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Jan 2, 2020

“The utilities have failed us” – Caye Caulker Residents Suffer Tremendous Losses

In our first newscast for 2020 we head to Caye Caulker where electricity has been restored somewhat on the island after five days of outages that plunged one of the top tourism islands in darkness. Water is running, but at a trickle, and residents are struggling to cope with normal routines such as cooking, washing, cleaning and personal hygiene. The outages caused a crisis, prompting visitors to leave and bringing life at the island to a standstill.   Officials of Belize Electricity Limited headed there this morning, prior to a protest, to diffuse the frustration of residents and business owners, who welcomed the New Year without the basic utilities. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has the following report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

“The utilities have failed us.”  It’s a resounding cry from residents, business owners and visitors, as Caye Caulker continues to grapple with intermittent power outages and shortage of potable water.  This crisis could not have come at a more inopportune time when the island is alive with tourism activities.  To make matters worse, the New Year was rang in under the cover of darkness.


Maria Vega

Voice of: Maria Vega, Chapter President, Caye Caulker B.T.I.A.

“It is heartbreaking.  Each and every investor, developer and worker in this industry, we defer our special occasions.  We defer Christmas, we defer Easter, we defer every special holiday that everybody else enjoys so that we can float this economy, not only for Caye Caulker, for every supplier that we buy from; B.E.L., B.T.L., B.W.S., farmers, storekeepers.  We put off our things with our family for us to have gotten here today as the most popular destination in this country.”


While that distinction went to La Isla Carinosa back in November of last year, based on a popular internet poll, this morning visitors to Caye Caulker were leaving en masse.  After booking reservations with various hotels and resorts on the island to spend Christmas and New Year’s days in Belize, the guest experience, amid an electricity and water crisis, has left a lot to be desired.


Manuel Heredia Jr.

Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism

“As the representative and minister responsible for tourism, I believe that a lot more could have been done by the pertinent utility companies, you know.  But nonetheless, I said we have been communicating with them as we have with our local authorities over here.  I believe that indeed B.E.L., particularly, could have done better from the time we had the Lobster Fest they foresaw the needs and the problems with their generator and their utilities, but they moved a little too slow.”


On January first, aside from the water woes already being faced, electricity on the southern end of Caye Caulker also went down.  In the predawn hours of New Year’s Day, due to a high demand for electricity on the system, a third generator which was in use tripped as a result of an overload, plunging the island into darkness.  That generator had burst into flames.


Mario Vellos

Mario Vellos, Superintendent, Operations Maintenance Generation, B.E.L.

“For the New Year we had all our units, our three units available and we were managing the system pretty good.  Like I said, when the fire started that’s when we ran into some problems and after that the other unit had this issue where we had to take it off to address the mechanical issue on it and that’s the cause of the whole issue.  Since then we have been working nonstop to get the units back.  We managed to get them back, but like Dawn [Sampson-Nunez] said, we’re not really comfortable as yet because we had to do certain things to get it back just to try and get power.”


Restoring power to the island has been no easy feat for the company; however, returning to normalcy in the days and weeks ahead will prove equally challenging.


Sean Fuller

Sean Fuller, GM, Commercial & Retail Services, B.E.L.

“We are currently running them not at their full capacity because as Mario mentioned just now we want to be very careful that we don’t overload any one of the three because we may continue to have, or we may have again that effect that we’ve had over the last few days where we lose one and the other two having to work so hard, get strained and having to lose another one.  So we’re very cautious right now on how we’re operating those three of the four units.  The fourth unit was there and has always been there as a backup, that when we do preventative maintenance every year on the three units, that fourth unit can take the place of one.  Unfortunately, we lost that fourth unit over a month ago and the issue with not being able to bring it back online is that we cannot source the parts as easily.”


The explanation offered by the utility company, despite it being rationally persuasive, does little to assuage the concerns, as well as the financial losses in the wake of the blackouts.  So when will power to Caye Caulker be normalized?


Sean Fuller

“This morning we had a conversation, our people are telling us by Sunday.  Dawn [Sampson-Nunez] is telling us that on the safe side we’ll say Monday and that brings up a very important concern that we have.  We keep hearing that B.E.L. is lying, B.E.L. has lied or not giving out the correct information.  The information we give out, like the information we’re giving out today is the information we have on hand today.  It’s the best information that we can give based on the situation on hand today, so we’re hoping and we’re having our fingers crossed that that unit from Independence that will be trucked to Belize City, put on a barge and sent to the island will happen within the next two to three days.  There could be some unforeseen circumstances that delays that another day.  It doesn’t mean that we have not been forthcoming with the truth.”


According to B.E.L. representatives, addressing the immediate issue of electricity demand on the island may take up to four or five weeks with the procurement and importation of equipment from overseas.  Until then, overall losses in revenue are still being calculated.


Voice of: Business Owner

“What we believe we deserve, as quickly as possible, a statement of understanding that we need to have five units.  We need to have sufficient transformers, that BEL understands that and when something does go wrong we’ll be informed, so we know that one of the five units is not working and here is what we’re doing to make sure that they work for the upcoming season.  That’s the only way for us to rebuild credibility with the international community and for the sake of the country and all of the hurt that has happened right now and all of the families on this island.  I understand you have a claims process but I think that for your reputation on this island, you need to consider something different, something different with what you do for the billing this month, next month or whenever is that you should that you understand.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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