Over 130 Belizeans go on expedition to Sarstoon Island

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Updated: August 17, 2015

When the Belize Territorial Volunteers announced they would be heading an expedition to Sarstoon Island, there were concerns raised. This was because some weeks ago, there was an incident involving members of the Belize Coast Guard and their Guatemalan counterparts. For organizers Wil Mahiea and Orlando de la Fuente, it was important to take a stand and so despite not getting the cooperation of the security forces, the trip took place on Sunday.

Hipolito Novelo reporting…

Our journey started from Belize City, we drove to Baranco Village early in the morning to meet the group of territorial volunteers for 9am. A bus coming from Orange Walk brought more than fifty volunteers. Members of the Belize Coast guard were at the pier speaking with Belizeans before the volunteers set of from Baranco en route to Sarstoon Island. But before leaving a Coast Guard officer briefed the group on safety.

Coast Guard Officer

We want to go through preventative measures for your safety, no overcrowding of the vessel, if the vessel can take twenty cooperate. I believe that there is one vessel that will be making several trips so everybody is here to support we understand that but we want to be safe at the same time.”

 Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

From there Belizeans embarked on the boat, put on life jackets and headed to a sand bar just north of Sarstoon Island off the coast of Belize. Hoisted high the Belizean flags flapped in the air as the boats rushed through Belizean waters to the southernmost part of the country. Each boat had a news team and a trip took just a couple of minutes. When they arrived at the sandbar the group disembarked off the boat and into knee high Belizean waters. For their journey it was only fair for them to be treated to some good old Belizean Johnny cakes. Some began taking photos with the Belizean flags while others enjoyed the cool water.”

Voice 1

“Belizeans have a right and an absolute right to travel to any part of our national territory the 8,867 square miles which includes this sand bar here and that island across there known as Sarstoon Island.

Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

“What would you want to say to any Guatemalans who might be saying that the Sarstoon is for them?

Voice 1

“The Sarstoon is not for them, it’s for us Belizeans and we as Belizeans should stand up for our rights and say that this is ours.

 Voice 2

“The border is defined, it is defined and it has been recognized from ever since, it’s only now that they have noticed that our administration is weak in defending the rights of the Belizeans concerning this territorial dispute so they are taking advantage. They want to scare us off.’

 Voice 3

“It is very important for us to demonstrate even to our Belizean government that we are determined to take care of what belongs to us and Belize belongs to the Belizeans so that is why I am participating in today’s trip.

Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

And just a distance away was Guatemalan gun boat but there was no fear, no nervousness because the group knew they were in Belizean waters.

 Voice 2

“People say that they are scared to come because they fear the Guatemalans but I see no threat.”

Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

There is a Guatemalan gun boat on that side.

Voice 2

“ Yeah I see the gun boat but like I said I don’t see a threat.”

Voice 3

“I am not nervous or afraid because I will say it outwardly that I am a patriot and I am willing to die for my country.

Voice 4

“I am a Belizean and I am in Belizean territory I am not walking into Guatemala’s waters so I think that our ministers in government have shown a very weak position on what we should be protecting for us as Belizeans and I think it’s very important and I am very proud of these people that are all out here that had the courage to demonstrate that we are fighting for a good cause, that for the future our kids and grandchildren will have something for them to come and enjoy and that is why it is very important for us to be here.

Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

Also there was Lisa Shoman the PUP senator who represented the opposition leader Francis Fonseca. The government had criticized Shoman’s participation saying that it was merely a political ploy. Are you here as a senator or as a private citizen.

 Senator Lisa Shoman

“Both. I can’t be destituted from my position as senator except by the governor general so I am sorry to disappoint anybody who thinks I was stripped.”

 Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

The government says that the senate didn’t give you any permission.

Senator Lisa Shoman

“The senate doesn’t need to give me permission. I don’t ask the senate when I leave the country and I certainly don’t when I’m within the country.”

 Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

Did you come here expecting that some sort of incident might have happened?

Senator Lisa Shoman

Absolutely not. I thought that we would come and exactly what is happening would happen which is that Belizeans would be here, we would enjoy the day, fellowship together and travel back safely.”

 Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

“How do you respond to the government’s statement that you participating in this journey is a political ploy?”

 Senator Lisa Shoman

I think that all citizens have a political role to play and I’m not different from any citizen so if we want to talk about politics everybody who is here today is making a political statement. Belize es nuestro.”

 Hipolito Novelo, Love FM News

But on their way to the sand bar NTV leader Orlando De la Fuente says that one of the boats was accosted by Guatemalan armed forces.

Orlando De la Fuente

“On our way here when the five boats were coming one of the boats over shot this beach head and started entering the deep channel that separates Belize and Guatemala even though they were in Belize territory the Guatemalan accosted them, stopped them and asked them to throw over the rope and asked them for papers for the boat. Fortunately my brother Giovanni De La Fuente said no and at that point they noticed that they overshot the beach head and then they turned around and came back here but the Guatemalan navy did take a note of that.