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Aug 17, 2015

Guatemalan Military Attempts to Thwart BTV Mission in Belizean Waters

On Sunday, Guatemalan military personnel attempted to turn back five Belizean vessels carrying members of an expedition led by the Belize Territorial Volunteers. The incident occurred in the early afternoon near the mouth of the Sarstoon River, an area known to be well within Belizean territory. Following a brief ceremony held on a sandbar in the vicinity of the Sarstoon River, more than one hundred Belizeans attempted a circuit of the now very controversial Sarstoon Island, but were halted before they could even get close. News Five has total coverage of the day’s events, from the ceremony to the incident, but we start tonight with the tense encounter between Belize and Guatemala. Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Following a very brief ceremony on this sand-bar located north of the Sarstoon River, more than one hundred Belizeans assembled in five vessels and headed to Sarstoon Island, way further south. But even as the boats approached the mouth of the Sarstoon River, two Guatemalan vessels closed in from where they had been stationed all morning, intercepting the lead watercraft and bringing it to a stop.

 

Even without any words spoken, the gestures were enough. The Guatemalans wanted us gone from what they say are their waters. But here’s the thing. That land mass just in front of the huts in the distance is Sarstoon Island, which shows just how far off the vessels were stopped by Guatemalan military.

 

Orlando de la Fuente

Orlando de la Fuente, Northern Territorial Volunteers

“He was saying that we were in Guatemalan waters and we should stop. Before we get in trouble or cause an accident or they have to detain us we should turn around. And I kept telling him that we were not in Guatemalan waters, that this was Belize’s territorial waters. I said north of the Sarstoon Island around this creek is not even disputed. This isn’t even the border. After we turned around the island and we were in the South channel, the deep channel, then that would have been the river that separates Belize and Guatemala.”

 

Northern Territorial Volunteer, Orlando de la Fuente, led the exchange with the Guatemalans before making the decision to proceed no matter what. In a boat ironically named “Good Times,” O.A.S. personnel from the adjacency office stayed well back from the action.

 

Orlando de la Fuente

“Our Captain got scared and he said he can’t go, he could not proceed and he tried to turn back and then I had to forcefully get to the back and commandeer the boat and I told him to move. And I took the boat and I tried to move again. And every time I went, one of them did this, one of them went so, and one time, I rammed their boat. About two times I had to ram their boat because I could not stop in time and eventually I was able to…when they gawn soh I quickly moved on their stern and we were able to break through eventually, and eventually the second boat, the smaller boat pulled back and the bigger boat stayed beside us and they kept escorting us throughout the whole trip.”

 

Four of the Belizean vessels were able to head into the northern channel of the Sarstoon. Again, you can see from the map that it is in Belizean territory. Head of the Belize Territorial Volunteers Wil Maheia was in a vessel that could not get past the Guatemalans, who he says were clearly in our waters.

 

Wil Maheia, Head, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“When we were looking, the Sarstoon Island was to the left of us, so there’s no confusion. There was absolutely no confusion. Guatemalans came into Belize territory and bullied Belizeans.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Member of Expedition

“We told them that they are in Belizean waters. You need to move to make us go. We made seven attempts right Wil, seven attempts. The last one we did it in front of the O.A.S. because we wanted them to see that these people are in our waters and refused to give us passage. Every time they intentionally jammed our boat. Three times we almost made contact and different ones of us pushed it.”

 

Wil Maheia

“One time, we made contact and they said look, you touch our boat we have a right to shoot. They did say that.”

 

This is the Sarstoon Island, which at least used to be a part of Belize’s territory. It is over one hundred acres, but there’s no place on it to make landfall. Realizing it could not stop the four vessels, the Guatemalan boat was kind enough to escort us the entire circuit. It’s a victory of sorts…but bittersweet. Or maybe just bitter.

 

Orlando de la Fuente

“This is a victory for the Belize Territorial Volunteers, but this is a failure for the Government of Belize. It’s frigging sad, mein, sad that we could enter our own territorial waters and that the Guatemalan military would be right in front of us and cut us off and try to prevent us from navigating our own waters while the Belize military takes instructions from the government and they sit behind us idle, just watching. I mean aren’t they supposed to protect us. Aren’t they supposed to exert sovereignty over our waters? That dah the shame and that’s the failure of the government.”

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“I believe that the reason our government is pushing the ICJ is because our Prime Minister and our Foreign Minister have already ceded Sarstoon Island, and the only way they will prove otherwise to me is if they come out with the escort of our Coast Guard and our B.D.F. and go and circle that island themselves to tell us the Belizean people we have not ceded it. Our government is compromised. Dean Barrow has ceded Sarstoon Island and only he going there and making his presence known can prove to me and the Belizean public otherwise.”

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia

“It’s just like mind-boggling to me how we as a nation could allow a country to come into our country and bully our people while we have a hundred thousand dollar Coast Guard boat sitting outside and not even trying to intervene to try and support the Belizean people. It is shameful that this government continues to operate like that, does not provide protection for its borders and does not provide protection for its people moving freely inside this country. It is downright shameful.”

 

Observed at all times by the O.A.S. and shadowed by a boat carrying Guatemalan media personnel, the Belizean vessels, flags flying proudly exited the southern channel very close to the island before making their way back to Barranco. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

Late Sunday evening, the National Security Council issued a release stating that, “nothing can take away from the Council’s pleasure that no misadventure overtook the hundred plus men, women and children that journeyed to the Sarstoon.”

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2 Responses for “Guatemalan Military Attempts to Thwart BTV Mission in Belizean Waters”

  1. Ali BaBarrow & his 40 say, Je juis Castro says:

    Sarstoon Island and the area belong to the cartels.

    Less people mess with their sovereign territory, less chance the Belizean and Guatemalan governments will be overthrown.

    The corrupt hefes know who feeds them regularly, stay away!

  2. UNCLE BENJI says:

    Aah, the games people play. This “Papishow” put on by BTV proves nothing. Keep it up, and someone is going to die. Guess what? It won’t be the Guatemalans.

    We are a highly educated people. Most Guatemalans cannot even sign their own names. They grow up to be soldiers, and soldiers become decision makers. We are dealing with ignorant fools, and we are proving nothing.

    Dean AliBaBarrow and our army is a disgrace. Gutless cowards.

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