Are Guatemalan Officials Undermining Confidence Building Measures?
Since last week, we've been closely following the spike in tensions between Belize and Guatemala. That happened shortly after the BDF shot and killed 13 year-old Guatemalan Julio Alvarado Ruano in the Chiquibul on last Wednesday evening.
The BDF soldiers say that they came under fire in the darkness, half a kilometre inside Belize; they were forced to return fire to defend themselves. Guatemala has condemned the fatal shooting as "murder" – and suggested that it was somehow a calculated act. Now, so the OAS will have to investigate and determine who is at fault.
But, one element of the tensions, which we've not explored, yet is the strong language that the Guatemalan leaders have used in their comments to their Guatemalan press. It's the strongest language we've seen in a long time, but did they go too far? Today, Daniel Ortiz took a closer look at the rules of the Confidence Building Measures which Guatemala's officials appear to have violated with their emotive language:
The Confidence Building Measures, it's the much referred to OAS protocol signed in September of 2005 – the one that substituted the word "adjacency zone" for border. It's the playbook for improving relations and keeping tensions at a minimum between Belize and Guatemala.
The crafters of the CBM's, including Ambassador Assad Shoman, were careful when wording the guidelines for handling incidents like the Cebada fatal shooting from last week Wednesday.
It contains passages like this one which says, quote,
"The Parties agree to exercise caution and restraint in the treatment of all issues related to the Territorial Differendum…" End Quote.
and this one
"Neither Party shall use force, or the threat of force, to pursue their positions with respect to the Territorial Differendum…"
Foreign Affairs Minister Elrington told teachers earlier this month that's why he's so careful
FILE: (April 15, 2016)
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "…The party shall specifically recognized that not only incidents on the ground, but statements in the media or elsewhere can also be disruptive of confidence between the parties and inimical to the process of conflict resolution." So even what we say in the media can bring harm to a nation."
And there are other important agreements from Annex C which say, quote
1.Each Government must observe a self-denying ordinance in avoiding public accusations and attribution of hostile motives to the other.
4. The Governments shall moderate the language and tone of their written communications and public pronouncements of their officials.
6. Whenever a State receives a report of an "incident" allegedly caused by the other, the State receiving the report, before it denounces the other State or publicly comments on the "incident," should immediately communicate with the allegedly offending State to determine what occurred and the explanation for it, and make every attempt to verify the facts before making the issue public.
Foreign Minister Elrington has certainly had to weather his fair share of criticism as being weak-kneed in his strict observance of the CBM's.
Take for instance his comments back in September of 2014 when Special Constable Danny Conorquie was killed in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.
File: September 24, 2014
Daniel Ortiz "There will be those in the public who will be outraged that a Belizean was killed on Belizean soil by some persons believed to be Guatemalans?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "Well I can't take that further than that. It is his belief, but we have no evidence that in fact it is Guatemalans. We don't know who has done it. I am told that the police are looking for the people who supposed to have done it, but not even the police knows who have done it; who are responsible. So that it would not be to my mind proper to ascribe it to any particular nationality - we don't know."
But, last week, the Guatemala Leaders and Diplomats threw the CBMs out of the window when they publicly called out the BDF for the fatal shooting of 13 year-old Julio Alvarado Ruano.
The Guatemalan President was the first. His Ambassador to Belize followed, and then his Foreign Affairs Minister.
File: April 21, 2016
Jimmy Morales - Guatemalan President "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."
"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."
File: April 26, 2016
Manuel Roldan Barillas "This is an unspeakable act. It is something completely disgraceful for which Belize will have to explain the circumstances....Unfortunately, as you know, since 1999 there have been 10 killings of Guatemalans at the hands of the BDF and we view this with concern. Unfortunately, we recognize that although there may be a lack of discretion by the armed forces of Belize in contrast to that of Guatemala, a professional army, which although they have been trained for war, that would be the last resort... I see the bilateral relation with Belize damaged at this time by a completely condemnable act." End quote.
H.E. Carlos Raul Morales - Guatemalan Foreign Minister "We could be very angry about what occurred with the death of this child but we won't react like them. We won't go and hunt down a Belizean, like they have hunted down Guatemalan farmers before. Sorry for the strong expression but that is literally what they have done. But we will not act in the same manner."
Even the OAS, which is supposed to be neutral and impartial said it "Repudiates the death of a minor."
File: April 25, 2016
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "That word stuck out like a sore thumb and I have to believe that there may have been some difficulty. I first I thought it was originally in Spanish and something may have been lost in translation."
Eamon Courtenay, PUP Rep., BZ, Guatemala Relations "I took a look at that statement and I was struck by the language that was used by the OAS. I am surprised that the OAS would issue a statement like that particularly at this time. The secretary general just left Belize and he is well aware that Belize is not looking for any military confrontation with Guatemala. He is well aware of the raping of the Chiquibul and the areas along the western border by Guatemalans. The Secretary General and the OAS is well aware that the Government of Guatemala is in breach of its obligation to take effective steps to dissuade its people from coming across. Everybody is saddened by the loss of life, but to suggest or to imply that the BDF was somehow at fault, I think is a matter of concern for me. It is a matter of concern that the OAS would begin to think that way."
But it's not the first time The OAS made a verbal mis-step. In 2012 when the BDF shot and killed an illegal logger, the OAS called it reprehensible:
File: July 20, 2012
Jules Vasquez "Words have meaning Ambassador, the language quoted to the secretary general is reprehensible. Reprehensible means deserving condemnation. Again, if there is an armed engagement between outlaws and the armed forces of a sovereign nation and it results in a fatality, that is regrettable but it is not reprehensible in so far as deserving condemnation."
H.E. Fred Martinez
"I certainly agree with you and therefore I do mention that I do not like his choice of words"
In stark contrast, the Belize side has stuck strictly to the guidelines for public speaking, and Foreign Minister Elrington has had to shrug off harsh public condemnation for it.
File: October 3, 2014
Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs "As a foreign minister I have the responsibility not only to Belize and the government of Belize and the people of Belize - that's where I have my first responsibility, but we are now part of an interconnected world and so I've got to think in terms of the impact of what I say on the world at large.
File (April 15, 2016)
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "…In the Conorquie issue there were members in my government, head of the police and other, even ministers were saying 'I am certain that it is the Guatemalans that killed Conorquie'. My position was if you bring me the evidence I will say that."
And looking briefly to Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales's disparaging remarks about the supposed lack of professionalism in the Belizean military, that's one heck of a claim, from an official in a country where the military killed two hundred thousand of its own people, in a genocidal civil war which went from 1960 to 1996. Here is how one of the relatives of the victims put it in a documentary that we found on YouTube:…
And, while you might think that the military would, by now, be purged of those persons, in fact, former President Otto Perez Molina was a commander in those genocidal assaults, and President Jimmy Morales's party, the FCN was founded by former Generals.
Jimmy Morales gives Belize (and the PM) another tongue lashing. Let's hope Baroness Scotland can rally the Commonwealth to intercede on our behalf. We desperately need allies.
The Government of the Republic of Guatemala regrets and denounces the unfortunate declarations made by the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, at a press conference yesterday.
The Government of the Republic categorically states that Prime Minister Barrow is trying to justify through social media and to the international community this inexcusable act of violence perpetrated by the BDF against the minor child Julio Rene, barely 13 years of age, who because of the irresponsibility and lack of professionalism (of the BDF) lost his life as a result of being shot eight times. The shots are proven to have come from a high powered rifle used exclusively by the military. Four of the bullets entered the child's back after he was already dead, while other shots hit the bodies of the child's father and his brother.
It is inconceivable, that now that the deeds have come to light, that Belize will proclaim that the comments made by the Guatemalan President, who simply reacted to the inhumane killing of a Guatemalan child, are more serious than the disproportionate acts of the cowardly BDF who violated (the child's) human rights.
It was these inexcusable, unjustifiable and disastrous actions by him, and the elements of the BDF, that instigated the Guatemalan response.
Belize appears to forget, or wants the world to forget that its military killed a Guatemalan child and wounded his brother and his father.
The Guatemalan government has requested that an ad-hoc committee from the OAS perform an investigation, and that the persons responsible for the crime committed against this child, Julio Alvarado Ruano be brought to justice, at the same time, I'd like to express my gratitude to the Secretary General of the OAS for having accepted the request.
The Government of Guatemala shall use every power to ensure justice in this case, and to prevent actions like those of today which we also regret.Yesterday, May 3rd, a meeting between the "Cancilleres" (???) of both countries, in which this topic, along with other topics relating to bi-lateral relations, was broached, took place in a positive light, This is not reflected in the statements made by PM Barrow.
Unofficial Translation by Wendy Auxillou-Othman
Guatemala Takes Aim at Prime Minister Dean Barrow
The government of Guatemala is incensed at comments made by Prime Minister Dean Barrow at a press conference held in Belmopan on Tuesday. So incensed that today Guatemala issued a fiery release which states that, “The Government of the Republic of Guatemala regrets and rejects the unfortunate statements made by the Prime Minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, during a press conference yesterday.” Just in case there was any ambiguity, the release continues to state that, “this is a failed attempt by Prime Minister Barrow to justify to the media and the international community, the inexcusable act of violence perpetrated by elements of the defense forces of Belize against the child Julio Rene, just thirteen years old, who lost his life due to irresponsibility and lack of professionalism.” And not content with that tirade, the release states that, “It is inconceivable that now, in light of the facts, Belize expresses that the statements by the President of the Republic of Guatemala are more severe – when he reacted because of the wrongful death of the Guatemalan child – than the cowardly act in which the Belizean military killed the child, using excessive force and violating his human rights.” The Guatemalan government is furious – that’s quite clear – but what did the Prime Minister say on Tuesday to elicit that rant? We checked through our footage of the press conference which lasted about forty minutes, including statement and question and answer session. The only reference by the PM to the incident in the Chiquibul was at the very beginning of his statement – fifty seconds of seemingly innocuous comment which has riled up the Guatemalans.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“At the press conference last Monday I attempted a detailed review of the crisis situation that had arisen following the incident at Cebada where a Guatemala minor lost his life in consequence of an exchange of fire after a B.D.F./FCD patrol had come under a nighttime attack. All the world now knows of the unjustified, disproportionate and incendiary response of Guatemalan officialdom to the unfortunate death of their citizen. That response precipitated the crisis in which it appeared that a fundamental breach of the peace between Guatemala and Belize was an imminent possibility.”
The release asserts that based on those comments it appears that, “Belize seems to have forgotten, or wants the world to forget that its army killed a Guatemalan child and wounded his brother and father.” And then, in closing, the release states that Guatemala remains committed to the peaceful resolution of any dispute, according to the principles of international law, but “will defend its sovereignty, territorial integrity and welfare of its citizens at all costs and sparing no efforts.”
Guatemalan Analyst Criticize His Government For Showing Military Muscle
Many eyebrows were raised yesterday around 4:00 in the afternoon when three Guatemalan Soldiers were spotted with their weapons on the Belize side of the border. They were parked near the OAS Adjacency Zone office, which is on the Belize side of the border. As this photo shows, the soldiers were casual - and our unofficial information is that they were escorting a senior officer, who was on official business at the Adjacency Zone office. We did call that office, and they told us the Director wasn't there. But we did send him an email - to which we haven't yet gotten a response.
And those historically easy relations and casual crossings are what the sudden militancy from the Guatemalan military seems to want to put into jeopardy. Today we picked up a report from Chapin TV in Guatemala where a Guatemalan analyst criticized his government for militarizing the terms of the territorial dispute. In fact there are a number of Guatemlan NGO's criticizing the Guatemalan Government for their aggressive response to incident with the 13 year old minor. They said this approach has placed the bilateral relationships in jeopardy. Here's the interview political analyst Hugo Novales did with Chapin TV. He's a political analyst for a Guatemalan organization called "Asi-es."