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#501667 - 03/01/15 12:19 PM 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military
Marty Offline

According to multiple news sources, 35-40 Belizeans mostly from Orange Walk, were detained earlier today by the Guatemalan Military. The Minister of National Security and Foreign Affairs has been in communication with its Guatemalan counterparts. They have been released, but travel conditions are not ideal and their return is set for tomorrow, Sunday.

The Belizeans were on their way back to Belize via the Sarstoon River when they were captured. They had been on their way to place a plaque at the Gracias a Dios monument on a BTV (Belize Territorial Volunteers) mission.

Guatemalan officials reportedly boarded the Belizean vessel and took them first to a Guatemalan outpost and later taken to Livingston, Guatemala.

The reason for the detention by the Guatemalan military is not known.

Late this evening it was confirmed by family members of the persons detained that they were released but a decision was taken to remain Livingston for the night and head back to Belize in Sunday morning due to concerns over the safety on the seas at night.

Late on Saturday night, the Belizeans were scrambling in Livingston to try and get hotel accommodations, many of them pooling their money to secure a place to sleep for the night.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security George Lovell told KREM Radio tonight that it was his understanding that the Mayor of Livingston, Guatemala had offered to provide hotel accommodations for the Belizeans who had been detained by the Guatemalan authorities.

That assertion however was quickly dispelled when text messages from the detained Belizeans confirmed that in fact they were on their own, and finding their own way around trying to find accommodation for the night.


Click photos for more pictures!

They went to show they are patriotic. They were detained by an armed Guatemala Coastguard patrol. Men, women, children-BELIZEANS. They are now safe and will return to Belize, unharmed.


The group of approximately 40 Belizeans, including children, have been released by Guatemalan authorities BUT are still in Guatemala.

The group from the Northern Territorial Volunteers was towed to Livingston Guatemala after being intercepted by Guatemalan military earlier today after returning from a trip to Gracias A Dios. The Belizean Ambassador to Guatemala,Alexis Rosado, the OAS & the Belize Defense Force were notified and following their intervention the Belizean group was released. Unfortunately, the sea condition is not optimal for the group to travel back to Belize from Livingston in their own vessel. News 5 Live has confirmed that the Belize Coast Guard vessel from Hunting Caye will be meeting with Guatemalan authorities & NTV group at first light for the transfer back to Belize, specifically to the PG main dock.



A group of 40 Belizeans went to the Gracias Adios Monument up the Sarstoon River to place a Belize a plaque at the site . Upon returning, about halfway on the river a Guatemala boat patrol intercepted the group of Belizeans. They instructed them to turn the engine off the boat. They pulled the boat across the river. They then instructed them to get into their vessel. And according to Wil Maheia who has been in contact with the group, they were ordered to get into the Guatemala military boat which would take them to Livingston, Guatemala to be processed. Maheia also said the boat captain had made the trip many times before and would never venture into Guatemala’s side of the river. to Krem News, the CEO of the Ministry of National Security has been informed as well as the BDF and the Coastguard who are all attempting to reach their Guatemalan counterparts about the seizure of the Belizeans. The eldest person on the boat is a woman in there 80’s. The group will spend the night. The Belize Territorial Volunteers excursion members still have access to their phone and they might be released to travel back to Punta Gorda in the morning.

The photo is of the boat taken by Wil Maheia as they headed out earlier today to place the plaque at the monument.

(update: 7:30 p.m.- The Belizeans have been released at Livingston. They will remain there for the night due to unsafe travel and return to Belize in the morning. They don't know why they were detained but they do know the captain of the vessel was accused of committing an infraction.)


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#501680 - 03/02/15 11:49 AM Re: 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belizeans detained by Guatemala military arrive in Punta Gorda
The group of Belizeans who were detained by the Guatemala military on Saturday, February 28, have landed back in Belize. At 10:57 am the boat carrying the group of Belize Territorial Volunteers from Orange Walk docked at the Customs area in Punta Gorda town. Belizeans and media representatives who had gathered applauded as the boat arrived and a spontaneous singing of the Belize National Anthem broke out as the people disembarked from the vessel.

Belizeans illegally detained by Guatemala military safely back home
A group of 37 Belizeans who were detained illegally by Guatemala military in southern Belize returned to Punta Gorda town this morning. The group was welcomed to joyous applause and a spontaneous singing of the Belize National Anthem. A press conference is planned for this afternoon where Belize government officials will address the media.

Belizeans Back Home

A group of Belize Territorial Volunteers who were detained by the Guatemala military arrived in Belize on Sunday morning, March 1.



Click photos for more pictures!

Belizeans at Gracias Adios

They went to show they are patriotic. They were detained by an armed Guatemala Coastguard patrol. Men, women, children-BELIZEANS. They are now safe and returned to Belize, unharmed.


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#501729 - 03/03/15 11:52 AM Re: 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Belizeans Held In Guatemala?

On Saturday evening at 4:30, all of Belize was gripped by the report that 40 Belizeans had been taken prisoner by the Guatemalan Coast Guard. That has never happened before - and it sent a collective shiver across the nation. Happily, though, within hours, what was first presented as a hostile situation appeared to have softened somewhat: the Belizean "detainees" suddenly became guests of the Guatemalans in Livingston.

But, the entire narrative of what led up that and what followed it is a first for Belize. And it shows two things: how tricky it can be toeing the southern borderline, and how even uneasy neighbors can find ways to work things out.

Tonight, we'll have every interior and exterior angle on this story, from beginning to end. Daniel Ortiz reports:..

Daniel Ortiz reporting
It should have been just an expedition to the Gracias A Dios border marker at the southern-most point of the country, but on the way back, the expedition of 37 persons representing the Northern Chapter of the Territorial Volunteers were intercepted by the Guatemalan Military and taken to the Eastern Port town of Livingston, Guatemala. The initial concern was that they were being detained, possibly to be imprisoned, for making an incursion into Guatemalan Territorial Waters.

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"Yesterday morning these folks arrived here from Orange Walk. They left Orange Walk actually around midnight, to reach PG by 6am - 7am and by 7:30am, they were onboard the vessel that was going to take then to Gracias Adios. They boarded the vessel and everybody was in a festive mood. It was very patriotic, people taking out their flags and blowing their horns and going to Gracias Adios. As you know it's the southernmost marker and they went up there to put the plaque on and on their way back, the Guatemalan Marines had intercepted their boat. One of the marines boarded our boat and then tied up our boat to the vessel and they took it to their military station at the mouth of the Sarstoon. When they came back down, the Guatemalans took them to their military base, then escorted them to the Livingston, Guatemala. When they got there, they were detained and they were questioned by the Guatemalan authorities and then after that, they were set free."

They were free to roam around, and free to leave, but the captain decided that the 40 persons ought to stay the overnight in Livingston because the seas would have been choppy and dangerous.

The captain realized the next morning that by sleeping in Guatemala, the Port Commander and other government officials had enough time to prepare a document that they asked him to sign. That delayed their return to Belizean soil longer.

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"This morning when they were getting ready to leave again, as they were getting ready to board the boat, there comes the Capitan del Puerto, which is the boss of the port over there - the government boss and call in the captain. That's where they are right now."

Reporter
"Call the captain for what?"

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"We don't know. They just summon the captain, so that's why the boat hasn't left Livingston yet."

Maheia and others, including National Security and Foreign Affairs CEO's George Lovell and Lawrence Sylvestre, and other Foreign Affairs staffers were forced to wait for their arrival. But, why did the Guatemalan marines escort the Belizeans to Livingston? Well, the Territorial Volunteers say that the military personnel informed them that they had strayed into Guatemalan territory for 5 minutes. At the diplomatic level, that was communicated to Belizean government also, but more importantly, the Guatemalans informed Belize through the military and diplomatic channels that it wasn't a detention. No, they are claiming that it was a humanitarian effort - that they rescued the Belizeans from choppy seas, and from a vessel which appeared overcrowded and dangerous.

Ret. Col. George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security
"The Guatemalan officials - they detained them because they were: 1.) in Guatemala and 2.) The amount of passengers that they had on the vessel appeared to them to be very unsafe and it was for their own safety, that they decided to detained them and that's the reason why they were taken into to Livingston. They were clear to mention to us that they were not arrested and they were not going to be put in jail."

But, the Guatemalan Port Commander delayed the captain with this impromptu morning meeting for 3 hours past their intended departure time, and by 10:50 a.m. yesterday, signs of the Belizeans started showing on the horizon.

By the time they arrived at the pier, they received a patriotic welcome. Tales of their "detention" unleashed a firestorm of commentary on social media and on national radio.

After all the unplanned celebrations completed, 5 key persons of the forty taken by the Guatemalan military were asked to debrief the Government officials, which lasted for about 2 hours. The leader spoke with the press after.

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Gracias Adios Expedition
"This morning we had some negotiations with the commandant of Livingston and we were released. There was no charge for the group and the captain was released with no penalty. He only had to sign a documenting stating that he had accidentally entered a creek for the distance of 100 yards and a time of approximately 5 minutes."

But Wil Maheia, founder of the Territorial Volunteers, vouches for the captain that with his expertise and knowledge, he would never have crossed into Guatemala.

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"Our captain have a wealth of experience. There is no way he would have strayed into Guatemalan side, so if they are saying that, I could tell you that that's a lie."

Daniel Ortiz
"It is taken at face value that the Guatemalans who detained the Belizeans are right in saying they were in Guatemala."

Ret. Col. George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security
"No, we can't and that's the reason we need to hear what they had to say, no we need to hear what our people have to say."

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Gracias Adios Expedition
"He signed off on that paper, because it's the truth. On our way up the river, there are many tributaries and creeks and he accidentally took one of these creeks for approximately 5 minutes, less than 5 minutes and we covered a distance of approximately 100 yards and then we notice we were on the wrong route and we turned back. So, that is the truth."

But that's not what the captain, Guillermo Avila, is saying. He has retained attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd for legal advice to undo what his signature to this document means for him in Guatemala. He's admitted to a maritime offence, and although there was no penalty for it, he claims that he makes a business ferrying clients back and forth from Livingston to PG. His attorney told the press that he only signed the documents under duress, that if he didn't sign his passengers would not have been allowed to leave.

Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Attorney for Boat Captain
"The only way they would have released them to today, is if they sign such a document which he signed. This is a copy of the document he signed. He does not read Spanish, he signed a document he is not fully aware as to every word and its content and its meaning, but Mr. Avila wants it to be known, that it was clear to him that if he did not sign, he and the vessel could not leave and the passengers could not leave and he had to make a judgment call to get the people here back in Belizean territory. Now, we are hoping that our government, through diplomatic notes, can deal with this, because this was signed under duress."

That may well be the case, but the Foreign Ministry gave a stern, well publicized warning that this could happen. So, wasn't this ordeal somewhat self-inflicted?

Daniel Ortiz
"How do you answer to the criticism that this detention was somewhat self-inflicted because you all went there knowing that this could have happen?"

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Gracias Adios Expedition
"Listen, the captain has already signed off on a document stating that he accidentally entered a tributary for 100 yards, approximately 5 minutes and that is the truth and the truth will set you free."

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"People who say that, I would consider them very unpatriotic. This is our country all 8,867 sq. miles - belong to all Belizeans. So, if you are telling us Belizeans that we are agitating when we walk or defend our country, then I consider those who make those statements, very unpatriotic."

Whether due to the improved relations over the years, or because of the recent signing of the 13 bilateral agreements between Belize and Guatemala, the 40 person expedition team was released less than a day after they were taken into custody.

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"Fortunately, for the Belizeans onboard, which is in my opinion, a blessing in disguise - there were a Cuban consulate or some top person from the Cuban Embassy who was onboard, so with their help, they were able to like quickly free the people. In Belize, I consider everybody to be equal, but the fact that we had some, I would say high profile people on the boat, I think that was kind of what led to the quick release."

Ret. Col. George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security
"I believe that our action was swift and the action of our authorities may have caused them to take the action that they took."

But the activists say that if nothing else, this ordeal ought to show the Belizean Government that better efforts ought to be made to maintain a presence on the border, instead of only relying on BDF manned observation posts, manned by the BDF.

Wil Maheia - Southern Territorial Volunteers
"Our government has been promising, under both administration, to put a base at the mouth of the Sarstoon. Money was allocated. It was never put there. It's just like basically a disgrace that we Belizeans when we go to our borderline, we have to ask the Guatemalans permission to go up our river."

Nigel Petillo - President, BGYEA
"To you Mr. Foreign Minister, this again is having you understand that you need to come out here personally and see what's taking place and put something out there, so that other Belizean could feel safe as when it comes to walking in our country Belize. I want to know that walking from here to there, I am still in my country and I am not supposed the fear the idea of Guatemalans detaining me."

The Gracias A Dios Timeline

So, we've showed you the detention and eventual release, but why were these Belizeans at that location to have been taken into custody?

Well, viewers may remember back in 2013 when Toledo border activist and politician, Wil Maheia, started the "Clearing the Border Initiative". He and the organization called the Belize Territorial Volunteers started clear strategic border locations along the border, including Aguas Turbias in the north, Garbutts Falls in the west, Gracias A Dios as the southernmost point of the country, and the unregulated border point of Jalacte.

Since then, the border trips became less frequent, but on Saturday, the Northern Territorial Volunteers decided that they would place a bronze Belize plaque at the Gracias A Dios marker.

Our colleagues from PGTV sent a camera man on the trip with the volunteers, and with their assistance, we've put assembled a narrative of how the whole thing went down:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
A group of 40 persons, which included Boat Captain, Guillermo Avila; his 2 crew members; a camera man from PGTV, and the remaining being men and women from the Orange Walk Districts, got into the vessel "Dore".

After everyone and their belongings were inside, the vessel left the PG Pier. Out on the Sarstoon River appeared calm, and few miles more toward inland, the Belizeans encountered the Guatemalan military who were on a river patrol.

Some of the group socialized with the military, who appeared friendly, and very much at ease around the Belizeans and their cellphone cameras. Even though they had weapons drawn, they appeared non-threatening. A few of the Belizeans boarded their boats, and got closer in proximity.

Eventually, these 2 Guatemalan military boats allowed the Belizean vessel to continue making its way. All the while that Captain Avila piloted his boat, the Guatemalans kept a watchful eye. The Belizean vessel traveled further inland on the river for an undetermined amount of time afterwards, and eventually, the expedition arrives at the desired location, were they could no longer travel by boat.

Everyone made their way off the boat, while the ever watchful Guatemalan military kept an eye on the proceedings. With their flags at the ride, the team of 40 made their way over to the border marker on foot. After what appeared to be a short walk, the group arrived at the Gracias A Dios marker.

The Volunteers started their cleaning efforts, and shortly after, a bit of masonry was done to prepare the border marker so that the "Belize" plaque could have been placed on it.

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"As you can see we are here today to commemorate the installation of a Belize plaque on this monument and we have a group of brave Belizeans here that brave the weather, the route and thank God we have arrived safely and we are currently in the process of installing this bronze plaque that will forever let people know that this is the initiation of Belize southernmost point. So, once again, February 28th, 2015 - plaque installation ceremony, Gracias A Dios."

Robert Clinton - Participant, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"I am here to represent all the Belizeans in the diaspora who were unable to make it to the ceremony of the installation of this plaque, which will represent the southernmost point of Belize."

Another amount of time passed, and the men finally finished with the preparations on the marker, The adhesive was finally placed to stick the plaque in.

Finally, the plaque was installed, and the Volunteers made sure to note its significance with the ceremonial singing of the National Anthem.

All the time, the Guatemalan military was ever watchful, and according to reports from the volunteers, the boat captain even shared refreshments with the soldiers, to further reiterate that they all came in friendship. Eventually, the Volunteers then board their vessel, and made their way back to the mouth of the Sarstoon River, with the military following them, the same way they had come in.

Little did they know that this time, instead of being careful guardians, they had switched roles to become enforcers, who were given orders to escort them Livingston, Guatemala.

The De-Brief Test

As you heard in our story, a part of the welcome back in Punta Gorda Town involved the a meeting with the Chief Executive Officers of the Foreign Affairs and National Security Ministry, along with Belizean Ambassador to Guatemala Alexis Rosado, and other Foreign Affairs staffers. In that meeting, 5 key persons from the group were asked to debrief the Government officials, so that their version of events could be compared to the version which Guatemala relayed through diplomatic and military channels.

National Security CEO George Lovell told the media that from what the Belizeans have reported, a diplomatic note will more than likely be sent:

Ret. Col. George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security
"The reason why we had these interviews, was basically for us to establish precisely what the facts are from the people who were out there and who had firsthand experience of what transpired on the ground. As you may have heard, we have been talking to our OAS officials, our BDF and foreign affairs officials and they themselves were relaying to the Ministry of National Security secondhand information. This was an opportunity for us to hear from our people who were at sea, who had experience the ordeal that they went through since 4 o' clock yesterday and it was just necessary that we speak to them, so that we could have gathered our facts and be able to deal with this in a very responsible manner. There are a number of things that were said, that I am very concerned about and we ill definitely as a government, have to take up those concerns with our Guatemalan counterparts. i don't want to go into the details, simply because there is a confident building measures, which speaks to protocol, in which we must follow when we address these things and so I need to first of all, brief the Prime Minister, the Minister of National Security and the Minister of Foreign Affairs on what we have gathered here today and once we have gone through that, those concerns that I have just listening to the various statements made by those who experience this ordeal out there, I will discuss those details and then there are certain actions we will have to take going forward."

H.E. Alexis Rosado - Belizean Ambassador to Guatemala
"I am very disappointed by what happened. We are still trying to clear up all the story - the full picture. But what it tells me is that we need to implement those agreements and do more to keep that level of contact communication cooperation. I think the fact that we manage to get our Belizeans back home so quickly, in fact, they could have come home last night, but because of the choppy waters and so, they decided to overnight. But the fact that we manage to get them back as quickly as possible, I think is a good indication of the communication and the links that exists between the militaries and also between the foreign ministries. That of course, without prejudice to establishing all the facts surrounding the whole situation. From my point of view, I think the most important thing is that our Belizeans are back home, they are safe and they can be with their families and friends and be at home safely and secure. I think that's the most important part. The rest we will have to deal with in due course."

This evening, the Government of Belize sent a press release, which says quote,

"The Belizean Government's deep concern about the ongoing incident was raised with senior authorities of the Guatemalan Government and of the OAS..."

"Initial reports suggest that by an error of navigation the Belizean vessel may have unintentionally entered into Guatemalan waters. These reports also suggest that the Guatemalan authorities may have erred in their judgment and placed the passengers of the vessel at risk by diverting the vessel to Livingston, Guatemala. Also the reports suggest that the Guatemalan military officials may have entered illegally into Belizean waters at the Sarstoon. The Government of Belize will be taking necessary measures to address these concerns…including the request of a joint verification exercise along with the OAS." End Quote.

The Government also warns the Territorial Volunteers saying quote, "The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to caution that while there are no areas in Belize where Belizeans are not permitted to visit, those areas within the proximity of the border continue to remain the subject of an active controversy between Belize and the Republic of Guatemala. Official reports furnished to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the OAS reveal that the same group which organized this weekend's excursion had exactly one year ago planted palms on the wrong side of the border."

It continues,

"The Ministry maintains its view that it is…potentially dangerous for the organizers of excursions of this type to expose innocent Belizeans, especially minors and elderly, to the risk of inadvertently entering into Guatemalan territory." End quote.

A Heroes’ Welcome in OW

Of the 37 volunteers, all except one are residents of Orange Walk. That person is from Corozal, and late into Sunday night, the 36 arrived in Orange Walk Town to a hero's welcome, complete with motorcade and homecoming ceremony.

The media was also there, and Leader of this expedition Giovanni De La Fuente, said that even if they knew beforehand that they would have been taken into custody by the Guatemalan military, they would have still had to courage to go:

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"This reception is great. I wasn't expecting and the people of Orange Walk, they really make you feel good. We still have people that loves Belize."

Reporter
"After all what happened, would you do it all over again?"

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"We function as a part of a group and the group is already talking about returning to another border monument that is called Garbutt Falls in the Cayo District and of course, if it is their desire, we will return."

Reporter
"How do you feel to see Orange Walkenos came out tonight to give you a warm welcome back to Orange Walk after such an ordeal?"

Participant
"Oh my gosh, it's overwhelming. I never felt such sense of pride. I've always been proud of my country, but tonight seeing Orange Walkenos out, makes me more proud and overwhelmed."

Channel 7


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#501761 - 03/03/15 10:10 PM Re: 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

DETAILS SURROUNDING THE INCIDENT ON 28TH FEBRUARY, 2015, AT SARSTOON RIVER, BELIZE

Belmopan. March 2, 2015. The Government of Belize is very pleased and relieved that the group of 37 Belizeans who were held on Saturday, February 28th, 2015 were returned safely and promptly on Sunday March 1st, 2015 at 10:57am.

At 3:40 pm. on Saturday 28th, February 2015, the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs was alerted of reports that Guatemalan Armed Forces had detained a group of Belizean citizens who were returning from an excursion to the boundary marker at Gracias A Dios and that they were being taken against their will to Livingston. The Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister were immediately informed and they gave their directions.

Belizean authorities immediately, in accordance with standard operating procedures in managing such incidents, activated the lines of communication to firstly, guarantee the safety and welfare of the Belizeans on board the vessel and their immediate return; secondly, to ensure that they were afforded appropriate consular support; and thirdly, to ascertain the facts.

The Belizean Government’s deep concern about the ongoing incident was raised with senior authorities of the Guatemalan Government and of the OAS.

Good cooperation through official channels facilitated the swift and prompt return of our citizens to Belize. The Government of Belize wishes to thank the diplomats and military officials in both Belize and Guatemala as well as the OAS for the exercise of prudence in the handling of this incident.

Initial reports suggest that by an error of navigation the Belizean vessel may have unintentionally entered into Guatemalan waters. These reports also suggest that the Guatemalan authorities may have erred in their judgment and placed the passengers of the vessel at risk by diverting the vessel to Livingston, Guatemala. Also the reports suggest that the Guatemalan military officials may have entered illegally into Belizean waters at the Sarstoon. The Government of Belize will be taking necessary measures to address these concerns and others with the Government of Guatemala including the request of a joint verification exercise along with the OAS. The findings of this verification exercise will guide our Government’s further action.

The Government of Belize remains committed to a peaceful resolution of Guatemala’s claims as agreed under the Special Agreement of 2008 and the continuing process under the auspices of the OAS to maintain peace and to promote confidence building measures between the two countries.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes to caution that while there are no areas in Belize where Belizeans are not permitted to visit, those areas within the proximity of the border continue to remain the subject of an active controversy between Belize and the Republic of Guatemala. Official reports furnished to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the OAS reveal that the same group which organized this weekend’s excursion had exactly one year ago planted palms on the wrong side of the border.

The Ministry maintains its view that it is imprudent and potentially dangerous for the organizers of excursions of this type to expose innocent Belizeans, especially minors and elderly, to the risk of inadvertently entering into Guatemalan territory. It must be borne in mind that any such entrance into Guatemalan territory constitutes a contravention of the Guatemalan immigration laws and can result in legal action being taken against those who contravene their laws.

Demonstration of Belizean presence, the exercise of our administration and jurisdiction, the deterrence, detection and interdiction of illegal activities in Belizean territory are best left to the official authorities.


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#501782 - 03/04/15 12:00 PM Re: 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Territorial Volunteers Reject Government & OAS Account

We also showed you last night how the Government had a stern putdown for the Belize Territorial Volunteers.

For accuracy, a press release addressing the "detention" of the 37 Belizeans said, quote,

"Official reports furnished to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by the OAS reveal that the same group which organized this weekend's excursion had exactly one year ago planted palms on the wrong side of the border."

They are referring to the trip that the northern Volunteers, led by Orlando De La Fuente, organized to visit the Aguas Turbias Border marker. At that time, part of the cleaning efforts by the volunteers was to plant coconut palms to note that part of the clearing was for Belize.

In response today, the founder of the Territorial Volunteers, Wil Maheia, sent out a scathing press release. It says quote, "The Belize Territorial Volunteers completely denies the lie told in the recent Government ...Press Release..."

Instead of defending Belizeans going about their lawful business, they declared that the BTV had on an earlier visit planted palms on the Guatemalan side of the border. This is completely untrue. During this exercise the BTV had the services of experienced surveyors equipped with state of the art GPS.

In the unlikely event that any of the leaders of this country could actually be bothered to travel to the borders to see for themselves, they would realise that this is a falsehood put about by the Organisation of American States. The OAS yet again shows itself to be no friend to Belizeans." End Quote

In the press release Maheia is quoted as saying, "The BTV would also like to point out that had Belizeans by accident planted palms in Guatemala, Guatemala should be thankful, as their country is like a wasteland in comparison to Belize - which is why they have ambitions to steal this land away from those to whom it will always belong - the people of Belize."

The Narrative of The Capture, Revisited

So what did really happen that led to the capture of the boat? Last night with footage form PGTV we traced the slightly strange events that transpired on that Saturday evening. Tonight, now that we have the Captain's input we repeat that story:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
A group of 40 persons, which included Boat Captain, Guillermo Avila; his 2 crew members; a camera man from PGTV, and the remaining being men and women from the Orange Walk Districts, got into the vessel "Dore".

After everyone and their belongings were inside, the vessel left the PG Pier. Out on the Sarstoon River appeared calm, and few miles more toward inland, the Belizeans encountered the Guatemalan military who were on a river patrol.

Some of the group socialized with the military, who appeared friendly, and very much at ease around the Belizeans and their cellphone cameras. Even though they had weapons drawn, they appeared non-threatening. A few of the Belizeans boarded their boats, and got closer in proximity.

Eventually, these 2 Guatemalan military boats allowed the Belizean vessel to continue making its way. All the while that Captain Avila piloted his boat, the Guatemalans kept a watchful eye. The Belizean vessel traveled further inland on the river for an undetermined amount of time afterwards, and eventually, the expedition arrives at the desired location, were they could no longer travel by boat.

Everyone made their way off the boat, while the ever watchful Guatemalan military kept an eye on the proceedings. With their flags at the ride, the team of 40 made their way over to the border marker on foot. After what appeared to be a short walk, the group arrived at the Gracias A Dios marker.

The Volunteers started their cleaning efforts, and shortly after, a bit of masonry was done to prepare the border marker so that the "Belize" plaque could have been placed on it.

Giovanni De La Fuente - Leader, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"As you can see we are here today to commemorate the installation of a Belize plaque on this monument and we have a group of brave Belizeans here that brave the weather, the route and thank God we have arrived safely and we are currently in the process of installing this bronze plaque that will forever let people know that this is the initiation of Belize southernmost point. So, once again, February 28th, 2015 - plaque installation ceremony, Gracias A Dios."

Robert Clinton - Participant, Northern Territorial Volunteers
"I am here to represent all the Belizeans in the diaspora who were unable to make it to the ceremony of the installation of this plaque, which will represent the southernmost point of Belize."

Another amount of time passed, and the men finally finished with the preparations on the marker, The adhesive was finally placed to stick the plaque in.

Finally, the plaque was installed, and the Volunteers made sure to note its significance with the ceremonial singing of the National Anthem.

All the time, the Guatemalan military was ever watchful, and according to reports from the volunteers, the boat captain even shared refreshments with the soldiers, to further reiterate that they all came in friendship. Eventually, the Volunteers then board their vessel, and made their way back to the mouth of the Sarstoon River, with the military following them, the same way they had come in.

Little did they know that this time, instead of being careful guardians, they had switched roles to become enforcers, who were given orders to escort them Livingston, Guatemala.

Captain Makes His Case

Last night, we gave you extensive coverage of the 37 Belizeans who were taken into custody by the Guatemalan marines and then taken to the port town of Livingston. That action could have become an international incident - for the obvious reasons, and because there was a foreign ambassador on board. Fortunately, it was resolved within 15 hours.

It all unfolded at the end of an expedition by the Northern Territorial Volunteers who went up the Sarstoon River which runs along the southernmost parts of the country from East to West, all the way to the border marker at Gracias A Dios for a mission to install a Belizean plaque on it.

The man who has deal directly with the consequence of the encounter is boat captain, Guillermo "Memo" Avila. He had to sign a document prepared by the Guatemalan Harbour Master which says that he committed the maritime offence of crossing into Guatemalan territorial waters for about 100 yards, and about 5 to 10 minutes. He didn't have to face any penalties for it, because the Guatemalan authorities only gave him a warning for it.

Avila says however, that he traverses these areas daily for his business, "Memo's Boat Services", which runs a shuttle from Punta Gorda to Livingston and back. So, today, he decided that he wanted to address the media himself. He told the press this evening, that at the time when the vessel and the 37 Belizeans ventured into Guatemalan markers while they were traveling up the Sarstoon River, it was not his decision. He says that expedition leader, Giovanni De La Fuente, instructed him to take that route, since he claimed to have visited the border marker before:

Guillermo "Memo" Avila, Boat captain
"Coming to the Sarstoon is always in the middle, whosoever is watching or anybody who is familiar with Sarstoon, you will always come through the middle because there is shoal there and then we came this way... all the way up and right here. When I got to the Sarstoon bar, I told the leader of the expedition who is Mr. De La Fuente, that I've come as far as here and he said that he knows the way anyways. I just want to clear that point one time, because it wasn't my decision to make this left turn, because he said that he knew where they were going, so that's why I took this turn here by his order, because I told him that I only know as far as the bar, but further up I didn't know. We came up this way and about right here we should have gone this way to Gracias A Dios, and I made a left turn here instead of going straight or staying on my right. Immediately, I went about 100 yards and I spin right back."

Also, in our coverage yesterday, you heard a few of the interviewees describe the period of the journey when they were taken over by the Guatemalan military as being scary and dangerous. Well, Avila explained exactly why, in his professional opinion as boat caption, the Guatemalan marines endangered the lives of the 37 Belizeans:

Guillermo "Memo" Avila, Boat captain
"I started to slow down because they wanted us to from our boat to the coast guard and they were going to have our boat towed to Livingston. Since they were insisting, because they were armed and the guy was telling me lets go to the coast guard, because everybody got to come off. I attempted closely once and the wave almost tipped the end of the coast guard boat which is a big iron boat on our boat. I reverse the boat and I said I am not going to attempt that again. If you guys want us to go to Livingston, then we will drive our way to Livingston and when we get to Livingston, we are going to need fuel, because I only have fuel to get from here to Punta Gorda. I don't have enough fuel to go to Livingston then Punta Gorda."

And while this plays out, the focus of the nation right now is on municipal elections tomorrow. But his attorney says that the country has its priorities mixed up. Audrey Matura-Shepherd scolded the public, saying everyone shouldn't be focused on the elections, rather, they should be voicing their outrage that Belizeans were "taken hostage" in their own country:

Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Attorney for Boat Captain
"I really think that sometimes in Belize we sit back and think we can't pressure our government to do the right thing. I don't know if you all have such short memory, but just the other day, Guatemalans came to Belize and killed Danny. How could we forget they came here and they killed our guy? Have you seen the human outcry with positive results? I don't know if the family has been compensated. Months later what do they do? They come out to our waters and dragged away 37 of our own and what are we concerned about - municipal election tomorrow? I am sorry, where are our priorities?"

"This document helps to prove that the Guatemalan authorities knew that they did wrong and they were looking for their propaganda and they are covering their asses with this and they put our guy under duress to do it. It was most unfortunate that our diplomat did not wait for the ambassador to reach, because the embassy had given strict instructions - sign nothing."

As we've told you, the Captain says that he signed this document accepting fault under duress because it was communicated to him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't sign, then the 37 Belizeans would not be allowed to leave.

Channel 7


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#502065 - 03/11/15 10:48 AM Re: 35-40 Belizeans detained by Guatemalan Military [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Prime Minister Requests That Territorial Volunteers Cease Border Expeditions

By now, we know all about the international episode involving the Belize Territorial Volunteers and the Guatemalan Coast Guard. It happened 11 days ago but last into last week there was still a back and forth going between the Territorial Volunteers and the OAS Adjacency Zone office over mapping accuracy.

And while those are technicalities, at bottom, the dispute is over whether the Guatemalan Coast Guard's interception of the Belizean boat was an act of aggression or whether it was justified. Last week Thursday, we asked Prime Minister Dean Barrow where he stood on the matter. He told us that the Territorial Volunteers did veer into Guatemalan waters:

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"These territorial volunteers man, really need to think carefully before they continue with the sorts of actions that, though well-meaning and though dressed up in the guise of patriotism and ascertain of sovereignty, really are not helpful and when you take innocent citizens on your so-called excursions, it just makes it impossible for government to feel comfortable about your activities. As I understand it, there is absolutely no doubt that they went, however unwittingly, into Guatemala. Colonel Lovell was familiar with the run of the river, so to speak, tell me that you go left after that plot of island in midstream - you are following an inlet, when you think you are coming back out into the river proper. You follow an inlet that takes you into Guatemala and that's precisely what happened. So, for them to talk about, no, we are always operating in exercise in our sovereignty, will not do when they are always in areas where even the professionals with their GPS and other instruments, can find themselves on the wrong side of the imaginary line, which is precisely the point, there is no defined boundary, there are no markers and in those circumstances, as I said though, well intentioned - they are not helping, in my view, the national cause, by doing what they are doing."

Jules Vasquez
"Sir, you will express no formal complaint when you meet your Guatemalan counterpart? Because, it was, yes, as you've said, they may have strayed, but man, it was unnecessary and actually imperil them for the Guatemalan Coast Guard, to do what they did and they did it just because they could."

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister
"Well, again, I am not sure of the facts. I don't think you can ever sliced it in such a way, as not to express more than concern. So, as not to communicate some note of protest or some element of protest to the Guatemalans, arising from the towing of the vessel to Livingston."

The Captain claims that he was led down a wrong tributary by the expedition leader, and he only signed a document implicating himself so that the 36 other Belizeans could return back into the country safely.

Channel 7


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