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Jan 22, 2008

Tough conditions, limited resources challenge Toledo E. candidates

Story PictureThere are thirty-one constituencies that will elect representatives next month but by no means are they all identical. The areas vary greatly, both in population and physical size. So while some urban candidates can walk the length and breadth of their division in less than an hour, others in certain districts may take days … and only with the help of a good four wheel drive. Tonight we find News Five’s Ann-Marie Williams in Toledo East, a constituency where the challenges facing the candidates go well beyond distance.

Ann-Marie Williams, Reporting
Mike Espat who is going for his fourth win a division of over five thousand, five hundred voters says that given Toledo’s geography, things here will never be easy particularly when it comes to infrastructure.

Mike Espat, P.U.P. Candidate, Toledo East
“You see on those two main streets right now in Punta Gorda town.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“How about the other streets?”

Mike Espat
“Fix them everyday. One hundred and sixty inches of rain per annum in Toledo. You fix it today, it rains tonight, tomorrow you got to fix it again. So that continues, no party will fix that and no political individual will fix that. So it’s easy to be critical but to get out there and do it is another matter.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“So in other words, it’s like you are saying that the people continue to live under these conditions?”

Mike Espat
“Until we can pave all of them. We noh have the money to pave all of them and that’s the only solution; to pave them but it costs a lot of money.”

Martinez who had a rally to motivate his supporters over the weekend is also key on improving the streets and drains of the Toledo East. However, he’s prioritizing jobs.

Peter Eden Martinez, U.D.P. Candidate, Toledo East
“The tourism industry is a key area that we would want to work upon and our manifesto clearly outlines that. We are very rich with flora and fauna, we have our sea and more so; our culture. We are a multi-ethnic society and we want to promote it. In fact, we want to promote it but we don’t be exploited as such but those are one area. We look at the infrastructure of our district. We feel that by using—developing our infrastructure, we will create more jobs.”

Espat feels that creating more jobs is easier said than done.

Mike Espat
“I have spoken to many, many investors and because of the distance of Punta Gorda, they are all reluctant to come here, it’s too far. So if you notice, the work area for Toledo is Placencia, Mango Creek, the Banana Belt and the shrimp—the areas that they are producing shrimp. So a lot of our people have to go that way to work, to find work. Anyway south, you will find nothing. And yes, we are trying to find people to come in to invest but it’s difficult.”

But despite the difficulty, Espat says he or his party will not give up on the south.

Mike Espat
“They have to have hope that one day something will happen. It has to happen but in the meantime we got to get the infrastructure in place. And that is why it is important to get that Southern Highway. That is why it is important to get that link from the dump all the way into Guatemala. That is one of our dreams; to get that highway all the way through across the border to open this part of the country because it’s a dead end.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Particularly to facilitate trading?”

Mike Espat
“To facilitate trade and it will create employment for people.”

Wil Maheia, founder of the Toledo based People’s National Party, has joined forces with two other small movements under the banner of the National Belizean Alliance. At his manifesto launch over the weekend in Toledo, he outlined some concrete ways to generate jobs for villagers.

Wil Maheia, P.N.P./N.B.A. Candidate, Toledo East
“Tourism, it is the biggest industry right now in Belize or one of the biggest industries. Yet you come to the Toledo district and people are building hotels and they have to go all the way to Belize City to buy doors that, actually, that tree came from the Toledo District. So we will do sustainable forestry where you cut down a tree, you harvest it, you manufacture it here and then you could send the finish products to Belize City to sell. We don’t need a big hotel, we are into the echo. So if we help the families who are interested in tourism, we give them small loans, not loans at eighteen percent, we make financing available.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“Micro financing.”

Wil Maheia
“Micro financing. So everybody could have a couple guest rooms. So there are small hotels, look at Bella Suites it is Darios Avila’s hotel. It’s got five rooms, it rated one of the best small hotels—in fact the best small hotel in the country of Belize.”

While the debate continues over how best to provide employment in Toledo East, Espat is taking stock of the things he’s done to better the lives of the villagers. A record he says he could stand on.

Mike Espat
“When I got into office there was no road to Barranco, there was no road to Conejo Creek, no road to Sunday Wood, no road to Crique Sarco, no road to Dolores. Today, every one of those villages have a road. We have two more villages that are not accessible by road and they are on the Sarstoon. We intend to go and complete those roads. We are presently doing one right—a crossing for Crique Sarco, today as we speak, they are working out there to put a bridge across that river so that the kids back there can go to school in the morning without having to endanger their lives crossing a river every morning at three o’clock. So there’s a lot to be done in Toledo, a lot. This is a big district; it begins on Bella Vista and it ends on the Sarstoon River. That’s over a hundred miles.”

In the meantime, Martinez says he’s counting on the youth vote to give him the edge.

Peter Eden Martinez
“The young people because when we were registering and transferring, we registered a lot of young people.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“A lot of first time voters?”

Peter Eden Martinez
“Lots of first time voters, yes. And I am comfortable that since I ran for my convention and won, I am registering and transferring people and we have in fact taken that voter’s list way up. I made sure that I did that because traditionally it was stated that Mike Espat would always try to register people from Guatemala, you see.”

Ann-Marie Williams
“I’ve always heard that about Mike Espat but I noticed like the last time, have you not checked the list in particular to try to see if you could take him to court on some of these people who are illegals as you put it?”

Peter Eden Martinez
“To be honest, since four years ago, we have been on the case and that has been minimized significantly. We have been the ones who have been doing the registration of our people and we have been monitoring him and the issue that I mentioned has been prior to 2003.”

Wil Maheia
“We have covered every village in this district, both east and west and we have not yet been to a house where they told us they didn’t want us there.

Ann-Marie Williams
“Anybody ever told you that maybe they would be more inclined to vote for you had you been a part of one of the mass parties?”

Wil Maheia
“Yes, I have had that and I’ve also had—and that’s why I go extra miles to ensure that there is an alliance.”

An alliance with les than thirty-one candidates. But whether they have the full compliment or not, Espat says he’s not worried, it’s up to the voters.

Mike Espat
“The people will decide.”

Ann-Marie Williams 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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