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Dec 9, 2015

Ground Broken for Joint FOB at Sarstoon River

A groundbreaking for the Forward Operating Base finally took place this morning at the Sarstoon River in southern Belize. The base will be used to support tactical operations by the B.D.F. and Coastguard within the area. The event is very significant because the adjacent island, as well as the portion of land designated for the construction of the base, is under claim by Guatemala and the government appeared to have been soft when the Guatemalan navy had a standoff with Belizeans who had gone to the area in August. In fact Guatemala, in response to a protest note on the standoff, had said Belize could not build the F.O.B.  The original location of the base was shifted and the F.O.B. will be built on the bank of the Sarstoon.  Well, today all hands were on deck for the event. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following story.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The departure of a fleet of naval vessels, including a B.D.F. interceptor carrying a delegation of high-ranking government officials, from a jetty in Punta Gorda Town this morning, marked the first official visit by members of the Barrow Administration to the Sarstoon River.  The remote location, a short distance from the mouth of the southernmost estuary in Belize, has been chosen as the site of a joint installation for military and coast guard elements.

 

David Jones

Brig. Gen. David Jones, Commander, Belize Defense Force

“This is a historic occasion, not just for the Belize Defense Force and also the coast guard but for our nation in that we’re about to establish a forward operating base that has been long in the pipeline for the entrance of the Sarstoon River.”

 

Getting here is a half hour boat ride.  In one of two Boston Whalers assigned to the Belize National Coast Guard, we travel speedily in the wake of the lead vessel.  Onboard is Minister of National Security John Saldivar, who is accompanied by C.E.O. George Lovell.  Elsewhere on the expedition are ministers Patrick Faber and Frank Mena, as well as several other dignitaries.

 

Our patrol craft is tasked with bringing up the rear.  Outfitted with a triangle of light machine guns and a detail of officers led by Commander John Borland, we follow suit carefully, skipping along the uniform surface of the Caribbean Sea.  Overhead is a B.D.F. Defender keeping a watchful eye on the mission below.  Along the way, as we draw nearer to our destination, is a pair of GC-651s.  These Guatemalan gunboats, similar to the one that ran aground near Glovers Reef in June, sit idly a safe distance away in what appears to be Belizean waters.

 

John Borland

Rear Admiral John Borland, Commander, BNCG

“As I saw it, I believe, and this is done with no instrumentation at all, with the mark two eyeball, that they would be straddling what you referred to just now as the equidistance, the median line.  In this area we use the equidistance principle to define the boundary as it exists since we’ve been patrolling this area.”

 

That boundary forms the basis of an age-old, geopolitical dispute between Belize and Guatemala.  The objective today is for the Government of Belize to break ground for what will be, in the very near future, a military position used to support tactical operations within the area.

 

John Saldivar

John Saldivar, Minister of National Security

“In three months after the construction of this facility will be adding to our growing list of responsibilities a facility that will be the home of many of our young servicemen and women.  We expect that you will, from this day forward, steadily develop and improve this facility so that it will serve for all our good.”

 

The initial situation for the FOB was Sarstoon Island, an adjacent riverine land mass a few hundred feet south.  That plan has since changed.

 

Ret. Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security

“The area was decided upon based on a reconnaissance that was done by the coast guard followed by a reconnaissance done by the Belize Defense Force and some engineers and there were some soil testing done.  There were several areas looked at, including the island, and this was the best place we had.  There was, in fact, a report from Ministry of Works engineers outlining all the areas that were looked at.  They weighed them to see precisely which were the best options based on what it is we want to achieve here in terms of the purpose of this forward operating base and looking at the location itself where we have solid ground.”

 

According to C.E.O. Lovell, the change of location offers a unique vantage point of the river mouth.

 

George Lovell

Ret. Col. George Lovell

“It is the most ideal location for us to be able to observe; if we are to intercept, for us to be able to intercept anything that will be occurring at the mouth and along the Sarstoon [River] because, remember now, when you go into the Sarstoon there are only two areas that you would be able to go into: you either go into the area that goes right back into Guatemala or you go down the Sarstoon towards Cadenas which is almost like a dead-end.  So from a strategic location or position this offers us the best opportunity to carry out our functions as law enforcement personnel.”

 

While the setting provides an exceptional view, the area itself remains under dispute by both countries.  It is as much a matter of foreign policy as it is one of national security.

 

Isani Cayetano

“I presume that there is an ongoing dialogue between the ministries of National Security, Foreign Affairs and the Guatemalan counterparts with regards to the construction of this FOB.  What has that conversation been like?”

 

John Saldivar

“Simply informing them of our intention to come out here today and of our intention to construct the base.  As I mentioned in my speech, they have responded and it would seem that they are okay, certainly with the law enforcement aspect of the base.”

 

The forward operating base at the Sarstoon River is expected to be complete by March 2016. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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1 Response for “Ground Broken for Joint FOB at Sarstoon River”

  1. Al says:

    Many many many thanks to Will Mahiea and his BTV crew. Without your concern this would have never happened. This is what can happen when Belizeans stand up to be heard and counted. Of course the stupid minister Saldivar will push his big face there and huff and puff like this was because of him. But that’s how he get his votes. Now lets wait to see how long it will drag on before they are forced to actually do the building.

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