Members of the Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) and Citizens Organised for Liberty through Action (COLA) as well as other social activist organisations met in Belize City today to plan further actions.According to BTV leader Wil Maheia, the Guatemalan presence in Belize’s waters now extends to the mouth of the Sarstoon River, so recently claimed after the Volunteers’ run-in with armed Guatemalan forces in mid August during their trip to Sarstoon Island. The BTV and COLA have long enjoyed a special relationship and their support at this time is crucial, Maheia told reporters this afternoon following the meeting.
Wil Maheia: We’ve always supported COLA. In fact if you go back to the archives, you’ll see that when we started this whole border clearing, the machete was unveiled that one of the COLAs AGM. So it has been a long lasting relationship and we continue to support each other and this is another way we are supporting COLA in calling for building the base now. I think the partnership is clear. It’s the partnership with the Belizean people. Belizeans love this country and I think that BTV and COLA being there, is building a partnership with the Belizean people. Belize don’t want to lose anything, as it is we are losing our river and we have lost our island. What’s next? Next thing they’ll be telling us that we can’t go South of the Siboon, caz that’s what Guatemala is claiming, Siboon to the Sarstoon. I think that this partnership that we’re building is building, we’re building this partnership with the Belizean people and I want to make it clear that it across political lines. This is not like a political thing. This is a Belizean thing.
COLA President Geovannie Brackett spoke to the importance of continuing the campaign to build the Sarstoon Island base and also to release the diplomatic protest note sent to Guatemala following the August 15 incident at Sarstoon Island
Geovannie Brackett: You know COLA, we’re our own identity and so, coming out of that last Sarstoon trip, what we noticed is that there was a specific campaign that was needed to be done to address this situation because back in the days we use to hear, not one blade of grass. However now it’s an entire island and an entire river. So when we look at the situation, we thought it warranted a campaign. One that we are happy to say that many people have responded very well, thus those who have given their support to get t-shirts printed. People are calling to be a part of it.
According to Brackett, Foreign Affairs Minister Wilfred Elrington has been on the street meeting with some of his supporters and voters in the Pickstock division where he lives. That sounds like he is taking the campaign seriously, and he should, Brackett said, as he reiterated direct action should Government fail to follow through on the Sarstoon base. .
Geovannie Brackett: In terms of COLA, we were supporting the squatters when we blocked the Belcan Bridge. When the bus owners bun the tires, we supported it. When the airport was shut down, we supported it. We’ve always been a group of action, and we have penetrated many organizations, where organizations failed to defend their very own people. COLA time and time again has represented those people and we have a lot of people rank and filed who are supportive of COLA and that is on the record. I can assure you, my words that I spoke when we were outside Radison when I said that we will build a campaign if they don’t listen. We’ve done so, and then we said from there we will go nationwide. We will go nationwide and so I can guarantee you Mike, a whole lot of events, and a whole lot of direct action will be taken place.
The BTV’s official statement sent following that interview asks the Prime Minister to make known the contents of the note. It says, quote,
“The BTV is satisfied by now and has reasons to believe that the Government of Guatemala has responded to the Belizean Government and that on or around the 24th August, 2015, the Government of Belize received a response to their so-called extremely strong protest note in which Guatemala strongly rejected the views expressed by the Government of Belize. BTV understands that Guatemala further rejected Belize’s assertion that it was a mere unarmed group of civilians who visited the Sarstoon River and Island on August 16th, 2015 and scolded the Belize Government stating they acted irresponsible in not preventing BTV from encroaching on Guatemalan territory.”
End quote. In making the demand for the immediate release of the note and the Guatemalan response, the organization says its “worst suspicions have been confirmed by Guatemala’s response”. It argues, quote,
“BTV have always informed the people of Belize that the behavior of the Government of Belize is tantamount to ceding the Belize portion of Sarstoon River and Sarstoon Island. This is a grave national issue which breaches Belizean sovereignty.”
The BTV and its partner Northern Territorial Volunteers (NTV) are planning at least one other expedition to the border in this month, though that may be in jeopardy with today’s news.