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Sep 19, 2016

Guatemalan Gunboats Menace Participants In BTV’s Sarstoon Eco-Challenge

Wil Maheia

The first ever Sarstoon Eco-Challenge proceeded in the waters of the national southern boundary on Saturday morning and afternoon. There was preoccupation that the event would renew hostility by the Guatemalans stationed in the Sarstoon. Organizer and leader of the Volunteers Wil Maheia, says the response to the challenge was excellent but the event was not without incident because a Guatemalan gunboat followed the participants.

 

Wil Maheia, Organizer, Sarstoon Eco-Challenge

“We had twenty-nine participants who paddled towards the Sarstoon Island, although it was very disappointing when we got there to see the amount of Guatemalan gunboats that was inside of Belize’s water. In fact we had one of the gunboats that was parked in front of the Forward Operating Base. Our B.D.F.—men and women—the coastguard that was out there, they wanted to do something, but their hands were tied. I believe that the people that we have at the borderline, the military forces, are doing a great job, but they get instructions from Belmopan and they have to follow those instructions. The Guatemalan gunboat circled; we circled the island, they followed us closely, they had their drones over our heads and they…at one time they told us we couldn’t go, but we insisted to go around the island. So I take my hats off to all the paddlers, all the kayakers who went around the island and made it back to Barranco. All in all, I think it was a successful trip in the fact that we were not intimidated by the Guatemalans. There were rumors about Guatemalan flag on the island; we went there, we saw Guatemalan flags…our intention was to take it off. We planted our flag; we didn’t see any Guatemalan flag on the island. So the rumor about their Guatemalan flag is only a rumor; it’s not there.”

 

Marcos Ca’al was winner of the canoe race while a Coast Guard officer took the kayak event. Maheia and other Volunteers make regular trips to the border to observe and report on illegal activities by Guatemalans in the area, most notably gill net fishing, which has been reduced by Belizean authorities’ intervention.

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