At this hour in Placencia Village the BTB is holding its first in a series of public consultations sessions to get feedback from villagers on a proposed cruise port on the peninsula. Similar consultations will be held in Dangriga and Punta Gorda at a date ot be announced.
An external facilitator will carry out the consultations and after all sessions have been held the facilitator will prepare a report. That report, will then go to Cabinet where it will be reviewed before a final decision is made.
And while that is the official process, on the ground this is going to be a battle for who and what controls the living future of the thriving peninsula. Andrea Polanco visited today to get a sense of what the villagers are feeling.
The Placencia Peninsula is sixteen miles of natural sandy beach with a mangrove-fringed lagoon and people from diverse cultures… it is rated as one of the top overnight destinations in Belize. In a phrase The Peninsula epitomizes "Nature's Best Kept Secret"….. The residents of the Peninsula however, are wondering for how long it will remain the best kept secret as there are plans in the pipeline to introduce cruise tourism which translates to a cruise village for placencia. And as we found out today there are many villagers who are strongly against this but they do understand the opposing views:
David Vernon: Vice-Chairman BTIA "I think we need to be specific: the cruise village in Placencia, because there seems to be a controversy, as was mentioned by one of the callers that called in on the talk show a couple of days ago. The people that came from the IDB was suggesting to putting it in communities that don't have an industry and they will benefit greatly from it, but we already have an industry here in Placencia so to bring a cruise village in Placencia would be devastating for Placencia."
Ann Marie McNeil: Owner Avadon Divers "As a representative of Avadon Divers we have no interest in the cruise ship at all. We find that we will be making very little money from that business, most of our guests come here and are looking for special first class service and they are willing to pay for that. In addition they stay with us for a few days and get to know our crew, get to know the dive areas and feel for Placencia. Those are the kind of guests we want to go after. And we actually make more money from these kinds of guests; the overnight guests."
Janice Leslie: Trade Winds Hotel/Jay Bird's "If you take it from the example we have in Belize City it does not look good for the locals because as far as I can see in Belize its only the bigger people make money and the poor people they don't have nothing. They go out there and they work and they slave and there is still nothing to show for it. What is in this cruise business for us the people of Placencia? It's very interesting that all of a sudden Placencia is discovered and they are giving us so much and they are not asking if we really want it. I hear about the cruise ships coming in, I hear about the widening of the sidewalk, I hear about them repairing the bridge, all of this was needed years ago; why all of a sudden the three things are coming in together? I don't understand. When you ask them about it, IDB is giving us money for a sewage system which I think does not make any sense because we had a meeting the other night and they couldn't answer our questions. To me they are only interested in the money."
Adrian Vernon: Environmental Activist "While people look at cruise tourism and a lot of people look at the dollar sign. What people don't realize the small dollar signs that are placed there are not anything close to the trade off that you have environmentally. You are looking at people that are crowding your area; you are looking at a lot of waste created. These guys want to go out in the cayes; they are going to be torturing the cayes, too many people on one small island, too much people on the reefs. When you look at our entire area right here one of the reasons they want to come here is because they figuring out that there is a very nice lagoon; we are going to use jet skis, we are going to use water skis, it's never too rough for us to use these things. But when you look at that, you are looking at problems for dolphins that are here almost every day or manatees are already having a big stress on them because of development itself on the peninsula where are a lot of their food resource is being destroyed. Now you are looking at stressing them with engines that are very disturbing to them in terms of noise running all over the place. These types of water vessels run over shallows - it doesn't matter. So you are looking at them intruding right over what is remaining of their feeding grounds. It's not a trade off that we need to make. Our overnight passengers come, they want to go out and take a quiet tour on the lagoon where they can go through the small channels and the crevices in the mangroves, enjoy the natural beauty, enjoy the wild life, you are going to be losing all of that so it's not something that is going to be anywhere good for our community."
Charles Leslie Sr- Co-Owner Kingfisher Adventure Ltd. "I think it will be totally detrimental to what we have fought for, for all those years to bring and to maintain and to sustain Placencia in the peaceful manner that we had anticipated that Placencia tourism would have been today. I think that Placencia people on a whole have done that together to bring Placencia as a peaceful tourism destination in Belize."
While they are strongly against it other residents say that they need to be properly informed of the pros and cons before they can take a stand:
David Torres, Water Board Member "Truly to say I am a bit confused because, one: information is lacking, and that's one of the ways to go. If we the locals and the people of Placencia get information, and I mean information, on a logistic basis, and transparency, we can make better decisions. But on the other hand I want to say that Placencia has potential for a lot of development, a lot of opportunities and I am not against development or opportunities, but I am for sustainable and control too, especially when it comes to the environment and most of all what the locals can benefit out of this cruise tourism."
Glen Eiley, Former Chairman "Well I in no way, shape or form will support a cruise village in my village, let me state that very clearly. I would not want to see wall come up and people get boxed out because my village is a tourist village, its already built, our amenities has to improve. We have to deal with our infrastructure, I refuse to say yes or no for obvious reasons. I don't know what I am saying 'no' to and I don't know what I am saying 'yes' to. I want to hear the full story, there is a lot of information and I think there is a lot of misinformation even a hint of politics has gotten into this thing and it's unfair to us because we have not been given - I say we because I can speak for most of the tour guides - we have not been given our fair share to say and everybody is like 'what are we waiting for?' Well what am I speaking for or against? That's what I am waiting for. I want to hear, I want to have some hard questions for the Royal Caribbean representative. I have some hard questions for the BTB. We must benefit from this otherwise we can't say no."
Warren Garbutt: Boat Captain& Tour Guide "It's difficult for me to make a position and for the main reason being, not enough is known, however I personally think that the village could do with some form of cruise tourism. I am not saying no to it, I am not saying yes, I am just saying that with proper control, with some work being done by the government and also by the cruise companies putting things in place with a proper plan and management of that plan I think it can probably work."
Opponents, proponents and the undecided will now joust it out in a consultation series and a public relations battle that is sure the have the quiet peninsula in an uproar for weeks to come.
It is a complex issue with many varying viewpoints and we'll have more of those in part two of this story on Monday night's newscast.
As promised some thoughts on last nights "consultation" in Placencia.
First (I know he will read this but I shall say it anyway), Placencia should be and are very proud of their new village council chairman Charles Leslie Jr. his address pulled no punches, and he said aloud what many people in the village think. Even as an outsider I know that. So well done Charles.
Personally, I think a clear message went out from the community that cruise ship tourists are not wanted, and a message the BTB cannot ignore.
Last night there was only one question. Does Placencia want cruise ship tourists or not? During the evening this moved into two questions. Does placencia want cruise ships to offload their passengers in Placencia village? and does Placencia want a tourist village?
as i said the answer clearly was NO.
Most of the BTB board of directors was present as well as Minister Hulse, Mike Singh CEO of the Ministry of Tourism. They all heard the people speak.
As far as I am concerned thats it. The BTB will make a serious error of judgement if they try to persue this. They renewed a pledge given originally to the Southern Regional Council of Tour Guide Associations given at our meeting in PG on September 27th, that "if the people of Southern Belize don't want cruise ship tourists, we (BTB) will walk away from it" Exact words. I wrote them down at the time..
Game over? Well not quite.
Despiute the feelings in Placencia, I believe we should remember that there are other places in Southern Belize apart from Placencia. Places where unemployment is way higher than Placencia, where even the crumbs from what is lets face it a low income yielding proposition would be welcome.
Frankly we cannot just ignore those people.
Can cruise ship tourism have a part to play? Well I believe PROPERLY ORGANISED it could. Not in Placencia, No. but elsewhere perhaps. In small numbers, shared around the communities in the south, maybe.
On my way out of the village this morning I gave a ride to a young Mestiso couple. They had hiked yesterday from Laguna village in Toledo to Placencia, to beg door to door for money for the young wife's medical treatment. She has what appears to be some kind of tumour in her arm which if left unoperated on....... need I go on?
They had begged somewhere to stay overnight, and had not eaten that morning. Sitting in my nice comfortable pick up with ac, wondering about my football team I felt really bad. I know there are many many such cases, all deserving greater or less. This young man I realised was one of those in the south I had in mind, with no work, not much of a skill base, not much hope. Can i turn my back and say NO CRUISE SHIP TOURISM ANYWHERE? Would that help him? No probably not. But there are many others.
Sometimes things happen which make you realise how lucky you are, and make me determined to help in whatever way I can.
The introduction of cruise tourism to Placencia Village and its surrounding communities is business residents of southern Belize are strongly against. The main concern down south is that the quiet and tranquility of the peninsula would be lost to mass tourism. If the plan proceeds, Placencia would become the second major hub within the country to moor ships belonging to Royal Caribbean, one of the major cruise ship lines that calls on Belize. In the midst of the controversy is the transaction under which a three acre parcel of land was bought to establish a marketplace. On Friday evening, emotions were running high at a consultation exercise held by the Belize Tourism Board to engage stakeholders in the proposed plan. Among the most outspoken was real estate developer Stewart Krohn; things got a bit heated when he pointed out to the panel that a conflict of interest exists between the company which bought the tract of land and Century 21, the company which sold it to Royal Caribbean. In the middle of it all is CEO in the Ministry of Tourism, Mike Singh, a principal of Century 21.
Stewart Krohn, Land Developer, Placencia Village
“I’m a developer and have been in the business for a while and I know our friends work at San Pedro at Journey’s End but I’ve never quite seen a developer that goes and accumulates a parcel of land for a specific purpose which is cruise tourism and then the people are going to be asked “well do they like this?” Usually you don’t buy your land until something’s a done deal.”
“Stewart, Stewart what’s the question you’re going to ask in relation to that?”
“Oh I’m going to get to it Rich, thank you.”
“I want to give other people the opportunity to talk tonight also.”
“You know Rich, you gave those people plenty of time Rich and you never cut off any of those people when they were talking okay. Just remember that.
We all know that that parcel, the parcels of land assembled there were done by Mr. Bradley Reinhardt of Century 21. Mike Singh is a principal of Century 21, so when we talk about process how can the CEO, and I am not accusing Mike Singh who is an old colleague of mine. I’m not accusing Mike of doing some deal that would just benefit himself but the fact is he is the only one, he and Bradley are the ones to have benefited from this deal and he is the CEO. We call that a conflict of interest. I don’t know how he can perform that role.”
Mike Singh, CEO, Ministry of Tourism
“Stewart, thank you. Let me talk about process. Let me talk about the process for a second. Sorry, I have flu so my throat’s a little bit bad here but so if I lose you that’s because I… Bradley Reinhardt first of all is an independent agent. Bradley operates an independent office of Century 21. Bradley operates an independent office, if you look at any sign for Century 21 it says each office operates independently. I resigned from my business three years ago when I joined government. I have no involvement day to day on any decision making. For you to tell me that that is an issue then I will tell you that if Bradley sells a property at Coco Plum then am I not allowed to have any discussion about your hotel license? Come on, let’s be real. Let’s be real, Belize is a small place. There is all kinds of connections in all kinds of different businesses. So it is the hands off approach that I have taken with Century 21 remains that way and you can check that anywhere. I don’t sign on a check, I don’t even sit in meetings anymore because I’ve resigned and I now operate as a government executive.”
The Placencia Tour Operators Association and the Village Council led by Charles Leslie Jr. oppose cruise tourism in Placencia officially stating that it will create adverse effects to fragile marine and terrestrial ecosystems within the area. We will have more on the consultations that were held this past weekend in Wednesday’s newscast.
This is a response by Charles Leslie Jr. to Chris' post above.....
I would like to thank you for making it to the meeting. I will make this quick and follow up after the storm.
I think certain precedence have been established and some facts and points I must stress:
- Control: If we are really thinking that we can in anyway or form control this, then we are truly naďve; it is an unequivocal fact that it is not being controlled in Belize City, FECTAB, local tour guides, operators have made this extremely clear.
- Boutique: I think it is more than obvious, there will be no boutique ships coming anywhere near southern Belize; besides boutique is a relative term, a skyscraper in Belize can be considered Renaissance Tower a skyscraper in the US is considered the Empire State Building and please make a very clear note, Mr. Tercek dodge that question like he was being aimed at with a 50 cal. Sniper riffle and the sniper was standing 10 feet away.
- Not only do we not want cruise tourism, we do not want mass tourism.
- We are fully aware and will advocate as such that no matter where cruise tourism comes in the south, it WILL have a detrimental affect on all our natural assets in this area, most notably, our aqua natural assets; 52,000 gallons of grey water and bilge dumping will not just affect right around a cruise ship.
- Did you listen to my closing remarks carefully? When I said that the reason so many in the south is poor is because we have been abandoned for so long and if we could spend all that money in coming up with a master plan so that we can have a strategic vision for the south not only for tourism but for agriculture and other developments, I am sure the $4 million of our money can give us some answers to this in under year of what we should focus on as a master plan for the entire south, we have so much potential; it seems that we want to sell ourselves for cheap because we are desperate.
- Also, please do not get any misconception that we here in Placencia are so fortunate just out the blue, we are fortunate because the people of Placencia realized the value of what they had and worked very, very hard to develop that, we like San Pedro, realized our calling was tourism and we focused our energy on that, when my father was the first ever fly fishing guide in Placencia; he was called crazy he was told and I quote, “My sons will never go out on a boat and smell white man’s farts to make a living.” You would be surprised who told my dad that.
- I want to make it very clear: Placencia is hurting pretty bad as well, it is not all champagne and caviar here, our tourism product has been neglected by BTB and Ministry of Tourism they have been pushing their Golden Girl, San Pedro extremely hard and left us on the sidelines, but we still developed our unique product, but we still needed and need their help and they gave none, our product is now in dire straits and many other factors are causing this, which I will list below.
- Now, cruise ships want Placencia and do not let anyone try to misguide you; they want Placencia, period, this is the most valuable piece of real estate in southern Belize and rival San Pedro, that’s fact.
- Here is what is our (Placencia and the south) problem and what BTB, Ministry Of Tourism and GOB should do, and please keep in mind the multiplier effect, which will also directly help a lot of people in the South with jobs as well:
o BTB should be having public Consultation in Placencia, Caye Caulker, San Pedro, Punta Gorda, Hopkins, Dangriga, Monkey River et al to find out why our current tourism product is in dire straits and how we can come up with a master plan to nourish that product back to life, and how we can establish/assist in other types of products other than tourism such as agriculture et al.
o Local businesses need access to cheaper capital so that they can invest in their businesses; the bank interest rates are simply ridiculous and unacceptable.
o Access to micro-financing; this would help very small entrepreneurs to establish their business and create jobs in small communities.
o Set up a program to provide licensed Tour Operators/Guides with access to cheaper discounted fuel.
o Temporarily lower the hotel tax to allow hotels to offer lower rates and become more competitive in the region.
o Reduce General Sales Tax, even if temporarily to help stimulate businesses in being competitive.
o Reduce the cost of Internet access so that local businesses can effectively compete on-line and tap into the vast Internet educational resources that can help them make their businesses better and more profitable.
o Reduce communication costs by unblocking VOIP so that businesses, particularly small, locally owned businesses, can afford fundamental and essential business practices, such as being able to return an international phone call to answer questions about their businesses.
o Assist Placencia businesses with niche marketing to increase their market share of tourism.
o Spend that same $2 Million USD or more if need be, to do a study to come up with a Master Plan for our overnight/niche/eco-tourism product, and also do a masterplan for the entire southern Belize.
Or, we can just do what desperate people do, sell ourselves cheap, let wealthy people get more wealthy, when mass tourism destroys our highly touted environment in about 10 to 15 years and they move on; as one local environmental activists told me, “We can eat the rocks from our barrier reef, it will be completely dead by then anyways.”
I want to make money too Chris, my business and many other business in Placencia are suffering terrible, so don’t think I have it good and I can sit here and say no to cruise tourism and deny people who have to go door to door to beg for money; I feel for them, believe me, but I want to see Belizeans, in the next 50 – 100 years, business owners, entrepreneurs, investors in their own country instead of simply modern day servants who have sold out all their natural assets for little of nothing and have no ladder to climb, especially in the mass tourism business.
Placencia has a powerful voice in South and we plan to use that voice to advocate for the ENTIRE SOUTH, but we ask, we beg that the South stand in solidarity with us in this extremely critical crossroads, we want them to stand strong besides us, because we WILL stand strong beside them and you can take that to the bank. We have been divided and neglected for too long, time we join our forces and make the South what it is – the richest portion of this country with its natural assets and enrich the people of the south not only monetarily but also enrich with pride, hope and a positive vision for the very, very far sustainable future.
Placencia residents still say NO to cruise tourism
Hurricane Richard interrupted our coverage of other major developments such as the controversial proposal to introduce a cruise ship development port in the Placencia peninsula. As we reported in Tuesday’s newscast, the BTB sponsored a public consultation last Friday but interestingly, the consultation to determine if Placencia wanted a cruise port was held one day after the BTB published and launched its plan for the cruise port. Overwhelmingly, the feedback was that Placencia did not want a cruise port. Apparently, the discussions were ongoing at a high level for one year but the residents were only just getting some of the basic information. Residents queried how land was already being sold for the development yet nobody could tell them how many ships or cruise visitors would arrive in the peninsula. When asked about a last minute change in the wording of the BTB action plan to cover the fact that a tourism marketplace was being proposed before consultation with the villagers, Director of Tourism, Seleni Matus, responded it was done to “better articulate BTB’s intent”.
Stewart Krohn, Real Estate Developer
“I will start with Seleni because she just spoke. She talked about the action plan, well I want to know Seleni why that action plan on page fifty-seven talked about cruise tourism in Placencia as if it was a done deal. This consultation was supposed to be, I don’t have in front of me and I’ll tell you why I don’t have in front of me in a minute, that plan referred to this consultation as a consultation to figure out how people in Placencia could best manage cruise tourism as if it was a done deal. In fact when people of this village started putting up a stink and went to the media that plan which was released and sent out by email suddenly changed overnight, the night before you gave the presentation to now say this was a consultation about whether Placencia people want cruise tourism and that so I don’t think that honesty is being passed out there.”
Seleni Matus, Director of Tourism, BTB
“Stewart, that plan says that we will assess the viability of cruise tourism in southern Belize.”
“That’s what the new, the revised version, says not what the original version said.”
“It says that we will help the community to identify those considerations that should be brought into decision making and you should know me and my background much better and the board as well. We are a board that comes with a professional background, a very strong grounding in conservation and we are very committed to keeping this place the same.”
“So you are telling me that there are two versions of that page or what? Just answer the question, did it change overnight or didn’t?”
“Look, it was an internal document that was circulated. The consultant wrote a draft, we had extensive reviewing of that draft. If you go back to that document it is there. There is no removal of that specific section and it says the same with better articulation of what the true intent of this work is.”
Placencia has made its voice heard that it does not want cruise tourism there; however, BTB intends to continue its consultations in Dangriga and Punta Gorda and a final report submitted to Cabinet regarding cruise tourism development for the south of Belize. Channel 5 will monitor as this matter unfolds over the coming weeks.
Placencia villagers oppose proposed cruise ship terminal at BTB public consultation.
“Our visitors like Placencia so much, that even after they are dead – they want to come back,” stated environmental consultant and Placencia resident Adrian Vernon, explaining how even the ashes of deceased are returned to the beautiful Peninsula to be scattered.
I had attended a recent forum on the sensitive issue of establishing cruise ship tourism in Southern Belize, and I am now firmly of the opinion that the ghosts of these visitors past are still demanding that their quiet, golden beaches be left as remembered, and the more frightening specter of the disgorgement of hundreds, if not thousands of plastic ID-tag-wearing cruisers, be exorcised.
The Placencia Peninsula, located in the southern part of Belize, Central America, is renowned for its spectacular beaches, amazing diving, and world-class sport fishing. Placencia – its namesake village located at the very point of the peninsula – was historically founded by a mixture of pirates, rugged fishermen, and rum smugglers.
Originally fired partly by rumour and a bit more by an experienced distrust of the Government, a preemptive public relations initiative was taken against an unofficial story of a Cruise Ship Village and Terminal to be placed smack in the entrance of their town.
According to residents, only after a series of public radio and television interviews and a serious Internet information campaign, did the Belize Tourism Board (B.T.B), schedule a public forum on Friday, October 22, under the guise of conducting public consultations on a specific part of their Tourism Action Plan. This public consultation was to address the establishment of a Cruise Tourism product for Southern Belize, and was attended by over two hundred citizens, government ministers, secret investors, and even a representative from the Royal Caribbean Cruise line!
“The simple reality is that there has been no decision to have cruise ships in Placencia,” stated Area Representative Melvin Hulse, “the cruise ship terminal is not a done deal!”
But despite being firmly and officially denied for months, the private research conducted by the Placencia residents was on the mark when the plans for the cruise terminal and village were unveiled by none other than John Tercek, VP of Commercial Development for Royal Caribbean Cruise Ltd.. He noted carefully that he was not just representing Royal Caribbean, but the entire cruise industry. His lengthy unveiling took about forty-seven minutes, forty-five of which were spent on cruise ship statistics, before he was berated to get to the point. “It’s all just cruise ship spending BS,” one member of the audience cried out in exasperation, “let us see the plans!”
“...I can understand the cynicism,” saidLindsay Garbutt, Chairman of the BTB, “but Cruise ship tourism is not a done deal.” “There is no done deal to force cruise tourism down your throat.”
BTB CEO Michael Singh confirmed to the crowd that he was the one who contacted Royal Caribbean – it is part of his job and he makes no apologies for doing it - after the question arose as to why the BTB is even considering cruise ship tourism, when all their studies continue to show overnight tourism as the most profitable and sustainable.
“Remember, we also have the new Placencia international airport, as well as the soon-to-come Jalacte road from Guatemala,” said Singh, “It does not matter how they [guests] get here, as long as they get here.”
“We are working for you, not against you,” proclaimed Mrs. Seleni Matus, the new BTB director. “The role of the BTB is paramount, and the 9% [hotel tax] is working for you in Quality Assurance, Destination Planning, and Marketing.”
Stewart Krohn, a local developer, is not so sure. He wanted to know why the BTB tourism plan mysteriously changed overnight, as it formerly said that its goal was to “best manage cruise tourism in Placencia.” The statement had been re-worded, apparently just for this meeting.
Krohn was adamant for a direct answer – “Did the plan change or not?”
Mrs. Matus, responded “You should know us better... it was only a draft document...”
“What kind of developer accumulates acres of land before asking the people...” Krohn asked again. He 00 was interrupted by Rich Wilson, the facilitator – “Please keep your questions short and to the point...” “LET STUART TALK,” roared the crowd, “that other guy talked for forty five minutes!” Stuart kept the microphone. “Did Mike Singh as CEO of BTB profit from the sale of the cruise ship village land?” examined Krohn.
“Century 21 is an independent office... I resigned from my position three years ago... I have no involvement in the day to day operations of that office...” Singh replied, but the answer is fuzzy, not too clear or strong. “This is all too fishy,” asserted Krohn, “this plan was in the books a long time ago.” Royal Caribbean was asked point blank – “Can you comment on your company’s environmental record?” VP Tercek refusesd the microphone. No comment.
“How much money is spent inside the tourist village?” David Vernon grilld Tercek. “Why must you have a tourist village?”ge inside a tourist village anyway?” His point is most valid. Placencia is a small place, and already has gift shops, bars, markets, and pharmacies.
“Your visitors will be allowed to come into our village, but we (residents) will not be allowed into your village.” Vernon brings up the example of the Tourist Village in Belize City, where locals are kept out with twelve foot iron fences and armed security guards. “I am not sure what your point is,” Tercek remarked.
“If the people of Placencia do not want it [cruise tourism], we will not impose it on them,” swears Lindsay Garbutt.
The meeting lasted three hours, but the crowd was civil. BTB promised to provide more consultations in two more communities, and then the consultant will make his recommendations to Government. “Before those recommendations are made to the government,” advised Denzel Jenkins, “share the draft with the people.” Charles Leslie Jr, the village Chairman maked his closing plea. “As a business owner,” he laments, “I have never seen so much ducking and dodging.” He stands fully against any kind of cruise ship mass tourism, and challenged the government to continue to invest instead in overnight tourism – Placencia’s current product. This can be facilitated, says Leslie, “by providing access to cheaper fuel and financing, lower hotel taxes, and for once, to develop a master plan for the entire Southern Belize, not just for tourism, but for all industries including agriculture and manufacturing.”
“I have heard only the typical BS,” he retorted, “as a fresh girl in a red dress walks in, they want to kick the old girl to the curb.”
After the meeting, as I mingled and listened to the post meeting, conversations, I formulated and asked a broad cross section of the attendees and “Chini shop” observers two questions. One, do you trust the government in this? Two, do you trust the Cruise Ship companies? Of course, I did not ask any government or cruise ship people these questions, but a full 100% of all respondents said NO to both, regardless of their stance on the issue. As one person commented, “The only way we could entertain cruise ships is if the locals had control. If the Placencia community cannot have control, and if there is an inherent mistrust of the government and the cruise ships, then why even consider it?
The process continues, but the answer to the Placencia question is obviously “No.”
Based on the quivery and unsettled answers and responses, all Southern communities might also tread carefully when this road show comes to their town, to ensure that several years from now, they would not have lost control of their livelihood, or the livelihood of their children.
Will the BTB and the government listen to the voices of the people? Or is this just another “done deal?”
Vocal opposition in Placencia to proposed Royal Caribbean port
At a public consultation in Placencia Village on Friday, October 22, investors from the Placencia peninsula who have interests in overnight tourism told officials of the Ministry of Tourism and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) in no uncertain terms that they do not agree with a proposal by Royal Caribbean Cruises Limited (RCCL) to establish a small port in the village.
Currently, Belize’s only cruise port is located in Belize City, the Fort Street Tourism Village, a venture in which Royal Caribbean is also partner.
The model of the proposed port in southern Belize appears in the document titled Belize’s Punta Placencia: Cruise Tender Arrival Area & Village, and is pictured along with this article.
Charles Leslie, Jr., chairman of the village, told Amandala Friday and again on Wednesday that he and the majority of tourism stakeholders on the island are in firm opposition to RCCL’s proposal.
Leslie told us Wednesday that there was a vote at the consultation, and a majority of the people who attended — estimates run from 250 to 400 attendees — said “no” to the proposal.
“It is clear what the overnight sector and some locals want, but I still believe there is a large amount – I don’t know if majority or minority – that expressed privately a difference of opinion,” said Mike Singh, Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, speaking with Amandala Thursday.
Representing the developer, Royal Caribbean, Jon Tercek, vice president of Royal Caribbean’s Commercial Development, gave a presentation at the consultation.
Leslie said that the consultation was more of a “business pitch,” and he alleges that key questions remained unanswered.
“What kind of jobs can they offer the area residents that they don’t already have from tourism?” Leslie questions.
He said that the downside of the venture is all the new traffic that would be coming to the island, and villagers have not been assured that the necessary controls would be put in place to manage such increased traffic to the island.
Leslie also expressed environmental concerns, saying that internationally, there have long been issues with the disposal of waste from cruise ships which he fears would inevitably make their way into Placencia’s waters.
Another concern that the Placencia chairman has is that the cruise company bought the property for the port even before the villagers of Placencia knew anything about the proposal. (The proposal says the tender pier would be done on a 2.54-acre parcel of land.)
“Placencia residents believe it is a done deal,” said Leslie. He told our newspaper that the people of Placencia have lost confidence in the government officials and believe that they are being double-crossed.
Singh said, however, that “Nothing is cut in stone.” There was no premeditated sale or approval of anything, Singh contends.
The CEO is under fire from villagers, who raise questions over an apparent conflict of interest because Singh confirmed to Amandala that he is also an original shareholder in Century 21, which had sold the land to Royal Caribbean through a Placencia agent. However, Singh told us that he resigned from having an active role in Century 21 three years ago, when he began to work for the government.
Asked what he gleans to be the position of the people of Placencia on the Royal Caribbean project, Singh told Amandala that he got “a mixed reading” from the Placencia consultation, as “...there was one group very, very vocal,” who are the overnight property owners - “foreign,” and a large silent majority of locals.
“A lot of them came after the meeting [on Friday] saying they want to hear more,” commented Singh, “but [they] said they were uncomfortable speaking while the others were there because they [the vocal ones] are the employers – a lot of expats, hotel owners and retirees,” said CEO Singh.
Leslie told Amandala, though, that whereas the government side is trying to argue that the people in vocal opposition to the Placencia port are expats, 90% of them are actually from Placencia.
According to Singh, Royal Caribbean’s proposal is for 600-800 passenger ships, such as the small Azamara vessels, and not the large cruise vessels.
He indicated that he had no information on the proposed schedule which would indicate the amount of vessels they propose to land per week.
Consultations on the Placencia port were also planned for Dangriga and Punta Gorda on Saturday, October 23; however, due to Hurricane Richard, which struck Belize Sunday evening, those consultations were postponed until further notice.
Amandala understands that Belize receives between 600,000 and 700,000 cruise tourists a year, and this year the numbers could total about 750,000. Overnight tourists number about 250,000 according to BTB information.
Singh said that apart from the Royal Caribbean proposal, the Port of Big Creek has also proposed a cruise port as part of its port expansion plan; however, no formal plan has been submitted to the government.
As for the Royal Caribbean proposal, Singh said that he does not see a final report going to Cabinet before the beginning of December 2010.
I would like to know when the Belize government will pay the landowners all along the new Placencia Peninsula Road for the PRIVATELY OWNED LAND on both sides of the road we all were forced to give up for road expansion.
If the GOB cannot pay us, can they at least give us a property tax break for a few years? After that, we would expect the property tax to go down, because, well, we just don’t own that amount of property any more, that we inherited or paid for in the first place.
There has to be a give-and-take for this to be fair. GOB just can’t grab our land and ride roughshod over us taxpayers and call itself a fair and democratic government. It CAN grab our land, and it DID, but GOB can also give us property tax breaks and lower our property taxes. Maybe then we can call our country fair and democratic again.
I would also like to know why we in Belize pay 44-47 cents per kilowatt hour as compared to Mexico, 13-14 cents per kilowatt hour, and Guatemala at .05 cents per kilowatt hour.
And then we pay GST on top of that 44-47 cents.
We also have a monthly service charge. This is a business killer when we Belizeans try to compete with any other country around us. Belize is among the countries with the highest electricity rates.
We won’t mention bank loan rates in Belize; everyone knows that is just plain ridiculous. You have to be rich to take out a loan, and the rich don’t need loans.
Belize might need a stimulus Plan to spark some enterprise not connected to rich countries like Saudi Arabia. It’s almost impossible for local Belizeans to start and maintain a small business, so we don’t; we simply cannot pay back the interest on the loans.
Still paying taxes and high utility costs, but seriously wondering why.