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Oct 30, 2018

John Saldivar’s Sarstoon Excursion is Batted Down by Cabinet

Cabinet met today in Belmopan; one of the significant decisions taken was in relation to a surprise announcement on social media last week, to the effect that the Ministry of National Security was organizing excursions to the Sarstoon.  As you know, Belizeans were legally stopped from going up the river in April 2016.  More recently, Belizeans have to check in at the forward operating base to traverse the Belize side of the river where they are met and often turned back by the Guatemalan Armed Forces.  As it turns out, the planned excursions by John Saldivar’s ministry was not sanctioned by Cabinet which today reversed the decision.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano has a report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The notion of a riverine tour of the Sarstoon, led by the Belize Defense Force, is nothing more than wishful thinking.  On October twenty-third, the Ministry of National Security announced on its social media page that guided excursions into the southernmost reaches of the country would be held in the coming weeks.  The scheduled trips would serve as an opportunity for Belizeans, particularly those that are not members of the armed forces, to acquaint themselves with the location.


(Ret) Col. George Lovell, C.E.O., Ministry of National Security [File: October 24th, 2018]

“It is an initiative that the honorable Minister of National Security, Honorable John Saldivar came up with.  He wants to, the purpose of the excursions is for us to afford our people an opportunity to have firsthand knowledge of the area around the Sarstoon and Gracias A Dios, so that whenever there is any conversation or activity that will occur there that our people will be well-informed and that they will know precisely what they are talking about in terms of the activities or incidents that may occur in that area.”


It’s an idea that had been previously attempted by the Belize Territorial Volunteers in May 2016, one that was met with fierce resistance on both sides of the Sarstoon River at the height of tension between Belize and Guatemala over access to that area.  Not only was legislation hastily passed to prohibit the BTV from traveling upstream, their vessels were also arrested in Barranco prior to departure.


Elton Bennett

Commander Elton Bennett, Belize Coast Guard [File: May 3rd, 2016]

“We received information yesterday that the coast guard will be required to conduct safety and security operations somewhere between Punta Gorda and Barranco.  We understand that the BTV had plans to depart Barranco in vessels and it was the coast guard responsibility to ensure that those vessels were seaworthy.  We commenced operation this morning; so far we have detained three vessels, all for maritime safety offenses.  Those three vessels were detained and taken back to Punta Gorda.”


That incident surrounded the passage of the controversial Sarstoon Law which banned travel within the area for a period of one month, under threat of public safety.  So when the ministry announced last Tuesday that it was leading its own excursion upriver, we asked C.E.O. George Lovell about the decision.


(Ret) Col. George Lovell [File: October 24th, 2018]

“Isani, you would agree that the situation at the time that the SI was passed was one that we can argue that warrants that SI to be passed.  The area, there was a volatile situation there where clearly there were confrontations from an armed opposition and we thought that at the time it would have been in our minds not a good idea for us to have our civilians going between both of our military forces as they try to come to the kind of amicable agreement to deal with our differences that we have along the Sarstoon.  Having the civilians go in between that would have just made life extremely challenging for us and so we had to do what we did then.”


And one would assume that in the absence of a resolution or at least a protocol, that the area would remain off limit to civilian traffic, notwithstanding BDF escort.



“How does this fit in with the Minister of National Security’s, I believe he gives a guided tour downriver?”


Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File: October 29th, 2018]

“I’m not, that hasn’t come to Cabinet and so I am not too sure that we are of air with all the details.  If the minister has announced a guided tour I am sure he absolutely knows what he’s about but I would withhold comment until Cabinet can talk about this tomorrow.”


Dean Barrow


“As chairman of the National Security Council, isn’t that a security issue?”


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

No doubt, but I haven’t chaired a meeting of the National Security Council for a while because I haven’t been here.  We’re having one, I think, next week.  But National Security Council apart, the Cabinet surely will want to know what’s up with this notion, what the details are and so there will without a doubt be a discussion tomorrow.”


News Five understands that the issue was discussed in Cabinet today at which point the idea was rejected. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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