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#506917 - 08/26/15 03:52 AM Once More Unto The Island  
Joined: Oct 1999
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For the last 2 weeks, the news has been dominated by Belize Territorial Volunteers and their trip to Sarstoon Island which ended in a confrontation between them and the Guatemalan Navy. It even prompted a Prime Ministerial press conference where he was flanked the Ministers of National Security and Foreign Affairs, and the commanders of the BDF and Coast Guard - who comprise the National security Council. In that press conference, the Prime Minister implored the Volunteers not to return to the Sarstoon River because it strains diplomatic and military relations.

BDF Commander, General David Jones also made it clear that the agitation by the Territorial Volunteers endangers his soldiers who are posted at the Cadenas Conservation Post. The only way to get to Cadenas is through the Sarstoon River, which the Guatemalans consider theirs. Well, as we also showed you last week, Wil Maheia, responded that he would make attempts to follow the BDF change overs which happens roughly every other Tuesday. Today was supposed to be the first such mission, and our news team of Daniel Ortiz and Codie Norales left out at 1:00 am for Punta Gorda Town to see for ourselves how this would work. It didn't, but something else did work out. Daniel Ortiz reports:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
As we understand it from expedition planner Wil Maheia, the agenda for today was to shadow the Belize Defence Force as they left Punta Gorda Town to change over the soldiers who had been on duty for 2 weeks AT CADENAS.

So, we arrived in PG before 4:30 a.m., to see the BDF leave off at around 5:15 a.m. without the Territorial Volunteers. But military time is not Volunteers time - they were stuck caught waiting for stragglers, and so Maheia quickly changed the mission.

Instead of shadowing, the maneuver became a test of the Guatemalan Navy's response to Belizeans in the Mouth of the Sarstoon River, given the political upheaval in their Government, and the recent activities of the volunteers in Sarstoon.

Today's expeditioners spent about 45 minutes traveling from PG Town to the Sarstoon River mouth. When it was determined that there was no sign that the Guatemalan Navy had come out to blockade the area, the two boat captains directed their vessels to Sarstoon Island. There Maheia and others defiantly erected a Belize Flag, which was tied to one of the mangrove roots on the Island.

Today's participants had what can only be called an Everest moment beside the flag to note its importance - and of course feed social media. After all, they had been prevented from doing so on the last trip there. It did give us an opportunity to get up close and put a foot on it, even if it was only to stand on the mangrove roots.

There was a sense of danger, since in the near distance the Guatemalan Navy was based at the Mouth of the Sarstoon. At any moment, they could have pulled up to Sarstoon Island and caused all kinds of havoc for this civilian mission. There was also a gun boat in the distance that could have moved in and blocked us before we could get into Belize's territorial waters.

So, in a sense, those on board were acting like mischievous children, pushing to see just how much they could get away with before a spanking was handed out. Maheia and fellow participants see it differently.

Daniel Ortiz
"The decision to go and put the Belizean flag on Sarstoon, that, would say is inflammatory - it's provocative. How would you answer to that?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"I would say that this is Belize. It's our country. Every square inch of this 8,867 square miles belongs to us and I believe that nobody should deny us the right to plant a flag to show our patriotism for this country, in nay part of this country that we so choose. If we want to go to Ranguana, if we want to go to the Blue Hole or if we want to go to north or south - we as Belizeans have the right to do that and that's what we wanted to demonstrate to the people of Belize that we as Belizeans should have the right to put a flag wherever we want to in this beautiful country of ours."

Daniel Ortiz
"Do you accept that there was a risk of being detained when we were doing that and that we have our own views, the Guatemalans would certainly have arrested us?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"Yes, it is a very real risk. But as Belizeans we must stand strong, we must stand proud, we must stand Belizean. So while it was a risk, the risk was well worth it."

Daniel Ortiz
"Mr. Wil, while you assert that it is well worth it, there will be those who say 'you see Wil, he is a crazy man, that is crazy man thing he is doing' because they will take the negative view that you are provoking a confrontation on the Sarstoon River. How do you answer to those people who say that something is obviously wrong with you that you would not heed the warnings of our government?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"I would say that there is no way shape of form that we as the Territorial Volunteers are provoking anybody by doing something peacefully. Once again we took our boats there. Nobody was armed with any kind of ammunition. We went there as peaceful Belizean citizens."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Participant, Return Trip
"I dont think it's tempting faith. I know there will be a lot of critics. Let me tell you, those nasty critics who just go on personal attacks, they are singing for their supper unfortunately. They have not stop and think about what the implications are and you find that in the political parties, they will toe the political line."

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"I am a proud Belizean and I believe everybody who have been on a territorial volunteer patrol are proud Belizeans and I believe that everybody is willing to stand up and even die for this country if that's what it would come down to, but at the end of the day, if we don't stand up for what we believe in, then why should we remain Belizean citizens?"

About 2 hours later, we got to see for ourselves just how the Guatemalan Navy is now acting toward the Belize Defence Force. At around 9:30, our cameras caught the BDF vessel speeding out of the Sarstoon River with the soldiers who had just been relieved. Hot on their tail was a Guat Navy boat which following at high speed. It was just as General David Jones had described, the Guatemalan Navy had become more aggressive toward them as well, following any military vessel of theirs to and from the Cadenas Conservation Post, for a total of about 4 hours on the river.

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"As a Belizean, to watch my military being escorted by the Guatemalan military, that was a blow to us. I mean for us the Territorial Volunteers, it was a blessing in disguise that the BDF basically tricked us and left early, because the Guatemalan military obviously escorted them up the river. So it gave us an opportunity to put our flags on the Sarstoon Island without interruption from the Guatemalan military. But waiting there and monitoring the illegal fishing that's taking place and then seeing our military being escorted by the Guatemalan military was damaging to me as a Belizean. I felt insulted that we had to have our military being escorted by the Guatemalan military and they escorted them way into Belizean waters."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Participant, Return Trip
"It's just safe passage they gave us. That is how it is operating and it is unfortunate because quietly we've been ceding and ceding and I think that if the government doesn't want to take the bull by the horn and do the right thing and if the BDF was made impotent because of the civilian bosses they have, then we the people who are not afraid need to go and occupy and use the area. It is unfortunate that we don't see our Belizean fishermen out there using the water as a daily way of life. But we did see the Guatemalans, which is a whole other issue."

It is expected that as soon as the Guatemalans discover the Belizean flag on Sarstoon Island, they will take it down, that's if it hasn't happened as yet. And, we'll have a little more from Southern Belize later on in tonight's news as Daniel Ortiz goes crawling around in the mud while chasing after suspected Guatemalans illegally fishing in Belizean territorial waters.


As we showed you at the top of the news, the Belize Territorial Volunteers went back to the Sarstoon River today. They were there to follow the BDF soldiers downriver to the border post of Cadenas.

But the volunteers missed the trip from PG to Cadenas, so they had to wait a long time until the BDF vessel returned through the Sarstoon. And we had to wait with them. So, how did the volunteers pass the time? Well, they went chasing after suspected Guatemalan fishers poaching in Belizean waters. Our news team followed them on that mission - which had elements of both mild tragedy and deep comedy; here's how it went:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
While waiting for the BDF change over to return from Cadenas, Maheia and the boat captains took us along the southern shore of the Toledo District, just before the Sarstoon River mouth, waters considered to be clearly in Belizean territory.

It immediately became apparent what they were signaling to a number fishermen believed to be Guatemalans who were illegally fishing in Belizean waters. Now, we're unable to say 100% that they are illegals fishing in Belize, but there were very distinct traits of their behavior while we were there.

For one, every time we attempted to get closer, these fishermen, making use of lightweight dories, immediately headed for the shore and immediately pulled their boats into the mangroves. Then, they ducked for cover and stayed hidden until we gave up and throttled our bigger boats out into deeper waters. Next, they were fishing with nets considered to be illegal in Belize due to the destruction it causes to fishing populations.

We came across yards long of fishing nets set up to capture as much fish as possible. Wil Maheia decided that it made no sense to uproot it, since it would be tedious and detrimental if it got caught in the engines of the boats.

Later on, we came across a group of about 9-12 fishermen, and that's when Maheia decided to demonstrate just how these suspected illegal fishermen behave when Belizean vessels got too close. Our captains throttled pass them a few a times, and they immediately sped toward the shallow waters, and that's when the fishermen made a mad dash for the mangroves, abandoning their boats and crawling on their bellies to get away.

Maheia jumped out of his boat and pursued them on foot to demonstrate what happens. I joined him along with Audrey Matura-Shepherd and Alfredo Ortega. It immediately became clear why the men chose to crawl to their hiding spots. These waters were shallow reaching me to my ankle, but the mud sucks anyone down to all fours, acting something like quicksand. Creep and Crawling, it took us almost half hour to get to the bank of the sea which would have normally taken 5 to 10 minutes if we were wading through the water on solid ground.

Cell phone footage taken by Audrey Matura captures me at a very unflattering angle. But, comical as it was, it demonstrates the difficulty to catch up with these illegal fishers who were already deep in the mangroves hiding from us. It's a bit impractical to go chasing after these suspected illegal fishermen.

Wil Maheia says that the reason it's so rampant is that there is no law enforcement presence to dissuade Guatemalans from taking advantage of the seemingly abandoned territory.

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"It was close to 50 of them hiding in their right now, clusters. See there is a cluster there, and there and there. They can't dispute this. The river is behind me, south of me - Sarstoon River. We are north of Sarstoon. There is no way that we are even close to being into Guatemalan territory. The thing is that we need to protect our natural resources. We need to enforce our laws. If anybody in PG, or any part of Belize set a net like this at any river mouth, they will be arrested. Why is it that the Guatemalans cannot be arrested for these kinds of gill nets? Belizeans get arrested on a daily basis, so why can't the Guatemalans. That's my big fight here."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd - Participant, Return Trip
"Coast guard are they here to enforce these or you don't know?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"Well I've never seen them enforcing the law here. The last time I saw the coast guard was in front of Barranco. I've never really seen them south of Barranco as well. Whether they are here or not, I don't know, but I could tell you that I've been coming here for over 20 years and I've never seen Fisheries vessels in this area. I've seen the BDF, but they go straight up the river which worked in our favor today."

Daniel Ortiz
"The BDF, do they stop?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers
"They don't. They go and they see everything here. They passed this every Tuesday or whenever they go up, they see all these illegal fishing, but their job is to go and transfer people and that's what they do. They do not stop and try to stop the Guatemalans. I've never seen them pull up a gill net. I've never seen then stop illegal fishing, I've never seen them intercepted a Guatemalan vessel."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd
"Wil, do you think that if Belizean civilians come out on a regular basis to just traffic this area, there would be less encroachment?"

Wil Maheia
"Oh yes. The whole idea why TIDE got started, this exact same thing use to happen in what is now the Port Honduras Marine Reserve and it as a citizen thing. It wasn't like a government thing. It was a citizen thing that help established that marine reserve. Of course government recognized it and declared it a marine reserve. But it was this kind of citizenry, getting together that made it happen. It was the fishermen of Punta Gorda that made Port Honduras, because at one time, these same people or their relatives were camping in what is now the Port Honduras Marine Reserve."

"I am one hundred percent sure that they are Guatemalans, they live on the Guatemalan side. They wouldn't ran away if they were Belizeans, because they would be able to identify that our boat was not like an enforcement agency boat. Again, it's time for Belizeans to stand up to protect our natural resources. The hundreds and thousands of meters of gill nets that were there - the amount of clusters of Guatemalans in groups of 10-12 that was there on the beach just raping our natural resources, it's time for us as Belizeans to stand up. I call on the government, the Fisheries Department, the Coast Guard to begin to patrol our beaches, our coastline from Sarstoon Island all the way up to Rio Hondo and as you can see this morning was just an ordinary morning and you can see that there was, in my opinion, between 50-100 boats including the boats that was at the mouth of the Sarstoon River that was trapping the jacks."

As you saw at the end of our story, as soon as we turned our backs and returned to our boats, the fishermen came out of their hiding places, went about their leisurely way and returned their fishing as if though we hadn't disturbed them.

At one point, members of the volunteer team were questioned by Guatemalan civilians in a bigger fishing boat. They wanted to know why we were quote, "harassing" their people.

Channel 7

#506934 - 08/27/15 05:17 AM Re: Once More Unto The Island [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 52,656
Marty Online happy
Marty  Online Happy

Sarstoon Misadventures

For the past 2 weeks, Sarstoon Island and Sarstoon River have dominated the headlines – and you all got to see how the Belize/Guatemala Territorial Dispute was playing out in real time.

But, tonight, we have slightly different take for you. Sure enough, the Sarstoon issue is no joke – but the civilian-led river adventures – have also had their share of misadventures – mainly because the territorial volunteers are figure out as they go along. And that’s fine – the men and women of the volunteers, are stout of heart and strong in spirit. But they also have to have a good sense of humour – because as the saying goes, if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry. So, we’ve put together a parable of misadventure on the Sarstoon, partly at our expense. Enjoy – and try not to laugh too much:

Daniel Ortiz Reporting….

Protecting the sovereignty of the Sarstoon: it’s a serious and powerful statement, but there have been a few misadventures in that location which provides ample comic relief.

The first is that to avoid contact with aggressive Guatemalan Navy, the Territorial Volunteers had to hold their patriotic party on a Sandbar with Sarstoon Island visible in the distance. It was a simply calculation for safety, but seeing 160+ persons in ankle deep water looked faintly like an outing to the cayes for getaway.

FILE: AUGUST 18, 2015

Efrain Alpuche - Travelled to Sarstoon River Mouth

"Standing here is quite a pleasure. This is serious fun, but it's necessary to be done. It's about high time I think as Belizeans we stand together and make a stand about our patrimony - about our natural heritage and such. So standing here is worth the while.”

Then, there was the confrontation with the Guatemalan Navy – bumper boats – which seems kind of funny now, but when it was happening it led to mass panic and softening of wills. Fraught with danger, it definitely warranted the panicked pleas for a retreat when Orlando De La Fuente was forging forward. Now, that it happened without incident, it does make for a chuckle to listen back to persons shouting for everyone to turn back.

Then, imagine sitting in the lead boat. The Guatemalan Navy has already laid down the hardline, “Go back to where you came from”. Everyone showing bravado is acutely aware of the danger of being hurt, detained or provoking an armed confrontation. Who would forget seeing the Guatemalan boat captain cutting off your boat every time you attempted to get away from them?

That was all in an effort to get to the Sarstoon Island, the flashpoint of the Guatemalan Territorial Claim. The Territorial Volunteers would eventually get the opportunity to get up close to the island, and almost mischievously, they erected the Belize Flag. They also got to put a foot on the island - which not really on the land per say. That’s when it becomes clear the symbol of defiant patriotism is really a mangrove bog, and the closest thing to planting yourself, if you want to remain dry, is on a mangrove’s root.

FILE: AUGUST 25, 2015

Daniel Ortiz

"Do you accept that there was a risk of being detained when we were doing that and that while we have our own views, the Guatemalans would certainly have arrested us?"

Wil Maheia - Leader, Belize Territorial Volunteers

"Yes, it is a very real risk. But as Belizeans we must stand strong, we must stand proud, we must stand Belizean. So while it was a risk, the risk was well worth it."

Then, not being aware of the difficulty, we go on a chase of suspected illegal Guatemalan fishermen. It’s important issue, but seriously funny, projecting the image of a beached manatee thrashing around in soft mud:

Sure, everyone knows what’s at stake, but how much does all this increased activity really means in the grand scheme of things?


Daniel Ortiz

"Sir, while it is a great and powerful statement, there will be those who say you've accomplished everything, but you've really accomplished nothing because when we leave from here, the Guatemalans will still be as aggressive to anyone who enter this channel and has any intentions to go in that location. How do you respond to those people?"

Orlando De La Fuente

"Mr. Ortiz, you've heard right, because that's the tradition. That's the custom here.”

And for all his shallow water troubles, Daniel Ortiz lost two cell phones to the loamy banks of the Sarstoon.

And for all his shallow water troubles, Daniel Ortiz lost two cell phones to the loamy banks of the Sarstoon.

Channel 7

Did Guat navy chase BDF out of Sarstoon?

The Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), in defiance of Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow’s warning not to return to Sarstoon Island a second time, did just that Tuesday morning, August 25, when Wil Maheia, the BTV founder, set out in two boats with over a dozen persons, including media representatives, to witness the changing of the BDF guard at their Cardenas observation post, accessible only through the Sarstoon River.

This time, however, while the BTV was spared harassment from Guatemalan navy boats, they witnessed the returning BDF boat being “escorted,” at high speed, by a Guatemalan navy boat deep inside Belize territorial waters, constituting yet another violation of Belize’s territorial integrity.

Last Wednesday at his prime ministerial press conference, where he was flanked by Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington and National Security Minister John Saldivar, BDF Brigadier General David Jones and Coast Guard Admiral, John Borland, Prime Minister Barrow disclosed to the nation for the first time that not only has Guatemala beefed up its claim to the Sarstoon River, but “…our BDF are routinely challenged by the Guatemalans and as happened just last Tuesday, frequently told to turn back.”

General Jones, in spite of all this, contradictorily insisted that the BDF have been enjoying an “excellent relationship” with their Guatemalan counterparts, saying that the presence of the unarmed BTV in the Sarstoon will now make it difficult for his BDF soldiers.

How can unarmed, peaceful civilians travelling on Belizean land create a problem for our soldiers, is the obvious question.

The BDF general said, however, that the presence of the BTV in the Sarstoon, “…can change the status of the relationship military to military,” insisting that since the BTV has started to show their patriotism, they are now “interrupting the good relationship that we have had for decades [with the Guatemalan military].”

In the general’s view, apparently, being routinely challenged by the Guatemalans in Belizean territory equates to having a “good relationship” with the Guatemalans.

While that is the official line from the military standpoint, that view is not shared by a number of Belizeans. Activist and attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd, who traveled with the BTV on Tuesday, told Amandala today, Thursday, “What has happened, the work of the BTV has forced government to give disclosure that their foreign policy has failed. And the recent announcement that the BDF has been aggressed by the Guatemalans is further proof of that failure.”

Matura-Shepherd added, “Government has not attacked the issue. Every day the Guatemalans are there in the Sarstoon River, both their civilians and their military. They are asserting jurisdiction from the mouth of the Sarstoon River right out to sea.”

“The Belize Government has no customs, no BAHA, no immigration, no fisheries officials out there to enforce our gill net laws. The police in Barranco Village do not have a boat,” Matura-Shepherd pointed out.

“Every time these issues come up, the Prime Minister is away. I am challenging Prime Minister Barrow to visit the Sarstoon, but don’t inform the Guatemalans that you are going,” Matura-Shepherd said.

The BTV’s initial plan on Tuesday was to observe the BDF as they transit through the Sarstoon River en route to Cardenas, but that plan was frustrated due to the earlier-than-expected departure of the BDF from Punta Gorda, Wil Maheia told Amandala in a telephone interview Tuesday night.

That, however, did not stop the BTV from journeying to the Sarstoon Island to make their nationalistic stand, demonstrating Belizean sovereignty over the uninhabited island by placing a Belize flag there, even as a Guatemalan gunboat lurked in the distance about a mile away.

Maheia told Amandala that while they waited for the BDF boat that went to Cardenas to return, they were videoing Guatemalans fishing illegally in Belize waters. Between 50 and 100 persons were fishing, Maheia explained.

They were near the mouth of the Sarstoon River, Maheia said, when suddenly there was a loud sound and two boats shot out of the river. One of the boats was the BDF boat that was returning, and the other boat, which was right behind, was a Guatemalan military boat.

“I don’t know if they were racing, chasing or escorting the BDF boat,” Maheia said. “The BDF boat was heading back to Punta Gorda.”

“The Guatemalan boat followed the BDF boat into Belize territorial waters,” Maheia said.

Amandala called the BDF at their Price Barracks headquarters, but we were told that Brigadier General Jones was out of the country, and the other person authorized to speak to the media, Lieutenant Colonel James Requeña, was not in office.

Wil Maheia told Amandala that there is another planned expedition to Aguas Tubias next month.

Government, however, has already laid down its position that it will not deploy military assets to protect the BTV, but instead will rely on its “diplomatic efforts,” which, so far, in the opinion of many nationalists, have proved to be a miserable failure.

That, however, will continue to expose the BTV to danger, since in his own words, PM Barrow had said that we are “unable to rely on assurances made at the highest level” of the Guatemalan government.


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