3 weeks ago, we told you how the Belize Bus Association had convinced Government to make a major concession. The Government had agreed in principle to limit Guatemalan and Mexican bus operators, requiring them to hand off their passengers at the borders, so that the Belizean bus operators and taxi cooperatives could take over and transport those passengers in and around the country.
Well, it doesn't appear that the Government is ready to finalize that decision quite yet. And, tonight, the local bus operators are threatening to shut down the country's public transportation system in retaliation.
They say that these foreign-owned companies from the neighboring countries shouldn't be allowed to provide a service which Belizeans can also provide adequately. They believe that they are being cheated in their own back yard.
They had initially convinced the Ministry of Transport to see things from their perspective, but instead of taking the necessary steps to follow through, the Ministry is postponing.
A late evening from the Ministry says, quote, "A final decision on matters regarding buses from Guatemala and Mexico transiting Belize has been delayed pending a meeting with relevant stakeholders in the Tourism Industry who will be affected by that decision. That meeting, previously planned for today, has been rescheduled for next Tuesday, September 3, 2019.
Tuesday's meeting will be chaired by Minister of Transport Hon Edmond Castro, and will be attended by Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation Hon Manuel Heredia; Attorney General Hon Michael Peyrefitte, representatives of the Belize Tourism Board (BTB), hoteliers and other stakeholders in the Tourism Industry; the Department of Transport; and the Belize Bus Owners Association." End quote.
Well, the local bus operators aren't receiving this announcement well; in fact, they interpret this change as the government pushing them around with no real intention to implement the change they had agreed to previously. This evening, we spoke with one of the Bus Association's executive members, and he made it clear that they will take action in response. Here's that interview:
Daren Stuart - Exec. Member, Bze Bus Association
"5 meetings we already had and the most recent one was where the Attorney General was sent to address our problem and they wanted to work it out, the Attorney General offered that it can be from the Tuesday that the meeting was, by Friday it could have been done."
"The change in the SI?"
"Yes, changing the SI. Unfortunately 3 weeks later they keep moving the goal post and while we sat in a meeting with the Hon. Manuel Heredia at the BTB, we actually had his support in spotting these buses from coming across the border. Now, information received is that a meeting was to be held today by the bus association and the hoteliers association to work a way forward as to how we are going to get the people, the tourist to their places. Unfortunately for some unforeseen reason, Mr. Heredia decided that he don't want to support the SI and I am saying to the Prime Minister and the country at large that if they do not get that SI in place and do not stop those foreign buses from come in here on the first of September like agreed, I want to tell the country, I want to tell the Prime Minister, that is going to be at our mercy. We are not going to allow the government to push us around anymore, those days are gone. Mr. Prime Minister I'm asking you, to please get your ministers and get that SI signed and get it official, stop those buses on or before the 1st of September or we will do what we have to do."
"I can send you an email that I had intercepted, I won't give my source - where a bus from Honduras had sent in an email to the Department of Transport asking permission to come in this country and they will be doing tours in and around this country, without any Belizean tour guides because nowhere in the email did it specify which tour guide will be used and Belizeans can benefit from this. That bus supposed to come to the border and a Belizean operator supposed to be able to pick up those people from there, tour then around our sites, collect whatever is there to collect and money supposed to stay in this country. Those people are coming in here reaping the revenues and going out of the country and they are not buying diesel here, they are not buying tire here, they are not paying Belizean drivers, they are not paying Belizean tour guides but yet we as Belizeans, we cannot even take not even one bus across the border to Guatemala. Not even one. The Guatemalans are fortunate that when the agreement was made the other day, we had agreed that one bus will coming in here. We can't take none for them, we can't do it, so why are they allowing other people to come in our country and take away the bread and butter from us? Belize bus operators can take care of slack; we have the buses to do it."
We'll keep following this story closely.