Yesterday NICH and the BTB launched the “Making Tourism Benefit Communities Adjacent to Archaeological Sites” Project on March 20, 2013. The project seeks to achieve the integration of rural communities into the tourism sector through improved infrastructure, improved health and safety standards at the archaeological sites. But as Monica found out, At Altun Ha they are saying “while di grass di grow di horse di starve”:…
Monica Bodden reporting
Altun Ha is one of the most popular day tours for Tourists who are just passing through Belize City - with hundreds of tourist visiting the site per week, it’s a quick income for these art vendors who are mostly villagers from the surrounding area.
But for the past 2 weeks, the 18 vendors who rent these display booths on the compound are all agreeing that business has drastically decreased after the National Institute of Culture and History implemented a list of new regulations.
Ann Marie Arana- Vendor
"So far it's been two weeks that we've been told that we cannot display our items to be sold for tourism that's the workers that work under NICH directly told us that - when I say us I'm talking about 18 other persons that work beside myself. They didn't give us an explanation why, they didn't even give us anything in writing. Now I've been out here 12 years, this building is new. Normally for my Mayan Calendars handmade from limestone. We normally have them nailed here that we could hang so that the tourist can pass by and see, now when I came to work this morning they took off all the nails off of the building which I think is not fair so we have to put it here on the table on a little spot where they can't see it. It's a capture - show and tell, you have to be able to see something before you could buy something. As well our Belize bag we usually hang it up here and now we can't hang it here because they don't want us to display nothing out there. I don't think it's fair because tourism should benefit anybody . This is a very small building therefore you only could hold about four tourists in here and not everybody are going to come inside. We're asking the government or who ever is in charge - can I be allowed - not only me but everyone that is out here to display our items outside as it was before because we don't know what the problem is."
The nails that were once pierced through the walls outside every shed - for display purposes - were all removed 2 weeks ago. Vendors are now limited to using a wooden four legged table for outside displays.
Ann Marie Arana - Vendor
"I lost a lot of money today - I only made $75usd which means I can't have dinner - I can't even have a beer."
"Normally, it would be how much?"
Ann Maria Arana
"Normally my sale for the day would go up to at least $200 - $300usd per day but because I can't display my stuff then I can't have a beer."
"And that has been the trend since?"
Ann Marie Arana
"Yes, and I'm out here for 8 days a week."
"What are you asking for your nails back on the wall?"
Ann Marie Arana
"I would like my nails back on the wall so I can make my money so I can have my beer."
Calvin Gilharry - Vendor
"From when they put out stalls out here 7 years ago, I've never had a problem and now they don't want us to put things on the wall. They told me that even if it rains I have to sell in the rain."
"Who is 'they'"?
"The boss them. Well I know the guys but I don't know their name from NICH."
"So they came by and told u verbally?"
"I cannot put up with my tent in the rain and I cannot put my things out here. So what I did is I put out my tent and they told me to take it down and I told them that this is my stall and they can't just come and jump on me. Now the first thing they told me that they will give me a letter to fire me from here for 90 days. They think that I'm afraid of that piece of paper- I'm fighting for my right."
But that’s not the only concern of these veteran merchants who has spent over a decade working at the archaeological site. Another is the heat from the sun which they claim is destroying their wood work after their makeshift tarpaulin sheds were removed.
"This is the direct sun on it then it will pop - the ones that won't pop is Pine which has no color but even the Mahagony bursts."
Michael Gentle - Vendor
"Actually last week Tuesday we had one cruise ship for the whole week and a NICH ranger came to us and told us that we couldn't put out more than one table but in my case it's different because I usually have three tables. I was upset and tried understanding before I put my three tables out there again - one more thing is that when the day is hot our stuff is made out of wood and it cracks and when it's raining the tourists won't stop in the rain they are heading to the bus. When your tent is out there they can stop and do some shopping. The main concern is that why can't we display our things on the wall or put our tent out for no specific reason."
"You guys didn't ask?"
"I asked the ranger and he said that's the word from the boss."
"Nobody went higher than the ranger to ask NICH why they have made this decision?"
"Not that I know of - personally I haven't"
We contacted the Director of the Belize Institute of Archaeology – Dr Jaime Awe – about the current situation – he told us that he is aware of what is happening and they will be reassessing the situation while planning on building bigger units to facilitate the growth of these vendors.