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Apr 22, 2016

Military Occupation of Sarstoon; Is it Really Happening?

Since we visited the Sarstoon on Wednesday for the inauguration of the joint operations Forward Operating Base a lot has happened. A Guatemalan minor was shot and killed in the Chiquibul, allegedly by a B.D.F. Patrol returning fire, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has inflamed the issue with a very strong video message and Guatemalan troops have reported been dispatched to the Sarstoon and to the adjacency zone. The situation is tense, and the B.D.F. is on high alert. But we wanted to see what’s happening on the ground so today News Five returned to the Sarstoon expecting to see three thousand Guatemalan kaibiles swarming the area.  So did we? Mike Rudon has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The journey to the Sarstoon was uneventful; if slightly uncomfortable because of the size of the boat we travelled in. So was the approach to the Forward Operating Base. Guatemalans fished like normal in the waters around and in the Sarstoon, their canoes dotting the landscape. In the distance, the ever present Guatemalan gunboat stood out to sea. We were not allowed to dock at the base where B.D.F. stood at alert, but a faulty engine allowed us time to observe the Guatemalans in action. A minute after we pulled into the base, two G.A.F. metal sharks pulled out from the base. One headed to a spot just east of Sarstoon Island, another headed down the north channel of the river and blocked that path. Another smaller vessel stayed off in the distance, just observing. After about fifteen minutes, engine fixed, we headed back out, and were approached by another Guatemalan military vessel coming in from open seas. But as we veered towards familiar waters north, that vessel slowed and veered away.

 

And that’s it. No interception, though it was crystal clear that we would not be allowed further into the Sarstoon. We saw no signs of increased movement, nothing out of the ordinary – just more evidence that the Sarstoon is not ours anymore.

 

And that brings us to the illegal fishing. It was all around us today, fishermen in canoes and small boats. Even way north between the Sarstoon and Barranco; they were everywhere.

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia, Head, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“We saw the amount of fishing boats that inside Belize’s water and I think this is unacceptable. We had the fisheries department at the opening; they talked about being there to enforce the law. Now that there is protection of our waters from the Belize Defense Force, it was still very disappointing to see the amount of illegal fishing that is taking place inside Belize’s water. I mean the fact that they even told us that they got permission from the B.D.F. to fish inside Belize’s water; it is totally unacceptable.”

 

Yanina Choco is a single mother fishing to feed her two year old child. She catches about fifteen pounds of fish a day, and told us that about thirty-five fisherfolk from the community of Sarstoon come out to fish in these waters every day. She knows that she is in Belizean waters, and is afraid that that could change.

 

Yanina Chacos

Yanina Chacos, Sarstoon Fisherman

“Of that yes. We depend on fishing. We don’t have anywhere to farm and we have nothing to depend on other than fishing. They only told us the point of that little island…the Sarstoon Island. They say this side is Belize. But like we say, we don’t have any problems with Belizeans. It’s the soldiers that have problems, because the rest of us get along well, including the soldiers. Like with the soldiers from Belize, we go over there and talk to them. I’ve seen that they’re not bad people. Not like the Guatemalan soldiers who just always pretend to do things but I can’t tell if they’re good or bad.”

 

It’s an interesting situation in the Sarstoon, where the civilians say they have no problems with Belizeans. They’re fishing illegally, but only to feed their families. They’re not political, and perhaps like us they’re only casualties of bigger forces at play.

 

Yanina Chacos

“Well, the information that they gave us is that…we didn’t know what’s happening right. They told u that the Belizean soldiers killed two children in Modesto Mendez, Cadenas, and that’s why the President gave the order for security reinforcements, but here in the Sarstoon we haven’t seen anything. We haven’t seen anything.”

 

Be that as it may, Maheia is determined that illegal fishing must be addressed for the sustainability of our fishing industry in the South.

 

Wil Maheia

“In the morning, it’s like two-fold here. In the morning, it is the small scale fishers and today we saw that fisherfolk that was in the water fishing and she confirmed that there are up to thirty-five of them every day. Could you imagine thirty-five times that? Then in the nighttime, when they go in, then the shrimp trawlers comes over. I mean they are raking. We have signed a law saying, for many years now, that we have banned trawling in our waters and that continues. In the nighttime, that’s gonna happen tonight. So again I was hoping, I was so excited that the base was open. I congratulated the Government of Belize to have the base there. But if we’re not curbing the illegal fishing and the illegal logging, then what’s the use of having the base.”

 

Yanina Chacos

“For me it’s not good what they’re doing. We need to live in peace. We all come from one Father. We need to live in peace without fighting or anything. We have to talk about these things. There’s no need to get to have problems. Sometimes we gather together as a family and we think about those things.”

 

Mike Rudon for News Five.

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3 Responses for “Military Occupation of Sarstoon; Is it Really Happening?”

  1. JP Windsor says:

    Does Wil have pictures of the trawlers? I’m helping out on a threat analysis map focusing on coastal fishing and if that’s going on down south it would really change the current data we have in that area.

  2. Marie says:

    Of course, to be safe, don’t go in that area. You might drift into Guatemala territory and get killed

  3. MNHG says:

    WELL….ADIOS MUCHACHOS !!!
    EL SARSTOON ES NUESTRO, MUY DE GUATEMALA !!!
    MAS ADELANTE EL TOLEDO …NEXT , Y DESPUES TODO BELICE !!!

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