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May 27, 2016

GAF Stops Local Media from Traversing the Sarstoon River

Tonight, the uncertainty surrounding that volatile zone known as the Sarstoon is alive and well after Guatemalan Armed Forces denied a News Five team passage down the river this morning, claiming that we were trespassing in their national waters. If it had happened last week, as it has on multiple occasions in past months, it would not have been surprising since Guatemala has aggressively asserted its ownership of the entire Sarstoon River. But coming out of the Istanbul discussions on Tuesday, there was talk of a breakthrough in the form of an informal accord between parties allowing Belizeans free and unhindered access to Belize’s side of the Sarstoon. In fact, solely premised on the promise of mutual understanding coming out of that meeting, Prime Minister Dean Barrow revoked his controversial Sarstoon Prohibition S.I. and declared that Belizeans were free to go into the river. But rather than a breakthrough in Istanbul, was it more of a breakdown in effective communications? You can judge for yourself. Reporter Mike Rudon and cameraman Darrel Moguel have returned from the Sarstoon and have put together a story showing the reality on the ground, as opposed to the reality coming out of diplomatic meeting rooms.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

It was a beautiful day as a team of News Five headed to the Sarstoon. We wanted to be the first to go into that previously volatile and even potentially dangerous river. We say previously because all indications were that peace and harmony in the Sarstoon were the order of the day, at least pending the formulation of formal protocols. But we wanted to see for ourselves, and at first it looked good. There were no Guatemalan gunboats on the horizon as we cruised toward the B.D.F.’s Forward Operating Base – no hurried mobilization of vessels at the GAF base just across the river. We were told that we couldn’t dock at the F.O.B., but given the go-ahead nevertheless to proceed. And we did…just cruising. It almost seemed a letdown, and we were already trying to figure how to get in some fishing to make the trip worthwhile. And then we saw it behind us, the GAF’s metal shark coming fast with five soldiers on board. They approached us, very respectfully asking our business in the Sarstoon. That led to the first exchange.

 

GAF Military Personnel

“But you are here in Guatemalan waters.”

 

Belizean Captain

“This is national?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“Yes.”

 

Belizean Captain

“This is not Belize over this side?”

 

Reporter

“Our leaders told us that after the talks in Istanbul last weekend, meanwhile they decided on a protocol for the Sarstoon, then there would be free access to both sides. We represent three media houses in Belize and we are here to verify if this is the case.”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“I understand what you are saying, but since that situation just happened then it has not yet been defined. We would like for you all to inform us beforehand, follow due process so that you can take you pictures and we could do the same as well, without any problems whatsoever. Is there anything else I can help you with?”

 

Reporter

“Just to be clear…what you are telling us is that we cannot continue?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“To travel down the river – no. but you can take pictures that are pertinent. If you need more information, I don’t have the authority to do that. my leaders or bosses would have to do that.”

 

Reporter

“Where exactly can we take pictures? For example, can we go around the island to take pictures?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“I would need to get authorization to do that.”

 

Reporter

“Meanwhile our leaders negotiate a way forward on how to navigate in this area, an informal agreement was reached in which both countries can use the river. If you need to verify that with someone else then we can wait here.”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“We will do that.”

 

Reporter

“Okay.”

 

The metal shark stopped a couple hundred feet off while the senior officer on board checked with his commander. It didn’t take too long before they returned, still respectful but firm – we were in Guatemalan waters and we would have to leave.

 

GAF Military Personnel

“Effectively, you are in national (Guatemalan) waters and so you cannot continue down the river.”

 

Reporter

“Exactly who gave those orders?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“I cannot give you more information because you are not understanding me. You are in Guatemalan waters; you cannot continue so I will ask you to please leave.”

 

Reporter

“Yes, but who exactly gave you those orders? What is his name?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“I cannot give you that information.”

 

Reporter

“And what is your name?”

 

GAF Military Personnel

“Likewise, I cannot give you that information. That is all. Have a nice day.”

 

We wished him a good day as well, and departed the Sarstoon. The encounter with the GAF was not aggressive and there was no real show of force, which isn’t to say that there wouldn’t have been if we had soldiered on. Still, it was crystal clear that whatever agreement there is, or not, formal or informal, the memo hasn’t reached the military at the Sarstoon just yet. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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3 Responses for “GAF Stops Local Media from Traversing the Sarstoon River”

  1. Hatari says:

    As I have said before, it doesn’t matter what agreement or protocol or whatever that Guatemala might sign or agree to, they will never relinquish their claim to Belize and they will never attempt to control their people from freely entering Belize and pilfering our natural resources. From their point of view, why should they? What’s in it for them? It just is never going to happen and we do not have the power nor political will to stop them. It is what it is.

  2. MNHG says:

    I HAVE ALREADY BOYCOTT GUATEMALA, I NEVER GO INTO THEIR COUNTRY TO BUY NOR DRINK THEIR STINKING RUM !!!
    STILL, SOME OF US ARE A BIT DIFFERENT, WE NEED TO GET IT FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE THAT GUATEMALA HAS DISRESPECTED OUR BDF AND THAT THEY HAVE ABUSED US.
    BOYCOTT GUATEMALA !!!

  3. Peter says:

    bouycott guate lngtime. I no buy their product again.

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