activity occurring on their side and we would see a lot of vessels coming into the river, we equally will be alert as well to take a look and to be concerned of what’s happening in the river. And as you know politically, they claim the entire river. So as far as they are concerned, we don’t belong here unless they have approved it. We are of a different view. That’s going to be a continuous contention until there is some approval of some protocol in this river in this area, so there is still room for tension because there isn’t a political united front in what is happening in the Sarstoon. It’s not like the confidence building measures that we have along the Western Border, there is no such agreement or no such protocol established for the Sarstoon. The proposals that we’ve drafted and given to them, unfortunately they have rejected it, so we still have to go back to the drawing board and see how we can operate with them, because this is an international border so whatever goes in and out it’s of the interest of both militaries.
The General added that he was disappointed that the proposed Sarstoon peace protocol was rejected:
Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, Belize Defense Force: I wouldn’t say I was surprised; I would say that I was disappointed that it was rejected because I sat down with the general and their ambassador and we sat down at the table. We went through every paragraph of that protocol, one by one. There was no major disagreement with any of those protocols; they did not show that there’s going to be any rejection of the protocol. But of course they did indicate to us that they had to go back to their principals to inform them of the protocol and they will review it and based on their recommendations then they will get back to us within a week or just after a week. So when I heard the news actually on the news last night or night before when it was rejected, I was really disappointed because the Belizean team sat down together, we drafted those protocols; we believe they were designed with mutual respect and for cooperation so that civilians—both Belizeans and Guatemalans—could traverse the Sarstoon area and the river without interruption from the military or any other civilians. So when it was rejected, I was rightfully disappointed but I am not going to give up. I am going to continue working with them because we have to work with them; it is an international border so it is the interest of both countries to work together here. Yes, we believe it was fair. I believe and I know it was fair. Unfortunately it is up to the politicians in Guatemala to agree to something working in this area. They have absolutely a different view from what we were thinking. We were thinking it is fair, we believe in the spirit of mutual respect that we should cooperate and work closely with each other to reduce tension because none of us would benefit from any conflict or any tension in the area. We don’t want to go in the direction where eventually there’s going to be bloodshed because neither country would benefit from it.