By Wellington C. Ramos
On Thursday August 15, 2013, the Belize government Cabinet authorized Minister of Works and Transport Honourable Rene Montero to sign an order to revoke the lease that was granted to Luke Espat’s company Port of Belize Limited in 2002. This order gives the government of Belize the full power to take over immediate control of Commerce Bight “Jettie Pier”. Since this port was handed over to this company for nothing, the people of Dangriga were deprived of the privilege to go fishing there and seek employment to load and unload cargo vessels.
Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and History
The people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District, the entire southern region, the citrus, banana and oil industries should all applaud this bold move taken by the UDP Barrow administration because it is in their best interest.
Since 2002, this port that played an economic and vital role in the lives of the people from Dangriga Town and Stann Creek District residents, has been closed. Nobody from Dangriga Town and Stann Creek District were allowed to go on the pier to go fishing or to seek work to load and unload cargo vessels. This is something that the residents of Dangriga Town depended on to feed their families for centuries since they arrived in the early 1800s.
When the port was given to Luke Espat and his company, it was expected that the people and government of Belize were going to be paid for the use of it. Also, that economic development was going to increase to bring more jobs to the people of Dangriga Town. Instead, they moved the shipment of citrus products 40 miles further to the Big Creek Port, which resulted in the loss of jobs to Dangriga residents. The shipment of oil from the Cayo District was also sent to the Big Creek Port despite the fact that the port in Dangriga Town is much closer and less costly.
The people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the entire southern region, have been appealing to this UDP government to take back all the ports and the airport from these private companies since their election victory in 2008.
Due to a series of lawsuits that were brought against the UDP government by billionaire Michael Ashcroft, Prime Minister Dean Barrow decided to choose his battles. Why did the PUP government decide to hand over the control and management of the ports and the airport to a private entity still puzzles me. These facilities should be controlled by the government because they are vital for our national security. There has been a significant increase in the amount of weapons and ammunition that has been entering our country since the government gave control of these facilities to private companies. This has resulted in poor black youths killing each other in Belize City, which has the largest population concentration.
It was reported recently in an article published by the Amandala dated August 15, 2013, that Michael Ashcroft intends to instruct his lawyers to seek an injunction against the government of Belize to stop the takeover. I now call on all my people in Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the entire southern region to rally with the government of Belize to stop Michael Ashcroft from denying us of our port.
For eleven years now, our people were denied the right to use this port to go fishing, work and provide the basics for our families. This port historically is being used by all of our families to catch fish and work to feed our families and we are accustomed to this lifestyle. Unemployment in Dangriga and Stann Creek District has skyrocketed since the port was handed over to Luke Espat and his company.
If there was ever a time in our lives when we can demonstrate that we are all men and women who are made of steel, this is the time. We cannot afford to sit down and allow Michael Ashcroft, Luke Espat or anybody else to come into our town and take away this port from us because it is necessary and vital for our survival and future. This is not about being PUP or UDP but about our people’s right to be respected and be granted justice in our town. If we allow them to get away with this, they will continue to come into our town and district to disrespect us.
I have lived in Orange walk and visited Corozal on several occasions. I can guarantee you that these people will never attempt to do this in those two northern districts because the response would be swift and explosive. I now call on all the people of Dangriga Town, Stann Creek District and the southern region to rally behind this government and stand up for something that belongs to us.