Minister of Lands Says They Will Cancel Goff's Caye Lease
Who placed survey pegs on Goff Caye and what's the plan for this beautiful, eminently accessible piece of Belizean paradise just eight miles from the mainland? That's the million dollar question right about now. Last week questions abounded when it was reported that survey pegs appeared on the island. That suggests that somebody's planning to do something on the island, but the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, which manages Goff Caye, didn't know anything about it. The next logical step was the Ministry of Natural Resources, and late Thursday evening they issued a release claiming that the north-eastern portion of Goff Caye was under lease to Ramon Cervantes, a Belize City tour operator. Today Minister of Natural Resources Gaspar Vega also pointed the finger at Cervantes, claiming that the lease should never have been given to him, and they are looking to cancel it.
Gaspar Vega, Minister of Natural Resources
"We were shocked like the people that called us about the development in the island. We did our research and that is when we found out that there is a lease that was issued to one Ramon Cervantes, I think it was 2001 or the survey was done in 2001 and was issued in 2002. But it is to our surprise because we know Goff's Caye is a reserve and apparently in our research we found that the Coastguard and the legal department of the ministry was totally against the issuance of that lease however the ministry at the time went ahead and issued the lease for fifty years. i think if I am not mistaken there is something that says the person could not get a title for that section of the land but at the same time gave them the authority to put permanent structure which is a contradiction to that statement. Unfortunately that is the reality, we have already handed over the documents or the case to our department to see if we can cancel the lease because it should not have been issued in the first place."
"No structure has been placed on the island?"
"Not as yet I think that there was just some kind of development that just started in measuring the area or starting to get ready for structure but activity has starts and I know that for now it has been stopped."
Cervantez Says He's Not Surveying Goff's Caye…So Who Is?
And it might have been, but it never happened. Wanting to do things the right way, Cervantes sought approval from the Belize Tourist Board and got it. But then he was shot down by the Coastal Zone Management Authority…and that was the end of that.
Ramon Cervantes, Holds Lease for Portion of Goff's Caye
"At that time the Chalillo Dam was the big back and forth in Belize and I did not want to become a political football, so I turned to a friend of mine, Maria Vega from Caye Caulker, and I said Maria what can I do so that when I move to put this project I will have no objections from anybody. She said…I advise you to see Imani Morrison at the Coastal Zone Management Office upstairs of the Fisheries at the Barracks, which I did. I visited Imani and I told her about the project. And she said No! No! No! There's no way we can approve that. At the time Daniel Silva was Minister, but I never did approach Daniel silva. I stopped when Imani Morrison said there's no way we can approve that, and for me that was the end of it."
"Can you confirm for us that the survey pegs, whatever is going on out there at this time, whatever construction is being planned - that is not you?"
"I know nothing about it. I have not been approached by anyone. It is not me. Somebody else must have gotten smart about the project and something is going on underwater. But I confirm that I know nothing about it. I am surprised. Because of ill health, I took it easy…but now that I am feeling better and good, and if I still have that lease, then why not. The people of Belize need that facility with the compost toilets. If that is so then I would rethink the project and try to go ahead."
So that brings us back to the million dollar question. If Cervantes gave up on the project in 2002, and actually believed that his lease had been cancelled…then who is surveying Goff's Caye, and who has development plans for the island that neither the Coastal Zone Management Authority nor the Ministry of Natural
Resources know anything about. We tried to reach the Coastal Zone Management Authority, but were told that everyone was in a meeting.
Tour Operator Outlines 2002 Plan for Goff's Caye
But while Minister Vega is focused on pointing political fingers at the previous administration, he may have to do some more digging to find out who is actually surveying Goff's Caye. That's because we tracked down Cervantes this afternoon. First, he verified that he indeed got a lease in 2002 based on a concept he had for the island.
Ramon Cervantes, Holds Lease for Portion of Goff's Caye
"We would have put in there a restaurant, and a section there for selling drinks - soft drinks and strong drinks - a section for renting snorkel equipment and fishing equipment, etc. and then we would have built toilets that would have been environmentally friendly. They would have been the compost type, where the liquid, urine and so on would filter into containers that when they were filled would be sealed and replaced…and then brought into Belize City and treated. The hard stuff…we would use chemicals and sawdust daily so that it would solidify…what you call the compost system. It would get solid and then after a while you shovel it up, put it into containers and remove it. I wanted to do this because….clearly nobody works free…so I admit there would have been a profit to it but I wanted to do it mostly because I used to control the snorkelling for all the cruise ships, and I used to have to handle 'porta-potties' for the tourists, which was the nastiest thing to deal with in this world…really nasty, to the point that even my workers refused to handle it. Towards the end I had hired a porta-toilet from Mr. Diaz and even that, transporting the toilet back with the stuff in rough seas proved to be nasty also. So I approached government and convinced them that we needed these toilets out there, environmentally friendly toilets, compost toilets. And that would have been good for the Belize people as well."