Dear friends, this is a quick post to ask for your prayers for a peaceful resolution to the conflict between Guatemala and Belize that has escalated over the last week or so. Many of you are probably aware of the longstanding territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize (in brief: Guatemala believes that much or possibly all of Belize rightfully belongs to Guatemala). But it's more complicated than that. As photographer Tony Rath fleshed out in an amazing 2014 piece, Belize is actually waging a war within its environmentally protected lands against Guatemalan poachers who are heavily financed, heavily equipped, and heavily armed. That same month, the death of tourism police officer Danny Conorquie (a graduate of St. Hilda's school) rocked our communities and served as a reminder that, so long as the territorial dispute continues, Belize's national sovereignty and its people's security are in jeopardy from outside poachers and illegal squatters.
Then last week tragedy struck. Guatemalan minor Julio René Alvarado Ruano was killed in the border zone by Belize military forces. These soldiers, who were traveling with members of the NGO Friends for Conservation and Development, maintain that they came under fire and shot back in self-defense, though family members of the young man contradict the military's account. The incident, which comes on the heels of the shooting of Belize sergeant Richard Lambey, drew heavy criticism from Guatemala's recently elected president Jimmy Morales who during his campaign for office had said that, "the worst thing to happen to Guatemala was losing Belize." Within days of Alvarado Ruano's death, Guatemala began amassing troops along the Belizean border, at least 3,000 in the last week, and the Guatemalan military has now occupied a famously disputed island in the Sarstoon River.
In other words, sparks are flying. Tensions between the two countries are practically as high as they have ever been.
In order to find a resolution, the Organization of American States (OAS) has been called in to investigate the situation, and Belize is confident that the story reported by its military and the accompanying NGO rangers will be vindicated.
In the midst of this tragedy, we ask your prayers for everyone involved:
- for the family of Julio René Alvarado Ruano, as they mourn his death;
- for the sovereignty of Belize and the security of its people, especially that of communities that lie along the border with Guatemala in the Cayo and Toledo districts;
- for clarity, justice, and discernment as the OAS investigates the shooting;
- for wisdom for the leaders of Belize and Guatemala as they seek to lower tensions and improve the welfare of their respective nations;
- for a decrease of Guatemalan troops along the border, and a withdrawal of troops from Sarstoon island;
- for a firm diplomatic resolution to the ongoing territorial dispute in such a way that Guatemala respects Belize's borders as they are currently drawn.