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Aug 23, 2013

SATIIM and Maya Leaders face off against Punta Gorda Police

Since cancelling a co-management agreement with the Sarstoon/Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, SATIIM, a month ago, the Forest Department and, by extension, the Government of Belize, has been at odds with the environmental organization over supervision of the Sarstoon/Temash National Park.  The latest standoff took place this morning in Punta Gorda Town, at the foot of the Joe Taylor Bridge, where a team of SATIIM rangers and village leaders were confronted by a pair of police officers.  The cops reportedly demanded identification cards from each of the men before attempting to execute a search of their vessel.  According to Cordelia Requeña, Environmental and Human Rights Program Manager for SATIIM, it is the latest attempt by government to intimidate members of the organization.


Via Phone: Cordelia Requeña, Environmental & Human Rights Program Manager, SATIIM

Cordelia Requeña

“What happened was that the community leaders that we have that come from Graham Creek, Crique Sarco, Conejo and Midway were accompanying the SATIIM rangers on a routine patrol within the Sarstoon/Temash National Park and upon, just prior to their departure, just a couple minutes after nine [o’clock] they were approached by two officers from the Toledo formation, who were requesting information such as the date of birth and their names, and they also wanted to conduct a search on the vessel.  It was at that point when they were asked for what reason they were making such requests and the only information that they got back was that one of the officers responded, saying that they were just acting under direction from the officer in charge here in Toledo.”


Isani Cayetano

“So what transpired thereafter, in terms of either producing the documents with the names and dates of birth and the requisite information that was being sought.  What took place thereafter?”


Via Phone: Cordelia Requeña

“Well what happened immediately was that we got in contact with SATIIM’s lawyer, Mr. Eamon Courtenay who then advised us that we were within our parameters not to grant that information or to grant them entry into the vessel to conduct any search.  It was upon his advice that we then did so.”


Isani Cayetano

“In a release issued by the organization earlier today, you guys are mentioning that it’s sort of a sustained harassment by the government to keep you out of the area of the national park, seeing as though the co-management agreement has been cancelled or not renewed on the part of SATIIM.  Can you expand on that a bit?”


Via Phone: Cordelia Requeña

“Well we think, in reference to that that when we were presented with that letter saying that either you sign or you don’t, that was the first step that the government took to say, you know, it’s either you sign or you don’t and if you don’t then you’re not allowed to do this anymore.  But we were asking for negotiation on that contract and it was the government that refused to negotiate the co-management agreement.  And that’s the basis, and from then on [they refused].  And the press release also mentioned that the Belize Defense Force, at this point, has stated their intention of not being able to participate along with patrols as we usually conducted before.”


Despite government’s stance on the matter, the communities surrounding the Sarstoon/Temash National Park recognize that managing the area, in an effort to reduce incursion and other illegal activities, is in their best interest.

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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