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Apr 28, 2016

Indigenous Communities Affected by Guatemala’s High-handed Sarstoon Stance

Joseph Palacio

The abrupt decision by Guatemala to exercise sovereignty over the Sarstoon River is an infraction which contravenes the rights of the indigenous communities of southern Belize.  Barranco, the southernmost village in the country, is a coastal Garifuna community that relies on the nearby sea space, as well as adjacent waterway.  So are several Maya communities along the Sarstoon River.  Today, we spoke with anthropologist and Barranco resident Doctor Joseph Palacio and MLA Program Officer Pablo Mis about the impact of Guatemala’s decision on the waterfront communities.  Both men concede that the rights of the Garifuna and Mayan communities, based on international human rights conventions, are being trampled on as a result of Guatemala’s highhanded actions.

 

Dr. Joseph Palacio, Anthropologist

“Waters that we have fished in from ever since, Guatemala has taken them over completely so this affects both what our fishers can do, as well as it affects our diet because we rely on fish quite a bit.  It was bad enough when there was still a belief among us that Sarstoon was the border, meaning that we would fish only close enough to the Sarstoon, although all the time the people from Sarstoon were coming across.  But what has happened now with Guatemala practically closing the Sarstoon from us is that the area where we used to fish which use to be a little further away has been closed to us.  And again, this is what I was saying earlier, that it has made quite an impact on our food, as well as what our fishers could be doing and this has happened only over the past few weeks, a week or so ago.  And I don’t think that this has been expressed enough for the rest of Belize to understand.  Wil Maheia and the BTV and whatever you think about what they are doing, is the one person, the one institution that has said over and over again, look, this is a crisis and it has affected immediately Barranco, but it affects the whole part of southern Belize and the rest of Belize for that matter.”

 

Pablo Mis

Pablo Mis, Program Office, MLA

“So the implications of the conflict that we have goes deeper and for instance, the assertion that Belizeans can’t go into certain area. That assertion, without the consent of people whose livelihood, whose identity as indigenous people relies on that is a contravention of international instruments such as the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. And I think this is a factor, an element that we must focus on and our government needs to draw more attention to that when we are looking for solutions to those areas. These are not just vacant seas, vacant waterways or vacant land. These are land that in its very essence, defines the diversity that we have in Belize and there is a commitment in the part of our communities along those borders to do our part in making sure that we continue to harmoniously exist with our neighbor without having to go through the process of suffering yet again a historical annexation from our land, from out territories. Those are the very things that we don’t want to see being repeated.”

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