Wednesday, April 29th, 2015. Aaron Humes Reporting: This morning Prime Minister Dean Barrow hosted the press at the Biltmore Plaza Hotel to discuss a wide range of national issues. The following are highlights from that press conference.
Banking sector stable
As of April 30, 2015, the Belize Bank Limited will lose its correspondent banking relationship with Bank of America in the United States, which removes its ability to host wire transfers for customers. As the largest private commercial bank in Belize Bank of America’s decision affects thousands of customers and as Minister of Finance Prime Minister Dean Barrow was moved enough to both bring up the issue at the recent regional Summit of the Americas in Panama and in subsequent meetings with U.S. President Barack Obama along with other regional leaders.
The decision does not affect other services but in his recent meeting with Bank of America officials in Miami, he received reassurances that the Bank will not cut its relationship with the remaining commercial banks in Belize, as it holds similar relationships with all of them.
Despite his own past issues with the Bank and chief shareholder Lord Michael Ashcroft, P.M. Barrow is reassured that the Bank’s troubles are not a result of its own moves and the Central Bank of Belize will step in on a temporary basis to handle wire transfers for Market Square while it sorts out its issues.
The international partner of the Bank has closed its offices in the Commercial Free Zone, but according to the Prime Minister customers need not fear continuing to do business with the Belize Bank.
Carnival supports Stake Bank project
The Government of Belize, determined to get a cruise port built in the Belize District sooner rather than later, has been trying to broker an honest deal between developer of the Stake Bank/Drowned Cayes project Michael Feinstein and the owners of the Fort Street Tourism Village in the Fort George section of town. The second part of Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s Miami weekend trip was to speak to executives of Carnival Cruise Lines, which sends the most ships to Belize annually, about their position on the project.
But before we bring you that portion of the press conference, the Prime Minister reported that FSTV has made an offer to take over the project from Feinstein, in order to protect their own interests as expressed in agreements signed by the previous administration that gives them exclusive rights in the District until 2028. The P.M. explained that the offer involves a request for a Government guarantee of $80 million which he had to refuse; Feinstein already has financing lined up from local banks.
In his meeting with Carnival the cruise executives reported satisfactory reviews of Belize as a “marquee” destination, and gave approval to various infrastructure efforts such as improved roads to Jaguar Paw and Altun Ha and the planned Downtown Rejuvenation Project expected to lift the doldrums in the Old Capital. But the cruise line says its customers are complaining about the rough ride from the ship to the shore in tender boats and the “mauling” of tourists by eager local tour operators lay waiting them at the village’s entrances.
The Prime Minister said that according to Carnival, cutting out these unpleasant experiences helps the tourism product greatly – it does not matter, according to them, if a causeway is built from Stake Bank to the mainland as proposed.
Prime Minister Barrow now awaits a meeting with FSTV/Royal Caribbean Line executives, either in Miami or Belize, which will tell him how to move forward. Feinstein’s lawsuit against all parties is due in court in June.
P.M. defines Maya land rights settlement
One week ago today the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) accepted a consent order from the Government of Belize and Maya leaders representing 38 Maya villages in the Toledo District which settled a large part of the case brought by the latter concerning the granting of communal land rights to traditional village lands.
The Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association regard it as a major victory but there are concerns from opponents about being excluded in the rush to secure land in the southernmost district. Today Prime Minister Dean Barrow made his first public comments on the issue and indicated that the Government does not recognize communal land title – at least, not as the claimants have put it. The recognition of land rights is as a part of the general human rights afforded to all and there will be an effort to fully define who holds what in Toledo.
The Government intends to put the issue in the hands of Minister for Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Senator Lisel Alamilla, a Toledo native and former head of the Yaaxche Conservation Trust. Maya had previously protested her being assigned a portfolio for indigenous affairs under that Ministry, but the Prime Minister expressed his confidence in her leading the Secretariat that will develop a national consultation strategy leading up to the implementation of the decision.
The Prime Minister said that under no circumstances will he entertain any talk of the Maya or anyone else illegally excluding other Belizeans from living in the villages, which will be demarcated for the first time. The CCJ is to rule separately on the issue of damages for the destruction of crops on farmland in Golden Stream in 2008 and a quantum of moral damages for the Government’s previous actions with regard to the Maya, both of which the Government resists.
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