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Apr 16, 2015

Who Owns the Islands That Puerto Azul Will Be Built On?

Puerto Azul, arguably the largest foreign direct investment in tourism in Belize, should it become a reality, was the subject of a press conference earlier today by a debt holder who is claiming ownership of Northern Two Cayes, the islands on which the billion-dollar development will take place.  John Mills returned to Belize recently and this morning convened a media brief on the latest situation involving the status of title over the islands.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The proposed Puerto Azul development project on Northern Two Cayes has seemingly hit another snag, as ownership of Sandbore and Northern cayes is being called into question.  The pair of islands collectively make up an ideal resort location for the billion dollar investment; however, the developers are in somewhat of a quandary where it concerns title for the lands.  According to John Mills, an American mortgagee, reports of the sale of Northern Two Cayes a few weeks ago came as a surprise to him since he presently has a claim on the property.

 

John Mills

John Mills, Mortgagor, Northern Two Cayes

“You can understand that when I saw, I read the Belize newspaper and I saw a couple of weeks ago that they had said that the islands had been sold, that was news to me because I have a lien on the property.  That has not been the case; Puerto Azul has not closed on the island.  They signed a contract to purchase Northern Two Cayes in March 2013 and the first payment was to be made in March of 2014 and they did not make that.  The second payment was to be made in March of 2015 and they did not make that.”

 

In a release issued by Puerto Azul International Holding Corp, President Domenico Giannini acknowledges the legitimate owners of the islands as Northern Two Cayes Company Limited and Lighthouse Reef Resort Limited, respectively.  The charge on the property, in this case the mortgage held by Mills, is to be paid with proceeds from the sale of the islands.  Giannini says that this will be done through the law firm of Barrow and Williams, as escrow agents, following the settlement of a legal dispute.

 

John Mills

“I had a really good conversation with Fabio La Rosa who’s one of the principals from Puerto Azul and I would characterize the conversation as both alarming and encouraging.  I think that Puerto Azul has a true belief that they can do a sustainable project out there.  They truly have, I think they are well intended in terms of what they are trying to do.  On the other hand, I found it alarming because I think there is a disconnect in terms of what is environmentally feasible and also economically feasible out there versus what they’ve talked about doing.”

 

Regarding that concern, Puerto Azul says it has agreed with the terms of reference presented by the Environmental Subcommittee and that studies are underway to determine the kind of development that is suitable for Northern Two Cayes.  The final project proposal is contingent upon the results of the studies.

 

John Mills

“I think that they have a long way to go in terms of their understanding about what can actually be accomplished. Everyone, and the conservation community included, believes that there needs to be development on Northern Caye.  Northern Caye is an outstanding resort site.  It is a viable development property that the people of Belize need to recognize that it should be developed in a very conservation-minded way where it creates jobs, creates activity and actually some development out there will in fact help the environmental situation.”

 

On June twelfth, 2014, a consortium of environmental NGOs, including Oceana and the Belize Audubon Society, formally expressed concerns related to the scope of the project.  The developers have since given their assurances that Puerto Azul will be socially and economically acceptable and that the development will create employment and attract revenue to the country.

 

For Mills, bringing awareness to the situation at Northern Two Cayes of environmental and financial significance, since he too is invested in the islands.

 

John Mills

“It’s a combination of the two, clearly I have a financial interest but at the same time I am totally committed to the conservation aspect of it.  Puerto Azul, in terms of criticizing it, as Fabio said yesterday, he really wants to do something that everybody approves of.”

 

Lighthouse Reef, concludes the statement from Puerto Azul, is, quote, a key part of all Belize’s abundant natural resources and national heritage, Puerto Azul has taken and will continue to take appropriate action through extensive environmental studies and proactive measures to ensure the protection of the atoll and its ecosystems. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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