Guatemala Navy bullies at border as vote nears

Guatemala Navy

The Sarstoon River forms the southern border of Belize.

PRAYER ALERT: The Guatemala vote tomorrow for all national and local offices is all the more important due to the recent flare-up in its border conflict with Belize. Guatemala still officially claims to own Belize and includes Belize on its maps. Yet since 1981 the UN has recognized Belize’s independence from Great Britain. Belize celebrates its independence this month. The Guatemala Navy, however, is challenging Belizean access to its borders.

Recently the NGO Belize Territorial Volunteers has made highly publicized trips to the uninhabited Sarstoon Island at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. Sarstoon is memorialized in the Belize National Anthem as the southern border of Belize. On June 16 about 130 unarmed BTV supporters sought to assert Belize’s sovereignty at Sarstoon by circling the island with a flotilla of boats. Guatemala Navy boats attempted to block the front boat. They made threats and bumped the front boat twice. But that boat, steered by Orlando De La Fuentes, maneuvered past them and led three other boats in a triumphant circuit of the island.

Belize’s Prime Minister Dean Barrow had refused to provide military protection for the BTV. He considered their foray dangerous and unnecessary. Barrow affirmed that the Belize Defense Force makes regular trips on the river. “Every Tuesday the Belize Defense Force takes a replacement contingent of soldiers up our side of the Sarstoon River to our military outpost at Cadenas,” he said. “They bring back down the river the troops being rotated out of Cadenas.”

But Guatemalans argue that the Belize’s territory stops at the northern border of the river. Therefore they claim Sarstoon Island belongs to them. Belize asserts that its border is in the middle of the river and includes the uninhabited island. The OAS, which seeks to mediate between Belize and Guatemala, was there to witness the June 16 confrontation. In fact the Guatemala Navy also intercepted the OAS boat, but released it later. The OAS declined to comment on whether the BTV boats had crossed the border.

Prime Minister Barrow protested the actions of the “presumably well-armed Guatemala Navy” against “unarmed civilian boats.” But he also urged BTV not to provoke the Navy again. He called their efforts “inspirational” but misguided. He said the void they saw on the Sarstoon was already being filled by the armed Belize Defense Force (BDF). Any unarmed civilians at that sensitive border point were putting themselves at high risk. While Barrow promised such civilians diplomatic and non-military help, he again refused to provide BDF protection.

But the BTV made another trip to Sarstoon on August 25. They planned to witness the regular Tuesday changing of the BDF guard at the Cadenas river post. But the changing of the BDF guard occurred before they arrived. The BTV crossed the water unchallenged to Sarstoon Island where they planted a Belizean flag. Then they waited to greet the BDF guard coming back downriver. Suddenly they saw the BDF boat speeding past them. It was followed closely behind by a Guatemala Navy boat to the river mouth and apparently into Belizean territorial waters. Was the Guatemala Navy making a show of chasing the BDF out of disputed waters?

Later the BDF admitted that the Guatemala Navy regularly “shadows” BDF boats as they proceed downriver to Cadenas. This coming Tuesday, the BTV plans to provide its own shadow for the BDF. Also this coming Tuesday, Guatemala will have a newly elected leadership. Its previous president, the now-jailed Otto Perez Molina, had publicly promoted amicable joint border patrols with Belize. Will Guatemala’s new leaders sharpen or soften their positions at the Belizean border?

PRAY WITH US: Father God, You are Sovereign Lord and King of the earth. You made every nation of men. You arranged the times set for them. You determined the exact places where they should live. We thank You that You are the ultimate Founding Father of Belize. Our constitution bases our nation on Your supremacy. You see that our numbers are small. Our military is weak. Guatemala has fifteen times our population. Its military is strong. But You are far stronger. You are our true defense force. We thank You for overseeing our recognition by the UN. Some Belizeans want to submit our sovereignty to the International Court of Justice for a final confirmation. But in prayer we submit it to You.

You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Let Your choices prevail in the Guatemalan elections. Set a course for further freedom from corruption. Set a course for the establishment of justice and righteousness there. Empower right relations between Guatemala and Belize. Affirm our borders. Affirm the agreements we have already made for border security. Build on them. Be our bulwark against further incursions by drug lords. Let Your gospel spread instead of terror. Let Your peace spread instead of violence. And show each side how to respect their neighbors. Even to love their neighbors. Let peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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Belize Territorial Volunteers confront Guatemala Navy.

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