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Opposition backs referendum on petroleum moves but Leader says idea to check for oil reserves “reasonable”

Posted: Thursday, November 24, 2022. 7:39 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The United Democratic Party has warned the Government against a “unilateral decision to reverse a National Assembly-approved moratorium on offshore oil exploration in Belizean waters”, saying it supports taking the matter to a national referendum.

But Opposition Leader Moses “Shyne” Barrow told the press on Tuesday that he was prepared to give Prime Minister John Briceno the benefit of the doubt of his intentions, if approved, to conduct seismic testing solely to find what reserves there are in Belize’s exclusive economic zone and try to exploit them for further conservation funding.

According to Barrow, “I spoke to Senator Chanona and we discussed the matter and I made it clear that as with my historic position on these matters, marijuana, I support a referendum. Pact of Bogota, I support a referendum. There is no greater voice than the voice of the people. They say the voice of the people is the voice of God. So whereas the UDP administration enacted a moratorium on offshore drilling after a robust campaign by Oceana and over thirty thousand people signing a mock referendum, I believe that any reversal of that moratorium, especially given our conservation treaty legislation that we recently enacted that wiped away five hundred million dollars of our debt. I believe any reversal, any alteration of that position needs to be taken to the people. That is my position.”

But he added that he and the others in the party, dating back to the Dean Barrow administration, wants to see, deal or no deal-style, what we may be giving up: “ …let us see what we have, do we have 100 billion dollars worth of oil, and if we have 100 billion or 1 billion, whatever it is we can leverage that in our negations with the G20 and these other entities, I believe that is a reasonable opinion and I would be inclined to support seismic testing for that purpose to see what it is we have so that we could get more for not engaging in offshore drilling that is my personal view.”

The party nonetheless reminded the Government of its own words while in the Opposition on October 21, 2016, that allowing such testing without consultation is a “complete betrayal of the promise made to stakeholders to protect Belize’s natural heritage and further demonstrates that this government cannot be trusted…This attempt by this government to conduct seismic surveys is another example of its blatant disregard for good governance, transparency and accountability.”

To avoid charges of the same, the UDP says, any lifting of restrictions on offshore oil exploration must be approved by the people of Belize through a referendum, taking credit for cleaning up the “mess” left behind by a previous PUP government in the matter of oil exploration zones and concession contracts and promises to join with environmentalists to ensure they succeed.


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