The other side of this weekend’s international incident is the machinations of the Guatemalan authorities, who by the accounts of those we spoke to in Punta Gorda, shadowed the vessel to and from the marker point and only picked the crew up when they were at the mouth of the Sarstoon. They tried to transfer the group to their ship, only to be thwarted by heavy seas and high winds. But the alleged violation occurred much earlier in the day, as explained by Giovanni de la Fuente.
“The report says that at seven o’clock in the morning we accidently entered a creek for five minutes, and traversed a hundred yards. We were detained at approximately five o’clock in the evening.
So we accidently entered that creek in the morning. Eight [or] nine hours afterwards, while we were exiting the Sarstoon Riverthe Guatemalan military pulled up upon us, [and] took over the vessel. But, of course, there is no presence of Belize in this area.
The Guatemalans basically run this area, and fish out there all day long. We entered what they say is Guatemalan territory for a hundred yards.”
As soon as the group landed back on Belizean soil, they were debriefed by local authorities. Attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd was present on behalf of the boat captain, Guillermo Avila, and said on his behalf that he insists that he never crossed into Guatemalan territory – and if he told the authorities in Livingston that, he only did it to ensure that passengers got home safely.
“That is not in Guatemalan waters, but when they suggested that to him, because he didn’t want any fight he said oh, okay no problem, we done turn back. They did nothing at that point. Had that been an infraction that is what the document would have said. And not only that, had that been an infraction there and then the Coast Guard was empowered to take him! Remember they never took them on a maritime infraction, that means breaching territorial waters, they took him on a vessel infraction which is a major difference, major distinction.
The fact that they asserted at some point to intimidate him, that’s Guatemalan territory. The proper thing was to then and there pull out their GPS and ascertain coordinated and deal with him. They didn’t deal with him there.
As a matter of fact, when that happened they saw them go all the way to the monument at Gracias A Dios. Not only that, the Guatemalan vessels came in to Belizean territory, [and] followed them throughout. That’s Belizean waters that they were in.
[They] went to Gracias A Dios with them, had coffee and Johnny Cakes with them. which he gave them. He realized that he would have needed some fuel. They then took him on their vessel to some village to get fuel, [and] brought them back. They socialized a bit, Then they left.
Coming back, at all times in Belizean waters, they were approaching to go to the mouth of the river, when they then locked them in, and then claimed that they were taking them in, that the Port Master wanted to see them, not the Coast Guard, lieutenant, captain or whoever was in charge, [but] the Port Master, which means it’s a vessel violation, not a territorial violation.”
Guillermo Avila nonetheless signed a document for authorities saying the opposite – that around 9:00 a.m. he “accidentally” took the boat down a tributary off the Sarstoon for about 100 yards and on realizing his mistake he turned back. Guillermo Avila regularly travels the area and authorities were apparently keeping an eye on him.