Amandala, Belize’s leading newspaper, has published a lengthy piece analyzing the renewed tensions along the border between Belize and Guatemala. The article serves as a great introduction to the source of the problems from the Belizean perspective and is a must read for anyone following these developments. It is too lengthy to reproduce here, so here is the intro, with a link to the full text below.
Officials of Belize and Guatemala, including a representative of the surveillance group Comision de Belice, a department in the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held a high-level meeting in Belize City, Belize, on Tuesday, March 9, 2010, in the wake of flared tensions along Belize’s western and southern border with Guatemala.
The parties had agreed in December 2008 to take the 150-year-old dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), pending approval by their parliaments and voters; however, on the first anniversary of that festive signing, they were meeting in Guatemala to discuss protests from Guatemalan villagers, who were accusing Belizean military of incursions into Guatemala — allegations which Belizean authorities have categorically denied.
Belize contends that because of the illegal incursions by Guatemalans who come to cut xaté and logs, and hunt wildlife inside protected areas, an observation post was set up at Machaquilha. “The complaint from Guatemala about militarization of the border came shortly after the post was installed. The political spin by Guatemala was that Belize installed the outpost as a political strategy to demarcate the border long ahead of the ICJ resolution of the case,” said Alfredo Martinez, Belize’s Ambassador resident in Guatemala. He told the Belize media on Wednesday at a press briefing held in Belize City 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.
In October 2009, Guatemalan villagers of El Carrazal in Guatemala made official protests to their government over the Machaquilha observation post installed by Belize near the western boundary with Guatemala. These are not indigenous people, said Ambassador Martinez. When they go to a restaurant, it’s not their cell phone they put on the table — it’s their gun! The villagers called their Guatemalan congressmen to complain, and the Guatemalan Government, in turn, sent a diplomatic note to Belize, questioning the installation of the observation post on the Belize side of the border.
Soon after the problems in the west, there were problems in the south, at the Sarstoon – a natural border between Belize and Guatemala, with Belizean military conducting regular patrols to Cadenas, near Gracias a Dios Falls, marking Belize’s south-west border with Guatemala.
The Guatemalan Armed Forces stopped Belize Defence Force officers from using the southern channel of the Sarstoon, which is the southern boundary between Belize and Guatemala, telling them to instead use the northern channel, north of the Sarstoon Island, which is included in Belize’s territory, as defined under the 1859 Treaty and the Belize Constitution.
The Guatemalan military had complained that Belize military were speeding too much and creating waves that were overturning the canoes of these poor families who do subsistence fishing in the area. “We did not interpret that to be any navigation challenge; we interpreted that — and protested severely — that this was a challenge to our sovereignty of using the southern channel,” Martinez told the press.
He said that while the challenges at the Sarstoon had stopped over the past two to three weeks, and the Guatemalan military had stopped intercepting the Belize military, there was “a brief challenge last Tuesday.” This came up on Tuesday at the High Level Working Group meeting between Belize and Guatemala as a point of discussion. “Belize says it has to stop,” said Martinez.
On a visit to Guatemala last week, said Martinez, Prime Minister Dean Barrow also raised the concern with Guatemala president Alvaro Colom, who reportedly assured that things will return to normal. For their part, the Guatemalans claim that it is not a sovereignty issue, but we know that that is not the case, Ambassador Martinez maintained. “But as we have pointed out to them, this [challenge of Belize’s sovereignty] does not help you any at all, because the International Court of Justice, looks at what happened before you signed that special agreement,” said Martinez. “Anything after the special agreement, the court will say, they are just doing that, it won’t help you. Why didn’t you do that show of sovereignty before?”
In response to a flare-up out west over the Machaquilha observation post, the parties had met in Guatemala first and then later in Washington at the Organization of American States. It was coming out of this meeting that Belize’s Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington commented, much to the discontent of many Belizeans, that, “We have to interact to emphasize the view that we are not different from each other; the fact of this artificial border does not make us different. We are still the same people, with the same aspirations and desires.”
When the Guatemalans first protested the Belize observation post in October 2009, Belize returned a diplomatic note, crafted with the help of international lawyers, said Ambassador Martinez. The Confidence Building Measures, said Martinez, say that the Guatemalans must dissuade their people from coming over to Belize illegally. “We don’t see them doing that,” he declared.
For the rest, go to http://www.amandala.com.bz/index.php?id=9627