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Belize Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia

As if the Belize Tourist Board did not need any more headaches ranging from charges of incompetence, playing footsie with cruise companies, mismanaging funds on marketing and junkets and paying foreign writers to prepare fluff articles to promote Belize tourism, this week it almost came apart at the seams with the firing of two top board members.

Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia who hails from Ambergris Caye fired prominent United Democratic Party financier Santino Castillo, and another ruling party stalwart Mr. Stanley Longsworth. Local media are reporting the action is alleged retaliation for the two Belize Tourism Board members not bending to the minister’s will on expending monies on questionable projects. This includes an alleged request for the purchase of a luxury vehicle for a member of the ministerial entourage.

This latest episode of missteps in the multi-million dollar Belize government controlled entity that has rocked the Belize tourism industry.

After initially approving the minister’s actions in firing the two BTB board members, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has now informed the media that after learning more of the details, he will take the matter to the cabinet.

Retired TV mogul and now prominent Belize hotelier Stewart Krohn, this week fired of a letter to the media that beautifully distills the sentiments of the Belizean public with regard to this new development at the Belize Tourist Board:

“They say that you should never write a letter—particularly a letter to the editor—when you’re angry. So I followed that advice and instead of writing this letter Wednesday night, I would wait until Thursday morning. Guess what? It’s Thursday morning and I’m still angry. Why? I saw on the news that my friend, Santi Castillo, had been fired from his position as Deputy Chairman of the Belize Tourism Board. I was shocked. I know Santi is not a thief and he’s certainly not lazy. Extremely well organized and disciplined, he gets more work done before 9:00 a.m. than most of us do in a day.

“So what went wrong?

“I thought that maybe he watched the wrong woman too hard (the one vice of which he may be guilty), but that’s hardly a serious offense in Belize.

“Which is why I’m still angry…because I can only conclude that he was fired because he told the truth. You remember the truth, don’t you?

“It’s that thing your mother, father, teacher, priest, pastor or Imam told you to always hold in high regard.

“It’s what the Prime Minister promised he would always tell us no matter how much it might hurt him at the polls.

“What dangerous truths did Santi expose to his fellow board members?

“That the BTB was spending way too much money on things that had nothing to do with the development of tourism.

“That perhaps we ought to take a hard look at cruise tourism in Belize and see whether it’s really working for us.

“That high officials of the Ministry of Tourism should spend less time on self enrichment and more time doing their job.

“In my world, exposing those kinds of truths earns you a medal, not a kick in the rear.

“What kind of twisted value system would lead the Minister of Tourism to summarily dismiss a man who has excelled in the worlds of business, sports and entertainment, whose close friends range from the highest to the lowest levels of society and who just happens to be a lifelong stalwart of the Minister’s own political party?

“Only Manuel Heredia can explain his actions, but I doubt he has the courage. His apologists of course will write off the whole episode to politics. “You know,” they will say, “politics is a rough game and you have to have a thick skin to succeed.”

“Indeed politics in Belize is a contact sport, so lets get ready to rumble. I trust that Minister Heredia’s skin is thick because for too long he has received a free pass from the media and the public. This is because we all know Junior Heredia as a man of humble origins, a fisherman, a man who feels more comfortable walking barefoot on the beach than in a $500. pair of shoes.

“Indeed, Manuel Heredia is all of the above….but he is also less than competent and unqualified to hold his current portfolio. At a time when the tourism industry – the country’s largest single employer – is under the greatest stress in its history, the Minister of Tourism is missing in action. Clueless. Non compos mentis. At a time when the livelihood of thousands of people is at stake, when the need for a steady hand and clarity of thought has never been more important, what does the Minister do? He gets rid of the most experienced, most respected and most dedicated member of the Belize Tourist Board!

“You don’t have to go to U.B. to know that something is radically wrong here. The inmates are running the asylum. The man who should lose his job is the Minister of Tourism.

“And that’s the truth.

“Stewart Krohn – Placencia, Belize”

The current Belize Tourism Board is headed by new C.E.O. Seleni Matus, and newly appointed Chairman Lindsey Garbutt. It recently awarded a lucrative contract to the Milwaukee, Wisconsin based BVK marketing agency and Belize web shop Naturalight to help improve its image and that of Belize. For the first time in its history the BTB imported a foreigner Yanick Dalhouse to be its Director of Marketing. These efforts appear to have failed miserably.

The Belize Tourist Board’s website, referred to by some locals as the Belize million dollar website can be found at travelbelize.org