Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), José Miguel Insulza, has been quoted in an official OAS press release as saying, in response to the death of Guatemalan farmer, Luis Alberto Martínez Alonzo, on Wednesday that “The death of a person is always reprehensible and I hope that the circumstances in which this occurred are cleared up promptly.”
“We at COLA consider it even more reprehensible that an international organization as well-established as the OAS, which purports to be the chief mediating organ between Belize and Guatemala, can get so completely wrong the difference between the established border between these nations and their artificially established ‘adjacency zone,’” said a stern statement released today by Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA).
According to an official statement from the Belize Ministry of National Security, the incident resulted from an armed confrontation between Belize security forces and illegal loggers from Guatemala. Multiple government sources have told our newspaper that the Guatemalans carried shotguns.
“Something must be done by Guatemala or the international community to help,” said Belize Ambassador to Guatemala, Alfredo “Fred” Martinez, stressing the need for the authorities on the other side of the border to find gainful employment for their people so they do not have to come into Belize to make a living from illegal activities.
The victim and the detainees whom Belize security forces encountered on Wednesday evening, said Martinez, are from the village of El Carrizal, Peten, located about 2 miles from the Belize-Guatemala border.
As our newspaper reported back in December 2009, residents of this same village complained via cell phone to Guatemala congressmen, when Belize had set up a conservation post at Machaquilha, in order to police illegal cutting of xaté and logs, and the poaching of wildlife from inside Belize protected areas.
Last Wednesday’s fatal incident happened, according to the Belize statement, when a BDF patrol was heading towards the said Machaquilha Conservation Post, to which the Guatemalan officials had expressed opposition.
When an El Carrizal villager goes to a restaurant, it’s not their cell phone they put on the table — it’s their gun, the Ambassador had said back in 2009, making the point that men of the village tend to be armed.
The Guatemalan officials had responded to the complaints by El Carrizal villagers, challenging Belize’s installation of the Machaquilha post, by sending a diplomatic note, accusing Belize of militarizing the border and using this strategy to demarcate the border well ahead of any ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
At that time, Ambassador Martinez had warned Belizeans that as the time for court draws near, Belize will continue to see Guatemala challenge the country’s sovereignty in an effort to help its case before the court.
“We will continue to see challenges in writing, because they are trying to document for the court purpose—should we ever reach there—that they did protest our sovereignty. In other words, it’s just like when you have a piece of land, a squatter, you send that person a notice constantly: ‘Hey, come out of my land!’” said Ambassador Alfredo Martinez.
The latest controversy—coming as both countries prepare to hold national referenda to determine if the ICJ is indeed the way to go—is over the killing of a Guatemalan, who Belize government officials said was found well inside Belizean territory, where he and at least two others were engaged in illegal logging—a persistent problem along the border terrain but which has expanded further east of the border.
Meanwhile, a statement released by the Guatemala Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday, July 19, 2012, at a press conference held that same evening by vice ministers Rita Claverie and Carlos Raul Morales, very strongly condemned Belize for “attacking and killing Guatemalan peasants”—a charge the ministry made twice in its statement.
The Guatemalan statement does concede, however, that the incident happened beyond “the adjacency line”—which is the term they use for the Belize-Guatemala border, but it goes on to describe the area in question as “under dispute” and “administered by Belize.”
They furthermore say that Belize Defence Force officers should desist from attacking and killing Guatemalan peasants.
The statement goes on to refer to the killing of other Guatemalans, such as Juan Choc Chub, which happened about five months ago, which the Guatemalan government had also strongly condemned.
The Guatemalan statement notes that a meeting is scheduled for Monday, July 30, 2012, at which vice ministers in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of both countries are scheduled to meet at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, DC, at which, the statement said, such incidents will be discussed and a call will be made for Belize to cease its provocations and hostilities against the Guatemalan people.
Belize should be represented by Foreign Affairs CEO, Alexis Rosado, Ambassador Martinez and Ambassador Nestor Mendez, who is based in Washington, DC, while Guatemala should be represented by vice minister Carlos Raul Morales, Guatemala’s ambassador to Belize, Manuel Tellez, and its ambassador based in DC. The OAS Secretary General will also be involved in that meeting.
Speaking with Amandala on the matter on Friday, Belize Ambassador to Guatemala, Alfredo “Fred” Martinez, said that the statement from Guatemala is “nothing we did not expect...” since that country has always held on to the very strong position that Belize overreacts in these encounters with Guatemalans. He did acknowledge that the tone of Guatemala’s statement is “higher” this time around.
“It never comes out as if these people entered Belize. Their attitude is always that the life of a Guatemalan civilian is far more important than whatever that civilian may be doing here.”
Martinez said that he had met with the Guatemalan vice minister, Morales, on Thursday, when the incident was reported to him.
He said that at the upcoming OAS meeting, Belize will underline the need for those on the ground to respect our laws, since not doing so can increase friction between the two countries.
The Ambassador said that the OAS verification of the Chub incident was “not conclusive enough to say who shot first.” The Guatemalans, he said, were informed but they are not satisfied with the OAS report.
“They felt that certain details of investigation were not properly covered,” he added.
According to Martinez, police in Belize were to have done an independent investigation, and that report, said Martinez, will be presented at the upcoming OAS meeting.
The Ambassador confirmed that incidents between Belize and Guatemala that occur beyond the 1-km stretch from the borderline are not normally subject to the OAS verification process, but in this instance, Belize has agreed that the OAS undertakes verification in the interest of transparency, because of the way the Guatemalans reacted and because the incident happened relatively close to the border.
“We don’t want it to appear that we are stonewalling,” he said. “The [Belize] Minister [of Foreign Affairs] took that decision that he wanted the OAS to help us verify and that started this morning.”
Ambassador Martinez said that it is no secret that Belize has always been complaining to the international community about the encroachments by Guatemalans.
He said, “...they are aware we are constantly under siege by these incursions. They know exactly what we have been facing... We have gone to great pains to explain, so that whenever these incidents occur they understand the dynamics of what is happening.”
According to the Ambassador, the OAS was advised immediately on Thursday morning of the incident, and at the same time Guatemala’s ambassador in Belize, Manuel Téllez, had also been advised that there was an incident.
The OAS statement said that since Thursday, when Insulza first learned of the incident, he “has been in contact with the foreign ministers of both countries and their respective ambassadors accredited to the OAS to gather more information and ask for a broad investigation to the satisfaction of both governments.”
The statement goes on to say that, “In these discussions, the Secretary General received the commitment of Belize to conduct a diligent and immediate investigation into the incident, to which they will provide access to the government of Guatemala.”