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Oct 30, 2007

Belmopan reverses field, won’t sell Bacalar Chico

Story PictureIt was almost an identical scenario to that which unfolded in the awarding of preferential oil leases to three well connected businessmen. That is, the Opposition leader cries scandal, the press and civil society jump in … and then government reverses its policy, saying it was all a misunderstanding in the first place. Today, in the wake of public outcry following reports that the Musa administration was considering the de-reservation of a portion of the Bacalar Chico National Park, this afternoon, Prime Minister Said Musa announced that there will be no sale of the land in the protected area.

Prime Minister Said Musa
“The Government has not decided to sell any part of the Bacalar Chico Reserve, nor has it decided to de-reserve any part of the Bacalar Chico Reserve. I need to make that absolutely clear. What happened in Cabinet was that there was a general discussion about a proposal to purchase the BELTRAIDE land by a group of U.S. investors, this eight thousand and odd acres of land, and also the Social Security portion—but they will have to deal with S.S.B. about that—for a major world class resort in Northern Ambergris. As you know, we’ve been trying to sell this land for many years now, several years—at least two—and we finally have a proposal, a clear firm proposal to purchase this land as we put out in our release for thirty-four million dollars, the BELTRAIDE land. In that discussion, there was a cursory proposal also mentioned about another group of Koreans wanting to purchase some two thousand seven hundred acres of land on the lagoon side or the south-western side of the Bacalar Chico reserve. … But what I can say today very categorically is that the Government will not be de-reserving any part of this World Heritage Site, any part of the Bacalar Chico Reserve and I hope that will make you and everybody else happy.”

“It’s an amazing thing what has happen here on this issue and indeed with other issues too, that you have a discussion as elected representatives for the people in a Cabinet. There’s not a single note in the Cabinet of any decision taken, as you know Cabinet minutes reflect decisions taken, and you can check. And no such decision was taken and yet this thing went out there into the press, as if though decisions were taken and we sold off Bacalar Chico or a part of it, no such thing. It’s part of the whole issue of governance and what I would consider a lot of mistrust in our country today, a lot of it unwarranted to my mind, but it’s what we have to deal with especially as we’re going into an election process at this time.”

Janelle Chanona
“Anything else you would like to highlight?”

Prime Minister Said Musa
“No, except to say that under Mister Price we have been able to maintain a very healthy and progressive approach towards environmental conservation in our country and that has pass down to us. And as Prime Minister, I would want it to be known that I maintain that very same policy and I will continue to fight to ensure that Belize remains nature’s best kept secret and we will in no way give into what I consider unwarranted attacks or indeed unwarranted blandishments made to us simply for on the ground that in the name of development, because development has many features to it. We do need more economic development, we do need more investment in our country, we do need to create more jobs for our people but in this process there has to be a balance and that’s what I’m trying to do, maintain that balance.”

“I think it would be irresponsible on our part to say that once these lands are in reserve, and am not talking about World Heritage Sites now, that nothing can be done with them other that to preserve the animals and the birds and all that. Yes, we do need to maintain our very wonderful reputation that this country has in terms of conservation, and that is certainly the policy of my government. But at the same time we have to deal as well with the need for people who need house lots, village expansion. And therefore it would be silly of me to sit here today and tell you that we will never go through a process of consultation to de-reserve lands in the future. In other words, these proposals that you may have seen or that came out of the Ministry of Natural Resource … it’s a dynamic process as part of development. In other words, the country is growing, the population is growing; people need good habitats to live in. We certain want to preserve the habitats for the wildlife, the flora and fauna of this country because that’s a great part of our development as well, whether it be tourism or indeed just natural environmental concerns for keeping Belize with that good reputation. But also we have to take care of our people and if the people need land, whether it’s for farming or whether it’s for living, house lots, we need to examine and in fact analyse whether some of these reserves, and am not talking again about World Heritage Sites.”

According to the PM, Government will be offering the South Korean investors who were interested in Bacalar Chico, a portion of lands owned by BELTRAIDE and the Social Security Board on Northern Ambergris Caye. Meanwhile environmental activists say they will continue to agitate against what they say are plans to dereserve large parts of other protected areas around the country in the run-up to elections expected in March.

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