By Marion Ali, Assistant Editor
Chanting “No to the ICJ” under an unforgiving sun, Belize Territorial Volunteers (BTV) founder Wil Maheia, led a group of protesters, including members of the Belize Progressive Party (BPP), in front of the National Assembly building as Prime Minister Dean Barrow made his budget budget presentation last Tuesday.
Maheia, a long-time critic of the UDP Government for what he describes as the government;s ineffective way of handling the Guatemalan claim to Belize, told reporters that government’s hands-off approach to sustained military aggression by Guatemala in Belizean waters has not been handled properly by local authorities.
Maheia said that not only is the aggression wrong, but with the onset of Zika and other diseases looming, it would be difficult to have free access through the Sarstoon area if the need arises because of the presence of Guatemalan military personnel.
Maheia estimated that there are well over 500 Guatemalans who have settled recently in Belizean villages such as Otoxha, San Benito Poite, San Vicente and Dolores. He expressed outrage that there are no Immigration or Customs officials posted on the new land link with Guatemala, where bus loads of Guatemalans come into Belize on a day basis.
Reyes Chun, a member of a tourism-based association in Toledo, said the incursions have negatively affected the Maya people of that district because Guatemalans steal their horses. He fully supports the awareness campaign that the BTV has been conducting in the south.
PUP Leader, John Briceno, who went out to speak with the protesters, said he felt the government needs to take a more solid stance in its defense of Belize. While some members of the PUP have expressly said they do not support the notion of settling our dispute with Guatemala at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Briceno said there needs to be more consultation on the Belize-Guatemala issue and that Belize needs to let the international community know what has been happening in the Sarstoon River.
BPP Treasurer, Bobby Lopez, said the recent incidents in the Sarstoon remind him of 1991 when the PUP and UDP signed the Maritime Areas Act, which makes provision for access to our territorial sea, international waters and our exclusive economic zone. Lopez is convinced that Belizeans are losing their country bit by bit, and going to the ICJ is the biggest mistake we could make.