Tourism Minister Junior Heredia Blasts Department of Environment

The news went out this morning that stop orders had been issued to 25 developments under construction in San Pedro. But the Department of Environment (DOE) says they closed down only 4, while Minister of Tourism and Area Representative for San Pedro Manuel Heredia Jr. says on Friday the DOE shut down own 21 construction sites on the island – leaving hundreds of workers jobless.

It appears to be one of the Barrow administration’s first hiccups because Heredia says that last week Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega dispatched a team, from his Ministries of Environment and Lands, to the island to crack down on developers dredging without permits. But according to Heredia - that’s not what Chief Environment officer Ismael Fabro did. Speaking to us this evening, Heredia says Fabro and his officers closed down 21 sites. He described the situation as almost “embarrassing” – and from the timing says it appears to be political.

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Hon. Manuel Heredia, Minister of Tourism
“It is a very funny situation that I feel somewhat embarrassed about the situation but definitely at this point in time I can say that we have managed to tackle the problematic part, whereby the contractors have been informed that they can continue their work. But the intention of DOE going into the island was just to tackle the cutting of mangroves and dredging, all those people who didn’t have a permit. That was the directive, I was right there in the Minister’s office at the time when the directive was given.

I spoke with Mr. Fabro and he said that since they were on the island they decided to go and deal with everything. Common sense will tell you that we cannot allow 21 or so developers to stop their projects when they had planning approval already. If there was a concern about the environment then let us get together and see what we need and then we go ahead and execute it.

There were talking about two or three weeks, I mean Keith you cannot have developers waiting that long. You cannot be sending a wrong message to the international developers saying this is the way Belize works. We as the new government are making it very clear that we welcome development that is in the best interest of the nation. We want to create new jobs, not really stop progress, not really have people without jobs. I think we are talking about several hundred people that would stay without a job for those weeks. They have to put food on their table and that is exactly why I spoke with the Prime Minister and he said to have them go ahead and do it and let us do what we have to do.”

Keith Swift,
Mr. Ismael Fabro says they only shut down four sites and since morning two of the four have been given the green light to resume. But you are saying 21 projects.

Hon. Manuel Heredia,

“Yes it was over 20 definitely because those people approached me, they approached the Mayor, so it is about twenty something projects that were really stopped over there. It is nothing about two or three – 21 and from Friday and Saturday the people had been calling me. I spoke with the people over there, I cannot blame them because they were given directives but definitely I feel that Mr. Fabro supposed to know better than that.”

Keith Swift,
What’s behind this, is the DOE ambitious or was it malicious?

Hon. Manuel Heredia,
“The way I see it, even though he says that it is not something to embarrass but I feel that it is just making the government of the day look bad because why wasn’t it done before elections. Why wait a few days after election?”

Heredia says a team from the Ministry of Lands and the Environment will be sent to San Pedro to meet with the individual developers. Chief Environmental Officer Ismael Fabro maintains they only closed 4 sites, two of which were given clearance this morning after their lawyers met with department personnel. He declined to tell us which sties were closed. DOE officials tell us that the sweeps are routine and that the projects were closed down because none of them have environmental clearance. As Minister Heredia mentioned, the projects have approval of the Ambergris Planning Authority but an environmental clearance is still required.