While the Guatemalan President was convincing the Peten population over the weekend to vote in favor of taking the country’s claim to the ICJ, his armed forces were preventing Belizeans from visiting Sarstoon Island. The Sarstoon River has become a place where tensions rise between Belizean civilians and Guatemalan Armed Forces. On Sunday morning, tensions rose but, not as high as we have seen in the past. Guatemalan Armed Forces prevented eight Belizeans, most of whom are members of the Belize Progressive Party, BPP. The BPP was holding a retreat in Punta Gorda Town and had decided to visit Sartsoon Island, however, their trip was cut short after Guatemalan Armed Forces intercepted their vessel, preventing them from proceeding. BPP member and Leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers Wil Maheia told us what happened next.
Will Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers: “It was very disappointing really because on a calm night Sunday morning we decided to go down to the Sarstoon but even before we got to the Sarstoon about less than a mile from the Belize Defense Force base at the mouth of the Sarstoon River we encountered no less than twenty Guatemalan inside Belize’s water fishing illegally to start with and secondly they were using gillnets where the mesh was way in Belize. Certainly these guys had to pass the military base to get where they were in side of Belize. We proceeded to the island and the minute we approached to go to the Sarstoon we could hear the roar of the Guatemalan gun boat getting started. They were just right on our tail following us and they intercepted our boat. Usually I would challenge them but because of the situation and the amount of people in the boat we decided to just turn around and come back to Punta Gorda.”
Reporter: It’s not surprising to you though?
Will Maheia, Belize Territorial Volunteers: “Oh no it’s not surprising to me I think that the Guatemalans they have made it know to Belize that they own that river, our government is really taking it really lightly when it comes to dealing with the Guatemalans, they deal with our own people in terms of enforcing the laws a lot harder than when they are dealing with the Guatemalans.”
Maheia says he will continue to make trips to Sarstoon Island.