BELIZE CITY, Wed. Aug 12, 2015–Wil Maheia, founder and leader of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV), will lead an expedition of citizens to Sarstoon Island on Sunday, where they plan to have a patriotic day to demonstrate that Sarstoon Island is a part of Belize’s national territory, even though they are undertaking the mission without the support of the Ministries of National Security and Foreign Affairs, which have cautioned against the expedition out of fear of provoking Guatemala’s military, and who say they will not send security personnel to protect the Belizeans in their endeavor.
Today, however, Maheia and Orlando De La Fuente, leader of the Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV), headed out to Sarstoon Island to do a reconnaissance of the area where they plan to stage a gathering of the more than 100 nationalistic Belizeans who are planning to make Sunday’s expedition.
Upon arrival in the area, the BTV leaders were met by a Guatemalan gunboat, and the personnel onboard questioned what they were doing in the area and where they were heading.
Late tonight, Amandala spoke to BTV founder Wil Maheia, who explained the encounter with the Guatemalan military.
Maheia said he had the captain of their boat keep the engine running, after the Guatemalan military personnel, who were all armed and dressed in camouflage uniforms, accosted them.
Maheia explained, “Orlando De La Fuente and me, along with my boat captain Chukaru, decided to make a visit to the Sarstoon Island. We wanted to scout out the island, to make sure we could find proper land spots, because we expect well over 100 people to be there. So we didn’t want to have people there feeling uncomfortable. Plus I wanted to get an idea of the size of the island, so I took my GPS so we could get acreage of the island as well.
“Upon entering the Sarstoon River, we noticed the Guatemalan gunboat, which appears to be one similar [to the boat] which was stuck on our reef, and two other smaller vessels. I didn’t want to stop but my captain decided, we better stop.”
“When we stopped, he asked us where we were going, and we said we are just going to check out the island and we were going up the river, and he was hesitant, he didn’t really respond. I told the guy, ‘let’s move the boat,’” Maheia said.
Maheia said that upon their return from their reconnaissance visit to the island, they found that several more Guatemalan military personnel were on the gunboat, and one of the individuals on the boat reportedly asked them, “What did you guys do?”
“I said, ‘Well, we just checked out the island’. And he said, ‘Where your papers are?’” Maheia related.
According to Maheia, De La Fuente responded by telling the Guatemalan officer that the boat in which they were traveling was a Belizean boat and De La Fuente further told the officer, “We don’t need to present papers to you guys.”
“He told Mr. De La Fuente to throw the rope from our boat to their dock, and I said ‘No; we’re not going to do that.’”, recounted Maheia.
“At the same time I instructed my captain to put the boat in reverse, so that we could get out of there; because I did not want the Guatemalans to hold our boat. We put the boat in reverse, and immediately I said, ‘Now put it in forward and take off from here’”, he said.
He further explained, “For their boat to have caught up to our boat, they would have had to maneuver through the shallows. So we did that and we just hit the coastline of Belize.”
“The situation was tense,” Maheia pointed out.
Today’s incident underscores the seriousness of Sunday’s expedition by the territorial volunteers.
Maheia, when asked if he has had any correspondence from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Security, said there were none, and he does not know whether the security forces of Belize will be deployed to the area of Sarstoon Island on Sunday.
In a report on 7News tonight, Wednesday, however, Minister of National Security John Saldivar has indicated that the Belize government has informed the Guatemalan government about Sunday’s BTV expedition to Sarstoon Island.
Saldivar has insisted that the area, especially Sarstoon Island, is in dispute and has advised that the BTV should not go ahead with the planned expedition.
Saldivar specifically noted that it is not a good idea to take women and children on Sunday’s expedition.
“Whether we want to accept it or not, Guatemala disputes our boundaries and disputes that ownership of that island in particular, and therefore, to stay out of controversies, we advise that this trip not be done,” Minister Saldivar said.
Maheia told Amandala that according to his GPS readings, Sarstoon Island is well over 100 acres in size.