An Update on Oil Exploration In Belize And Other Things

Friday night, The Belize Coalition for Save Our National Heritage held a meeting for San Pedro residents to catch up after the HISTORIC public meeting back in October.  The coalition is made up of over 30 organizations and on Friday night, there was a representative from the World Wildlife Foundation (Belize), Oceana Belize and the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA).

Let me quickly give you a recap of what happened this fall…

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  • The people of Ambergris Caye were outraged and when a public meeting was held, the minister listened to the anger and the GOB stopped the exploration.

HURRAY!  VICTORY!  PEOPLE POWER!  But, unfortunately, cancellation of this testing does not mean any kind of permanent ban.

There was nothing in writing…there is no law passed.  So the Coalition (representing the people of Belize) pressed on.  Oceana had again (this had originally been sent to the government in Summer, 2015) submitted 8 conditions for a lifting of an oil exploration or drilling moratorium.

bill3 Yvonne Hyde, the CEO of the Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum, wrote back and said that the GOB maintains a “policy based moratorium on off-shore exploration” and that all conditions other than 1, 3 and 6 have been met already.

WAIT!  WHAT?  #8 – PUBLIC REFERENDUM is by far the most important.  The people (and especially the 190,000 citizens whose livelihoods depend on our sea) need to have a say in this matter. Apparently, the GOB considers public consultations to be enough to satisfy #8.  (Public consultation where a team from the GOB and an environmental consultant (hired by those who want to explore) present their plan to the people.)

Photo from Oceana Belize FB page
Photo from Oceana Belize FB page

This is in NO WAY a referendum.  The Coalition wrote back to say just that.  A consultation is NOT a referendum.  So far there has been no response.

The GOB also says that they maintain a “policy based moratorium” but they have not provided what that official policy is.

WE NEED LEGISLATION but most of all TRANSPARENCY from the GOB.  But good governance and transparency is a much bigger issue in Belize – one that doesn’t just pertain to our reef.

 

SO WHAT CAN WE DO?

You can sign the petition from the World Wildlife Federation – it goes straight to PM Dean Barrow.

You can make your position known – you are not willing to gamble on our seas.  You can do this thru conversation with friends and family, through social media, through letters to our media and contacts with your representatives.

This is not a party issue.  This is a resident of Belize issue.

There are arguments that we’ve heard presented from the other side.

“Well, the reef is dying anyway, we need to look for an alternative way to make money” or…

“Resorts, divers and snorklers, boats and cruise ships are polluting our reef anyway, we need to be looking at other revenue now.”

I don’t see how either of these make sense.

It’s like saying:  We are all slowly getting cancer anyway – so let’s all start using heroin?

Rather than work on detection, regulation and enforcement…let’s just gamble it all away.

There is talk of cost/benefit analysis on the oil exploration and drilling.  How can we know what we have unless we do potentially dangerous seismic testing?

Isn’t this an analysis that we should do on tourism – the fastest growing economic sector in Belize – the only one that showed growth last year?  Find out what works and what doesn’t?  Put together a plan and stick to it?

We know that oil drilling inevitably causes accidents…are we willing to risk it?  And why do potentially dangerous testing unless you plan to drill for it?

Shouldn’t our government be focused on making our position AS A ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY NATION to the world known?  Think how much positive publicity that would generate.

Our eco-system – whether it is our barrier reef, our caves, our jungles and forests, rivers and wildlife is why people visit Belize.

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Imagine the impact.  Belize SAYS NO TO OFFSHORE DRILLING.  Belize SAYS YES TO THE GROWTH OF ECO-TOURISM AND SUSTAINABILITY.  How’s that for a headline.

Shouldn’t the focus be on that sector, an industry that so many have put their hearts, souls and money into over the past 30 years?  An industry which pays a large amount of taxes to the country?  An industry that employs 10s of thousands and has the capacity to employ so many more?

The GOB could focus on enforcing the laws, stopping regulation infractions (like illegal dumping), protecting our marine reserves and national park land – rather than focusing on ways to destroy it because maybe there might be oil?

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Here’s where I start to go on tangents…you can stop reading now if you like 🙂

Belize is my home and MAN do I love this country.  That being said…

Belize is broke.  The Prime Minister has been back and forth to New York to renegotiate the “Super Bond” for the 2nd time during his tenure (an unprecedented 3rd time in all) – the next payment is due February 2017 on this originally $565mil US bonds.

I just got a quote on the Belize 2038 bond from my friend in Emerging Markets trading.  A rough quote at $40.5 or 40.5 cents on the dollar or look at it this way.

The US 30 year treasury bond (considered NO RISK, AAA) is at about 3%…Belize is trading at 17%.   We are now quoted at the same yield as Venezuela.  Both Belize and Venezuela are considered “highly speculative” and basically the market sees them as relatively equal risks.

What I’m trying to say that the market perceives incredible risk when you loan money to Belize.

Oil is probably being seen as some sort of magical fix to this problem.  This large amount of debt that needs to be repaid abroad.   There is talk of higher tax rates in Belize…higher GST and higher hotel tax to help fix this problem

But…good grief, taxes are incredibly high right now.  GST is 12.5%.   Talk about choking the tourist industry and just about every other and leaving people that are already struggling hurting even more – shouldn’t our government be focused on THEIR EXPENDITURES?   Again…transparency and adherence to anti-corruption policy is KEY.

Take a look at the countries that have signed the UN Anti-Corruption Treaty and the handful that haven’t.  Belize is in the company of Somalia, North Korea and Chad and few others.

In August of 2016, Dean Barrow said that we couldn’t afford to sign the UN Anti-Corruption Act but in October of 2016, Belize received a $200mm US grant and loan from the Caribbean Development Bank for among other things “the promotion of good governance”.

Sounds like the perfect application for this money?!

And then THIS!

It’s a bit stunning. The GOB is offered a deal which helps relieve much of their debt burden AND helps preserve our fragile reef system.  This week, documents surfaced that in 2008, The Nature Conservancy, a NGO devoted to addressing the most pressing conservation threats on a large scale did something so unbelievably amazing – they offered to buy $100,000,000US worth of the Belize Superbond, hold it in a trust and retire it.

$100,000,000 that Belize would not have to pay back.  All in return for meeting a few criteria.  The Government of Belize refused to put a ban on all oil exploration/drilling and the TNC agreed and still pushed for the trade – debt for nature.

(Belize has entered into a much smaller agreement with TNC in the past)

After 6 years of negotiation, these were the final criteria the TNC required in exchange for $100mm face value of debt.

  1. Expand and secure marine protected areas and replenish no-take zones
  2. Improve the reef’s policy and regulatory protection regime
  3. Strengthen the reef’s thermal resistance
  4. Provide alternative livelihoods for those affected by new fishing and access regulations
  5. Reduce impacts from residential and tourism activites in the cays
  6. Raise awareness of the value of the marine conservation and the impacts of climate change and disseminate information.

Most of this is happening already…but negotiations broke down, the $100MM was left on the table and…ugh.

Shouldn’t someone be able to provide a reason this deal was not taken?  Especially when the alternative is higher taxes for US?

SO…no one can deny it is an extremely tough position.  A country that is broke, a country that has little to no transparency when it comes to government matters, a large debt bill looming…

And in the positives column?  A small population and an incredibly beautiful eco-system throughout the country.

Here is what’s NOT the answer:  OFFSHORE OIL.

We need to continue to stay on top of this issue.  It’s our livelihoods at stake.





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  • Rob Bucklin

    Rebecca, I have been following your blog for some time. Very disappointing to see this whole government debacle continue and hear of even more past poor choices. I would bet you have many followers from abroad who are thinking of possibly moving to Belize or just love our ocean life. Is there anyway you can post email addresses to the Prime Minister, and others that you feel that might actually listen??

    • Money from retirees and visitors is SO REAL and so important to the economy and livelihoods of so many. Let me talk to my friends at the NGOs and see how you can best voice your concerns. One would think this is an obvious issue to them…but GOOD GRIEF IT IS NOT. I’ll let you know ASAP.

  • FJL

    Sad info to absorb. I feel better about my annual contribution to The Nature Conservancy over 30 years. I’ve always been a big believer in the organization, just didn’t know it may directly affect my favorite country to visit . Fingers crossed. 💧

    • I had never heard of them…they are like super heroes! What an incredible organization. The more I read, the more I admire/adore/am in awe of their mission and how they execute it. Fingers crossed too! All of them.

  • This is a powerful blog post. You are becoming quite the impressive reporter! I hope that the powers that be in Belize make the right decisions for the country without resorting to offshore oil drilling. Without tourism, they may as well turn off the lights.

    • Exactly. Tourism should be the focus in every single way…for the whole country not just those on-shore. A few getting rich does not benefit everyone. There is no trickle down from off shore bank accounts. Oh…and thanks for the compliment. It means alot. Thanks Emily!