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Feb 6, 2019

Captain Bennett says Coast Guard Acted within its Purview

When we reached out to the Belize Coast Guard, they had a different version of the story. According to Captain Elton Bennett, they have offered multiple notices to the occupants of the small caye, dating back to last year. Bennett says that the Coast Guard is not targeting a specific group of people, but that there are several other “fishing camps” that are seemingly becoming more permanent. According to Bennett, the land in question doesn’t have a name nor is it private property. The land, he says, is government owned and so it is within its purview to remove any potential squatters. As to the questions of abuse of power, Bennett says there was no such thing.

 

Elton Bennett

Captain Elton Bennett, Vice-Commandant, Belize Coast Guard

“As it relates to the name of the island, I cannot say that is Sandboore Caye because the caye doesn’t exist in the records at the Lands Department. There is a shoal in that area where the fishermen have been conducting fishing operations of which we have no issues with. But of recent the structures have become to be constructed as though they have intentions to stay there permanently. Because it is not a temporary structure, it brought concerns to the coast guard. We did our investigations and we forward the information up the Ministry and the Ministry dialogued with the Lands Department and we confirmed that no such island exists and it is not a piece of land privately owned  – that is belongs to the government of Belize. So, we were given the order to remove those individuals because they are squatting and have displayed intentions to permanently establishing a structure at that location so it is a squatting operation and we dismantled it.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“What did you see on that piece of land to say that these people have intentions of moving here?”

 

Captain Elton Bennett

“So, the structures are becoming more permanent in that they are not using wood to construct. You are using cement slab which demonstrates a long term plan; your water system and size of structure increase, for example, at that one location there were six personnel on a small piece of island – small shoal, including a Honduran. And we know from time to time, we know that even Guatemalans would be a part of this operation and so it is not something we would condone at all. Last year in 2018 we informed those individuals, listen, you are squatting and you are constructing a permanent structure on a piece of land that is for the government of Belize. They temporarily moved and they contacted a lawyer sent us a letter which we responded to. This was last year August. The operation continued back and forth and last week Thursday we went to the island again and told them we will give you forty-eight hours to get your belongings and move from off the island. They failed to do so and we continued to talk to them over the weekend and we made a decision that this has dragged on for too long. This is government property and as government agency out at sea, we have a responsibility to remove squatters from off government property and that is what we did. So, I spoke to the patrol commander and I am confident that his account demonstrates that he was within the use of force policy and that he didn’t use excessive force in conducting his duty.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, you are saying their allegations of physical assault were right by the coast guard?”

 

Captain Elton Bennett

“The account from the patrol is that the individual kept charging at them. He kept coming back and coming back and they were in a defensive position. Everyone else – there were six of them on the island and everyone else got in the vessel but there was one individual who resisted and as a result the patrol denied him from staying on the island.”

 

Andrea Polanco

“So, he wasn’t beaten up?”

 

Captain Elton Bennett

“No. He wasn’t beaten up.”

 

In August of last year, the Myles and Banner law firm issued a letter to the Belize Coast Guard. According to that letter, a fisherman by the name of Dain Denroy Pech has been peacefully operating out of Sandbore Caye for over twelve years. Pech has been doing construction on the caye and due to the length of time; he has a legal interest to legally acquire the land. Myles and Banner law firms informed the Coast Guard that they didn’t have the power to evict the occupants and neither did they have an order from the Supreme Court.


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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