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May 3, 2016

BTV’s Expedition to the Sarstoon Stopped in its Tracks

The passage of an unprecedented law on Friday restricting Belizeans from traveling to the Sarstoon has been met with opposition. But the Belize Territorial Volunteers were undeterred to trek to the river on Saturday. But the expedition was stopped on its tracks even before it got underway since elements of the Police Department and the Belize National Coast Guard detained the captains of the boats that would have transported the BTV supporters.  News Five’s Mike Rudon was there and files this report.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The plan was to head to the Sarstoon, declared a prohibited zone by SI signed the day before. But the BTV was going, and bright and early Saturday morning between fifty and seventy-five persons arrived in Barranco to board boats for the trek north. But even before getting to the dock, the heavy presence of Police should have warned that it wouldn’t go down quite like that. And it didn’t. The dock, like the Sarstoon, was declared a prohibited area – not by SI, but by armed Police and Coast Guard personnel.

 

Wil Maheia

Wil Maheia, Head, Belize Territorial Volunteers

“The situation at this point is that when we were getting to the dock, we were blocked from getting on the dock. When we were getting here our boats were at the dock, but all of a sudden they moved off the dock. I couldn’t see inside the boat, but it looked like some military personnel boarder our civilian boat that was going to take us down.”

 

Elton Bennett

Commander Elton Bennett, Belize Coast Guard

“We received information yesterday that the Coast Guard will be required to conduct safety and security operations somewhere between Punta Gorda and Barranco. We understand that the BTV had plans to depart Barranco in vessels and it was the Coast Guard responsibility to ensure that those vessels were seaworthy. We commenced operation this morning; so far we have detained three vessels…all or maritime safety offenses. Those three vessels were detained and taken back to Punta Gorda. The offenses range from fire extinguisher, lack of life jackets, no seaworthiness certificate, no masters license and we cannot allow those vessels to sail with that amount of people and unsafe. And that is what we did this morning.”

 

One boat captain was detained for not having papers, but he was later released. The Coast Guard and Police were armed for a major show of dissent, but in the end there was only disappointment and anger from the persons who travelled from all corners of the country to visit a part of Belize where we have been forbidden to travel – forbidden first by Guatemalan military, and now by Belizean law, and law enforcement.

 

Oscar Requeña

Oscar Requeña, Member of Expedition

“I am totally disappointed and I am very much upset about what has happened here this morning. This is a clear indication that we have a totalitarian regime in this country man. I mean what kinda thing is this? The SI that came out yesterday was clear; that it was limited to the Sarstoon area. Man we are in Barranco. So what are we saying? The people from Barranco cannot go anywhere today? They are basically being held hostage. I mean this is an entry point here, my brother. It is sending a clear signal that this government does not appreciate the fact that we have hundreds of Belizeans who are prepared to stand up for their country at a time when the government should be saying, Belizean people come together—let us stand up and unite for our country. Basically what it is doing is demoralizing and really dividing our people.”

 

Ramon Cervantes

Ramon Cervantes, Member of Expedition

“I think the Belizean people should start also demanding that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister and the Minister of National Security be charged and be tried for high treason, for betrayal against the people of this nation. This is something serious; this is something very, very serious because we are right here on the wharf and we can’t even go in our own sea. They put a law preventing Belizeans from going to a place that is ours; the northern half of the Sarstoon, the part of the Sarstoon that is ours. That means they have ceded, they have given up. We have a failed government.”

 

Today, no anthem was sung, as the Volunteers usually do. They claimed that they felt so betrayed that they couldn’t do it. In the end the members of this expedition which failed not through lack of heart but by force, dispersed – down, but not out.

 

Dickie Bradley

Dickie Bradley, Member of Expedition

“Every fool knows that when a bully is coming to you, if you do not stand up to him or bring your big bredda or maybe even yo sister fi fum fum ahn, you wah get ina trouble. And what we have done is put our tails between our legs and ran away from a situation in which it is as clear as day that Guatemala has taken Belize’s portion of the Sarstoon River.”

 

We weren’t there to see it, but we have been reliably informed that later that morning several union representatives, along with the B.P.P.’s Bobby Lopez, took to the waist deep water along the coast and trekked an hour to at least get a glimpse of the Sarstoon. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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