Wilmington adopts San Pedro, Belize in Sister City treaty

Port City adopts San Pedro, Belize in Sister City treaty
by Marimar McNaughton
Thursday, June 7, 2007

Flights from Wilmington International Airport to Charlotte arrive daily in Belize City on the Yucatan Peninsula. From there, it is a short jaunt by air or water taxi to Ambergris Caye, known as 'La Isla Bonita,' where the town of San Pedro, an ancient trading center for the Mayan Indians, has embraced tourism.

In a town of 15,000, San Pedro Mayor Elsa Paz is the first female mayor to be elected to office since the village was incorporated 23 years ago. She was born on the island in 1963, when the economy was rooted in coconut groves and fishing; all that has changed now.

"San Pedro is the No. 1 tourist destination in Belize," she said. "Today, all the fishermen are tour guides."

With their barrier reef the second largest in the world, the primary water sports are diving and fishing, though the conditions are also ideal for windsurfing, parasailing and kayaking. Last week, Paz and a small contingent of Belizeans arrived in Wilmington to sign a Sister City agreement with the Port City. Their host was Honorary Consul of Belize Dr. Ed Paul of Wrightsville Beach, who said, "I see Wilmington as a big sister. What does a big sister do? Help a little sister," Paul said.

When the agreement was formalized at the Wilmington City Council meeting on June 5, gifts - hand carved fish from San Pedro and an engraved silver tray from Wilmington - were exchanged, and Mayor Bill Saffo said there were many similarities between the two municipalities: a casual atmosphere where the dress of the day is shorts and sandals, the seafood is fresh and there are beautiful white beaches nearby.

Most of the developers and the visitors are Americans, and the native language is English. Sister City Commission chairman Scott Czechlewski reiterated the connection between the two cities. "Wilmington already has an outstanding line of communication with the government, since Honorary Consul of Belize Ed Paul Jr. is in Wilmington. When he approached Mayor Saffo and the commission about establishing the twinning, we felt it was a natural fit," Czechlewski said.

While here, Paz and her entourage visited UNCW with hopes of developing a reciprocal marine biology study program with the University of Belize.

"We spent a good part of the afternoon with public works," said Paul. With some of the streets of San Pedro paved with cobblestones, Paz and her team were fascinated with Wilmington's street sweepers.

"Through Wilmington's experience, we can take out a lot of the heartache and pain," Paul said. "This is the spirit of the sister cities."

The Wilmington Sister City Commission was founded in 1986 as a local partner to Sister Cities International, a global network of more than 2,500 partnerships in 125 countries.

Sister Cities International promotes peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.

Wilmington's other sister cities include: Dandong, China; Doncaster, England; and Bridgetown, Barbados.