In December of last year, the media covered the ground breaking ceremony held on land at the mouth of the Sarstoon River. It was announced that the Ministry of National Security would be building a Forward Operating Base, a key infrastructural component needed for the BDF and coast guards to successfully carry out their duties in the area. Back then, Minister of National Security told the media that it would take about three months for the base to be up and running. That was more than a month ago and over the weekend Leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, Wil Maheia, travelled to the mouth to the Sarstoon and saw nothing. No material or equipment were observed where the base was supposed to be built.
WIL MAHEIA: “We went down there and we saw some clearing they did the last time when they broke grounds, a little more clearing has been done but we did not see not one person was there, not one construction material or equipment was on the site so that has been over a month now, it’s almost five weeks since they broke ground.”
Reporter: Will you’re telling me there is absolutely no material on the ground?
Wil Maheia: “There is absolutely no material on the ground. No construction material or equipment on the ground where they broke ground.”
Reporter: Are you surprised?
Wil Maheia :“In a way, yes. People say I should not be but in a way I am surprised because there was a lot of press and lots of energies. They brought the entire press down to see the ground breaking ceremonies with three or four ministers that were present so I thought that they were serious about building this base. It has been five weeks now and like I said, not a bag of steel, not a post, not a wooden or concrete post or a pile or anything like that but again I say, if they build the post where they broke ground it is a good place to build the pace.”
While he did not see any material or equipment that would be needed to build the base, Maheia said he saw more than twenty Guatemalan fishermen fishing within Belizean waters.
WIL MAHEIA: “What we did see was a number of illegal fishermen; Guatemalans using gill net from the time we left Barranco until we got to the Sarstoon. We counted over twenty Guatemalan fishermen were in Belizean waters. When we got to the site within minutes of being on the site, Guatemalan patrol boats similar to what the BDF have or what was there the last time we visited there, just came by, they flew their boat in front of where we were and hang out there for a few minutes until we got back in our boat then they left as well and they went up to the river clearly on Belizean side of the Sarstoon island. They went up the Sarstoon, that’s where we saw them headed . This has been happening for years, many years, Guatemalans coming over and raping our natural resources both at land and at sea so I was hoping that the base would curb that.:”
Commander of the Belize Defence Force, Brigadier General, David Jones, was on Love FM’s Morning Show yesterday and he addressed the issue of Guatemalan fishermen fishing within Belizean waters.
Brigadier General, David Jones, BDF: “Military to military with Guatemala we have a very good relationship but the issue between us and Guatemalan military is not from within ourselves, it because of political decisions that need to be made in particular the area of the Sarstoon and the conservation post that we’ve just established there. It’s a political decision as to the way forward inside the Sarstoon because as I’ve mentioned before the Guatemalan military have been given directive that the river in its entirety belongs to Guatemala. We are of a different view in that the median channel of the river is where the line is drawn between Belize and Guatemala. They have been given directive actually not to allow us to go through there but because of military relationships we are working together and cooperating with each other just to avoid the tension. We don’t know how long it’s going to last before they decide that they want to have that area completely for themselves. So it is incumbent on both governments in particular foreign affairs from either country to sit down and dialogue and move to a way forward in regards to what is happening along the Western Border. We have a good working relationship where we meet up and exchange information along the western border but we don’t have that in place in the Sarstoon river at the moment or even at the mouth of the Sarstoon so we need to work on that and that’s going to be a political decision where our politicians sit down and decide what the way forward for the Sarstoon is because what is best is for us to work closely in the Sarstoon like we do along the western border, with that we will avoid tension and Belizeans will be able to navigate and fish like the Guatemalans are doing there.”