During a weekend visit to the Sarstoon base at the border with Guatemala, the Reporter has been able to ascertain that no construction has commenced on the Forward Operating Base (FOB) and there is no outpost established at the location.
On December 9th, 2015 the government had a groundbreaking ceremony and said the FOB, where more than $100,000 is being invested, would be completed within three months, setting the date for completion in early March.
At that groundbreaking ceremony in December, Minister of National Security, John Saldivar said: “The material needs to come out and I understand that will take about three months for the building and area to be constructed and prepared.”
Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) representative Wil Maheia, commented: “The government had a big press conference and a big ceremony and until today there has not been one post erected. The commander of the Belize Defense Force is saying that there is an outpost, when there is no outpost over there.”
The Reporter reached out to Belize Defense Force (BDF) Commander David Jones to ask the reason for the construction delay. Jones said construction has not begun because the area was being cleared but is expected to commence over the weekend.
Maheia, who also visited the area this past weekend responded to Jones’ comments: “So they took one month and a week to just clear a piece of land? The land that is cleared there is less than two acres, it would take…a man can clear an acre in a day, in two days they could have cleared what we saw there. They did not need a month to clear that.”
When asked the extent of the area cleared, Jones said: “Well I haven’t been there recently so I can’t give you the exact area, but they are doing clearing of the area.” He added that due to the swampy condidtions, materials are hard to transport.
On the morning of our visit, we spotted eight to 10 fishing boats in Belizean waters, using gillnets to fish. We spoke with 44 year-old fisherman, Isiderio Chan Bolon, who was fishing on the Belizean side, but is a Guatemalan resident of the neighboring Bar Sarstoon village.
In his conversation with the Reporter, he spoke on some of the reasons why Guatemalans cross over to Belize and what the village thinks of its neighbors.
Fishing is the livelihood of the local villagers and most of them survive on meager incomes, he explained.
Chan Bolon said more than 200 fishermen cross over to Belize to fish on a weekly basis. “There are no fishes on that side,” he explained. He added that villagers cannot fish on the Guatemalan side because Guatemalan soldiers pester them.
When asked if he knew he was in Belizean waters he answered “Yes, I know.” He added that Guatemalan fishermen do not consider crossing over as illegal.
Chan Bolon said throughout the years he has been fishing in Belizean waters and has never encountered a BDF patrol.
Conscious that a groundbreaking ceremony to build a base had taken place, Chan Bolon believes that villagers will have to stop crossing over to Belizean waters once there is a continuous BDF presence in the area.
During our visit we were closely monitored by a Guatemalan military vessel patrolling the area. During the four hour stay, we did not meet any BDF vessels on patrol.
President of the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), Geovanni Brackett, who advocated for the construction of the base, in an interview with the Reporter said: “COLA deems the construction of the base at the Sarstoon as highly important to national security. Any delay increases chances of further incursions by illegal immigrants, particularly Guatemalans. COLA encourages the GOB to make haste in the starting and completion of the base.”
Brackett said he does not believe the government will meet its promised timeline to build the base by March, but would like to find out the reasons for the delay before commenting any further.
According to Minister of National Security John Saldivar, the base will be a basic structure which will include living quarters, a kitchen and other living amenities. No blue-print of the intended construction has been disclosed to the public.