General — 12 March 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
BPP and BTV protest Barrow government’s weak-kneed response to Guatemalan incursions

BELMOPAN, Tues. Mar. 8, 2016–Between 75 and 100 spirited and patriotic Belizeans protested outside the National Assembly Building in Belmopan this morning, greeting arriving parliamentarians with shouts of “No to the ICJ” as they made their way into the House of Representatives for Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s budget presentation.

The protest was organized by the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), which have been castigating the Barrow government for its soft approach to the continuing incursion of Guatemalans in the southern villages of Belize and the Guatemalan Navy’s continued violation of Belize’s territorial integrity.

A considerable portion of the protesters were Mayan villagers from the Toledo District.

The most recent incident of Guatemala’s violation of Belize territorial integrity occurred ten days ago when members of the BTV were blocked by Guatemalan Navy boats from proceeding up the Sarstoon River, in Belize territory, to the Belize border marker at Gracias a Dios.

Wil Maheia, who is the founder of the Belize Territorial Volunteers and the Deputy Leader of the BPP, pointed to a poster that was being held by Ya Ya Marin-Coleman, the UBAD Education Foundation (UEF) chairperson, saying, “Serious incursions right now: Machakilha: Guatemalan de in deh; Graham Creek, Guatemalan de in deh.” Maheia said that the two villages on the Sarstoon River are occupied by Guatemalans, and if an emergency were to occur right now, Belizean authorities could not get in there. “There is not a landing site for a helicopter right now,” he said.

“The only way to get to those villages right now is to go through the Sarstoon. We are cut off from the Sarstoon. If there is an emergency, NEMO can’t get there, because Guatemala has a blockage on the Sarstoon. Fu we government need to do something about that,” Maheia insisted.

Maheia named a number of villages that are located deep inside Belize which Guatemalans are going into: “San Benito Poite, Guatemalan deh in deh; Jalacte, Guatemalan deh in deh; San Vicente, Guatemalan deh in deh. But even worse, and more embarrassing than that, deep down into the Bladen Nature Reserve, the Jewel of Central America and the Caribbean, Guatemalan deh in deh right now as we speak,” he said.

“Last week when that brazen Guatemalan gunboat come right in front of the BDF—if the BDF throw fishing line, it would have gotten into the Guatemalan boat. It was so close to the BDF, and not a BDF came out and intercepted that boat.

“So we need the BDF to start doing its job; stop having Guatemala bully us. Last two weeks, pasture gone up eena Dolores and nobody noh di stop them. If you or me, as a Belizean, go dah Dolores or any of those villages right now, the law wah come down on we. We need the law to come down on the Guatemalans as well,” Maheia said.

Maheia interrupted his interview briefly to add his voice to that of the other protesters, as Prime Minister Dean Barrow arrived at the National Assembly Building to the shouts of the protesters, “No to the ICJ!”

“All a unnu weh di represent di people, unnu di sell we out,” shouted activist Ya Ya Marin-Coleman at the top of her voice.

Maheia chimed in, “Mek we get back Sarstoon.”

“The Guatemalans living along the coast of Belize don’t even have papers; we need to get them out,” Maheia shouted.

Maheia continued: “Machakilha and Graham Creek, Belizeans live there, but we cannot get there right now, because the Guatemalans cut us off. The only way you could get there right now, besides walk through the jungle for three or four hours, is by boat.”

Amandala asked Maheia how many Guatemalans he thinks are living illegally in Belize right now, and he replied, “Over five hundred. But it could be in the thousands, and that’s a fact.”

Maheia said that the border is open and there are five buses going in the area every day, but there are no customs and immigration personnel there to monitor the situation.

“While they are in our country, they are breaking the fisheries regulations. They have nets set in the river. There are lots of reasons why you could go there and arrest these people,” Maheia pointed out.

When he was asked why there weren’t more people at the protest, Maheia explained that it costs a lot of money to bring people in from the Toledo District.

“We had to leave two busloads of people at Trio Village this morning, because we couldn’t afford to bring them,” Maheia said.

While they did not join in the protest, the majority of parliamentarians from the Opposition People’s United Party stopped in front of the protesters in a gesture of solidarity before going into the House of Representatives meeting.

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