WHAT an interesting meeting that was! The tone was set by hundreds (or so it seemed) of people wearing "I support South Beach" teeshirts, and so far as I could tell not speaking a word of English. Presumably some of the 450 staff recruited by Jeff Pierce on the assumption that the project will proceed, and that the democratic process is merely an irritating farce. These people occupied half the seats in the rather small conference room picked for the meeting (an obviously unsuitable choice, which may have been deliberate), but after many loud objections from genuine interested/affected parties who were NOT paid to be there most of them left the room. I'm sure they didn't have a clue what was going on anyway, as the proceedings were in English.
After a barely adequate introduction by the invigilator from the Department of the Environment (I believe she called herself "moderator", though as the PA system was malfunctioning and people were talking on their mobile phones just behind me, I can't be sure), the floor was handed to the man who wrote the EIA, whose name I regret to say I have forgotten (Pepe Garcia - thanks JZB). Seemed a pleasant enough chap, though given an impossible brief. He regurgitated many purported facts without ever getting to the "information" bit of spelling out what these facts actually meant for the people in the room, and omitting to mention that he was a paid employee of Jeff Pierce. This point was eventually made by someone from the floor. It seems the EIA which many of us thought was an authoritative assessment of the project is actually just a marketing opportunity by the developer, and there is neither any control over it nor any sanction for deliberately making it misleading.
Then we moved to the discussion forum proper. Most of the obvious points were made against the development, some of the floor speakers getting quite animated. Billy Leslie and Mito Paz come to mind, each in their different ways making very strong cases against the environmental damage the development would cause. Several people spoke in favor of the project, but most it seemed were either directly in the pay of Jeff Pierce or seemed to have some ties with him. I didn't hear any arguments that went near to converting me from any of these people. Mostly they talked about the extra employment the development would bring, but sidestepped questions about where they would live.
A masterful attempt at railroading by Jeff Pierce, but I don't think he won over anyone who went there with anything approaching an open mind. Those who deeply object to the development on environmental grounds generally came away more firmly convinced of their views and position.
Although he was there, Jeff spoke not a word. His corporate lawyer did though, and probably did enough damage for both of them. Neither picked up on the allegation that although they had apparently stopped physical development when directly so ordered (rather missing the point that the law states they should not have started until they had permission), nonetheless they were proceeding with intensive marketing for the properties they intend to erect, signing sales contracts and taking money deposits, and of course recruiting many workers.
As said from the floor in the meeting, this constitutes a contempt of the legal process. They clearly believe nothing will stop the project proceeding - I wonder what they know that the rest of us aren't being told. It's a limited company, so if the development is blocked by the government (forlorn hope!) I imagine they'll just walk away from the contractual obligations they've taken on. You know, in some countries selling something you don't have and may never get constitutes criminal fraud. Seemingly not in Belize. Caveat Emptor indeed!
Yes, an interesting evening.