Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington came under heavy fire some time ago for comments made on Belize’s terrestrial boundaries. His technical definition of the western border with Guatemala, which he described as “artificial” and its apparent porousness rubbed many the wrong way. In a recent presentation in the south, the Foreign Minister offered an informal description of the maritime boundary. While it is arguable that our borders at sea are equally permeable, the fisheries sector is directly impacted by the incursions. During his meeting with residents of Toledo, Elrington briefly discussed the incident where a delegation of territorial volunteers was arrested and taken into custody by Guatemalan military personnel reportedly in Belizean waters. Elrington’s explanation was set against the backdrop of the so-called artificial border.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“The biggest problem we have in relation to the fishing industry is that we don’t have defined, articulated maritime borders. That has to be properly defined because it is only when it is properly defined and demarcated then we could properly monitor and patrol it. At this point in time we don’t know when we are in Belizean waters, we don’t know when we are in international waters and unless you are certain of where you are when you arrest people and take them to court for infringement in our waters, you will find that the cases cannot be successfully prosecuted because you can’t show to the court exactly where our maritime waters begin and where the Honduran waters end or where the Guatemalan waters end and the Belizean waters begin. So that is the first thing that we have got to sort out, we’ve got to make sure that we deal with the boundary issues. Once we have our boundaries clearly defined, clearly demarcated then it will be easier to deal with these issues of trespassing. The problem is not unique to us, it’s unique to the whole country. We first and foremost have to make sure that our maritime borders are clearly marked and defined. If you don’t have clearly marked and defined borders then how will you patrol it? How will you know when people are in your waters as opposed to Honduran or Guatemalan waters. The only way you can know that is to have your borders clearly defined. Even when your borders are clearly defined you have a problem because look in the United States when all them people are going into the United States. Every year you have thousands of people go across the border, they have good borders but it’s easier for them to deal with it when their people come in unlawfully because they can take you to court and say this is the border, you came across it and you are not a Belizean, I could lock you up. But in the case of Belize, outside here in the sea it doesn’t matter. It’s not delineated, so how can we when we go to court say, man you were in Belizean waters. And more and more we are going to get challenged by the judiciary with respect to that. So we have to understand that to protect our fishing resources we first have to know where our borders are. That da common sense. To protect your yard you have to know weh your border deh. Yo got your border pan di map but as soon as yo get yo title yo come down and yo start to set up your fence. Everybody knows that this is your property because it’s clearly fenced and you understand that has got to be done with respect to the maritime areas. So that’s the biggest problem because I can tell you, as sure as I stand up here this morning that the problems with Hondurans and Guatemalan fisher folks coming into Belize waters will only get worse with time. And the quicker we could deal with it in terms of identifying our borders the quicker the quicker we would be able to solve that problem. Why? Because we have agreement between countries. At the Port of Honduras there is an agreement between the countries. So when we agree with the border we’ll have to work with Honduras, we’ll have to work with Guatemala and we’ll still have to work with Mexico because we have borders in the north as well. Belize’s borders are not properly identified and marked out and we are working on it. Right now the Mexicans are working with us and we are going to start to work on that to try to finish the northern border.”
News Five attempted to meet the Foreign Minister, but we learnt that he is in Ecuador.