Ambergris Caye has been internationally known as one of the best dive destinations, best vacation, best wedding location, etc., of the world. Know as “La Isla Bonita,” San Pedro has been sheltered of the unprecedented string of protests and events plaguing the rest of the country. This week, however, residents of this “piece of paradise” could no longer keep quiet and voiced their concerns on the budget in the form of a demonstration. And, while police officers were ready for anything, it turned out to be a peaceful event.
Last Saturday, February 5th, 2005, a group of San Pedro residents along with Mayor Elsa Paz and Area Representative for Belize Rural South Manuel Heredia Jr. were all dressed in yellow and marched through the main streets to send a message to the Government; that they are against the budget. For long, San Pedro has been neglected and has not received the money necessary for basic infrastructure. In the budget speech of 2003/2004, the island was promised a million dollars for the cobblestone project of the island, which it never received that year. When the budget speech for the fiscal year 2005/2006 was presented, San Pedro listened carefully, along with the rest of the nation, and did not hear any part stating that it would receive money for this or any other project. In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Area Representative stated, “There are the million dollars that the Prime Minister promised to the people of San Pedro at the Lion's Den, he pledged a million dollars for the cobblestone street. Some of the Ministers have personally said that they feel embarrassed whenever they come with dignitaries to San Pedro and having to go through rain and seeing the conditions of the street. I was thinking that in the budget at least they would have the million dollars back in the budget so that we could complete this project.” What was stated during the speech, however, was that the San Pedro Town Commercial Marina, designed to withstand hurricanes, was inaugurated. “If we can recall there is the marina, that is $3 million spent over there and it cannot be operated at this time. We are asking let's get the job done, let's have it finished, and get into business so that our taxpayer doesn't have to be paying for that. This marina can be probably self-sustainable but we have to finish it. It's almost a year and nothing is going. [...] If you do not develop a lot of the infrastructure along with the tourist industry, at one point we will be getting into trouble,” commented Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr.
Not only were demonstrators upset that San Pedro was not receiving money for any projects around the island, they openly showed their opposition to the proposed budget. Chanting “No more taxes. San Pedro deserves better”, protestors walked through the streets of the island holding banners expressing their feelings. Jeannie Lopez participated in the demonstration and spoke freely to The San Pedro Sun on what she was fighting for. “No more taxes, you know we need no more taxes and in the budget there is nothing for San Pedro. There is absolutely nothing for San Pedro and that's ridiculous. The government should consider San Pedro, we give a lot back to the government and the least he can do is give us something. So like it says right there, San Pedro gives everything and we get nothing back.” During the demonstration Mayor Elsa Paz said, “We have all the community here; the business community, the Teachers' Union, and everybody gathered here today to have a demonstration so we can send a message to the government that we totally reject this budget since there is 0% in this budget for San Pedro. I think that's very unfair to the community of San Pedro. We all know that San Pedro generates millions of dollars to our country and I think it's fair enough for us to get a share amount of percentage. Hopefully the Prime Minister can see this and see what all we want and sit down and you know like she is saying right now, ‘no more taxes' that's just it.”
Prior to the demonstration, many concerned residents spoke openly about their fear that a protest might affect our tourism industry. The San Pedro Sun spoke to a tourist in an effort to find if it would really affect our “bread and butter.” Tracy Curran had this to say, “It feels like we are at home. Yeah I guess it happens everywhere. It's not going to affect my decision to come back. We'll definitely come back because we just like it here.” According to Mayor Elsa Paz, what will affect our tourism industry will be the increase of taxes rather than the demonstration.
On Monday, February 7th, 2005, after 12 days without classes, the San Pedro Roman Catholic School was once again open for classes. As of Tuesday, union leaders and Government negotiators were still meeting and trying to find a compromise over the nine-point agreement developed by the Unions. While six of the points had been basically agreed to, the three other points, which deal with the new taxes, had not. The Unions proposed that they remain under review and suspended (they are now on hold until March 1st) until both sides can agree on what measures will have the least impact on those who can least afford it.