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#468816 - 07/23/13 05:26 AM Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation  
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Concern is mounting on the Placencia Peninsula over the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that’s being tabled by a Cruise Developer called Belize Island Holding Limited, which is the local incarnation of Norwegian Cruise Line. They want to build a cruise port on Harvest Caye, south of the Peninsula Peninsula, after the proposal for Crawl Caye fell through.

In the agreement, Norwegian agrees to invest $50Million US dollars and employ no more than 25% foreign staff. In exchange Government will make the usual giveaways, a 25-year concession, duty exemptions and duty free status, even business tax exemptions.

But the best part for Norwegian is, under the terms of the MOU, they get to keep more than half of the 7 US dollar head tax they collect. The BTB would get one dollar sixty cents US, PACT one dollar and forty cents US and Norwegian would get the rest, 4 USD per person.

But out of PACT and BTB’s minority take, they would have to apportion - in the BTB’s case - 50 cents per person to a tourism development fund, to be used on southern Belize – thus developing product for the Port owners.

And out of PACT’s share, 25 cents US would go to environmental monitoring – which, is not a function of PACT and, opponents argue, is a cost that should be borne by the Port owner, not paid from the head tax.

And that 1.15 cents US PACT stays with is a pittance really, considering that a.) The PACT tax paid by overnight visitors is 3.75 cents US per person and, the Minister recently said in a speech that it would take 20 million US dollars annually to optimally manage Belize’s protected areas.

But, as odious as that whole had tax breakdown may seem – we note that it resembles the formula presently in place at Fort Street Tourism Village Cruise Port. That agreement was negotiated well over a decade ago – an indication that, even with the benefit of experience, there’s no better deal for Belize, which, veterans have advised us, is more or less the permanent state of affairs between small countries and large cruise lines.

As we understand it, the eight page MOU was crafted out of a set of agreed-upon points between the cruise line and government officials – and the document is now at the Sol Gen’s office for vetting. Our information says that Cabinet has approved the terms and conditions, and on Friday Minister of Environment Lisel Alamilla was non – comital about it. Here’s what she told us -

Hon. Lisel Alamilla - Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries, Environment
"Yes these projects had been discussed at Cabinet."

Jules Vasquez
"Are we within distance of signing an MOU? There's talk of one circulating."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Jules, as I said earlier when you weren't here was that I will leave the ministry responsible for investment to respond to the question regarding how they're dealing with the investment interest from NCL, from Mr. Finstein and from Puerto Azul."

Jules Vasquez
"Have you given any technical advice on new proposed location?"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"We have given - we haven't given a lot yet on Harvest Cay because we still have to do a site visit there. We have raised initial questions as to that project but at this point we are at - 'is Belize interested in this project?' - then we will get into the details of how the environment comes into it."

Today Godwin Hulse, Minister in Charge of the Cabinet Committee on investment did not answer our text messages requesting a comment. As to whether the MOU has been signed, Prime Minister Dean Barrow did text us back: he said he does not know, and referred us to Minister Hulse. Since the MOU calls for the PM’s signature, we’ll assume it has not been signed.

And so, now public pressure resisting the project is expected to come hard and heavy from overnight tourism interests on the Placencia Peninsula. Their consistent lobby has been that mass cruise tourism will have a disastrous effect on overnight tourism in Placencia. Moreover, they say it is expressly out of line with the Tourism Master Plan and a recent study which was done investigating the subject.

But, there’s a plurality of opinion. One Resort Manager we heard from on a BTB sponsored media tour of the south this weekend runs Laru Beya Resort and Villas. He took a much broader view.

Rene Nunez - Manager, Laru Beya
"We seem to have decided that we are a small destination - that we will not build huge properties/hotels in Belize. We will go after the adventurous visitor - the visitor who wants an out of the way experience - that seems to be what we started with. I think what we're facing now is the pressures of growth, that Belize is now well known. Here in Placencia - if you've read any of the letters that the BTIA or the tour operators or anybody has sent - the one line they always include in that letter is that it is 'contrary to our agreed upon plan'; the plan for the Tourism development in Southern Belize and that plan focused on small tourism. I am not prepared to say that I don't want cruise tourism here; I certainly think that if the cruise ship comes to Placencia - our business will have to change. Right now we are protecting turf, those of us in the business know what we're doing right now and so we are very convinced that cruise tourism is going to affect our business negatively, so we don't want it. But we're a country that's growing and maybe we need to think about that."

We haven’t done a poll, but from a sampling of overnight interests and the hard of fast position of the Placencia BTIA we’d say Nunez holds the minority opinion, among overnight tourism interests.

It’s a story that has legs, as they say, and we’ll keep following it.

Channel 7

#468871 - 07/24/13 05:03 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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Changes To Draft Norwegian MOU Still Leaves Head Tax Inequal

Today Cabinet was scheduled to discuss the Memorandum Of Understanding put forward by Norwegian Cruise Line. According to our sources Cabinet agreed to the broad terms of the agreement from last week, and then the draft MOU was sent to the Solicitor General for review. But, those sources say the MOU that has been sent to us is not the current draft, but an earlier, initial version. The revised draft, they say, has additional safeguards plus the option to increase fees at periodic reviews; it also specifies carrying capacity; and it limits the development concession to the construction of the project, not its operation. As for the head tax – which sees 60% going to Norwegian, under the revised terms the company will still get four of every seven dollars paid per visitor but under the new deal, NICH and PACT would not have to pay a portion of their pennies into dubious funds

But what doesn’t change is clause 21, that the Government is to quote, “process on an expedited basis, the Environmental Impact Assessment Amendment, all permits, licenses, concessions, agreements, exemptions etc, required by Port.” Now, what this says is that no new EIA is to be done, that the Department of the Environment is to satisfy itself with a previous one which had been approved for a resort on the island. And that’s why environment Minister Lisel Alamilla told the media on Friday that her ministry had not done a site visit and has only had minimal technical input.

We’ll keep following the MOU as it gets ready for signing. Everyone in authority we’ve spoken to – including the Prime Minister - has directed us to Minister Godwin Hulse, but he has not responded to our requests for information.

Channel 7

#469018 - 07/26/13 05:05 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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BTIA Says GOB Playing “Crackhead Economics” With Norwegian Port

The resource rich and largely unspoiled southern Belize is also the scene for another battleground – that’s the latest one over whether there will be a cruise terminal close to Placencia AT HARVEST CAYE.

We’ve been reporting on the terms outlined in a draft memorandum of understanding – which show the usual menu of concessions, tax breaks and a 7 US Dollar head tax that gives 60% back to the Norwegian Cruise Line so that they can recover their investment as quickly as possible.

It’s caused some consternation amongst the overnight tourism interests in the south and today the Belize Tourism Industry Association held a meeting to consolidate their position.

They say there’s been zero consultation on a project that – if approved – could have far reaching impacts on their overnight tourism product.

Herbert Haylock - President, BTIA
"Development in the South needs to be focused as it relates to cruise again in the realm of the master plan, specifically in the area of pocket tourism and not the mega developments that are being proposed at this time."

Stewart Krohn - Chairman, Placencia Chapter
"What introducing mass tourism to the south does is that it fundamentally changes the entire character of the tourism product. Belize invented eco-tourism - that word didn't exist until Belize brought it to the floor and held the first international eco-conference ever. Now what we're doing with mass tourism is really telling the world is that we're not really an eco destination - we are now a mass destination. You can't be both - you can't be all things to all people."

Dennis Garbutt - Chairman, Toledo Chapter
"I do understand that Toledo on a whole needs development and need money driven into that area. However, from the tourism stand point this type of development will not help with the existing tourism infrastructure we have - this will take away from the quality of service that we provide to our guest in the South. I think this is something tricky to look at - yes Toledo needs development but I think if we were to do this we should have done something in a more constructive manner and mass tourism is not the answer for the South - it's not the answer."

Herbert Haylock
"One of the specific things that we need to be clear on is looking at the MOU that we are seeing, you brought that to the public's eye a day or two ago, and we have been looking at a draft of that. Obviously there are some very specific blaring concerns that need to be brought out and that need to be presented - not only publicly but questions need to be asked. Why are these specific guarantees being placed in that MOU."

Stewart Krohn
"Essentially this MOU that Prime Minister Barrow is about the sign is virtually the exact MOU that Said Musa signed 12 years ago. Why on earth after Belize has now become a premier tourism destination - why would you sign the exact same contract with the cruise company that you signed 12 years ago when Belize didn't know anything about cruise ships. Government charges NCL $7.00 usd head tax which in itself is a ridiculously low amount - it should be about $20.00 but you charge them $7.00 and then you give them back $4.00? I defy anyone sitting in that Cabinet room to explain to me why you would give back $4.00 and they still own the port."

Jules Vasquez
"Some critics would say that this is the standard because there are not equal relations with the Cruise ship because of the volume of visitors they deal with - the volume of money they deal with. A small sovereign state cannot engage in an equitable relation with these people - that is how it works. How do you respond to that?"

Stewart Krohn
"I'll make it very easy for you Jules - I won't get into any complicated political argument. Let's say you drive an escalade and you want it washed and you drive down the street and you see your friendly neighborhood 'crack head' with his rag and his bucket - and you go up to him and say 'I want my escalade washed - how much will you charge me?' He says 'ten dollars boss' and I say to the crack head 'no man I won't pay $10.00' and then he says 'ok then $5.00' and I tell him 'I won't pay you $5.00' and then he says 'give me shilling (quarter) then' and then you pay the crack head a shilling. In that economic negotiation is Belize the guy with the Escalade or the guy getting the shilling to was the vehicle? We behave like crack heads - just like there's no reason for the crack head - no economic logic behind him washing your car for $0.25 - there is no economic logic for us giving away the candy store to NCL."

Herbert Haylock
"You are basically getting into a situation where you can earn in excess of $2 billion dollars from just the overnight sector and that's just considering just simply average growth over that particular area. When you look at the cruise sector and the returns that will actually come from the cruise sector and this is real tangible revenue that comes in from the head tax etc. - you are only talking about over a hundred and something million dollars then you begin to see the disparity. The economics of this issue don't add up when you're given such emphasis on a development such as this and not taking into consideration the overnight sector which again is the main stay, as Stewart pointed out - of this industry."

Stewart Krohn
"I think there's been a rush to judgment here and I think somehow maybe the timing was propitious for NCL, maybe they had someone from the inside pushing for them but I would ask the PM and the Cabinet to reconsider and think this thing through because the way it's going we are really going to pay a really high price if this decision is allowed to go through."

The BTIA will be putting out a formal position on the proposed Harvest Caye terminal by next week.

Channel 7

#469087 - 07/27/13 04:53 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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Tourism Association for Private Sector Says No to Proposed Development

The BTIA held a meeting on Thursday marking the end of consultations with all of its chapters to ventilate the proposals for large scale development in the Placencia area for cruise tourism.  Appearing on Love FM’s Morning Show were the President of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, Herbert Haylock and Stuart Krohn, the Chairman of the Placencia chapter.


“It’s not only Harvest Caye, there was an initial effort at Crawl Caye Development site and we had put out a public statement on May 29 on that matter in relation to development in the south and then again, a few weeks after that we started hearing and the information came out that Harvest Caye is a next option.  We essentially went back to the table in terms of looking at this matter; the two chapters in the south, both the Toledo chapter and the Placencia Chapter, both put forward early positions on that matter and again, now from a national perspective, we are once again underscoring the initial position that we put out in the May 29 release that we are not supporting and not in support in the level of development that is being proposed with the Harvest Caye location and site.  We want to take it one step further, beyond not necessarily being in support of that particular development and for all the reasons that we put forward before, the environmental concerns, the developmental concerns, the concerns as it relates to moving completely away from what again has been laid out as a direction strategically, as it relates to the master plan but we want to also look at what is now a matter that has now surfaced as it relates to the MOU that is in the media and that has been circulating over the recent week or two.  There are some very specific concerns in there that we are not supporting and cannot support because of the dynamics of those particular clauses and agreements; we have seen it in a draft format; obviously, we understand and we hear that there are changes to be made but notwithstanding that you are still looking at an agreement that provides and essentially gives away much more than what we would receive as a country and those are glaring concerns that need to be looked at, voiced and considered and there perhaps need to be some reconsideration of some of these things that have been put forward in that MOU.”

Meanwhile, Stuart Krohn explained that tourism has been the bread and butter industry from year to year for Belize and allowing large scale cruise tourism in the south will pose a serious threat to the way investors have planned that area. The described the Memorandum of Understanding and the concept of mass cruise tourism in southern Belize are a disaster.


“What we cannot understand is why when you have an industry that is going on such a great path and you see the releases from BTB, we grew ten percent in 2012 and we are going to grow another 8 or 9 percent in 2013; far beyond what our competitors are doing. Why would you want to inject a low class, cheap mass product to an area that is doing so well on what has been the traditional path of tourism; it doesn’t make any sense.  For years in the tourism industry we said there is no plan, we don’t know where we are going, let’s get a plan; well, quite brilliantly, a couple years back the BTB and the Ministry of Tourism spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with an independent set of consultants to establish a plan.  They brought it to Cabinet; Cabinet approved it, there it is: the National Sustainable Master Tourism Plan.  That plan clearly states, words have meaning, you know; it clearly states that pocket cruise tourism is the only acceptable form of tourism on the south eastern coast of Belize; ‘only’, I don’t know what different interpretation you can use for the word, ‘only’.  Pocket cruise tourism, in the same document, defines it as cruise ships of under 250 passengers.  Now, NCL comes along or the Ministry of Investment comes along and says, ‘guess what, we have this deal and NCL wants to buy an island and the biggest ships they would bring would bring 400 people; 4000 vs. 250; so, how do you go from this master plan of 250 and under to suddenly having ships of four thousand people and you the Ministry of Tourism saying, this is a good thing.  The Minister of Tourism and the CEO in the Ministry of Tourism have been utterly silent on this issue. This is a huge issue for the industry; this isn’t just about Placencia and how many people are walking on the sidewalk; it is a huge change, a 180 degree change of direction for the industry and ministry has not consulted one iota and has not made one public statement.”

Krohn says that the Placencia BTIA will internationalize the issue. 


Southern tourism stakeholders soundly oppose project

Early this year, the Government of Belize (GOB) confirmed that they had set up a special committee to liaise with investors of Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) for a proposed cruise port on Crawl Caye. The latest development is that GOB has endorsed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with NCL regarding the development on Harvest Caye. This change of location came about after stakeholders in the tourism industry in southern Belize, resoundingly rejected any form of development on Crawl Caye.

News of the original proposed cruise port at Crawl Caye caused much controversy when environmentalists and tourism stakeholders claimed that Crawl Caye is within the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the port would create serious damage to the sensitive marine ecosystem. Also causing much concern to the public was the serious concessions that GOB was making to accommodate the NCL project. These included exemption from stamp taxes, customs duties and general tax holidays/waivers for a period of 30 years, with two additional 15-year-extensions to be used at the cruise line’s discretion. They would also enjoy an exclusive 30-year concession as a cruise port of entry at multiple locations in the Stann Creek District in southern Belize, again with two additional 15-year-extensions to be used at their discretion. After the negative public response the Crawl Caye proposal received, GOB announced that Cabinet had turned down the NCL proposal, but would continue searching for new sites in southern Belize.

Shortly thereafter, GOB started to consider Harvest Caye, which lies outside the protected zone of the World Heritage Site. However, the problem with a port being constructed at Harvest Caye is that the potential development of the island could possibly interrupt local commerce on the Placencia Peninsula.

One particular organization that has strongly opposed the NCL’s proposed project is the Placencia Chapter of the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA). The organization, whose main objective is to promote tourism while protecting the interest of its membership, has led the charge against the NCL project. In a press release, the Placencia Chapter of BTIA explained why they are against the project. “We find it inexplicable that Cabinet could reject Norwegian Cruise Line’s proposal for a cruise port at Crawl Caye, yet simultaneously encourage the company to find an alternate site, in this case Harvest Caye…. Although Harvest Caye does not lie within a marine protected area, the same negative environmental impacts resulting from excessive visitor pressure remain…. Most importantly, however, the development of a large cruise port in the south inexorably commits the area to an economic future based on mass cruise tourism. This type of mass tourism is 180 degrees opposite from the path of low impact overnight tourism that has brought the Placencia Peninsula so much success,” stated the press release dated Thursday July 18th.

The Placencia Tour Guide Association has also gone on record to state that the construction of the cruise port would create an overpopulation of visitors without the resources to accommodate the large numbers. The Placencia Peninsula tour operators also claim that cruise ship tourism will cause significant degradation of fragile marine and inland environments such as coral reefs, fish and bird habitats which would be catastrophic for Placencia’s development.

BTIA Placencia Chapter has also been very vocal against the Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia Jr and his Chief Executive Officer Tracy Taegar Panton. “The fact is that the campaign to inflict mass cruise tourism on southern Belize does not have its origins in any part of the South; it is simply part of a long running effort by one government official and a small group of associates whose motives have nothing to do with developing our community and everything to do with enriching themselves.

We note with increasing disappointment the failure of the Ministry of Tourism to come forward with its position on this issue. Having spent hundreds of thousands of tax payers’ dollars on independent studies and successfully convinced Cabinet to endorse a Sustainable Master Plan that clearly prohibits mass cruise tourism in the South, the Minister and CEO are suddenly missing in action. We can understand that ministers are busy and cannot read every lengthy document introduced for endorsement by cabinet, but surely the Minister of Tourism and the CEO have read their own policy…or have they? Mr. Heredia and Mrs. Panton, your silence is deafening,” adds the release.

The Placencia BTIA release comes a few days before a draft MOU between NCL and the GOB was leaked out to the press on Monday July 22nd. The MOU is currently before the Solicitor General’s office for review after GOB’s Cabinet had endorsed it. It outlines what many environmentalists claims is a “pittance” that Belizeans would get from such activity should it materializes. According to the draft MOU, NCL will get to keep more than half of the $7US dollar head tax GOB collects – the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) would get US $1.60, the Protected Area Conservation Trust (PACT) will keep US $1.40 while NCL will get the rest, US $4.00 per person. But what is even worse is that of PACT and BTB’s minority take, they both would have to apportion – in the BTB’s case – 50 cents per person to a tourism development fund, to be used on southern Belize – thus developing product for the Port owners. And out of PACT’s share, 25 cents US would go to environmental monitoring – which, is not a function of PACT. According to environmentalist that cost should be borne by the Port owner, not paid from the head tax. NCL has allocated US$50 million for the Harvest Caye proposal claiming that they will employ no more than 25% foreign staff.

Commenting on the MOU, as well as the proposed development, Steward Krohn Chairman of Placencia BTIA Chapter, referred to it as “disappointing” and “insane.” “That the Government and Ministry of Tourism would even contemplate the introduction of mass cruise tourism to the South is disappointing; that they would sign an MOU with Norwegian Cruise Line that gives away the candy store is not only insane but makes one wonder what they are smoking in that Cabinet room. If Minister Heredia and CEO Panton have an explanation, we would love to hear it,” said Krohn.

For its part, GOB is stressing the importance of foreign investment and development, with the idea that the creation of the port will not only bring in foreign exchange but will also create jobs that will lead to the development of Southern Belize. Prime Minister of Belize, Honorable Dean Barrow has also confirmed that the Harvest Caye cruise port proposal needs an overnight facility. GOB has already approved a resort development for the same Harvest Caye location, which includes an airstrip and a 150-room hotel with villas over the water. Barrow had originally stated that Cabinet is in no way near to approving the project and that all protocols will be met in the discussion of the cruise port.

While the Cabinet has endorsed the draft MOU, indirectly signaling approval to the project, the Placencia Peninsula tour operators along with many tourism stakeholders will continue to defend their cause as well. NCL remains optimistic that the Cabinet will favor the Harvest Caye cruise port proposal.

Click here to read the rest of the article and see more photos in the San Pedro Sun

#469091 - 07/27/13 05:29 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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by Charles Leslie, Jr.
Dear Editor,

The Placencia Peninsula beach is 17 miles long and is one of our main tourism assets. Majority of it is filthy almost all year round and especially during this time of year. This is unacceptable, and it is slowly eroding our image as the fastest growing tourism destination, and the best stretch of beach in Belize. We recently won Destination of the Year. To keep that prestige, we need to focus our energies on our beach.

In October 2010 the Gulf of Honduras (GOH) was launched with an objective of: “Environmental Protection and Maritime Transport Pollution Control in the Gulf of Honduras,” with a primary focus on demonstration of new and mixed technologies to address some of the major environmental problems and issues of the Gulf leading to the degradation of marine and coastal ecosystems by human activities. The long-term goal of the project is to reverse the degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems by enhancing the control and prevention of maritime transport-related pollution in the major ports and navigation lanes, improving navigational safety to avoid groundings and spills, and reducing land-based inputs to the adjacent coastal and marine areas within the Gulf of Honduras. This project has a budget of $58 million USD and a 5-year duration. In Placencia, we cannot afford to wait until this program truly kicks in and hope it will directly benefit us. We need to take matters into our own hands, now.

Under the May 2010 draft National Guidelines for Subdivision and Consolidation of Land in Belize which falls under the Lands and Surveys Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment, it states, “Under the LUA (Land Utilization Act) general subdivision guidelines to ensure that access to water bodies is maintained include: A 66-foot reserve must be provided for each subdivision of a land parcel next to the sea, lagoon, river, creek and other major water bodies.”

My interpretation: the 66ft beach reserve in Placencia is common to all Belizeans. It is what makes Placencia peninsula unique. It is also one of the most important tourism-related assets for the entire peninsula, especially for those who own tourism-related businesses along this stretch of beach.
For those of us who live on the Placencia Peninsula, we can attest to the struggle we have been having in keeping our beach clean of debris. As I have pointed out in the preamble of this article, there are plans under way. However, it is not here, and won’t be for a few more years. We are still dealing with a lot of trash that washes out from the rivers in Puerto Cortez, Honduras and Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. Most of it goes out in the Gulf of Honduras. Around this time of the year, we get a strong current that runs from south to north and pushes large bulks of that trash directly towards southern Belize, and creates one huge mess. It is very costly to try and keep the main stretches of the beach clean, much less the entire length.

The Placencia Sanitation Company/Village Council has procured two commercial beach rakes, which are currently semi-operational. These can be utilized in this endeavor; however, I am afraid it will take a lot more resources than that.

The private and public sector on the Placencia Peninsula, along with the proper Government departments, needs to formulate a beach management plan, as we are attempting to do with the utilization and development of the Placencia lagoon. I do not believe this will be too difficult; however it will take the effort of the entire peninsula. As I said, the beach is a public common and all should be concerned and responsible for its well-being, for, we all directly or indirectly benefit from it.

I have a proposal which will attempt to identify funds, for a good management plan is useless without the necessary financial resources. For the sake of having this letter published, I will not go into details; this can be done at a public meeting on this specific issue to crunch out details, if it reaches that point:

Proposal: Earmark money to be set aside in a fund that will be designated specifically for the cleaning of the entire Placencia Peninsula Beach. Potential source of funds: Lobby the Belize Tourism Board, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Finance, the entire Cabinet, and ask that a percentage of our taxes – hotel, business, GST, property tax etc. be earmarked. Identify and apply for a grant. Local businesses voluntarily contribute a monthly fee. A combination of some or all of the above.

SIDE NOTE: We should also lobby the BTB to have a beach certification program developed, such as the system that Mexico has, and we can then push to get International Blue Flag Certified.

Charles Leslie, Jr.
Business owner
Placencia Village


#469275 - 07/31/13 04:47 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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Government Getting Ready To Sign Norwegian MOU?

And one of the issues behind that discord might be – what we are told is the imminent signing of the Memorandum of Understanding with Norwegian Cruise Line for a cruise facility on Harvest Caye. Multiple sources suggest that it will be signed possibly this week. The MOU that we’ve seen is an initial copy, and some key provisions have since been revised. One provision that remains is that Norwegian would still get 60% of the 7 US dollar head tax.

As we understand it, there was some push-back on it from the BTB Board because that body has not been consulted – and the possibility of a cruise facility on southern Belize runs afoul of the National Tourism Master Plan.

Government’s key man in the negotiation is Godwin Hulse, who heads a cabinet committee on investment. Despite numerous requests for comment, we’ve been unable to get any word out of him for two weeks. But today we caught him at an event, and here’s what he said:…

Hon. Godwin Hulse - Minister of Labor
"We have looked at the project in depth and it was a little unfortunate that there were lots of reports that this is happening and that serves to trump up hysteria. Remember first of all this is called negotiation and when you come into Belize - or being the business man I've been forever - if I can get 50 or 100 years concession I will ask for two then we work down and down until we get it. The whole idea - remember I have said, they had to be some standard by which we analyzed these investments. The standards were that one - the project would be socially and economically acceptable and legally doable so the technical people have looked at that. Two - it had to bring revenue to government - there is no shame in that, the government has to make revenue because there's cost, we have to make at least a dollar and it has to bring foreign exchange because that's what we live by. Three, it has to create meaningful jobs, we have negotiated with them what meaningful jobs are - we don't mean $3.00/hour jobs - we listed the meaningful jobs. Four it has to protect the environment and if possible - enhance it. So we are satisfied that those criteria’s have been met; remember this is an MOU - non legal and non biding - it says 'if you meet these conditions, the government will be prepared to do this'."

Daniel Ortiz
"Okay and you will release that tomorrow?"

Hon. Godwin Hulse
"As soon as the Minister returns and they sign - then we're free to go."

We’ll have more from Hulse later on another newsy subject.

Channel 7

#469419 - 08/02/13 03:38 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
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BTIA's Opposition to Cruise Project in Southern Belize May Have Been Premature

The proposal for the Cruise Tourism Development Project in southern Belize has gotten the attention of the Belize Tourism Industry Association and its Placencia branch and today when their representatives appeared on the Love Morning Show, they got the attention of the Belize Tourism Board.  This evening the Board fired off a press release listing a number of points which it uses as a premise for its response.  First off, the BTB states that the National Sustainable Tourism Master Plan calls for the development of six tourism products with cruise tourism being one of the six.  The proposed project, says the BTB release will guarantee a minimum of 130 calls per year in the first instance and generate between 800 and a thousand direct jobs.  According to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Tourism, Tracy Taegar Panton, the Ministry and the BTB recognizes that the overnight tourism sector is the mainstay of the industry, with 80 percent of the revenues generated from the overnight sector and that there still has to be a series of requirements met before anything is agreed upon. 

Tracy Taegar Panton, C.E.O., Ministry of Tourism

“As far as I know the MOU between the Government of Belize and the investors has not been fully executed as yet; we have been through a long process of discussion as part of a technical support team to the Cabinet’s Cruise and Investment sub-committee that was appointed by the Prime Minister, chaired by Mr. Hulse, to look and analyze the proposal that was brought to the table, we have just completed that process and so there have been no formal consultations with our key tourism stakeholders; so, I don’t know on what basis BTIA makes those statements.  Certainly, from our point of view, when we are able to and we have the authority to, we will speak to our key stakeholders whether it’s BTIA, the Belize Hotel Association, the Association for Cruise Service Providers, etc.; certainly, their input is important.  Currently, what government is saying to NCL is that based on what you have put before us, based on our analysis of the situation, we will give you the green light to do your pre-feasibility for this project; you are subject to an EIA and before we can do anything in formalizing any legal agreement, we would have to ensure that you meet the criteria of the EIA process. This is really to allow the investor to do further exploration into this project, to look at their feasibility but also to allow government to do its own feasibility and due diligence.  I think the approach by BTIA is a bit premature and the MOU is really in a spirit of goodwill to try and facilitate new investment for Belize.”

Meanwhile, Director of Tourism, Laura Esquivel Frampton, says that the advent of cruise tourism in southern Belize is not designed to overshadow overnight tourism.

Laura Esquivel Frampton, Director of Tourism

“There is not going to be 4000 people landing in Placencia in one day; they will be landing on Harvest Caye; from Harvest Caye, the tours will be disseminated.  So, those who are going out on marine tours will go from Harvest Caye to their marine tours and those who want to go to inland experiences, now, inland experiences doesn’t mean only Placencia; it means the Cockscomb Wildlife Basin, it means the Maya village experience, it means the sugar mill, it means archaeological sites.  So, it would be controlled numbers of dispersing these people properly on tours and if the people of Placencia, which we have spoken to many of the locals and they say they want some of the numbers but they want it controlled too, and so that is how you control it – by getting a consensus and looking at how many people can one site handle and then you disburse the tickets or disperse the sale of tours in that way by providing maximum numbers.”

CEO Panton says that consultations with the key players in the south. 


#469471 - 08/03/13 05:07 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
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Amandala Editorial

In Belize it is well nigh impossible to criticize prominent people in public office without that criticism being taken personally. That said, let us proceed. Damn the torpedoes. The Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Dean Barrow has tied himself into a bunch of knots over the course of this year, and we want to focus in this editorial on two specific areas – the Placencia Peninsula and the Sarstoon/Temash.

As we look back over Belize’s modern history and consider our four Prime Ministers, we at this newspaper are more interested in their philosophies than in their personalities. As politicians, these four men have probably resorted to pragmatism on many, many occasions, and one cannot properly analyze their administrations from a philosophical standpoint in a brief essay like this one. But, we have to make an attempt of sorts.

Belize’s first Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. George Price, was Prime Minister for seven years – from 1981 to 1984, and then from 1989 to 1993. These were not the important years of his leadership, philosophically speaking. Mr. Price had been First Minister and then Premier from 1961 to 1981, and these are the years when he was most himself, so to speak. Mr. Price understood Belize for what it was – a small country with a small and diverse population. He saw how vulnerable Belizeans were as a people, and he was very protective of Belize. His opponents argued that he did not want to develop Belize, bring it into the region’s modern era, because his first priority was maintaining his hold on the unsophisticated people of Belize. Be that as it may, bottom line was that Mr. Price’s approach to development was careful, cautious, and almost suspicious.

The Rt. Hon. Manuel Esquivel, Belize’s second Prime Minister, was basically a free market capitalist who opened up the country to foreign investment. He was very much pro-Washington. The economy of Belize grew wonderfully in his first term, but the growth was not sustainable: it was based on huge real estate deals which alienated Belizean land, passport sales, rapid tourism expansion, and the like, programs which did not raise the Belizean people to a higher level of training and productivity.

Belize’s third Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Said Musa, who had been a socialist in his early years in public life, went completely neoliberal during his two terms of office, and in so doing took Mr. Esquivel’s free market capitalism to the wide-open levels of free trade, privatization, and globalization. One noticeable aspect of the Musa years was that the gap between Belize’s rich and poor widened perceptibly, even dramatically.

Pardon us if we glance briefly at personality. Mr. Price enjoyed power because he imagined himself a priest in a secular capacity. Mr. Barrow enjoys power as an intellectual exercise, a game of brains, and sometimes as a triumph of vanity. Strangely enough, the Price and Barrow personalities are perhaps more similar to each other than any of the four are to each other. The evidence suggests that Messrs. Price and Barrow are Belize’s two most nationalistic Prime Ministers. This is perhaps not saying all that much, because politicians, as a feature of their profession, sacrifice anything to expediency.

So now, Mr. Barrow has to decide whether he will sacrifice the Placencia Peninsula to Norwegian Cruise Lines and the Sarstoon/Temash to U.S. Capital Energy. The Belizeans of the Placencia Peninsula and the Belizeans of the Sarstoon/Temash are quite different in ethnicity, culture, and perspective. Similarity lies in the fact that they both may be about to be drowned by the tidal waves of “foreign direct investment.” The Placencia Peninsula Belizeans and the Sarstoon/Temash Belizeans are sitting on gold mines which big people crave. The Mr. Price of 1961 to 1981 would have protected Placencia Peninsula and Sarstoon/Temash Belizeans in every way he could.

But, things have changed. Could Mr. Price have been able to do this in 2013? More important, does Mr. Barrow have the philosophy and desire to do so today? In Belize, the Prime Minister has a lot of power. In his glory days, Mr. Price’s power seemed unlimited. If a poll were taken, the chances are most Belizeans believe it is within Mr. Barrow’s power to protect the Belizeans of the Placencia Peninsula and the Sartsoon/Temash. We wish he would.

There are men around Mr. Barrow who are consumed by personal and family greed. In Belize electoral politics is viewed as a fight you engage in so that you can achieve power and enrich yourself and those who are loyal to you. This was not how nationalist politics began here in 1950, but perhaps along the way it became the thinking that: we can’t fatten everybody, might as well fatten ourselves. Today, this is how it is in Belize.

And remember, when the cruise ship company and the oil company enter the picture, they systematically create impressions favorable to themselves. These are experienced predators. They will finance a small group of domestic collaborators to help design their public relations and sell their message. All the Belizeans in the Placencia Peninsula and in the Sarstoon/Temash will not unite against the foreign direct investment. The FDI will even be presented as “popular.”

In order to resist, a small nation would have had to believe in a clear development philosophy, to which the indigenous resistance could have pointed for reference. But in fact, in the case of both the Placencia Peninsula and the Sarstoon/Temash, there are such clear development philosophies already in place. In the Peninsula, it is the pocket cruise tourism model, and in the Sarstoon/Temash it is the national park model. So, it appears to be the case that some powerful Belizeans have chosen to violate the development models. Does that list include the Prime Minister?

#469477 - 08/03/13 05:33 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
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Prime Minister Signs MOU with Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Cruise Line’s mega-million dollar destination in southern Belize is one step closer to a done deal with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between G.O.B. and N.C.L.  The signing took place on Thursday, but up until now, government had been tight-lipped on details of negotiations over the past month. But the two parties have reached a point of compromise. And that news hasn’t gone over well with promoters of pocket-tourism in the south including the Belize Tourism Industry Association. But that’s not phasing G.O.B.  Mike Rudon spoke to Prime Minister Dean Barrow today and has the story.

Mike Rudon, Reporting

The ink has dried on an MOU between the government of Belize and Norwegian Cruise Lines, and Prime Minister Dean Barrow says all negotiations were aimed at finding balance, particularly in relation to employment and opportunities for Belizeans

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Certainly we took out the twenty year exemption from business taxes; that’s been taken out. There is an insistence that after a certain number of years, the head tax will be increase. There is a great insistence on ensuring that the jobs will be had by Belizeans even as we try to protect our sites against overcrowding. In other words, one provision says you must take twenty-five percent or whatever the percentage is of your passengers to our sites—whether marine or terrestrial—and all those tours must be for Belizeans.”

An increase in employment for Belizeans is good news, but dissenters say that there is plenty bad, including the head tax which has been agreed.

Dean Barrow

“I’ve heard complaint about oh but the head tax is being apportioned in the same way as the current provisions. In fact, maintained with respect to the other cruise lines. Well that is exactly the point. These people want to go south, so it is new for the south. How are you going to tell them we want you to come, we want the investments, we want the jobs; but you know what, you will pay more than everybody else who is operating in Belize? No. look, the point has to be made that in some countries, they have to actually pay the cruise lines to come to their country you know.”

So with the MOU signed, what’s next for the project?

Dean Barrow

“I am satisfied that on balance—everything is a balancing act—on balance, this is a good investment for Belize and especially for the south of Belize and we will proceed subject…we make very clear in the memorandum of understanding—which in any event is not contractual; it is not a binding legal document. But we made clear that we will not sign a binding legal document until the EIA has been passed, until all the technical people who have anything to do with whether you are interfering with manatee sites, whether in terms of how you get rid of your waste water and waste; you must do A, B, C and D so that there will be no dumping, there is no pollution that is absolutely minimal…that sort of thing. Nothing will be done legally until all those requirements have been worked out.”

And even as plans proceed, PM Barrow says that for the government, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario.

Dean Barrow

“What I resent is people who suggest that this is some sort of giveaway or sellout. Man it is always a balancing act. When enough foreign isn’t coming, we are criticized for that.”

We predict that there will be plenty of criticism going around as protest against the project so far has been sustained and strong. Mike Rudon for News Five.

B.T.I.A. blasts back at B.T.B./Tourism Ministry for unanswered questions

The Norwegian Cruise Line’s memorandum of understanding has been signed. Industry stakeholders, including the well established hotel sector, have not been consulted regarding the long term effects on the environment. On Thursday, the Belize Tourism Board’s Director of Tourism, Laura Esquivel Frampton and the C.E.O. for the Ministry of Tourism, Tracy Taegar Panton, dismissed the campaign against the NCL development coming from the Belize Tourism Industry Association. They called the B.T.I.A. irresponsible and misinformed. But today, the B.T.I.A. Director and the Chairman of the Placencia Chapter came out swinging again in reply to the B.T.B. and the ministry. Stewart Krohn said that for three and a half months they have been trying to get B.T.B. to explain what was happening in respect of the M.O.U.  Krohn attacked the B.T.B. and the Ministry’s talking points and challenged them on their understanding of the English language. He even compared the Government to a crack head in need of a hit.

Stewart Krohn, Chairman, Placencia B.T.I.A.

Stewart Krohn

“It has been said the government is behaving like a crack head government. And we say it’s a metaphor for their behavior. When I read this, I really wonder whether people in that ministry have actually been smoking crack because this is insanity. They have turned the English language on its ear. Let’s talk about this famous national sustainable tourism master plan. They put this gobbly book out there. The plan is very clear. It says pocket cruise tourism is the only acceptable form of cruise tourism on the southeast coast of Belize. I have it memorized. It is there; you can read it. What don’t Laura and Tracey understand about the word “only”? They talk about six tourism product and decentralization; they talk about two approaches to achieving sustainable growth. The fact is it’s their plan; they made it, they endorsed it, the cabinet endorsed it, we endorsed it. And now this plan says something that it doesn’t say. You don’t see in their press release any quotes from the master plan do you?  It is an interpretation; it is a most bizarre interpretation I have ever seen. And I would challenge any of them or the minister or anyone they want to put out here to sit down with us and they can show us. Let’s read the words of this plan. I think they would have been smarter, quite frankly, if they had just come clean and say look, yes the plan says that pocket cruise tourism of two hundred and fifty passenger ships is the only form that the plan suggests or demands, but guess what we found something better. We reject the plan. But don’t try and say that the plan says something the plan doesn’t say. And it is interesting because they say that the tax of seven dollars will remain the same. Does that mean it is not going to be raised? Did they make a pledge to NCL that over the twenty-five year life of this agreement that they would not raise the tax from seven dollars? That’s what it says to me. I think they have some explaining to do. They talk about expenditure of seventy-three dollars per person for every cruise passenger. Well I’ve seen studies that show as low as forty-seven dollars. But whether it is forty-seven dollars or seventy-three dollars, the fact is that the bulk of these expenditures as our own Central Bank reports, ninety percent of that expenditure goes for imported goods. So there is very little possible effect on the local economy. The Central Bank refers to it as leakage. A big part of that so called seventy-three dollars is spent at duty free shops, it is spent at Diamonds International or something like that. We never see that money. It is interested to note that NCL has requested that they have duty free facilities on Harvest Caye. This press release doesn’t say anything about that. Realize that if they have duty free privileges on harvest Caye, every dollar spent by a cruise passenger on duty free goods on the caye is a dollar that won’t be spent locally. So if government is not a crack head government, then let them show us that NCL is barred, prohibited, from having a duty free concession.”

The Placencia Chairman questioned the eight hundred jobs and wanted to know why NCL needs to fill twenty five percent of the jobs by foreigners. He pointed out that if the cruise port at Harvest Caye will take two years to build, then that should be adequate time to train Belizeans to fill the posts. Krohn also noted that the press release did not say whether or not Harvest Caye would be able to take non-NCL cruise ships in the future?

Needs of a 5 year government vs. long term need of Tourism Industry

Herbert Haylock

Krohn was not the only one who threw a few punches at the architects of the M.O.U. and the press release. President of B.T.I.A., Herbert Haylock, spoke of a political need to inject cash into the economy.  Rather than thinking of the long term future of tourism for Belize, Haylock postulated that that the government is thinking of the immediate needs of a five year government.

Herbert Haylock, President, B.T.I.A.

“We seem to be thinking in a five year cycle. We’re not looking at this information critically beyond a five-year cycle or construction phase for example. Yes there will be employment brought about by the construction, but what happens thereafter. We talk about the jobs. What types of jobs are these? Is it meaningful employment that is going to be consistent all year round? Those are the questions that we need to ask from a development point of view. And if we are talking about development within the industry, let us look at where again from the overnight—because we are talking about the industry. The overnight sector has proven to be the breadbasket of this economy. It has shown time and time again, year after year that it is resilient and growing at a consistent pace. We ignore, we don’t consider, the possibilities and opportunities for development of that sector. There are taxation issues that are pummeling the overnight sector. That if for example critical dialogue and consultation can take place, those things could begin to address some of the concerns that the overnight sector faces that could positively impact its ability to be able to generate more returns, create more jobs, create more opportunities. Fifty million dollars is big money. When you begin to look at what is reported that FDI has been following. So that is going to bring a boost that that particular realm of government; that’s what they may be looking at. Fifty million dollars is sure a boost, but let’s not take it out of the concepts of what are the real needs developmentally for the country. Not necessarily for the short term. We’ve got to being to look at long term in terms of development and the overnight sector has proven itself.”

Stewart Krohn

Stewart Krohn, Chairman, Placencia B.T.I.A.

“Let me answer the question a little bit more directly, gentlemen of the press. If you think that the motivation behind this investment, in this project, is jobs for people of the south, then there is a bridge over the Haulover creek that I’d love to sell you. This is a project about jobs alright, it is a project about economic game, but it is bout a few jobs and a lot of economic gain for a very small number of people. And they don’t live there is the south; they are right there in Belmopan.”

Channel 5

#469528 - 08/04/13 04:55 AM Re: Norwegian MOU Surfaces,Causes Cruise Consternation [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 57,820
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PM Says Norwegian Deal "A Balancing Act"

We turn to the done-deal between his government and Norwegian Cruise Line to build a port to call on Harvest Caye, just south of Placencia.

This decision opens up the South to Cruise Tourism, which as we have shown you, is meeting quite a bit of resistance from overnight tourism interests on the Peninsula.

We'll have more from them shortly, but while we had the opportunity we asked Prime Minister Dean Barrow to explain what the final MOU looked like. Here's how he described it:

Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"We took out the 20-year - the exemption from business taxes. That's been taken out. There is an insistence that after a certain number of years, the head tax will be increased. There is a great insistence on ensuring that the jobs will be had by Belizeans, even as we try to protect our sites against overcrowding. In other words, one provision says, 'You must take 25% or whatever the percentage is, of your passengers to our sites, whether marine or terrestrial, and all those tours must be for Belizeans. But, that percentage requirement has to give way to the fact that you have to check with the managers of those sites, and if they say that they could only take 100 visitors a day, or whatever amount, then you can't take more than 100 or 200. So, in every way, we're trying to ensure that we balance the need for employment, the need for investment, the need for Belizeans getting jobs. At the island itself, spaces must be reserved for Belizean businesses. They must be at a certain level. Only Norwegian Cruise Line ships can use that port, so there can be no diversion from Belize, and not even Norwegian can divert the ships they currently bring to Belize, to go down south. You must bring additional tours; so again, we're trying to protect the people in Belize City, while providing this new opportunity for those in the south. What I resent is people who suggest that this some kind of giveaway or sell-out. Man, it is always a balancing act. When enough foreign investment isn't coming, we're criticized for that. When you try to get the foreign investment, you're criticized for that. The Government is acting with good faith. Everything that is signed or initialed will be put out to the public. There will be no confidentiality, and not secret deals."

BTIA: Harvest Caye Will Wreak Whirlwind Of Wreckage

On the other side of the Norwegian dispute is the Belize Tourism Industry Association, the BTIA. They've opposed the Norwegian deal for months and the Placencia Chapter headed by Real Estate Developer Stuart Krohn has been particularly vocal.

As the MOU came closer to signing, they stepped it up this week with a bawdy "nuh bend down" campaign and a no-holds-barred appearance on the LOVE FM morning show.

That prompted a detailed, 15-point response from the BTB – notable because for months the organization leading Belize's tourism industry had been mute on the pivotal, hot-button issue.

The release talks about the 800 to one thousand jobs that will be created, the 50 million dollar investment and the expected low numbers of cruise visitors – thus minimizing the impact on the Placencia peninsula.

We asked both Tourism Director Laura Esquivel Frampton and CEO Tracey Taegar Panton to amplify their comments today; both said they would call us back, but at news time we were still waiting for those call backs.

Who we did get to speak to were the heads at the BTIA, Herbert Haylock and Stuart Krohn who discussed the claims of job creation and foreign direct investment:

Stuart Krohn - BTIA Placencia
"I Think it's marvelous that Tracey Taegar Panton and Laura Esquivel, after 3 and a half months after we wrote them - and literally begged them to please explain what is going on - that now, when the Government is on the Verge of signing an MOU with Norwegian Cruise Line, now they have mysteriously decided it's time for them to speak."

Jules Vasquez
"How can you argue with 130 calls per year and 800 to 1,000 direct jobs? You don't have to worry about that because you are a property owner, but people need jobs."

Stuart Krohn
"Absolutely, let them list these 800 jobs."

Herbert Haylock - President, B.T.I.A.
"We talked about job creation, and we have a number that has been assigned in this particular list of things here, but exactly what type of jobs are we talking about? Let us look at the specifics of that. Who are we actually going to be giving jobs to, for how long? What type of wages are they going to be getting?"

Jules Vasquez
"There is no reason which would be applied to you all because you have interests to protect - your specific interests - and it's certainly within your right to protect those interests. But the decision makers in the country have a much broader range of interest that they have protect, and they have to protect the most marginalized in society. That's who all these 800 to 1,000 jobs will help, so while you all play the "Chicken Little", in fact, progress will happen and people will get employed."

Stuart Krohn
"But remember, the Government is saying that they can have up to 25% of the jobs filled by foreigners. So, do you think that the 25% are going to be security guards, or do you think the 25% might be all the good paying jobs? But virtually employee - I would say 95% to 99% - at our best hotels are locals. So, what is so special about the cruise industry that they get 25% of their employees as foreigners?"

Herbert Haylock
"We seem to be enamored, and we like what is sexy, in this instance, in terms of these particular types of developments because it's big money. 50 million dollars, again when you begin to look at it from and FDI perspective, that's real money, when you begin to look at what is reported, that FDI has been falling. So, yeah, that's going to give a boost to that particular realm of Government, and going back to your question, that's what they may be looking at. 50 Million dollars is surely a boost, but let us not take it out of the context of what are the real needs developmentally for this country."

Stuart Krohn
"This is a project about jobs alright; it is a project about economic gain, but it's about a few jobs, and a lot of economic gain for a very small number of people, and they don't live in the South. They're right there in Belmopan."

Jules Vasquez
They say that this proposed cruise development project would in effect, ensure the distribution of passengers in accordance with the pocket cruise model as outlined in the Tourism Master Plan."

Stuart Krohn
"You can't take a gallon of water and pour it into a pint bottle, so when they talk about doing some magic, whereby 4,000 cruise ship passengers are somehow the same as 250 in terms of impact, which defies the law of physics. The convoluted kind of reasoning that would make you believe that 4,000 passengers coming off a cruise ship will cause no less damage to the environment than 250 passengers defies the laws of physics, as much as the laws of common sense. And yes, Belize City will eventually be denuded of cruise business. You know it, I know it, and everyone sitting at that office at the BTB knows it."

Herbert Haylock
"Show us the information, the analysis that you've done to demonstrate that economically, Belize gets the better part of this deal in terms of the financial returns. So us that same information socially that Belize is better off with a development such as this in the location. So us environmentally as well that Belize is better off both environmentally, and we don't lose from a cost perspective, in terms of putting this development in place."

The MOU is expected to be signed next week.

Channel 7

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