Archive for January, 2010

Battle in Bladen Going to Supreme COurt

The following article is an extract from 7newsbelize.com
Date: 27th January 2010

There’s a battle brewing in the Bladen Nature Reserve in the Toledo District where its conservationists versus developers who are investigating the possibility of erecting a dam, reportedly on the Central River – which is a headwater source for many bodies of fresh water in the deep south.

And while the fight so far has been contained to Toledo, it is coming to Belize City – specifically to the Supreme Court. 7News has learned that the Yaxche Conservation Trust which co-manages the Bladen Nature reserve is in the process of filing a request for judicial review of a permit given to Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited to conduct research in Bladen. The judicial review filing was finalized this evening and should be lodged by tomorrow. IT argues that the research permit government granted to the Hydroelectric Development & Management Company was in violation of the terms of a nature reserve – which only permits research based on ecology, not for development purposes.

Yaxche says it is only doing this to preserve its legal position – but whatever the case it is a clear shot across the Government’s bow – which issued the permit. But before the permit was issued the hydro company went into this core conservation area with no official permission and started research – which meant clearing areas, m making trials and marking trees and rocks. That’s illegal – and under pressure from Yaxche – the forestry Department fined the company thirty-two thousand dollars. But fine or not – sections of the communities connected to Bladen and the Central River are outraged and concerned.

Those sentiments were captured in a documentary commissioned by Yaxche. It is 30 minutes long and offers a compelling insight into the community based issues – and more than that serves up a classic gotcha moment of Area Rep Juan Coy. Here are those excerpts.

Zenovia Requena, Resident – San Pedro Colombia
“Me I travel night and day in this river and I want no dam in this river because we drink the water, we have nowhere else to drink water. We have nothing more but this river. All the villages them drink water from this river. It is over a thousand people that drink water from this river; Crico Jute, San Jose, Pueblo Viejo, Nah Lun Kan, and this Rio Blanco – all those people back of those villages drink from the river because the river has a lot of branches, a lot of veins which run to meet up with the other rivers and that is why this will mess up whole of the place and with this river they should do nothing, nothing at all because that will affect this river bad.”

Question,
“What will happen if the water level goes down?”

Zenovia Requena,
“It will get dry and where will we go and get water.”

Interviewer,
“We are saying this concession agreement is directly under your jurisdiction, you are the Area Rep. of Toledo West. This concession agreement was signed by the Hon. Dean Barrow on December 5th 2008.”

Hon. Juan Coye, Toledo West Area Rep.
“With regards to the concession agreement, I don’t have any idea about that.”

Interviewer,
“Do you have a copy of the document?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“Where I saw a copy of the document was when Yaxche was doing a presentation at a public meeting at the school.”

Interviewer,
“And so you are saying that you did not know anything about the concession agreement?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“No.”

Interviewer,
“Were you consulted about the concession agreement, were you asked for your opinion?”

Hon. Juan Coye,
“Not at all. Let me say that the Prime Minister in his capacity has all authority; likewise the Minister of Natural Resources. It is true to the extent that it is my jurisdiction but these are people who have the final say.”

Narrator,
“A fact finding trip into the reserves was organized by a village committee of San Pedro Colombia in connection with Yaxche, the co-manager of Bladen Forest Reserve and the Belize Defense Force.”

Man,
“Basically it is an educational field trip that the committee has embarked on. Presently we are in the upper Esperanza River, we’ve gone up several kilometers from here heading up into the headwaters and encountered at least seven major waterfalls.

We found out from one of the persons that was actually guarding one of the developers’ camp that there is presently a number of about ten workers that are conducting the research work on the Esperanza River. As Mr. Cruz said we managed to get up to number 52 and obviously at that point we found that there was recent trafficking in terms of human footprints.”

Michael Cus,
“The human trafficking here is very high observed mainly through horsetracks in the area and the presence of human can clearly be seen due to the many trails within the jungle itself caused by xateros hunting for xatero leaves. Hunting I believe is very common in the area by the xateros. It is quite hard to say what type of animals are being hunted but I have seen feathers along the route and also expended cartridges, 20 gauge and what not expended shells along the road. I noticed during the entire route I didn’t see any major game animal such as wild peccary or deer or at least ocelot, I didn’t see anything or a little margot, no sign of wildlife. Last night we found a xateros camp with three xateros. Yesterday when we got to Bladen Nature Reserve we observed seven animals in the area, grazing on the helipad next to the camp where the developers actually are camping.”

A few points. First, you saw Juan Coy flatly deny any knowledge of the concessions agreement – well three weeks ago Housing Minister Michael Finnegan said on his Lik Road talk show that was simply not true – that Coy did know. Second, while the hydroelectric company has been fined $32,000, our information suggests that the fine has not been paid. This evening, the Ministry of Natural Resources said we had called too late and the payment position on the fine could not be verified.

Third, we understand that subsequent to a meeting between conservation and community groups with the Minister of Natural Resources, reports say a stop order has been issued and the “research work has ceased for the time being. That is unconfirmed. Fourth, a commitment has reportedly been made for an investigation will be conducted with conservation and community groups and the Forestry Department.

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Toledo villagers: no concession, no research permit for BHD in nature reserve

This article is an extract
from The Amandala Newsletter
Date Posted: 08/01/2010 – 10:23 A.M.
Author: Adele Ramos – adelescribe@gmail.com

A group of villagers from San Pedro Columbia Toledo, and the Ya’axche Conservation Trust (YCT), an NGO wich co-manages the Bladen Nature Reserve of Toledo with the Forestry Department, continue their calls to the Government of Belize to revoke both the concession given to Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited (BHD) back in 2008 to develop the hydro electricity potential of the Rio Grande basin, and the permit for research awarded in 2009.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow signed the concession agreement on December 5,2008, granting it for 15 years with possible 10-year extension.

“It is very concerning that we would even contemplate a dam in a nature reserve,” said Lisel Alamilla, YCT’s executive director. “It brings to question the commitment to the protected areas of Belize. If you are willing to continue this, then really, there are no sacred cows.”

She told us that YCT is prepared to go to the Supreme Court for an injunction if the activities inside Bladen Nature Reserve are allowed to proceed, because it is the view of the NGO that allowing research activities in the reserve under a development concession demonstrates “a complete disregard for the Laws of Belize, specifically the National Parks Systems Act.

Alamilla visited Amandala today along with Michael Cus, secretary of the committee set up by area residents to investigate the works being done by BHD in Toledo. Also present were Bartolo Teul of YCT, who lives in Big Falls, Toledo; Stephanie Lara, villagers of San Pedro Columbia and committee member; and Nicanor Requeña, chairperson of the committee.

“We don’t want it,” said Requeña, saying that people living around the area of San Miguel, where the Hydro Maya dam is located, are already feeling the negative effects.

Requeña said that the Central River goes underground and them comes back to surface as the Rio Grande. The Rio Grande watershed that BHD has concession for, said Requeña, is the mother source of the freshwater in the area.

“We want to make sure we have water 10 years from now,” he added.

The nature reserve, said Alamilla, is the strictest form of safeguard for protected areas in Belize. The law, she added, only permits research inside a nature reserve for ecological purposes that would serve the interests of the reserve, and not for development projects.

Requeña said that base on the terms of the concession agreement, BHD is in the development stage of operations, which includes the hydrology studies they claim they are now conducting.

The group had met Wednesday with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, who is the minister with responsibility for Natural Resources and the Environment, as well as Chief Forest Officer, Wilber Sabido.

The Minister promised an assessment, but didn’t commit to anything , the group reported.

They also told us that Sabido promised to put a cease-an-desist order on BHD until the assessment is complete. (Despite numerous calls to Sabido’s office today, Amandala was unable to speak to him to find out if the order has been issued and implemented.)

Alamilla explained that Bladen Nature Reserve is the greatest of the three nature reserves in Belize; the others two being the Tapir Mountain Nature Reserve in Cayo and the Burton Canal Nature Reserve behind the Belama area of Belize City.

Allowing development inside Bladen, she said, leaves the already overexploited area “wide open” to further incursions by Guatemalan xatéros and other illegal activities.

BHD was fined last year for illegally commencing work in the protected area, as well as the adjacent Columbia River Forest Reserve, including bulldozing a road inside the protected areas.

The team told us that a subsequent assessment had revealed that personnel working for the company had opened up a total of 16 miles of road, some of it an old road that had been re-colonized by forest.

If it was “only a research,” the team questioned, why bring in a bulldozer?

“If they were not caught, they would have continued,” Requeña said.

He told us that the greatest concern of Toledo villagers is the health of the rivers, on which they depend to sustain them. The area is home to species that internationally are threatened, including some amphibians.

“Why give the concession agreement in the first place?” questioned Batolo Teul.

Teul said that while the residents of Toledo have been quiet in the past, a new attitude of activism is emerging, and they won’t be quiet any more.

They are concerned that xatéros continue to illegally exploit the area, and more will come with the newly expanded access created by BHD personnel to the protected areas.

Requeña said that while they were on their visit of the research sites in early December, they found xatéros and overworked horses, some of them dead, illegally occupying the protected area.

One of the xatéros they came across indicated that he had worked in Chiquibul, Cayo, and that area is largely decimated of xaté plants; hence he was now working down south. The xatéros indicated that within 5 years, there would be no more xate to take from Belize’s forests, Requeña recounted.

He exclaimed that they know Belize’s forests so well, that they have an idea how long it will take to reap all the xate leaves.

For xate extraction to be sustainable, the team explained, only two leaves should be drawn from a plant per year. However, xatéros take as many leaves as are there, because if they don’t make their bundles of 200 leaves, the purchasers, such as on operating out of Monte los Olivos, Guatemala, will not take them. Evidence of this, said Requeña, was seen when a xatéros left behind a bundle of 150 leaves, because it was short of 50 and he would not be able to sell it.

The continued loss of Belize’s forestry resources, including its prized woods, are seen by the group as one of the many costs that could come from opening access and bringing hydro development to Toledo.

Alamilla told Amandala that the NGO has already gotten legal opinion, and if government does nothing, is ready to go to court for an infunction to stop what they believe is illegal under the National Parks Systems Act.

“We have a deadline by which we need to file an injunction,” she expresses, emphasizing that they prefer to avoid going to court over the matter.

The group also indicated that while the claim is, that the projects are being undertaken to provide hydro power for Belize, they suspect that a land grab could be the wider motive, because initially, they had received reports that BHD would get 25 acres of community land at San Miguel to facilitate its project, but that figure had once ballooned to 500 acres. They claim that they do know how much acreage was finally awarded to the company.

If that could have happened with community lands, they say, imagine what would happen in this new development that involves Crown Lands in protected areas.

Bladen Nature Reserve comprises 99,782 acres, while the Columbia River Forest Reserve, a adjacent protected area in Toledo, comprises 148,303 acres.

Later on this month, the committee, which is producing a documentary, plans to do another assessment of the research area, and they will hold a community meeting subsequent to inform area residents of their findings.

Among those slated to attend is Candy Gonzales, environmental activist and lawyer known for advocacy against the dams on the Macal and their adverse environmental effects – most recently the ugly siltation of the Macal and Belize Rivers that lasted several weeks.

The committee says that anyone wishing to contribute their expertise to the cause can call the secretary, Michael Cus, at 626-8227 or email him at cmichaelngelo@yahoo.com.

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Finnegan Tells Conservationists that Deputy PM Gaspar Vega Misspoke

The following article was extracted from
7 News Belize.com dated January 7, 2010.

The Bladen Reserve in southern Belize is called a core conservation area – which means that it should be ensured the highest status of protection. But the conservationist groups that co-manage it say that government is allowing a developer to run roughshod over the reserve. That developer is Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited and according to the Yaxche Conservation Trusts which co-manage Bladen, they have been invading the park to conduct a feasibility study which is called research. They ventilated this issue on Lik Road with Michael Finnegan last night.

Lisel Alamilla, Co-manager, Yaxche
“We are concerned that government is even contemplating a building of a dam within a nature reserve which is the strictest category of protection within our park systems. They have cleared an area, they are landing helicopters, all in contravention of the conditions of their permit. There is sign of graffiti all over the place or they are just leaving messages for one another. There are saying they are only doing a hydrological study but really we feel that they are causing more damage than is necessary to even conduct a research if that was their sole intention.”

Darrel Bradley, Co-Host
“But at this stage it is simply that tests are being done, it is not as if government or any agency or the people of Belize have committed to having anything built.”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Why are you even contemplating a hydro dam within a nature reserve which is the strictest category of protection? There are no sacred cows? Nothing is off limits?”

Michael Finnegan, Host
“What is going wrong, what illegally are they doing?”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Well first of all they entered the Bladen Nature Reserve without any kind of permit. The fact that they entered earlier without any regard to our law and then came to us and said they didn’t know it was a nature reserve and I didn’t know I needed to get permission. Come on, you’ve done this before. And then we went in and we conducted an assessment along with Forestry Department and we calculated very conservatively, that the damages was $125,000 and that is what they should be fined.”

Darrel Bradley,
“What are we talking about in terms of on the ground that was done?”

Lisel Alamilla,
“Well they built roads without permit, they fell trees, they clogged up streams, just to build a little causeway. They cleared about an acre within the nature reserve, they built camp, they set up thatch, and they blocked creeks.”

Michael Finnegan,
“But then they are in violation of this agreement that they signed with government because this agreement tells you straight and plain that you are not supposed up camp, there should be minimal damage.”

Nick Requena, San Pedro Colombia
“The hottest issue in our village right now is this hydro-dam thing and everybody wants to know what is happening. Government is not telling us what is happening.”

Michael Finnegan,
“Lack of communication.”

Nick Requena,
“Everybody said we have to stop this white man who is doing this and we said no man, let good heads prevail. Slow down; we can’t just protest, we can’t just go and stop somebody, we need to stop what is happening. We’ve invited our Area Representative and he didn’t attend two of the first meetings and then on 21st we had a meeting and we told him, ‘Area Rep., Hon. Juan Coye, do you know of this concession agreement that was signed by the government of Belize in the person of Hon. Dean Barrow,’ and he said I don’t know anything about this concession agreement. He said I only became aware of this when you all had a public meeting on November 1st at the school and when people started to talk about it.”

Michael Finnegan,
“I can tell you that is not true. I know it is not true…I am not disputing what you are saying, I am saying what he tell you is not true. I know that for a fact.”

And if you thought Finnegan was rough on his Cabinet colleague Juan Coy – who he just accused– of not telling the truth, he also threw his Deputy Prime Minister under the bus saying he misspoke. Yesterday those conservation and community groups had a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. They described it as cordial but were disturbed by what he said.

Lisel Alamilla,
“The Deputy Prime Minister stated that look if this was going to give us more energy at cheaper then we are going to build it. He did state that and I wrote that quote…if it is going to provide Belize with more electricity.”

Michael Finnegan,
“Yeah but doesn’t sound too correct because this is a study…and if anybody to tell you that that is going to go on then they are misinforming you and I can’t really think that that quote you quoted there, I am disputing you, but it sounds hard that it can be accurate.”

Lisel Alamilla,
“The Deputy Prime Minister was saying yes, we should this, we should partner, but the laws are there. I didn’t leave the meeting with them saying that there is a commitment to adhere to our laws. They said yes they will go in there but we said and by when will you make a decision and they said it is not fair for us to demand that because weather might prevent us from doing x, y, z etc. I don’t think it was done with any malice but I think this thing is going too long.”

We were unable to get a comment from the Ministry. The Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited has issued a release saying that, “we are not building a Hydroelectric Project on the Central River in the Toledo District. We are not proposing a Hydroelectric Project on the Central River in the Toledo District at this time.”

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