Group leader speaks of confrontation with Guatemalan military

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Updated: August 17, 2015

As you heard, Orlando de la Fuente and the passengers on the boat were intercepted by Guatemalan armed forces. After a back and forth for a couple of minutes, de la Fuente managed to pass by the two Guatemalan boats that were blocking his path and headed to Sarstoon River. De la Fuente spoke to the media about his exchange with the Guatemalan officer.

Orlando de la Fuente – Northern Territorial Volunteers

“As soon as we started entering the North Channel, the shallow channel that is when the two Guatemalan boats tried to cut us off and they ended up ramming our boats twice and our captain got scared and he said that he could not go and that he could not proceed. He tried to turn back and so that is when I had to forcefully commandeer the boat and tell him to move and I took the boat and I tried to move again and every time I go one of them went left and right and one time we rammed their boat. About two times we rammed their boat because I could not stop in time and eventually I was able to move to their stern and break away eventually and eventually the second boat pulled back and the second one stayed beside us and they just kept escorting us on the trip. The officer’s name is Sanchez and I think he’s stationed in Livingston. I don’t know what he wanted to ask us but I told him that we were not obligated to answer any of their questions and that he was in Belizean waters and they should not even be here so I don’t know what else they wanted but we didn’t even get a chance to answer their questions or anything like that. He was saying that we were in Guatemalan waters and that we should stop and before we get into trouble and cause an accident or that they have to detain us that we have to turn around and I kept telling him that we were not in Guatemalan waters and that we were in Belize. North of the Sarstoon Island is not even disputed, this isn’t even the border. After we turned around the island and we were on the deep channel then that would have been the river that separates Belize and Guatemala. This is a victory for the Belize Territorial Volunteers but this is a failure for the government of Belize. It’s sad that we could enter our own territorial waters and that the Guatemalan military would be right in front of us and cut us off and try to prevent us from navigating our own waters while the Belize military takes instructions from the government and they sit behind us idle just watching. Aren’t they supposed to protect us? Aren’t they supposed to exert sovereignty over our waters? That is the shame and that is the failure of the government. We’ve been doing this, we’ve been to Gracias a Dios, all over and we just have to sit and re-strategize but sometimes I don’t know we are just burning out our wheels and the government is not taking our heed. Our ultimate goal is a reset of the foreign policy. It has failed Belize. Right now this Guatemalan claim is front and center and we have given it importance. We have given it credence; it’s hard to go away. Sometimes I confuse myself because I don’t know, first it wasn’t this important and now we have acknowledge Guatemala’s claim and we have entered negotiations not even from a position of strength. We are just giving Guatemala what they want.”

While de la Fuente was able to make it to Sarstoon Island, the boat that Wil Maheia, Audrey Matura and Dickie Bradley were on was unable to. They too had been blocked by Guatemalan armed forces.

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“What happened when they realized that all the smaller vessels took away and broke away because we saw when they were trying to push the other smaller vessels into their waters to try and bully them but the problem is our vessel was bigger so we told them we are moving ahead. We told them when they came we are going in Belizean waters and they brought their vessel to come and jam us but we can’t afford for them to jam us so we kept going more to the side then we had to stop because the water would have been too shallow so what we told them then is that you are in Belizean waters. You need to move to make us go. We made seven attempts right Wil?”

Wil Maheia

“Seven attempts.”

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“And the last one we did in front of the OAS for them to see that these people are in our waters and refuse to give us passage. Every time they would intentionally jam our boat. Three times we almost made contact and different ones of us pushed it.

Wil Maheia

“One time we made contact and they said, look, you touch our boat, we have the right to shoot. They did say that. They said, you touch our boat, we can act.

Mike Rudon – Reporter

“Now in terms of the OAS what were they doing all this time?”

Audrey Matura Shepherd

Well they had gone ahead with the other four vessels and left us behind. So once they realized that the OAS went with the other four vessels they got far more aggressive and they kept pushing us so that they know that our vessel is bigger and we can’t make it in that very shallow water so they found a way to push us in the shoal. We had to pull back because we have to think about the safety of every one, we have to think about the fact that they have weapons and although it is only five of us and we have to think of the fact that we don’t have backative from our government because if our Coast Guard was there to say, no no no, wait this is Belizean territory. So I said to them show me your GPS, show me your coordinates. We were talking to them in Spanish. You could never have been in your waters if we can see you are less than two hundred feet from our coast.”

Wil Maheia

“And plus when we were looking, the Sarstoon Island was to the left of us so there is no confusion. There was absolutely no confusion. Guatemalans came into Belize territory and bullied Belizeans.

Mike Rudon – Reporter

“Talk to us about the conversation. There was a high ranking Guatemalan officer on the boat that approached your vessel.

Wil Maheia

“Actually almost everyone on the Guatemalan boat were military officers, not ordinary infantry men because when they rammed our boat and we continued to try and push then he told the captain to get the infantry ready.

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“He said, llamamos a la infanteria so I said look, they are calling the infantry but when they decided to get more aggressive is when they saw that the other four vessels were coming and the OAS was coming and we weren’t backing down and when they saw the OAS was actually coming close, I don’t know if they called the infantry or not but they pulled back a little because they did not want the OAS to witness that they were in Belizean waters, they pulled back. So when we saw them pull back we said this is our final attempt to make it across. When we tried to make it across that is when they came back again And they did it in the presence of the OAS who then circled around our boat and we kept asking them so are we in Belizean waters and they shook their head and said yes, at least when I asked them. People before were asking because I was at the bow of the boat and I said to them are you seeing what they are doing to us and people on the boat were asking so why aren’t you intervening, why aren’t you saying anything. Aren’t we in Belizean waters and are they in Belizeans waters. They shook their head unequivocally that yes. So we felt that, you are not doing anything.

Wil Maheia

“We want to condemn the action of the OAS. The OAS could have gone and dialogued with the Guatemalan military after they saw that they bullied us but the OAS refused to tell them that they were inside Belize waters or that they were bullying us because every time we tried to put our boat forward, they tried to push their boat in and one time when we rammed their boat they said now they have justification to use their might, to use their force so again, the OAS, I cannot hammer them enough because they were wrong for giving support and condoning what the Guatemalan military has been doing. Until one of the guys on our boat said it’s not OAS anymore. It is OGS, Organization of Guatemalan State.”