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Apr 25, 2016

What Becomes of the Sarstoon River Debacle?

So the crisis has been averted, and all attempts will be made to de-escalate tensions in the wake of the incident on Wednesday in the Chiquibul. But the truth is that the factors which coalesced to create that near flashpoint are still very much in evidence. In the Sarstoon, for example, there is a state of uncertainty and alert, and has been for months, because the Guatemalan military stationed there now aggressively assert their ownership of the river. Recently the Guatemalans rejected proposals presented by Belize which sought something called equitable sovereignty – joint ownership of the controversial waterway. So where do we go from here? Not down the Sarstoon, for sure. Mike Rudon has the story.


Mike Rudon, Reporting

This is the Sarstoon River. Many of you haven’t been to this farthest point south of Belize, but you’ve likely heard it mentioned in our anthem. Only now there’s a problem.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We know that the Guatemalans claim the entirety of the Sarstoon. We know that Belize insists, has always insisted and will continue to insist that there is shared ownership of the Sarstoon…that our portion is as demarcated by the mid-channel, the navigable mid-channel. While the Guatemalans seek to act in pursuit of their claimed sovereignty, we also seek to act in pursuit of our claimed sovereignty.”


That’s talking the talk. The Guatemalans do it too. But far from the podium, the Cabinet Room or the air-conditioned meeting rooms where diplomats discourse, the Guatemalans don’t just talk the talk…they walk the walk. Belizean civilians aren’t allowed to go into the Sarstoon. They’re intercepted by the GAF which patrols and controls the river; case in point, the Belize Territorial Volunteers. They have a trip planned this weekend, but that’s going to be a tricky situation.


David Jones

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

“They will want to authorize their sovereignty by stopping our civilians from going in there. We will want to exercise our sovereignty by defending our civilians going in there, and that is why I have cautioned, the government has cautioned, don’t add additional concerns in the area by having our civilians there, because if we intend to defend our civilians there and they intend to enforce their position, it could result in the exchange of gunfire in the area.”


The thing is that Jones is asking Belizean civilians to keep out of the area and to let the militaries of both countries come to an understanding. But Guatemalan civilians are free to come and go as they please without hindrance from the B.D.F. stationed at the mouth of the Sarstoon.


Brig. Gen. David Jones

“It’s an area of dispute. They have their military there. We believe that if we try to do that there is going to be conflict. Of course it is not fair to our Belizeans, but we are just asking our Belizeans to give us to opportunity to work out a protocol that will be best for both countries. Just give us that opportunity. If we start to aggravate any nationals that go in there…it is best that we work together with the Guatemalans in there. And that’s what we’re trying to achieve. Any of our N.G.O.s that go in there has a right to go in there. Any civilians who go in there have a right to go in there. It is a disputed area. Give the military the chance to work in there in a cooperative manner as I am trying to do with my counterpart on the other side. And give diplomacy a chance to work to ensure that we have established protocol that both countries will agree to that will allow civilians and military to operate in the area peacefully. Just give peace a chance.”


Give peace a chance. That’s the new mantra of the government and the B.D.F. in the Sarstoon…apparently, courtesy of John Lennon. The Coast Guard will join their B.D.F. brothers in arms at the Sarstoon shortly, to enforce all maritime laws…just not in the Sarstoon.


John Borland

Rear Admiral John Borland, Commandant, Belize Coast Guard

“We were working out the protocols of how we will be operating down there. But once that happens the Coast Guard will be enforcing Belizean laws, maritime laws in our area of responsibility which I will repeat to you for the Coast Guard’s sake does not include the Sarstoon, but everything along the coast north of the Sarstoon.”


How’s that for asserting sovereignty? Mike Rudon for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “What Becomes of the Sarstoon River Debacle?”

  1. Libertarian View says:

    The Guatemalans have freedom to use the Sarstoon, but Belizeans are urged not to use the Sarstoon. That crap about “Give Peace a Chance” got John Lennon killed. You do not let a bully push you around; if you do he will take your money and beat the hell out of you.
    It sounds like the Belizean military has to use “rules of engagement”; fire only if fired upon.
    So if the Guatemalans invade Belizean water rights on the Sarstoon, that is OK? If a war has been averted why are we backing down on the mid-channel of the Sarstoon being the border? Sounds like a bunch of political horse squeeze to me.

  2. rudebwy says:

    while you dudes use diplomacy as an excuse for being cowards,and helping the guats to remove our people from our own territory , the guats will continue to move further up into Belize until its completely are talking about sharing it and they are allowing only their people to go there,if they wanted to share they would let our people stay unmolested..a man who is interested in doplamacy does not act in the way morales is acting..why does he need to deploy so many special forces if he is looking for a “peaceful solution”..

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