"the two sides have informally accepted a situation in which there will be untrammeled traffic for Belize's military and civilians along the Sarstoon...." that's what the Government announced on May 24th coming out of the Istanbul talks between Foreign Ministers Wilfred Elrington and Carlos Raul Morales. To make it clear, "untrammeled" means without restriction, meaning Belizeans could move freely on our side of the Sarstoon.
Well, tonight we have documentary proof that the Guatemalans reject that interpretation and do not agree that Belizeans can freely traffic the Sarstoon.
Four days after that government of Belize press release, Guatemala's Embassy in Belize sent a Diplomatic Note rejecting that specific line from the Government press release. They say that the joint communique quote, "reflects all agreements reached" and we note that said nothing about Belizeans freely trafficking the Sarstoon.
The Note from the Guatemalan Embassy adds, that the only issue agreed to in Istanbul regarding the Sarstoon was that, quote, "the heads of both armed forces will have to define the procedures to be enacted in the river until the final mechanism is agreed."
As for the Sarstoon, the Note makes it clear, quote "Guatemala re-iterates that the river is an integral part of its territory," end quote. The letter stresses that while a mechanism for the Sarstoon was discussed, quote, "The Guatemalan Foreign Minister was very clear in stating that it is necessary to start a process in which several (Guatemalan) state institutions must be involved." End quote.
So they're talking about just starting a process which the Government of Belize said three weeks ago had already made a major informal breakthrough. So how could such divergent conclusions come out of the same meeting? That's what we asked Belize's Foreign Minister last week:
"When the government of Belize sent out the second release after the Istanbul meeting, the second release speaking about the rescission of the SI and the untrammeled access to the Sarstoon. Two things happen; 1), examples ensuing thereafter have shown that there is not untrammeled access to the Sarstoon by Belizeans and 2), the Guatemalan foreign ministry was chafed, was upset that you all said such a thing when we agreed we will send out this very conservative joint statement and then the government of Belize goes ahead and says this thing which we know they reacted to in anger, in disappointment."
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
"Yeah, but the Prime Minister as far as I knew articulated what was our understanding at the meeting in Istanbul."
Elrington and his Guatemalan counterpart Carlos Raul Morales are set to meet in Washington in a week.
Leaked Diplomatic Note: Guatemala says No Agreement Allowing Belizeans Access to Sarstoon
Belizeans are free to access our portion of the Sarstoon – go forth and enjoy. That’s pretty much the last word, not in so many words, that we got from Prime Minister Dean Barrow on May twenty-fifth, following a now much scrutinized informal understanding in Istanbul. Two days after, Guatemalan military refused to allow our news team access to the river. One week after, they did allow the P.U.P. to enter and to circle Sarstoon Island – but allegedly after special permission was procured. So what’s the situation in the Sarstoon today? We’re not sure our side really knows, but a document leaked from our Ministry of Foreign Affairs this week will provide some clarity. That document is an official missive from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Guatemala to its counterpart in Belize, penned and sent one day after the intercepted media outing. Mike Rudon takes a look at the very strong declaration against the context of the Istanbul talks and an informal understanding which apparently only one side understood. Here’s the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
On May twenty-fourth, buoyed by the success of talks in Istanbul one day prior, G.O.B. via release rescinded the Sarstoon Prohibition SI and declared the Sarstoon open to Belizeans. That release stated that, “the two sides (Belize and Guatemala) have informally accepted a situation in which there will be untrammeled traffic for Belize’s military and civilians along the Sarstoon.” But that wasn’t the case on the ground, or on the river in this case.
GAF Military Personnel [File: May 27th, 2016]
“Effectively, you are in national (Guatemalan) waters and so you cannot continue down the river.”
“Exactly who gave those orders?”
GAF Military Personnel
“I cannot give you more information because you are not understanding me. You are in Guatemalan waters; you cannot continue so I will ask you to please leave.”
That warranted an immediate response from the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: May 27th, 2016]
“I am extremely distressed, extremely disturbed by what has happened. We’re trying to get to the bottom of it. As near as I can gather the people in Guatemala are saying well, the Foreign Minister is still travelling and he had not or has not returned to Guatemala since the meeting in Istanbul so that in fact the military had not been apprised of new instructions regarding Belizean civilian traffic along the river. I do not find that satisfactory. Let me put it clearly. I find that most unsatisfactory.”
That statement from Prime Minister Barrow was made on May twenty-seventh. Foreign Affairs Minister Elrington echoed it on June seventh when he returned to the country.
Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs
“We haven’t heard from the armed forces but what we got from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was that the Foreign Minister had not had enough time to be able to brief the military as to what in fact we had agreed in Istanbul. He was travelling and so you have the chain of command – people are not going to do things unless they get instructions. That is the explanation we got.”
That brings us to the official Guatemalan document dispatched on May twenty-eighth, one day after the media’s trip to the Sarstoon. It was sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it certainly made no mention of Guatemalan military in the Sarstoon not being briefed by a travelling Foreign Minister. Rather, it states quite clearly that there was no agreement allowing untrammeled access to the Sarstoon. Referring to G.O.B.’s release, Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs states that, “As soon as the Guatemalan Foreign Minister was informed of the Belizean statement dated May twenty-fourth, he immediately expressed his concern to Foreign Minister Elrington and Ambassador Rosado because such statement did not reflect the content of the conversation.”
“Those certainly last mechanisms in relation to the Sarstoon was predicated on the understanding that while we are working out the mechanism our people will be able to go and come without let or hindrance. That is our understanding. That was the context within which we were negotiating.”
Senator Eamon Courtenay, Opposition Representative, Belize Delegation [File: May 30th, 2016]
“We certainly left the room with the understanding that in the interim there would be access by Belizeans and Belizean military. Mister Elrington specifically said that to his counterpart. Without going into the details, I will simply say this; there was no rejection by the Guatemalans of what Minister Elrington said.”
“I think the Foreign Minister of Guatemala suggested that he did not understand it in that light.”
That is quite clear in the document, which goes on to state that, “Guatemala is concerned about the disclosure made regarding agreements reached in meetings between the two countries and requests that such public disclosures reflect strictly what was agreed and stated.” So with all that misspeaking, and miscommunication and misinformation the question remains – what of the Sarstoon?
“My understanding as of today is that we continue to use it without let or hindrance, and in the meantime we are working on a formal mechanism so that in the event of any untoward incident taking place we have a way to resolve it harmoniously.”
For context, in its document Guatemala states, “it was agreed in Istanbul to negotiate a cooperation mechanism for the Sarstoon River even though Guatemala reiterates that the river is an integral part of its territory.” Is a cooperation mechanism the same thing as protocols governing a river over which both sides claim and assert sovereignty? Mike Rudon for News Five.
The diplomatic note also states that the Guatemalan Foreign Minister was very clear in stating that it is necessary to start a process in which Guatemala State Institutions must be involved, including the Ministry of Defense. And that the heads of both armed forces will have to define the procedures to be enacted in the river until the final mechanism is agreed upon.