Greetings my fellow residents of San Pedro Town.
As we prepare to go to the polls and elect a New Mayor and councilors in the next few days, I wish to extend my gratitude, expand on our challenges and accomplishments and leave with good wishes.
My vision and inspiration to serve came from my dad, Mr. Efrain Guerrero, who was one of the pioneers of this island and the great United Democratic Party. In addition, seeing the medical need of one of my grandchild - baby Daniel, and the overwhelming support from this island gave me the full motivation to seek electoral office. And when I sought for election as the Mayor of this town, it was thanks to the blessing of God, the full support of my family and my party, and the good people of San Pedro Town. So then, I wish to thank God first, for granting me health, strength, patience, and vision to lead. Without God at the forefront of your decisions, things are destined to fail. To my family, including my wife and children, I publicly thank you for all the tremendous support you gave me and my time in office. I sacrificed 9 years of quality family time – missed several family activities, but for the cause of service to this lovely town – thank you.
I wish to also place on record, a big thank you to the United Democratic Party under the leadership of the former Party Leader and Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Dean Oliver Barrow, for allowing me to successfully serve under a UDP ticket. Equally, I wish to thank the former Area Representative, Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. and the former Belize Rural South UDP executive, for believing in my abilities to lead. But most importantly, a big thank you to all those who lent support for my elections - all three consecutive terms. My success is on the trust of hundreds of campaigners, supporters, and the thousands of electorates who overwhelmingly elected me for three terms - an accumulated 9 years of office.
To the management team and the staff at the San Pedro Town Council, councilors, my personal assistant, my advisors, and volunteers who served along with me over the past 9 years, you made my workload, much easier. Thank you; muchas gracias.
Running a municipality is not an easy task. It is one that requires dedication, patience, calm, and a sound mind to have the knowledge to filter hundreds of ideas that are in the best interest of the majority of residents. It requires the ability to prepare for the worse, with the hope for better – you must be prepared for the unexpected. Your leadership success will be defined by your ability to maneuver through challenging times and still get excellent results. Most importantly, you must be prepared to make hard decisions, even when it is not popular, but are in the best interest of the future of our town. Put the interest of your resident first – Always! And that is what I did over the past 9 years – I always placed the interest of our island and residents first.
When I was elected to office, we inherited several challenges – but we ran away from none. Paramount amongst them was that the level of subvention to our town was stagnated at $69,000 annually since 1984. No additional source of revenue other than income from Property tax, Liquor and Trade taxes, Housing and Building Tax, and additional income from Transport and Licensing. Compared to other towns who received further larger subventions and financial bailouts, sometimes twice per year - we got none of that. We relied solely on the innovative way of improving tax collection, donations from our partners and business community, and prudent management of our resources.
During my term in office, we managed to repay over $1.5 million in outstanding inherited loans and over $500,000 in unpaid bills. We restructured our debt, and in 3 years were financially stable. Furthermore, in my first and second terms, we invested over $3.5 million in road works alone. So much so that with the support of US University students and the business sector, we raised enough funds to replace London Bridges over swamps, into the road. The record will show that it was under my administration, San Mateo saw unprecedented changes, which started with proper roadworks. Likewise, we invested millions of dollars, barging hardcore material for road work in San Pedrito, DFC, San Juan, Eiley Subdivision, Eliot Subdivision, and Boca del Rio. These were investments in road, never seen before. More than that, the expansion of road work, most prominently the west road, linking San Pedrito to San Pablo Areas, eased down the traffic congestion in town. In addition, the expansion of roads to the north of the island brought along unprecedented development on North Ambergris Caye and the Secret Beach Area. My administration also continued with the paving of new streets – Chicken Street, Lions Street, Tarpon Street, the easements leading to the beach in the Boca Del Rio Area, just to name a few. These are developments taken for granted but implemented just under 9 years under my administration and stewardship.
In the area of education, we worked closely with all schools. It was under the current administration that we began the annual Mayor’s visit to all schools. It was through this avenue that we listened to the concerns of the children and faculties. During my visits, the schools would hand over wish lists which the council worked hard to materialize. That brought along the expansion of classroom spaces for various primary schools and high schools. This was done with the support of the business and private sectors. Annually we would help with improvement to the school grounds, helping with face-lifting of buildings, installation of ventilators, and even helping to finance certain small projects. It was that support to our education system that brought along the fruition of a strong Child Advisory Body through the Sustainable Child-Friendly Municipality Project of Belize. Such hard work ensured that San Pedro Town remained one of the top towns in the entire country, having captured National Awards in improvement made to the education and welfare of our children. I challenge the next council to follow heed and involve our schools and children in the decision-making process and build on the work that has been done.
Looking at Culture, Leisure and Public Events, our town has made significant improvements and built on past efforts. We realized that San Pedro Town has so much potential in this area, given our geography, our charm, multi-cultural background, and rich history. We improved and restructured the traditional Carnaval Celebration, introduced the Tribute to the Baymen Celebration on the 9th and 10th of September improved on the Miss San Pedro Pageant and our September Celebrations, and re-introduced a childhood tradition of the Flying piñata. Moreover, we gave our utmost support, and we were proud to be a part of both the annual Lobster Fest and the annual International Costa Maya Festival since they attract both local and international visitors and many benefits from them. We worked with the DJs to structure Easter and other summer events. We built on the Mother’s Day Celebration, Teachers and Nurses Appreciation Celebration Day, Public Service Day, and Social Events. We re-organized the National Garifuna Council and worked closely with the Garifuna Community, to the point that we had them represent us at various international events. The work of the council along with the local NGC captured the attention of the NGC to the point that for the first time in our island’s history, we hosted the NGC convention on the island. Our New Year’s Day celebration and our Independence Day Celebration have equally seen major improvements, thus attracting many people who flocked to our island because of the quality of entertainment. Indeed we have seen improvement in our social events that the town had to acquire the only international stage and light truss in the country to accommodate these events.
In the area of sports, parks, and playgrounds, no one can deny the unprecedented improvements made in these areas. From the upgrading of the Honourable Louis “Cuz” Sylvestre Sporting Arena to the spanking new Ambergris Stadium to Boca del Rio Park, we have seen major improvements. The relocation of the artisans to the Artisans Market Area has returned Central Park back to our people. Improvements to the Manuel Heredia Flamboyant Park, San Pedrito Park, the Boca del Rio Park and Beach Area – this administration has worked to restore, installed lights and wifi in these public spaces. These projects have seen results – Ambergris Caye has captured national titles in basketball, volleyball, football, and softball. Working with the San Pedro Sports Committee, this island has seen all-year-round events, catering for many areas of sports and different sex and age groups – all with the support of the council.
I have heard over and over that nothing has been done in the area of infrastructure development in San Pedro Town. Let me a place on record, that with the support of the former Area Representative, major works were accomplished. Again, San Mateo Area stands as a perfect example. The network of planks of wood suspended over the swamp was replaced with roads. Sure, more work can be done, but a lot has been done. As a matter of fact, the residents in the San Mateo area now enjoy a direct connection to the electrical grid, as opposed to the network of dangerous connections that existed prior to me taking office. In addition, they now also enjoy a direct connection to potable water via Belize Water Service Limited. This was only possible once we had proper roads built under my administration. Over 250 households in the Boca del Rio Area are connected to sewer, thanks to the collaborative effort of the BWS, something we lobbied and supported under my administration. It was through this partnership, that we lobbied and supported BWS on the acquisition of Consolidated Waters of Belize Limited. This has seen major changes and improvements in service delivery – something that is essential as the island continues to grow. We supported the government in the construction and part-funding of the northern and southern roads, the Boca del Rio Park Improvement, and the San Pedro Boardwalk project in the El Embarcadero Area of downtown. Light infrastructure was also improved and thanks to the support of BEL, over 3 miles on the north road is properly lit. None of these things existed 9 years ago – it was under our stewardship that we saw this significant and unprecedented progress.
Improvement and efficiency were also made to the town’s solid waste disposal. Working along with Central Government and the tourism and environmental communities, the hazardous south dumpsite was decommissioned and permanently closed down. A state-of-the-art Waste Transfer Station was built and remains functioning and now sees our garbage barged off the island, as opposed to burning it on the island. Our garbage collection has been efficient, and our fleets of vehicles have been improved. This is thanks to the support of our partners, including the Taiwanese Government through the Embassy of Taiwan in Belize. Sure, there is room for improvement, but under my administration, we saw a major growth rate of 17% per annum. With growth come major challenges on our town’s resources. A similar trend is seen in the Traffic Department. We have increased our manpower and resources, but the demands continue to grow – a challenge that comes with growth and development that all future administrations will face. Similarly, under this administration, a new cemetery was commissioned, to ensure that our loved ones are properly buried in a decent and respectable manner. To complement the new cemetery, the council lobbied with the US government and secured a portable morgue that is currently being used.
During my tenure, I also worked with the various government agencies and NGOs, bringing them closer together and capitalizing on the existing collective strengths. The support to the government and NGO sectors was mutual. My administration, with the support of the business community, has provided the Police Department with several motorcycles and vehicles, built new police barracks and resources center, and supported the community efforts to decrease crime. The same can be said with the Fire Department – were under my administration, lobbied our stakeholders and business community for the donation of 4 new fire trucks, 1 pickup, and 1 motorcycle. Unfortunately, two of these trucks were taken to other parts of the country. I challenge the new administration to ensure that these trucks are returned to their rightful owners - the people of San Pedro. We also worked closely with the PolyClinic, constantly paying for ventilation repairs, donations of vehicles and carts including to the Public Health Department. Annually the council invested over $250,000 in the health sector, especially in vector control. Let the record also reflect that with the support of Dr. Javier Zuniga, and the Ministry of Health, the opening hours of the Dr. Otto Rodriguez San Pedro Polyclinic II extended from 8 hours to 24 hours. These are not responsibilities mandated under the town council act, but my administration acknowledged the importance of forging resources for the greater good of residents.
Over the past nine years, I have also worked closely with the Lions Club, Red Cross, Triple R, Hope Haven, Hol Chan Marine Reserve, BTIA, BTB, San Pedro Tour Operators, the San Pedro Tourist Guide Association, Ambergris Caye Fishing Guide Association and all the NGO’s to provide much-needed help to our residents. This includes tourism and charitable work. We also help our residents with medical expenses, funeral expenses, and other social programs. While we must render service to our community, our citizens must also be treated with dignity and respect especially when faced with hardship. A good leader must also lead with a charitable heart. And having a charitable heart does not only mean giving financial assistance but helping with fundraisers. I wish to thank Reef Radio and Mr. Eiden Salazar for always working along with the council and the community to fill that gap and providing me with a platform to remain communicated with the wider public. I also wish to acknowledge the support of the Expats, Central American, Lebanese, Chinese, and Muslim communities for their continued support.
I also wish to outline that major renovations were made to the San Pedro Town Council building, known also as the Town Hall. I always believe that our work environment must always be as paramount as our service delivery – after all, a first impression is a lasting impression. I wish to thank the business community who helped finance the renovation of the building. Amongst them is Mr. Sean Feinstein, who helped with the facelift of the front portion of the building. The new-look really gives our town council and our municipality a major booster.
While I listed a few of our major accomplishments, let me also share that we also had major challenges. From natural to manmade – challenges that brought us together and made us an even stronger and united community. Under my administration, we were faced with 5 major fires, one that claimed lives, displaced families, and left millions of dollars in damages and losses. In all these fires, the council acted swiftly, to clean up, aid with humanitarian efforts, and help with the restoration of the lives of the affected people and business sector. It was because of these major fires that we sought donations for the four fire trucks.
Similarly, we were affected under my administration by two hurricanes and a few tropical storms. Again with the support of the Emergency Operations Committee (EOC), comprising of public officers, NGOs, a few volunteers, and spearheaded by NEMO, we made a quick bounce back on these occasions. I wish to thank Mrs. Timrose Agustine who was at the head of NEMO then and Ms. Vanessa Parham who is now at the head of NEMO, who both worked closely with the council over most of these catastrophic events on the island.
Crime has similarly caused major challenges for us. These crimes indeed negatively impacted the tourism image over the years. So much so that in one particular crime, our island was featured on every major television network in the world. Thankfully, working closely with our security forces, we have successfully lobbied for two facilities that helped our collective efforts in fighting crime. The additional forward operation base for the Belize Coast Guard on North Ambergris, which came after much lobbying along with our tourism stakeholders, has seen a drastic decrease in criminal activities.
One of the unprecedented natural challenges that continue to plague us is the yearly increase in sargassum beaching. This became a phenomenon that has caused major financial constrain. Mitigating against Sargassum beaching is very costly to address, but something we confronted with the support of the community. But the worse challenge under my administration that has brought us to our knees is the COVID 19 pandemic. This is a challenge never seen before in over a century. Like local municipalities globally, it has been very costly to all councils, including San Pedro. Like the central government, we continue to face serious financial constraints, a ripple effect of the decline in our tourism numbers. Amidst all this, the council has prudently managed to stay afloat, kept all our staff, even at a significantly reduced salary for over 10 months, but still providing all the basic services that we are expected to carry out. 11 months of being significantly impacted by the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic on the economy – we have fired no one, yet delivering basic services, and I am proud of that.
None of these challenges aforementioned broke us. Sure it caused and continues to cause major setbacks but the work proceeds. These challenges have taught us to plan for the unexpected, have brought us together, and made us stronger. It has taught us to look out for each other and share the little we have. It has taught us to make the most of the little we have, to cherish and love our family, friends, and acquaintances. It has taught us not to take simple things like socializing and our free movement for granted. It has taught us that doing the right things matters if we and our loved ones want to live. For that reason, as I did, we must build on the success of our past leaders. We must learn to praise the good when we see it and appreciate those that have come before us.
Under my term, I was better able to appreciate that true statesmanship must transient party colors and we must respect the accomplishments of our past leaders. For that reason, for the very first time in our island’s political history, I brought together all the past councilors and mayors. Not only as a show of appreciation but to indicate that I was always willing to listen to the advice of past leaders. Unfortunately, we lost two great leaders in our community who have served this town with dignity and respect – Former Mayors Mr. Alberto “Beto” Nunez and Mr. Gilberto “Chico” Gomez. I shared quality time with both former mayors, consulting as the Mayor. Together with our community, we gave both our Mayors a respectable and honorable tribute. It has been my strong conviction that we must learn to appreciate and thank those who have come, served, and departed. For that reason, I wish to go a step forward in honoring all 6 of our former Mayors by renaming and properly naming some streets.
Be it declared that the San Pedro Town Council announces the following changes:
•The Boca del Rio Drive (Beachfront) is renamed the Gilberto “Chico” Gomez Promenade
•Marina Road is renamed the Pedro Salazar Drive
•The West Road connecting San Pedrito to San Pablo Areas is renamed the Baldemar Graniel Drive
•The Northern Road from the Sir Barry Bowen Bridge to the northern tip of Ambergris Caye is renamed the Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr North Road.
•Crocodile Drive, which is the road that leads into San Pedrito Area, is renamed Alberto Nunez Drive.
•The South road from Victoria House to the southern end of Ambergris Caye is renamed Elsa Paz South Road.
In closing, let me also announce that under my administration, a few other significant changes have begun that we sincerely hope that the future council and the new administration will give it serious continuity. These works are already almost complete or are about to be finalized. These include the approval and responsibilities of all piers and docks to fall within the jurisdiction of the San Pedro Town Council. This will provide the council with the oversight, approval, and collection of revenues that will remain on the island. The formal expansion of the town boundaries to reflect the entire island of Ambergris Caye is before the Ministry of Natural Resources Office for final approval. This will allow us full jurisdiction of all matters related to open spaces in the future subdivision, housing and building, collection of garbage, and responsibility of docks. The City declaration, upgrading our town to The City of San Pedro. This had the blessing of the former Prime Minister and the procurement of a consultant halted as part of the cost-saving measures, due to Covid 19 last year. Being declared a city will give us the ability to do much more - it will give our community more autonomy and give us access to far more opportunities.
So then, it is just fitting for me to wish the new municipal administration all the very best. It will be the new council’s decision to build on our success, our tear apart, and re-invent the wheels to chart a new way forward. I leave with a famous quote from one of the great musical legends Dolly Parton. And I quote “If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader,” End quote. For me, leadership is not defined as a person or a position. But it is rather a complex moral relationship between people. It is based on mutual trust, obligation, commitment, emotion, compassion, charitable and a shared vision of the good and for the good. It is defined by actions and not words, by results, and not personal accomplishments.
Once more I thank the people of this beautiful community for affording me with the humble opportunity to serve you as your Mayor.
May God continue to bless our residents and the people of San Pedro Town.
May God bless Belize and may God bless you.