Tonight, Belizeans are tense because the Guatemalan Armed forces have mobilized towards the area of the Sarstoon. Prensa Libre reports that three thousand soldiers have been sent to the Sarstoon area, and the twitter page of the Guatemalan government has posted these pictures of troops and armaments - including tanks - on the move.
This comes after the BDF killed a 13 year old Guatemalan boy in the Cebada area of the Chiquibl Forest last night. The BDF says the Guatemalan hostiles opened fire on them in the dark and they returned fire. We'll have that full account later on, but first to President Jimmy Morales. He recorded a strongly worded statement and put it up on his website this afternoon. It's some of the hardest language heard form a Guatemalan President in decades, and we will air the full three minutes of it, with English captions underneath:
Citizens of Guatemala, with profound sadness and with total condemnation, I communicate to our people that yesterday members of the Belize Defense force killed another Guatemalan. To our dismay, this time the victim is a 13-year-old boy. The cowardly and excessive attack was against 13 year old Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, whose body is still in the hands of the Belizean authorities.
During the attack his brother Carlos Alberto Alvarado 11 years old and his dad Carlos Alfredo Alvarado Ramirez, 48 years old, also sustained gunshot injuries. They were found planting pumpkin seeds in the Adjacency zone.
I ask the Belizean authorities, what threat to your sovereignty do these two children pose? One 13 and the other of 11? This act provokes severe indignation and repudiation. I want to express my strong condemnation of this cowardly act of aggression and use of excessive force against minors on the part of the Belize Defense Force.
By the above mentioned I expound that
1. The Government of Guatemala demands that the Belizean Government take responsibility or have those responsible for murder of the Guatemalan minor judged at the appropriate court.
2. We have brought to the attention of the Inter American Commission of Human Rights this violation of human rights by the Belize Defense Force against Guatemalan minors.
3. I request that the organizations that uphold the protection of Human rights to investigate this cowardly act on the part of the Belize Defense Force.
4. Considering the goodwill of Guatemala and the conciliatory work on the part of our Ministry Of Foreign Affairs geared at finding a peaceful and permanent solution to the dispute with Belize, while at the same time maintaining and developing a good relationship which does not appear to be supported by these actions of Belize, we have decided that from this moment we shall exercise strict protection of the sovereignty of the Sarstoon River and all the adjacency zone to ensure that there is no more abuse on the part of the Belize Defense Force against the territory and people of Guatemala.
5. I have decided to recall our ambassador in Belize for consultation until the authorities of that country clear up this regrettable act.
Finally I express my sincere condolences to the family of Alvarado Ruano, for their irreparable loss and I send solidarity in these difficult times. Citizens of Guatemala, may God bless you.
Most notable, of course, is points four and five - that the Guatemalans intend to basically lock down the Sarstoon River - which itself is an act of aggression since half of the river is within Belizean territory. And point five is also crucial. The President is also recalling his ambassador Manuel Roland Barillas - that's a very serious diplomatic action, often taken before breaking off relations.
These are the most drastic actions taken by the Guatemalans in decades - and we'd probably have to go back to the days of Francisco Sagastume and Ydigoras Fuentes for parallels. Sagastume - an agronomist - famously invaded Belize from the south with a small crew of men in 1961 and got as far as San Antonio village. During that time, military strongman Ydigoras Fuentes ruled Guatemala, and he also tried to enter Belize through the west.
But that's almost 60 years ago - and Morales's orders to his army today, and the subsequent mobilization are the most serious threat to Belizean sovereignty in decades. And tonight, it has this nation - especially those in Toledo - on edge.
Belize Says Soldiers Came Under Fire From Gaute’s First
And to get an idea of how it has escalated so quickly, we have to go back to last night, in the Chiquibul Forest for the incident that triggered the Guatemalan military deployment.
The Government of Belize has issued a statement saying that the shooting happened within Belize, in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve, in an area known as Cebada, close to the Western Border.
The release says that the BDF were on patrol to investigate illegal clearings in the Chiquibul National Park. As viewers are aware, Caracol Makes up a part of the vast Chiquibul Forest.
The release adds that the security forces personnel encountered 33 year-old Guatemalan Jose Maria Antonio Reyes conducting illegal activities in the Chiquibul. That was at around 5 p.m. yesterday, and he was detained without incident.
About 2 hours later, the patrol came under fire at a location approximately 380 meters east of the Border, in Belizean Territory. The soldiers fired back in self-defense, and they made a decision to leave. They did not realize that someone had been fatally injured.
The Prensa Libre, the Guatemalan Newspaper, reported today that the victims have been identified as 48 year-old Carlos Alvarado, and his sons 11 year-old Carlos, and his 13 year-old son, Julio.
Now, the Prensa Libre, which is known for its Pro-Guatemalan slant, claims that the shooting happened in an area of Melchor De Menchos, which would make it Guatemalan territory. Belize disputes that and say that they were in Belizean territory. The Prensa Libre claims that the 3 Guatemalans that after the shooting 48 year-old Carlos Alvarado and his 11 year-old son, Carlos Jr. were injured in the shooting, and they had to flee for treatment at a Guatemalan hospital.
For whatever reason, 13 year-old Guatemalan Julio Alvarado was left behind, and when the BDF performed their standard clearing procedure, they found him fatally injured. The security forces personnel left the location and hiked from the scene of the shooting in the Cebada area, and they arrived in San Ignacio. The body of 13 year-old then transported to the KHMH, where a post-mortem has been conducted.
Apart from confirming the shooting, and the details we've described to you from the BDF's perspective the government statement says, quote,
"The Government of Belize has requested the support of the Organization of American States (OAS) in conducting a verification exercise to ascertain the facts surrounding the shooting..."
The statement, continues, "...The Government of Belize very much regrets any loss of life and will be conducting its own investigation. 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." End quote.
The Prensa Libre, in its report on the shooting, publicly speculates on the whereabout of Guatemalan Jose Maria Antonio Reyes, who the BDF arrested because he was conducting illegal activities in Belizean territory.
The Belize Government's statement says that the security forces of the patrol transferred him to the custody of the San Ignacio Police. He's awaiting an arraignment hearing before a Magistrate.
So as you heard in the press release, the OAS will assist in the investigation. But up until this morning, the OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro who was visiting Belize told us that he hadn't gotten any official statement on this incident. At a press conference held in the VIP room at the Phillip Goldson International Airport, Almagro only made a very general statement to say that when incidents like these occur, both countries need to verify the facts and send a formal request to the OAS.
H.E. Luis Almagro, Secretary General - OAS
"We have a problem there, that we need the countries to ask us to make a verification of this problem. We cannot go voluntary and spontaneously and assume the problem. Both countries have said that they will ask for verification. But we have not received any formal request about that yet. In any case, we have said yesterday in our improvised press conference that we have concern about incidents or accidents like this. I don't think they help in any way."
OAS Sec. Gen. Had No Report On ShootingAnd the Belize delegation agrees as well - these incidents only aggravate and intensify the hostility between both countries. In fact, Belize's 11 point proposal was sent to defuse all that tension and to try to put an end to those Sarstoon showdown's. But as we told you, Guatemala rejected Belize's proposals and in turn, we rejected their counter proposals which stated that Belize must ask permission to access the Sarstoon River. Well, when we asked Secretary General Almagro about the breakdown in this approach- another fail in trying to reach a peaceful resolution - he told us that a press conference wasn't the place to discuss those issues and that the ongoing negotiations between countries should not be publicized.
H.E. Luis Almagro, Secretary General - OAS
"It's not in our mandate to reveal points of the negotiation. The situation you are referring to is something that happens in the way of the negotiations of the two countries. In any case, I don't think we should have opinion related to negotiations that have not ended and that have not finished. So it's very clear that we should be confidential about that."
And in case you missed it in our top story, the Guatemalan president has today taken things one step further than even their counter proposals. He says that as of today, they are taking a bold protective stance on the border.
President Jimmy Morales
"We have decided that from this moment we shall exercise strict protection of the sovereignty of the Sarstoon River and all the adjacency zone."
Prime Minister Says BDF Were Fired Upon, NGO Can Confirm
And, just in, there is a statement from the Office of the Prime Minister responding to that inflamatory statement made by President Jimmy Morales.
It says, quote, "Belizean Security Forces and law enforcement officials would never perpetrate an armed attack on civilians especially minors except in exercise of the right to self defence."
It adds, quote, "In this case the BDF reports of the incident indicate that our patrol in Belizean national territory came under attack to which they responded in justifiable self-defence. It is to be pointed out that the patrol included civilian personnel from the NGO group, FCD, and those personnel confirm the fact that our patrol simply responded after they were fired upon and were in fear for their lives."
The statement goes unto say, quote,
"This latest shooting attack on Belizean officials is part of a continued pattern of aggression by Guatemalan civilians engaged in illegal activities on Belize's side of the Adjacency Zone. In this regard, the Office of the Prime Minister recollects the earlier attacks which resulted in the murder of Special Constable Danny Conorquie and the shooting of Sgt. Richard Lambey."
And, the PM also scolds the younger statesman Morales, syaing, quote: "Belize wishes to remind the Government of Guatemala that both countries are committed to the Confidence Building Measures signed in 2005 which obliges both Governments to act responsibly in word and in deed when dealing with any incident that may occur along the border.
In this regard, we find the statements made and position taken by President Morales to be unhelpful and inflammatory. The current amassing of Guatemalan troops in the border areas, including the Sarstoon River, only adds volatility to the tensions already created by illicit activities in these areas."
It closes, quote, "For its part, the Government of Belize will continue to abide strictly by the Confidence Building Measures and we urge the Government of Guatemala to do the same."
That is the statement from the office of the Prime Minister which came in just a few minutes ago.