• Orlando De La Fuente | BTV

Guatemala's End Game for Belize


Guatemala's end game is to enter negotiations from a position of strength. Belize has quietly acquiesced to Guatemala's change in posture by failing to push back. On the contrary, Prime Minister Barrow and Cabinet has emboldened Guatemala through the following actions:

1. The Belize Government has publicly discouraged Territorial Volunteers from visiting the border regions. There are two distinct approaches. Guatemala aggressively seeks reparations and justice for its citizens apprehended by Belize law enforcement for violation of Belize laws in Belize.

On the other hand, the Belize Government goes to pains to inform Guatemala that border expeditions by Territorial Volunteers within Belize are discouraged, In most cases, the Belize Government's message to Guatemala comes across as an apology for the actions of the Territorial Volunteers. Instead of a demand that Guatemala respect the right of Belizeans to travel freely within their country, the Belize Government publicly dismissed the Territorial Volunteers, and made ridicule of their attempts to highlight the aggression of the Guatemalan military and their incursions into Belize.

2. Belize has failed to capitalize on several opportunities to strengthen its position. In June 2015 a 65 foot Guatemalan gunboat ran aground the reef at Glover's Atoll. The Belize Government tried hard to downplay the incident, and assisted in every way to dislodge the vessel. Once afloat, the vessel was allowed to make a hasty departure from our waters and the Belize Government breathed a sigh of relief.

It would have served Belize well to seize the vessel and crew for the duration of an investigation. The vessel itself should have been searched and kept until negotiations secured its release. Negotiations that Belize would head, and for which Belize would get something for releasing the vessel.

As recent as this week, when Guatemala and the OAS would not place the Sarstoon incident of Mach 13th, 2016 on the agenda, Belize buckled and proceeded with the previously announced agenda. Guatemala faced no consequences for their military incursion into our territorial waters and for their aggression towards the Belize Defence Force soldiers. Belize could have insisted that the Sarstoon incident be addressed, or walk out. As one of the 2 negotiating parties, there could be no meeting without Belize being present.

3. In February 2016 Belize started construction of a Forward Operating Base at Sarstoon. The ribbon cutting ceremony was attended by the Minister of National Security, Minister of Education, Commander of the BDF, and Commander of the Belize Coast Guard. During the inauguration ceremony a drone was sent to the site by Guatemala. It puzzled the Cabinet Ministers. The BDF Comander had no comment. Only the Coast Guard Commander seemed concerned that a drone would fly over the site and invade the air space of Belize.

Both the BDF Commander and Coast Guard Commander had force security on hand for themselves and the protection of the Cabinet Ministers The drone should have been shot out of the sky. Instead of Belize bearing a burden to explain why the drone was shot down, it would have been Guatemala to answer why their drone was allowed to invade our airspace. It would have set a precedent.

Instead, the mouthpiece for the UDP explained that it could have been a Guatemalan fisherman that sent the drone. He said we don't know whose drone it was. Again an apology by Belize for Guatemala's aggressions.

The uncertainty of the drone's ownership flying over 2 Cabinet Ministers and the 2 highest ranking officers of our security forces is a compelling enough reason to take it out.

4. In August 2015, the BDF patrol heading to Cadenas Camp for changeover was stopped by the Guatemala Armed Forces and given a Belize flag that they had removed from Sarstoon Island. That flag had been hoisted by Wil Maheia. The BDF patrol accepted the flag and proceeded with their patrol. The Guatemalan soldiers were never questioned about their activity on Sarstoon Island, which is part of Belize's insular territories. They were not cautioned that they had violated our sovereignty. And worse, the flag was never hoisted again on the island. Again, Belize's response was quiet acquiescence instead of an assertion of ownership.

That same month the OAS submitted a report to Belize regarding Guatemala's military incursion into the North Channel at Sarstoon to prevent the Territorial Volunteers from navigating Sarstoon Island. Though the official language of Belize is English, the OAS letter to the Belize Government was written in Spanish. PM Barrow held the letter in his hand at a press conference and admitted he could not understand its contents and would get the letter translated. Later a spokesperson for the Government of Belize clarified the matter by saying that Spanish is one of 4 official languages used by the OAS, so the OAS was in its right to write the letter in Spanish. This is how weak Belize is. Would the OAS have written their report to Guatemala in English?

5. Belize practices sincere diplomacy. Joseph Stalin once said, 'sincere diplomacy is no more possible than dry water..."

While Guatemala and the OAS make statements that sound good for peace and stability, their actions on the ground are vastly different. Guatemala has violated most articles of the Framework for Negotiations and Confidence Building Measures. The OAS has failed its mandate to be an arbiter and promoter of peace and stability. Yet Belize runs to the OAS and Guatemala begging that they intervene to diffuse any flash point that occurs.

Guatemala has used diplomacy skillfully by saying what Belize and the OAS want to hear. But the reality on the ground is far different.

In August 2008 tensions between Russia and Georgia escalated into war, as Russia invaded the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Eventually an agreement was signed called the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism. The agreement set procedures to address outstanding issues and prevent further bloodshed between Russia and Georgia. However, Russia entered the negotiations from a position of strength, and still now occupies the two provinces. It's unlikely that Georgia will ever recover the territory it lost.

Even as the United Nations condemns Israel for seizing Palestine lands, Israel has not stopped. When the time comes for negotiations, Israel will negotiate from a position of strength, already having occupied the Palestine lands and populating it with its own people. The longer the Israelis occupy and live on the Palestinian lands, the stronger their position gets and Palestine's chances of recovering their territory gets slimmer.

It's logical that Guatemala's next move will be to annex the Sarstoon and deny the BDF access to Cadenas Camp. With a Guatemalan naval blockade of the Sarstoon River, the BDF would no longer be able to access the camp, and Cadenas would have to be abandoned. Naturally Guatemala would start occupying the North bank of the Sarstoon River and encourage settlement by its citizens. It follows that in an attempt to protect its citizens from Belize, that Guatemala would then build a military installation on the Belize side of the Sarstoon.

By the time Belize enters negotiations with Guatemala, the status quo will be vastly different. Guatemala will have possession of Belize territory and maritime areas and its hand will be greatly strengthened, What Could Belize offer to recover its territory?

Belize has paid a heavy price for its immaturity and naivete. PM Barrow and Cabinet were busy governing the country while the country was being lost. Belize practiced "sincere diplomacy" while Guatemala used diplomacy that assured Belize of its desire for a peaceful settlement, while laying the groundwork for what we face today. Guatemala and the OAS took PM Barrow for a ride.

PM Barrow and Cabinet had a list of priorities. Defense of our territorial sovereignty and a demarcated border did not rank high on that list, even as Belizeans sounded the alarm and were prepared to make sacrifices to save the Jewel.

The bully will keep coming, and will eventually hurt you. At some point you must stand up and make him pay a price. That price should be multi faceted-militarily, diplomatically and economically. Guatemala has never paid a price for its aggression.


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