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May 18, 2016

Southern Communities Affected By Sarstoon Ban

The remote Garifuna community of Barranco, in the context of what is taking place at the Sarstoon, is widely seen as a mere transit point for local law enforcement officers traveling to the nearby forward operating base.  The village, one of the oldest in the country, has shared a cordial relationship with residents of Guatemala who inhabit the southern bank of the Sarstoon River.  Since tension between Belize and Guatemala has reached a fever pitch a lot has changed, including a prohibition on travel to the area.  That ban is affecting the livelihoods of the Garifuna and Maya communities since they are not being allowed by either side to traverse the river to fish or visit with family members.  Doctor Joseph Palacio, an anthropologist and resident of Barranco, discusses the effect the situation is having on the often forgotten village.

 

Joseph Palacio

Dr. Joseph Palacio, Resident of Barranco Village

“It is a complex situation and one has to live in the village, especially Barranco, to be able to appreciate it.  At one level there is the feeling that Guatemala has always given us trouble and somehow it is resolved.  There is that feeling that this will be just another one of those problems that will be resolved one way or another and then there are other people who are saying, look it’s deeper than what it use to be because now the Sarstoon doesn’t belong to us.  So there’s a general feeling now of, the best way to call it, war conditions.  People can’t go where they use to go in the Sarstoon.  They cannot go across the Sarstoon to Livingston and we have to keep in mind that Garifuna people live from Belize in northern Central America to as far as Nicaragua.  There’s hardly a part of the coast from Belize to Nicaragua where the Garifuna have not been historically and where they don’t have relatives right up to this moment.  So, our space then is no longer our space and here we have to include also the Maya people who are trans-border and that feeling that, look I want to go visit with my relatives.  There’s a Dugu to take place in the next few weeks and I can’t because I’m scared that my boat is going to be aggressed, to use the term, and I might get shot.  And that feeling of uncertainty is palpable.  You go around the village and there is a sadness that life as we used to live and as we used to know it is no longer the reality.  So people are starting to think, is it worth living in the village?”

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