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#505915 - 07/17/15 10:59 AM Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause?
Marty Offline

Because of Guatemalan Objection?

2 months ago, a Coast Guard patrol had a pair of tense encounters with the Guatemalan Navy on Sarstoon Island, which is Belize's Southern-most territorial point. The Coast Guard team was there on a reconnaissance mission to determine if the island was suitable for a forward operating base. The Guatemalan Navy personnel tried to get the Coast Guard to leave, but, they stood their ground, certain that they were in Belizean territory.

Belizean officials are only now revealing that after that confrontation was discussed at the diplomatic levels, Guatemala made it clear that they are resisting the construction of the Coast Guard's Forward Operating Base at Sarstoon Island.

Now, this plan for this base has been delayed for years, and it is something that the Government identified as important to maintain Belize's territorial integrity and security. The Coast Guard expressed its eagerness to start its construction a few months ago, but then, the Guatemalans made it an issue. They have reportedly requested that Belize refrain from moving forward with building this base until the territorial claim is dealt with at the International Court of Justice.

Now if you know anything about the ICJ push, you'll know that the fate is a moving target - and no one knows when it's going to happen, if ever. So it might seem a bit unreasonable for the Guatemalan Government to make a request for a postponement without a fixed date. That's what we asked Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington today when caught him at the Airport, just as he was leaving the country. He told us that he isn't surprised that the Guatemalans have taken this position:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Whenever we want to do anything touches on the border, we communicate with them and we get their views on it. Depending on the views that they expressed and how strongly we feel about it, we take those actions which we deemed are in our best interest."

Daniel Ortiz
"What was the reaction of the diplomats from Guatemala when you all informed them that you had this intention of building this base on Sarstoon Island?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"My own recollection is that they are suggesting that we discussed the matter at the OAS. We certainly have intention of doing it and they are simply seem to be suggesting that we should discuss it at the OAS before we take any further steps with respect to the matter, given the fact that in fact we are on our way to the ICJ."

"Does this mean that we will go ahead with the construction of a temporary base on Sarstoon Island?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"My understanding that the present situation is that we are waiting to have a meeting on the matter at the OAS and after we have determine completing that meeting, then we will determine a way forward."

"Why is it necessary to consult the OAS on a question like this if this is in fact in Belize's sovereign territory?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Because Guatemalans are making an issue with respect to it, because they are claiming the entire territory. So, this is not of normal, this is completely normal. What they are doing now is basically the pattern that they have been pursuing since 1937 when they decided not to recognize our borders."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, is that the position at this time that we are pausing on this forward operating base until we discussed with them?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"Until we have discussed the matter. I must make it very clear that the decision to do the forward operating base was made long before we got into power. That decision was made by the old PUP government, long before we got into power and then shortly after we got into power we took a decision that we would want to continue with it and then it lay dormant until very recently when the issue reared its head. So it's not a matter of urgency that it should be dealt with immediately and we have got to deal with it prudently and that's basically what we are trying to do."

Daniel Ortiz
"But sir, there would be some who say that the principle is that we should take actions that we believe are in our best interest not having to consult with Guatemala, but yet here we are holding back and pausing because they had made a problem of it."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"You can't fought on what some would say. Some don't have the responsibility of making sure the people of Belize are safe and secure and that our business continue to flourish, that the tourists continue to come into the country, that they continue to feel safe about the country and the like. Those are matters which we as a government have got to think about."

So, if the country will be waiting until after the OAS meeting to move forward with plans to build the base, when will it actually start? That's what the media tried to get out of the Foreign Minister, and that's when the discussion got heated. Here's how that exchange went:

"In the meantime, how do our Coast Guard and military continue to operate in that area?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"They have always been operating. There is nothing to stop them. Nothing has happened that is new. What they are doing now, they have always been doing. Nothing has changed. The Guatemalans have done nothing that has changed the situation. What they are doing now, is what they have been doing last year, the year before, year before and the year before."

"Well then why must we change with our plans of establishing that forward operating base there?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I told you that maybe the plan was conceived maybe 20 years ago. Nothing has changed."

"We understand that the concrete plans were to start constructing that base a few months ago and now we are stalled because of what the Guatemalans have done. I am speaking about what has happened this year right here."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"Let me make this very clear. There was no decision to act on it this year made by the government of Belize. None."

"It's not what has been said sir."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"No. People were investigating possible sites. But a decision to build a forward operating base by our government was made maybe 6 years ago. And it was supposed to have been built by the Belize Defence Force."

"The commander of the Coast Guard has said that they were supposed to...."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I don't have responsibility for what he says. I am telling what the decision was that was taken by us in Cabinet and the National Security Council."

"The message going across the different departments is disjointed."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"That is the way you see it. I am just telling you what the situation is as far as I know it to be."

Channel 7

#505943 - 07/17/15 09:10 PM Re: Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Whose Sarstoon? Whose Belize?

The Guatemalan government, through a diplomatic note, has informed the Belize government that it objects to the construction of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on Sarstoon Island, which lies at the mouth of the Sarstoon River, in Belizean territory, deemed necessary by Belize law enforcement authorities to curb not just illegal fishing in the area, but also illegal logging by Guatemalans who encroach on Belize’s mainland to extract timber, such as the prized rosewood.

Sarstoon Island is not in the Adjacency Zone, which is an area spanning 1 kilometer on either side of the western border between Belize and Guatemala, administered by the Organization of American States (OAS), which acts as a broker between the two countries in respect of a territorial claim by Guatemala against Belize, which Belize insists is unfounded.

The Belize government had informed the Guatemalan government of its intention to construct a temporary FOB, but the Guatemalan government has reportedly said that Belize should not construct the FOB until the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has adjudicated its claim against Belize.

In late May, the Belize Coast Guard was deployed on a reconnaissance mission in preparation for the construction of a Forward Operating Base (FOB) on Sarstoon Island, but the mission was aborted and the Coast Guard was ordered to withdraw from the island before completing its mission.

The withdrawal was reportedly ordered by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who has refused to brief the nation about the stand-off between the Belize Coast Guard and the Guatemalan Navy.

Since then, there has been no further mention of the plans to construct the FOB on Sarstoon Island until yesterday, when the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Col. George Lovell, (Ret’d), told News 5 that Guatemala has objected to Belize building the FOB before the territorial dispute is adjudicated at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Today, reporters caught up with Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington just before he boarded an international flight at the Philip Goldson International Airport.

When he was asked to comment on Guatemala’s response to the FOB, Elrington said, “First of all, you would all agree that when it comes to matters relating to Belize, the views of the Belizeans are very different from the views of the Guatemalans, so that we have no responsibility for their views.”

Elrington said that the practice is generally that whenever we want to carry out any type of activity or project in sensitive areas along the border, we communicate with the Guatemalans and we get their views on it.

“Depending on the views that they express and how strongly we feel about it, we take those actions which we deem are in our best interest. That is always what we do,” Elrington stated.

Elrington added, “We don’t take any decision that is not in the best interest of the country, both at the National Security Council and at the Cabinet level. We make that determination that we think are in the best interest of Belize, security and integrity and sovereignty.”

Elrington said that when the Guatemalans were informed that Belize had intentions of building an FOB on Sarstoon Island, they (the Guatemalans) suggested that the matter be discussed at the Organization of American States (OAS) before the territorial differendum case goes to the ICJ.

“They seem to be suggesting that we discuss it at the OAS before we take any further action, given the fact that we are on our way to the ICJ,” he remarked.

Asked why the Guatemalans would take such a view when we are not doing anything that contravenes their laws, and this is our sovereign territory, Elrington answered a question with a question, replying, “Why would they want to claim our country, when in fact we are not claiming theirs?”

“I can’t explain the attitude and the position taken by the Guatemalans. I know very forcefully and clearly what is our position. We must do what is in our best interest,” Elrington went on to comment.

Asked if Belize will go ahead with the construction of a temporary base on Sarstoon Island, Elrington replied: “My understanding of the situation is that we are waiting to have a meeting at the OAS. After we have completed that meeting, then we will determine the way forward.”

Why is it necessary to consult the OAS on the construction of an FOB in Belize territory, we asked Elrington.

Elrington replied, “Because the Guatemalans are making an issue with respect to it, because they are claiming the entire territory. So this is not abnormal. This is completely normal. What they are doing now is basically the pattern that they have been pursuing since 1937 when they decided not to recognize our border. In 2000 and odd they actually came across and took away some of our policemen and soldiers. This is not unusual and it is not unusual in relation to border matters. It’s a kind of push and pull whenever there is a border dispute.”

“The decision to do the FOB was decided long before we got into power. That decision was made by the old PUP government,” Elrington explained.

“Then when we got into power, we took a decision that we would like to continue with it, and then it lay dormant until very recently when the issue reared its head,” he added.

Elrington explained that for the time being, Belize will not proceed with the FOB until it is discussed with Guatemala at the OAS. That discussion is expected to take place near the end of this month.

“Nothing has changed. The plan was conceived 20 years ago. The Guatemalans are not doing nothing new. What they are doing now they have done last year and the year before,” said Elrington.

Elrington said that there was no decision by the Belize Government to act on the plan to build the FOB this year. “People were investigating possible sites, but a decision to build a FOB was made by our government maybe six years ago. And it was supposed to be built by the Belize Defence Force,” he said.

Elrington said that the Coast Guard is doing what they have always been doing. When he was asked, however, if the Coast Guard is still on Sarstoon Island, he said no.

The Government of Belize allowed a Guatemalan Navy boat that ran onto Glovers Reef last month to leave without taking the normal course of action that would have been taken with any other vessel that has damaged our reef.

Government officials at the time had said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would have communicated with Guatemala after the necessary damage assessment was done. There has been no official response from the Guatemalans on compensating Belize for the damage that their gunboat has caused. Elrington said that these things “take time.”

It is our understanding, however, that the Guatemalans have not even acknowledged receipt of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ communication on the matter.


#506102 - 07/25/15 11:21 AM Re: Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The National Security Minister’s Take On The Sarstoon Dispute

Staying on the subject of border security, last week, the Government finally revealed after prodding from the press that the Guatemalan Government is opposed to government building a Coast Guard forward operating base at Sarstoon Island. This was communicated through diplomatic channels following a confrontation between the Belize Coast Guard and the Guatemalan Navy on the island two months ago.

Since then, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington has come under fire for his disclosure that government is slowing down on the plans to build the base. He said that the Government will be discussing it with Guatemala at a meeting in the near future with the OAS mediating.

So, exactly when is this meeting, and has the National Security Ministry reconsidered the Foreign Minister's position? That's what the press asked the Minister of National Security today:

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"As far as I am concern when I was debrief it was a matter of asking us to discuss the matter. And as far as I am aware, we decided that the Minister of Foreign Affairs would discuss the matter in margins of the meetings that was held with the OAS. I believe that may have taken place a couple days ago. I have not been briefed yet on the results of that consultation. But as far as I am aware, the Guatemalans ask us to talk about it."

"Despite that, the government is going full steam ahead with the plan?"

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"I said we will talk. We are talking and when that is done, the government will chat its way forward and certainly it will be with a view to keep in obligations to protect the sovereignty and integrity of our country."

Daniel Ortiz
"How would you answer to the criticism that we have delayed too long on this forward operating base and to have to stop and consult with Guatemala on this operation is ludicrous, that we should move forward with our plans that the national security ministry has identified as important."

Hon. John Saldivar - Minister of National Security
"I don't believe that when you have problems with a neighbor, that the way forward is to simply ignore their concerns. I believe that the way forward is always to listen. But that after a point when you are not able to work your diplomacy, then you do what you need to do to protect the sovereignty and integrity of our country and that is where we are. The Guatemalans asked us to talk about it, we are talking about it and at some point we are going to decide whether we need to change or whether we need to move forward and as far as I am concerned , what will be key in all of this is always protecting our sovereignty and integrity."

"The confidence building measures requires that as long as there is something to take place within the adjacency zone, that there has to be consultations including the OAS. The problem with the Sarstoon issue is that previous to this, it has never been considered as a part of the adjacency zone and that is why we need to talk about it and work out a way forward."

Channel 7

#506230 - 07/28/15 07:14 PM Re: Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
New protocol with Guatemala for southern waters

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs called a press briefing at the Radisson Fort George Hotel this morning, as a preview to Tuesday night’s forum dubbed, “Belize/Guatemala Relations: A Culture of Peace.”

The forum, during what the Organization of American States (OAS) interestingly dubs “Belize-Guatemala week,” comes only weeks after armed Guatemala Naval officers ordered a contingent of Belize Coast Guard officers off Sarstoon Island – squarely inside Belizean territory, and against the backdrop of resistance from Guatemala to Belize’s long deferred decision to build a forward operating base (FOB) in the Sarstoon area.

That base, which should have been built more than seven years ago, is deemed necessary for national security purposes, and specifically to fight illegal fishing, drug and human trafficking, and illegal logging perpetrated by persons believed to be Guatemalan and Honduran nationals – a situation that has reportedly worsened because of relaxed surveillance in the area.

Belizean officials had said that Guatemala had insisted that no FOB should be established in the area, and that the status quo should remain until the territorial differendum is decided by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Additionally, the matter was to be discussed at the OAS later this month.

However, Guatemala has evidently stepped back from its hardline stance on the matter—but that is against the backdrop of Belize’s concession to enter into a new joint regime for policing the area.

Today, Canciller Carlos Raúl Morales, Guatemala’s Foreign Minister, told the media that Guatemala’s objection to the construction of the new FOB was based on agreements between the two countries dating back to 2000, under a regime of confidence-building measures, under which he claimed the parties had agreed not to erect new military outposts in the border areas.

However, we checked those documents, dated 2003 and 2005, both signed by former Foreign Minister Assad Shoman, and we found absolutely nothing in those agreements to support Morales’ claims.

To further probe into the matter, we spoke with Senator Lisa Shoman, ex-Foreign Minister in 2007 and 2008 who has been intimately involved in the Belize-Guatemala process, and she categorically told us that there was no such agreement.

Resistance to Belize’s security presence on the border is not a new tactic by Guatemala. In fact, the Amandala had reported back in March 2010 that Belize’s attempt to construct an observation post at Machaquilha in western Belize, on the Belize side of the border, to stave off similar illegal incursions by Guatemalans, was met with fierce resistance from officials in Guatemala, after protests from their nationals.

They accused Belize of “militarizing” the border.

Guatemala furthermore alleged that the conservation post was a political strategy to demarcate the border long ahead of the resolution of the case by the International Court of Justice (ICJ), according to Belize’s then Ambassador to Guatemala, the late H.E. Alfredo Martinez.

This time around, the objection by the Guatemalans has been to Belize’s move to establish a forward operating base in the Sarstoon area – an area over which Belize never ceded jurisdiction.

Senator Shoman tells us, though, that the decision to build the FOB was actually made under the administration of the Opposition People’s United Party and they had, in fact, chosen the Sarstoon Island – the said location where the Guatemalan Navy approached the Belize Coast Guard and ordered them to leave.

According to Shoman, the decision to build the base on Sarstoon Island had been communicated back then to their Guatemalan counterparts, and she went further to say that building materials had once been moved to the island to start the construction of the base. She cited funding constraints as the reason why the base was not built.

Today, after Canciller Morales and Belize’s current Foreign Affairs Minister, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington, had their morning meeting, ahead of the press briefing, the two reportedly reached an accord.

Morales indicated that their objection was based on their understanding that Belize wanted to build a military outpost, but after having heard from Elrington, he now understands that it is a Coast Guard base – to which they do not object.

While Elrington declared that, “We will move forward and we will build the base… as soon as it is convenient to us,” he did not specifically say how soon it would be erected.

Secondly, though, a new dimension is being added to the way law enforcement operations are carried out in the south of Belize.

Moralez announced that he and Elrington have agreed to work on “a protocol to have control of the Amatique Bay…”

The Amatique Bay is a vast area in the south of Belize, which also encompasses the coastline of Honduras and the Gulf of Honduras, where Belize had originally intended to focus its law enforcement efforts.

Previously, Belize and Guatemala have not engaged in a joint law enforcement regime for Belize’s southern waters.

The 2003 and 2005 confidence building measures set out procedures only for joint military operations along Belize’s western border with Guatemala.

After today’s press conference, Morales and Elrington rushed over to a lunch meeting with the 20 countries which constitute the Group of Friends, who will be asked to give their financial support to another OAS border office at Santa Cruz and Jalacte in the Toledo District.

OAS mandate does NOT extend to the Sarstoon

Back in 2003, Belize and Guatemala agreed to a set of confidence-building measures under the regime of the Organization of American States (OAS), under which the adjacency zone, spanning a kilometer on either side of Belize’s western border with Guatemala, was established.

Under the agreement, new settlements inside that zone were to be banned and a procedure was outlined for dealing with persons in violation. Also, the area became subject to a regime of joint patrols by soldiers from Belize and Guatemala.

Of note, though, is that this OAS-led regime—which has been strictly terrestrial in scope—has not been applied to southern Belize, where the Sarstoon River forms a natural border between Belize and Guatemala, running clearly south of Sarstoon Island.

Along this southern riverine expanse, Belize security officers have continued to carry out their surveillance to fight illegal fishing, logging and migration, which are pronounced problems in Southern Belize. It was for this reason that law enforcement authorities attempted in May to locate the best site for a forward operating base (FOB) in the Sarstoon area, and the Coast Guard officers tasked with the mission were supposed to erect that base at that location before returning to base.

However, things changed when the Guatemalan navy challenged the presence of the Belize Coast Guard on Sarstoon Island, claiming it as their territory. The Coast Guard team, led by Commander Elton Bennett, refused to leave and stood their ground until the mission was called off by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, a former National Security minister who is also head of the National Security Council.

So far, Barrow has not explained his decision, but it has recently been revealed that the Guatemalans have strongly objected to Belize’s attempt to build the FOB in the Sarstoon area, not just on Sarstoon Island.

Our understanding from key security officials has always been that Sarstoon Island was determined, at the time of the May surveillance mission, NOT to be the best spot for the FOB. Wil Maheia of the Belize Territorial Volunteers told us the same – that Sarstoon Island would not be a good location for the FOB.

So where will the FOB be built? As we have previously reported, law enforcement officials deem the area near the mouth of the Sarstoon to be the most suitable location. But we understand that even so, the objection of the Guatemalans stands.

Multiple official sources have indicated to us that the protest lodged verbally by the Guatemalans is that until their claim is adjudicated by the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—albeit there is no approval from voters in the countries to support the matter going to the ICJ—no new activities should occur inside what Guatemala contends is a “buffer area.”

We were told that the Belize position was clear: that there is no such buffer area in the south, and contrary to Guatemala’s objections, the FOB would be built in the Sarstoon area, because it is badly needed to stave off illegal activities by both Guatemalans and Hondurans who frequent the area.

However, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington told the media last week that the FOB project has been put on pause until the parties have had a chance to meet with the OAS. Elrington has also said that the construction of the FOB has already been delayed for several years—a delay which has not been explained.

How soon Belize will embark on the construction of that base remains to be seen; waiting until a possible ICJ resolution would certainly mean several more years without a proper surveillance base.

There have been suggestions in certain circles that the OAS jurisdiction should now be expanded to the southern border; however, that could vastly change the surveillance mechanism in southern Belize, and some Belizeans will be sure to view it as an erosion of Belize’s sovereignty.

To date, Belize has maintained its stance, in the face of Guatemala’s resistance, that it owns Sarstoon Island and continues to exercise jurisdiction over that area; however, the Government’s decisions since May 2015 to (1) have the Coast Guard withdraw from Sarstoon Island in the face of Guatemala’s protest, and (2) hold off on the construction of the FOB until an OAS meeting planned for later this month, are being viewed in the public domain as actions which are compromising Belize’s full exercise of sovereignty over the area.

We are told that the adjacency zone, within which the OAS regime applies, ends at Gracias a Dios, at Belize’s southwest border with Guatemala. The OAS mandate does not extend to the river or Belize’s maritime space.

Notwithstanding Guatemala’s position, there is no “buffer zone” in southern Belize subject to the OAS regime.


#506400 - 08/04/15 11:16 AM Re: Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belize does not have to consult anybody to build a coast guard base

By Wellington C. Ramos

Under international law, nations have the right to govern their countries and citizens in accordance with their constitutions, without the interference of other nations in their domestic affairs. For Guatemala to tell Belize that they do not have the right to establish a coast guard base on Sarstoon Island is in gross violation of international law. Unless, Belize signed an agreement with Guatemala stating that before they construct any type of military base in that area Guatemala must be consulted first.

If Belize signed such an agreement with them, the people of Belize should know, because that is conceding some of our territorial rights to a foreign nation, which is in violation of the government's constitutional obligations.

In the 1859 Treaty between Guatemala and Great Britain, the boundaries between Belize and Guatemala were clearly defined and agreed upon by both nations. Since Guatemala signed this treaty, they have implied on several occasions that this treaty should be voided because the British did not build the road they had promised. If they strongly felt that way, they should have brought a case against the British at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for not complying with the terms of the agreement.

We Belizeans are only the victims of the agreements signed between Great Britain, Spain, Mexico, Guatemala and other nations over the years when it comes to our territory. We did not create this problem with Guatemala. It seems as if Guatemala has no respect for this treaty and they are pretending as if it does not exist at all. If this is the case then we cannot trust them with future negotiations. Guatemala is playing with the Belizean people's patience. I consider this to be one of their continued acts of hostility against Belize.

If the government of Belize has to seek the permission of Guatemala and the Organization of American States (OAS) before we can construct a naval base on our territory, we are setting up ourselves for failure. It will give Guatemala, the OAS, regional organizations and other nations the appearance that we are uncertain about our rights to our territory.

If they say no to constructing the base then what will we do – not go ahead with the project? I say go ahead and build the base and let them continue to feel that we do not have the right to build it. Because they do not even think we have the right to our country anyway.

Guatemala has been dealing with Belizeans through intimidation and fear for years now. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated or fearful of Guatemala. Let us use international law and the support of other democratic nations to deal with these lawless people. Other nations will be glad to come to our rescue due to Guatemala's history of violating their own citizens’ human rights for centuries now.

#506509 - 08/08/15 10:34 AM Re: Will Belize Put Coast Guard Base On Pause? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Head of Belize’s Army Responds to Guat Mistruths About Border Installations

And moving on now to that other neighbor, Guatemala - you'll probably be aware that 5 former PUP foreign ministers have challenged Guatemalan Foreign Minister, Carlos Raul Morales. They say that he lied to the Belizean people last week Monday when he said that in the Confidence Building Measures, signed in 2000 and 2005, both countries agreed that neither Belize nor Guatemala would increase the number of military bases at the border.

So, what does the General of the Belize Defence Force think about that statement? After all, he's the leader of Belize's military. Here's what he said today about Morales's statement:

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander - Belize Defence Force
"In the Confidence Building Measures, it doesn't specifically say that we are restricted from constructing military bases along the border. What I do recall is in the Confidence Building Measures is that the other nation - each nation is not supposed to be expressing or showing that they are exerting their sovereignty over the other. But it doesn't restrict us from actually constructing other bases. The measures primarily address the western portion of the border, from up Arenal down to south where Cadenas is. But it didn't really specifically address the area of the Sarstoon."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, just on the fact finding basis, did the Guatemalan Foreign Minister specifically mislead when he suggested or said clearly that it exist in the Confidence Building Measures? Is there wording in the Confidence Building Measures which says that?"

Brig. Gen. David Jones
"I wouldn't be able to say precisely that he mislead the people. That would have to be answered by him. He read the Confidence Building Measures. He probably has a different interpretation from what we have here in Belize. From what we interpret it, we are aware and I am quite sure it didn't specifically say that we are restricted from constructing military bases on either side. But just as a matter of not exerting sovereignty is just a matter of discussing with each other."

The Fear Of The Forward Operating Base

And, the issue which sparked this discussion is Guatemala's challenge of the National Security Ministry's intent to build the forward operating base on Sarstoon Island - the southern limit of Belizean territory.

As we've reported, the Guatemalan Foreign Minister needed a bit of convincing from his Belizean counterpart that this base is going to be used by the Belize National Coast Guard, and not the BDF. Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington had to explain to him that the reason that the Coast Guard wants to build the base there is to try to curb illicit activity in the area, including drugs smuggling.

So, in the end it came down to the fact that Belize has absolutely no intention of amassing a military presence at the border. This base will be used simply for law enforcement purposes. Today, we asked the General, if the argument on the ownership of the base being for military use, is simply splitting hairs, since the BDF coordinates with the Coast Guard and Police on law enforcement activities regularly. Here's what he had to say:

Daniel Ortiz
"This issue being a Coast Guard base over a BDF military facility. Why is it so necessary for us to distinguish between the two of them?"

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander - Belize Defence Force
"For Belize's perspective, there isn't really a necessity. Because we in Belize, we consider the Coast Guard also as a military organization. Internationally, people may think otherwise. But they have been doing training with us, so we have no objection in categorizing the Coast Guard as a military as well. But that base is particularly important because there is a lot of narco-traffic activity that occurs in the Sarstoon. North of the central line that runs through the river belongs to Belize in our mind and south in their mind belongs to them. So if anything occurs north of the river, technically they don't have any rights or jurisdiction to interdict anything that happens there and it's the same for us. If anything happens south of the median line, we don't have that jurisdiction. So it's only sensible that both of us have a base there and both of us work jointly together to interdict whatever comes through the Sarstoon."

Daniel Ortiz
"When this base is constructed, it is so unforeseen or so alien that BDF patrols would make a stop there to replenish and to coordinate with the Coast Guard and is that such a bad thing?"

Brig. Gen. David Jones
"No of course not. We traverse that river every week, because we have an observation post that goes to Cadenas where our BDF patrols has to pass through there. If a Coast Guard base is there, we talk with them and we work with them and the eventuality is and our intent is to have the BDF there as well. So BDF and Coast Guard can work there jointly. So, that is going to happen."

"Will be jointly operated on whatever basis weekly/daily whatever time they are there."

Brig. Gen. David Jones
"Well that hasn't been determined yet. But the plan is for the BDF to be there. Now, when Foreign Affairs is clear on what exactly they want happen and our Ministry of National Security is quite sure what is going to happen, then we will deploy. But from the BDF perspective, we have been interested to construct a base there for years ago and it is still our intent for strategic purpose to have a base near the mouth of the Sarstoon."

"But the BDF does advised the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, because ultimately you guys are the military."

Brig. Gen. David Jones
"Yes, of course we do and we have given them our advice and they are quite aware and I have explained to our Ministry the significance of having a base there. They've listen to us, unfortunately, there is a dispute between our neighboring countries. So when that is worked out between Foreign Affairs and the Ministry, then we will get the directive. But they are fully aware of the importance and significance of having a base at such a location. Because it's quite strategic."

Daniel Ortiz
"Sir, but the way you describe it, it makes it sound as though Foreign Affairs is the lead agency in a military type situation where you all are the most equip, the most experience individuals to make the best decision."

Brig. Gen. David Jones
"When it comes to actions on the ground, the military will give the advice. But when it comes to a dispute between bordering countries, our Foreign Affairs has to take that lead. Above the tactical or operational situation on the ground, it is a border dispute between countries and that takes precedence over any military or tactical situation on the ground. The border dispute has to be resolved. They contend that it's their country. We contend that it's our country. It's best to solve this diplomatically before a military solution."

Viewers may be aware that the Belize Defense Force has a facility in the south known as Cadenas Observation Post, which is near the Gracias A Dios marker, which marks Belize's Southwest border with Guatemala. This observation post is far distance away, but it does overlook portions of the Sarstoon River, and since the BDF traverses that river to get there, they have first-hand knowledge of the need of this Coast Guard forward operating base. General Jones discussed that topic with us:

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander - Belize Defence Force
"We need to have a base there for our own strategic reasons. There a number of illicit activities occurring at the Sarstoon, a part from the international narco-trafficking that goes there. There is a lot of illegal fishing, illegal poaching that happens on the mainland and there is illegal logging that happens north of the river itself which we as the Belize Defence Force are interested to stop. So it is our interest to have a base there to stop the illegal activities from international players and also from our neighboring players from Guatemala that are doing illegal activities in the area."

Channel 7

Sarstoon Island not suitable for forward operating base

General David Jones on Wednesday August 19 declared that based on studies of the Sarstoon Island, it is not suitable for the construction of a forward operating base as had been intended by the Coast Guard to do law enforcement in the area.

Jones said that at this point there is no issue with constructing a forward operating base however there has been difficulty in trying to locate an appropriate site for the base's construction. He said that the terrain on the Sarstoon Island is swampy and "it is not practical to build a base there, even if it is strategic to build a base there to say the island is ours." He continued to say that the BDF has located two areas on the north side of the Sarstoon River that may be able to accommodate a building to house soldiers properly.

While there may be sites for the construction he said that the building should be properly done in order to not put soldiers' lives in peril. "It is better you do a base and you do it right," stated Jones. Jones added that there are considerations including mosquitos that can transmit diseases to the soldiers as well as issues of supplying soldiers with water and other supplies. A base in the area says Jones will require great logistics and it will be expensive to maintain. He was frank in stating that it does not make sense to rush to construct something that will not serve the soldiers well. He also said that a contractor had already been identified to build a base however the terrain proved it difficult for work to even begin. It is best to put the construction to tender for engineers to come up with a design he said and government will support for it to be built as quickly as possible.

The Guardian


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