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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