Editorial - Can one person make a difference?

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 14, No. 23            July 8, 2004

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Last week, several media houses were leaked an unsigned copy of a "Memorandum of Understanding" (MOU) - not a proposal, detailing the granting of a 99-year exclusive lease for the Maya city of Caracol "and the immediate surrounding area comprising 20 square miles for tourism and other development" to Tropical Resources Limited and WEST*GROUP. The signators on this agreement were to be Prime Minister Said Musa for the Government of Belize; Eugene Zabaneh, Chairman of Tropical Resources Limited, and Patrick Jefferies, Chief Executive Officer of WEST*GROUP.

    On Tuesday (June 29th), The San Pedro Sun contacted the Archeology Department, the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) and several other relevant agencies. Many were totally unaware of the existence of the MOU. During that same day or the next, other media and agencies, private and public, aware of this impending atrocity were also busy calling to voice their opposition. By Wednesday evening, a press release was issued by the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) quoting Minister of Tourism Mark Espat, who stated that Caracol would not be turned over to any private developer. This was good news indeed.

    One of the many disturbing revelations to come out of this is how one person, and not even the person in charge of archeological sites, could sign a document practically giving Caracol away on behalf of the government without the consent or knowledge of certain ministers in Cabinet, the House of Representatives, the Senate or the people of Belize? Archeological sites fall under the responsibilities of the Minister of Tourism, who stated in the NICH press release, "an open, transparent process of appropriate consultation for any development of our archeological sites, parks and public lands must be forthcoming." During last Tuesday's Cabinet meeting, "Cabinet appointed a committee to access resources to prepare a master plan for the development of the Caracol archaeological site. Once the plan is completed, interested investors will be invited to participate in the development of the area." Was this the groundwork needed to enable the signing of this MOU? Was the timing of the leak of this MOU so close, that this could have been a done deal before anyone knew what had happened or could do anything to stop it? Anyone who thinks something like this could not happen in Belize is either naive or simply kidding himself/herself. Mr. Zabaneh himself, acknowledged the existence of this document in a press release. He is a businessman, and one cannot blame him for trying, but government should be taken to task for considering, or entertaining the notion of granting an exclusive license for a cultural site to ANYONE.

    Now, to the actual point of this editorial. I would like to publicly thank the ONE person who had enough integrity and love of country to make this MOU public. This person, to me, is a real patriot - a true Belizean. This type of character and spirit is what the September Celebrations should be about, not political rhetoric or speeches. People who brave certain personal prosecution if discovered - in order to do the right thing for his/her country. A person who realizes their small ripple can create a tidal wave. A person whose fear of doing the right thing is overshadowed by the fear of the consequences of not doing the right thing. A person who is not afraid to speak out and be heard.

    Can ONE person make a difference? YES, they can!

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