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Apr 23, 2015

Independence Residents Claim NCL Project Bypassing their Community

The multi-million dollar Norwegian Cruise Lines tourism port on Harvest Caye is expected to be completed by the end of the year and opened in early 2016. It’s a huge project which received significant opposition across the political spectrum – primarily those sectors which are proponents of pocket tourism in the South as opposed to cruise tourism. Still, it got the green light, ostensibly because of the economic boost it would provide to the South and to the country. But tonight there is serious concern being raised in the community of Independence, which lies just a couple miles from Harvest Caye. Residents there say they are being ignored, and just months from the launch of the ultra-modern port, have yet to see any discernible benefit or boost. Mike Rudon followed the story down South, and also got a chance to check out the development on Harvest Caye. Here’s that story.  


Mike Rudon, Reporting

Work is proceeding at full speed on Harvest Caye, located just a few miles off the mainland and within sight of Independence and Placencia. In the centre of the island, massive backhoes are building up low-lying areas while these silt nets extended near the project protect the marine ecosystem. At a glance, there is no ready sign of environmental damage or destruction. We saw birds roosting peacefully just feet away from the main facility. That’s this impressive structure carved out one side of the island, where tourists will disembark. As you can see, there is an active effort to replant mangroves and coconut trees around the cove. Nearby, a massive dredging operation is preparing the landing area, so to speak, for the cruise ships. No sign of problems so far…but the one we were there to investigate lies here, in Independence. Residents feel that they have been locked completely out of the project – or at least from benefitting. They’re getting anxious because they haven’t seen anything happening in the small, neglected community. Abigail Parham Garbutt is an environmental activist, but she also wants answers on the social benefit of the project.


Abigail Parham Garbutt

Abigail Parham Garbutt, Environmental Activist

“If these people are going to move, or transport tourists from Malacate through Independence to different tourism destinations, then Independence needs to also develop certain packages that people can benefit from here, because we have a tour guide association here and that is not yet taken into consideration for some of these people to be hired. In fact the NCL website is already offering tours, or already advertising tours for when they will open their doors for tourists to come in. As far as I know, the Independence Tour Guide Association is not a part of that.”


NCL has already started construction of a docking facility at Malacate Beach. But what happens after that? Just a hundred feet from that facility Independence remains unchanged. And that’s causing some speculation that tourists will just land there and pass through – leaving the dust and potholes behind and taking any financial benefit with them. Russell Gordon, also known as Pappy Dena, was born in Independence and has lived there all his life. He wants to access the benefits of the project.


Russell Gordon

Russell Gordon, Entrepreneur/Small Business Owner

“As a small business man I would hope that the people would come into town…can go into the surrounding areas because if there is that much people coming in there will be business for us and it will be prosperous for all of us.”


Emilio Zabaneh, Councillor, Independence Village Council

“We’ve discussed this with the Independence Tour Guide Association…we’ve discussed this in the Village Council. We want to see betterment for the people of the South but I don’t like the way we’re just ignored. Where is the infrastructural development? Do you really think that people are going to get off that ship, take a tender to Malacate and get all excited about a third world community like this…when the minute you leave what they’ve developed you’re on dusty, broken up roads. Are the people just going to pass through our village? Is there any economic benefit to Independence?”


Russell Gordon

“Right now I’m thinking about getting my place a little bit better, nicer, that I could comfort at least one hundred, hundred and fifty people and things like that. If they don’t pass through and I do the kind of investment, then it wouldn’t be profitable for us.”


And then there’s the issue of jobs. The project has been underway for months and the Village Council can’t point to any jobs that have been created for residents of Independence.


Valdemar Andrade, Director, Cruise and Regional Initiatives, B.T.B.

“One of the reasons we attracted such a project is to ensure that there is job creation. Everything is designed to ensure that people are participating.”


Emilio Zabaneh

Emilio Zabaneh

“The reality is that generally speaking the feeling out there is that this is not going to benefit the masses. We don’t want menial jobs only for a few Belizeans in the south and then everything just goes to big money. That’s not what we supported the project for. I personally supported the project. I think I was one of the first people to say I’d like to see something that would boost our economy in the South…another good thing for the South. However I am starting to think that maybe this isn’t so good.”


Abigail Parham Garbutt

“In the beginning actually NCL was proposing that they were going to have over one thousand jobs for people. I’m still wondering where the thousand jobs are. Although the project is not completed, it’s still ongoing, that number significantly reduced to two hundred and fifty people that they claimed they were going to hire.”


According to Valdemar Andrade, the B.T.B.’s Director of Cruise and Regional Initiatives, at least twelve hundred and fifty jobs will be created, but he’s not exactly sure how it’s going to be done. And nobody in Independence seems to know either.


Valdemar Andrade

Valdemar Andrade

“At this point in time, I don’t have a listing of all the operators that will be involved, and I don’t know that they have finalized all of that as yet. It is still a number of months off for everything to be finalized. What we have been working on from our end at the Belize Tourism Board and agencies like BELTRAIDE is to prepare people to be able to get those jobs.”


Abigail Parham Garbutt

“What are these people going to do? Are they going to be bartenders? Chefs? What are they going to do? What will be the payscale for these people? You’re saying they are going to get trained…what kind of training are you going to give them? Who is going to conduct the training? Where is it going to be conducted? How many different people from different communities do you plan to hire?”


Emilio Zabaneh

“I would like for Norwegian to reach out to our Village Council. I would want them to say that you know what, we want to bring benefit to Independence…we want to work with you, and that the whole feeling we’re getting is just an oversight and that they’re so involved with the project that they have not set up something to deal with the public.”


In the end, all the residents of Independence seem to be asking for is the economic boost and benefit that was promised, or at the very least some indication that it is forthcoming. Somewhere along the line…somewhere between green light and implementation, they fell by the wayside, and want back in.


Russell Gordon

“I hope it will be good for the villagers, for the people around here. I mean if work will be coming in business-wise I think it will be very good for the village. I hope it would.”


Emilio Zabaneh

“I don’t know if we’re at fault. Are we the ones that are supposed to organize ourselves or are we being ignored and overlooked. And I feel that’s what’s happening. I feel that, you know what, we’re not crying enough.”


They’re crying now, and hope that they will be heard by those who can make a difference in the life of a slumbering community and its people. Mike Rudon for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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2 Responses for “Independence Residents Claim NCL Project Bypassing their Community”

  1. kelde says:

    Somebody explain to me why in the world the investment company must reach out to the village?

    ‘I would like for Norwegian to reach out to our Village Council. I would want them to say that you know what, we want to bring benefit to Independence…we want to work with you, and that the whole feeling we’re getting is just an oversight’

    What are you mouthless and bainless? Needing to be hand fed? If there is an opportunity run to it! Try to get meeting with them, network, approach THEM! And tell THEM what it is you want! Stop waiting for the world to come to you. Make your own destiny man! Stop dis damn hand- me -everything easy mentality!

  2. Jason says:

    You hypocrite-I saw you on TV opposing the project now you want to know what you can get out of it? just like all those environmentalists who criticize it so they can get a job with the project. And as for that zabaneh-still mad he didn’t squeeze more out of the company who didn’t want to by hi8s land-hahahaha-crabs-if they can’t get anything-they don’t want anyone else to get it-typical kruffy

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