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Jan 21, 2016

Relocation Has Artisans Up In Arms on La Isla Bonita

Tourism is the main industry on the island of San Pedro and among the top revenue generators for the country. Residents on the prime tourism destination depend on it for their livelihood; from hoteliers to restaurateurs, tour guides, vendors and small entrepreneurs thrive from the tourism dollar. But tensions have been bubbling since the beginning of the year for artisans who have been relocated from a central area to a less trafficked one, in the west of the island where tourists do not necessarily venture because of a revitalization project of downtown San Pedro. Sales are down, a new fee has been introduced and it doesn’t add up for them. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

Wood carvings, embroideries, jewelry and the like are all handmade arts and craft products that are sold as part of the local tourism industry experience in Belize and it is the bread and butter of many local entrepreneurs.

 

It’s been almost a week since twenty-nine artisans from San Pedro have been relocated from the Central Park to this new location across from the new water taxi terminal at the rear of the island. This move, although temporary until an official artisan market is installed, has the small entrepreneurs up in arms because, for them, the new location is inadequate; business has been slow and their livelihood is being threatened.

 

Alexis Chavez

Alexis Chavez, Artisan

“I’ve been doing this for thirteen, fourteen years now; from since I was seven years old; I have been selling jewelry all my life. And what is the problem is that the booths are too small for us and the tourists can’t even come inside and take a look at our work. The problem is that we are not making the money that we used to make out there and they want to charge us a fee, every week. My thinking is that they are taking advantage of us.”

 

Karina Chee, Artisan

“I used to sell like one hundred and fifty, two hundred dollars for the day, sometimes for the week and that helps me a lot. But right now, right here, I don’t make one dollar, a penny. Today I spent my last ten dollars so I don’t know what I am going to eat tomorrow. I think it is that the people don’t know the location because they moved us from the Central Park; they moved us to the beach and now they moved us here. We got a little bit of tourists but not everybody sell; not everybody is buying. So now tomorrow is the day to pay the fifty dollars so I don’t know how we are going to pay the fifty dollars now.”

 

Despite various banners and advertisements with the media houses on the island to announce their relocation, the San Pedro artisans believe they have been disenfranchised and no longer have access to the thousands of tourists who traffic the beach and park. Natalia Zetina has been working in the trade of making jewelry for eighteen years. As a single mother of six children, she cannot make ends meet and worse, afford to pay the required fifty-dollar weekly payment to the Town Council.

 

Natalia Zetina

Natalia Zetina, Artisan

“From Monday, I come sell here and until now, I noh even make a dollar. I have six pikney to maintain and everything costs me. What I wah do now? Who wah maintain my children? I am the mother and father for them and I noh make no money. What I wah do? I noh gwen thief….I work for myself. For me it is not fair. I noh have no other job; this is the job that I do.”

 

Karina Chee

Karina Chee

“My mother in law has like twelve years working in the jewelry so I start to make my jewelry now and I decide to put my own business because I got to take care of my baby. So now right here, they put a rule that you can’t bring your baby so I have to pay babysitter, plus baby food and milk and plus right here I’m not making no money. Five days and I noh make one dollar.”

 

In early January, the artisans signed a contract with the San Pedro Town Council as part of a Caribbean Local Economic Development Project for the revitalization of the downtown of the island. This is phase one of the project, of which fifty thousand dollars have already been invested, says Local Economic Development Officer, Jorge Aldana. This was agreed to following months of consultation and dialogue with the artisans.

 

Jorge Aldana

Jorge Aldana, Local Economic Development Officer, San Pedro Town Council

“We held some consultations and they were all on board with it that we are going to find a place for you to operate, but it will not happen the way it happened first. The Town Council will invest some money to ensure that everything is uniformed; everybody will have equal space except for two and that they would have been no addition to structures that we the Town Council did not invest in. when they were here, there were tables that were not presentable; the tents were deplorable; it was not a pretty sight. And so we have a very delicate tourism industry and looking at all those things…we took all those things into consideration when we came up with this temporary facility. We say temporary facility because the location will remain, but the facility will be different when it is completed. It is a three-phase project.”

 

Alexis Chavez

“When we went into the meeting, he stated this to us that we have to meet in the back, if not he will cancel out license. And we have to anything because this is what we live off. We can’t just say we will not move when obviously we have to move because he stated already that he is going to cancel the license if we don’t want to move at the back.”

 

But Aldana says the artisans were operating illegally within the park.

 

Jorge Aldana

“They knew from the very onset that when they began operation at the Central Park, between ten to twelve years ago, they were operating illegally. And they gave them that permission to operate with the understanding that eventually they would have been relocated or had to find elsewhere to operate. So for the past twelve years they were cognizant of that. Over the past few years, the complaints had been coming in and the local residents had been saying we want our park back. We have also gotten complaints from people that listen a lot of drug peddling is happening in this general area.”

 

But until there is a solution, the fact remains that the struggle for the artisans is real.

 

Natalia Zetina

“How I wah pay and I noh make nothing? Even for my food, I noh make. How will I maintain my children? That is my point; I can’t make no money.”

 

Karina Chee

“So they could make their money to sustain their families because all here have families and kids to maintain.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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5 Responses for “Relocation Has Artisans Up In Arms on La Isla Bonita”

  1. CEO says:

    Will there ever be a time when things for the good of the public will get done in Belize without drama?

  2. Belizean@ heart says:

    THE BEST IS YET TO COME,VOTE UDP ALL THE WAY….VIVA JORGE ALDANA-LAMBISCON AND MAYOR DANIEL GUERRERO.

  3. steven says:

    I have to agree with Mr. Aldana. Central Park use to be a REAL PARK, free of ANY peddlers but this was like 20 years ago. One by one the peddlers crept into and took over the park. 20 years ago parents took children to the park and they could play safe and have fun, but today you cannot let your children play in the park, the artisans took over. You not only get arts and crafts at the park but its also a place where drug peddlers have also taken hold. Each Artisan knew what they were getting into and the fees that they pay is minimal when you compare it to a regular business, that have to pay rent, electricity etc. Great job town council for taking the park back.

  4. Kriol Chicken says:

    This is a barbaric money grab by the Town council, nothing more. Disgusting!

  5. Kriol Chicken says:

    This is the town council saying “OK Now we are going to take every penny you make, because we can.”

    That is just wrong on so many levels.

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