While the Prime Minister says that tensions between Guatemala and Belize are de-escalating, the Belizean side of the Sarstoon River remains under Guatemalan control. As has been reported, even during the opening of the Forward Operating Base in the Southern most part of Belize’s mainland, Guatemalan fishermen could be clearly seen illegally fishing in Belizean waters while Guatemalan army boats also sat in Belizean waters, presumably to protect the right of their citizens to carry out this illegal activity while simultaneously hindering any Belizean from entering the Sarstoon. This would seem to the ordinary citizen as a giving up, or a cessation of water rights by Belize, but according to Brigadiere Jones, this new way of operation taken by the Guatemalans will remain this way until proper protocols are worked out with Guatemala.
Brigadiere Jones, Belize Defense Force: So we continue to caution our civilians not to go in there. Whenever you go to that area, you will notice Guatemalan vessels on our side. And that is why we have pressed to have a protocol with them. Let us have the opportunity to work and establish a protocol in the area that will not just serve the military but also serve for the rights of both civilians, Guatemalans and Belizeans to traverse the river and the Sarstoon area unimpeded and uninterrupted, but having extra civilians going into the area, there is information that there may be a group from Guatemala who is also interested in exercising their sovereignty, the similar way as Mister Mehia and other groups may go in. That will only cause more problems, it will not solve the issue so leave the area to the militaries to work in peace and give us a chance to establish protocol that will serve both Belizean and Guatemalans civilians to work in the river. It’s an area of dispute. They have their military there, we believe that if they try to do that there is going to be conflict, of course it is not fair to our Belizeans but we’re just asking our Belizeans to give us the opportunity to work out a protocol that will be best for both countries, just give us that opportunity.
The Forward Operating Base, which was placed on the mainland instead of on Sarstoon Island because of Guatemalan aggression, is to house not only BDF , but also Coast Guard. However, according to Commandant of Coast Guard John Borland, while they will also be using the FOB, they will not be operating on the Sarstoon but only along the coast of Belize above the Sarstoon, due to Guatemala’s claim and aggressive stance.
Commandant John Borland, Belize Coast Guard: We’re working out the protocols of how we’ll be operating down there. Once that happens the Coast Guard will be enforcing Belizean laws, maritime laws in our area of responsibility which I will repeat to you, for the Coast Guards does not include the Sarstoon but everything along the coast north of the Sarstoon. Well those things will be worked out when the protocol is developed. Remember the protocol is for Sarstoon. The area along the coast north of the Sarstoon is not included in those protocols. That area will continue to be administered according to the laws of Belize, so as it is enforcing the laws in the Sarstoon area itself, will have to be worked out when the protocol is developed.
Despite Belize’s position of not being able to effectively monitor or access the Sarstoon without Guatemalan permission, and despite Guatemalans using the Sarstoon freely under the protection of Guatemalan Army boats, none at the head table at today’s press conference was willing to say that Guatemala has taken over the Sarstoon.