So, we've dealt with the environmental aspects of this proposed housing project. So, what about the social and economic concerns? One of the issues which immediately comes to the forefront is the fact that this housing project is within a wetland, which means that it is mostly lagoon and swamps. The fear is that because it is not planned properly, it will become the underbelly, the eyesore that San Mateo on San Pedro currently is.
Currently, the Government and the San Pedro Town Council are trying their best to fix the headache that San Mateo has been for over a decade. It's basically San Pedro's version of a slum.
Yesterday, we asked Mayor Daniel Guerrero about it, but it came up after a discussion about the new upgrades to the Ambergris Caye Road. 3+ million dollars is being invested to concrete this street, which feeds all the major resorts on the island, to improve the tourism value of the destination.
To properly put this discussion about San Mateo in the context of yesterday's discussion, we start first with our conversation with the San Pedro Mayor on the state of the Ambergris Caye Road. Here's how that went:
Daniel Guerrero, Mayor, San Pedro Town
"North Ambergris Road it's a 3 mile road that's coming from the north to the bridge. It's a road being financed by the government of Belize and its coming faster than what we thought, so we should have a nice road in the next 2 months. The first phase is the 3 miles and right now we are trying to work out with government to see if we can start putting the foundation of the second phase which should be 4 miles - putting it up to Blue Reef. What we want to do is we want to service the tourism industry, that's where all the hotels are on the stretch of the beach front. Definitely we are working hard to get it there because as you all know probably BWS has a big project - a $60 million Belize dollars - that's putting water and sewer for all the hotels there."
But, as we've told you, San Mateo has been institutionally neglected for over 10 years. It currently has no electricity or water connection with BWS. The Town Council has been working to improve roads, which used to be London Bridges.
We asked him if the funds used to upgrade the Ambergris Caye Road might not have been put to better use in upgrading San Mateo. He acknowledged that he's received tough criticism such as this on the allocation of funds:
Daniel Guerrero, Mayor, San Pedro Town
"San Mateo has been an eye sore and we came into office we are the ones fixing all the roads. We are filling all the streets in San Mateo. At the moment we are electrifying; we are putting the electrical post light, but I am great believe that we are supposed to first nurture the industry because it is the industry that brings the money in. Without the industry San Mateo and not only San Mateo, San Pablo and the other subdivisions that exist - maybe all this influx of people coming into the island will have to vacate because if we cripple the industry we are a total mess because this island totally depends on tourism. Tourism is the bread and butter of the islands so we have to nurture the tourism industry and that's something I was the one that decided lets go north. Together with the area rep. we decided lets go north and make sure we service all the hotels because these are the big hotels bringing in all the monies - they pay all the bills. Yes, I go to a morning talk show every Thursday religiously and I get call and people say oh why you never brought it to San Pablo, to San Mateo, to San Marcos - it's because first you nurture the industry because you want money to keep coming in. You have to realize that if we put that much millions there it takes longer to pay back, so these are things how I see it and I think that since we took office about 2 years, 6 months - we have done a lot when it comes to infrastructure because we have been purchasing a lot of hardcore putting on all the subdivisions, on all the streets. What we are doing we are building a foundation for paved roads to begin."
San Mateo, Where the “San” Sleeps Under A London Bridge
But in order to understand the fears of this housing project being put in the location, one has to see what its residents have had to deal with because of that institutional neglect.
Our Jules Vasquez and Keith Swift encountered first-hand what the living conditions are like in San Mateo, San Pedro.
These stories are from our archives are over 8 years old and 4 years-old respectively, and we acknowledge that they are outdated, and a lot of progress has been made to make it hospitable.
Tonight, we revisit those stories to show you what San Mateo used to look like: