SARSTOON ISLAND, Toledo District, Thurs. Aug. 20, 2015–About 130 Belizeans who travelled to Sarstoon Island at around midday on Sunday saw the heroic actions of Orlando De La Fuente, leader of the Northern Territorial Volunteers, and they have hailed him as a national hero for standing firm and not backing down in the face of the aggressive and intimidating Guatemalan navy, whose soldiers ordered him to turn back and began blocking his boat, the lead vessel in the small flotilla whose mission was to visit Sarstoon Island, which is in Belizean territory, but is claimed by Guatemala.
De La Fuente demonstrated that he is made of steel, and his persistence was rewarded when he managed to breach the blockade by the Guatemalan navy boats and led his fellow Belizeans, in three other boats, around Sarstoon Island in a show of patriotism, to demonstrate that the island is a part of Belize, despite what Guatemala says.
Wil Maheia’s boat, a bigger boat and the last in the flotilla, was similarly blocked by the Guatemalans, but unlike De La Fuente, Maheia was unable to break free because his boat was maneuvered into shallow waters, where it could not operate.
Maheia, leader and founder of the Belize Territorial Volunteers, who had organized the expedition along with De La Fuente, could only watch as the other boats managed to make it past the Guatemalans, one by one.
The Sarstoon River is at the southern boundary of the country with Guatemala.
When De La Fuente’s boat captain became hesitant to proceed toward Sarstoon Island because of the belligerent behavior of the Guatemalans, De La Fuente refused to back down and took command of the boat. De La Fuente, instead of obeying the Guatemalan navy’s orders to leave, pointed out to the Guatemalan soldiers that they were in Belize’s sovereign territory, and it was they who should leave.
De La Fuente, after many attempts, managed to maneuver his boat between the two Guatemalan boats blocking him and headed for Sarstoon Island, followed by the other three boats.
The second Guatemalan boat advanced toward De La Fuente’s boat, and its driver drove the boat to within about two feet of the Belizean boat, while threatening De La Fuente, who paid no mind to the threats of violence, even though his boat was bumped twice by the Guatemalans.
De La Fuente ensured that he stayed on the Belize side of the river, and when the Guatemalan navy saw his determination, they gave up and began to act as escorts.
After circling the island, De La Fuente and the other three boats headed back towards the mouth of the river, and then back to Barranco, the whole group travelling slowly after having demonstrated their fortitude and bravery in the face of naked Guatemalan aggression.
On his return to Barranco after the event, De La Fuente told the media that he felt good after taking command and leading the boats around the island, but he did not feel like a hero because it was the correct thing to do – to stand up for our territory and not be bullied by the Guatemalan navy boats that were clearly in our territory.
Some of the supporters of the Territorial Volunteers say that in the future, while no one will sing of PM Barrow, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington and National Security Minister John Saldivar, patriotic citizens will sing of De La Fuente’s exploits and that of Wil Maheia, and of the brave citizens who took the journey to Sarstoon Island, knowing that it was full of risk and danger, just to express their patriotism and love for Belize despite Guatemalan aggression.
Yesterday, in a press conference, Prime Minister Dean Barrow hailed the actions of Orlando De La Fuente and Wil Maheia as brave, but scolded the Territorial Volunteers for putting the lives of our soldiers at risk.
The Guatemalans also behave in a similar manner towards our soldiers, he said, but our soldiers are professionals and know how to handle such situations.
PM Barrow said that he has sent “an extremely strong note of protest” to the Guatemalan government about their navy incursion into Belizean territory and their interception of the Belizean boats.
Officials from the Organization of American States (OAS) were present at the incident, but they could not stop the Guatemalans’ aggressive actions, and furthermore, refused to say that the incident occurred in Belizean waters, even though they fully well knew that the Guatemalan boats had passed into Belizean territory, and therefore, were hassling Belizeans in Belizean territory.
Amandala was in the second boat, next to De La Fuente’s, and like the other local media (there were also Guatemalan media at the scene), witnessed the Guatemalan navy harassing, aggressing and trying to intimidate the Belizean flotilla from going to Sarstoon Island, which is in Belizean territory.
October 22, 2016