BELIZE CITY–In the wake of public outcry concerning the employment of a Guatemalan-based construction company, BINARQ, S.A., which was contracted in 2011 to build a Forward Operating Base (FOB) at Hunting Caye – the southernmost point of Belize – for the Belize National Coast Guard (BNCG), the US Army Corps of Engineers, who were funders of the project, gave the Government of Belize (GOB) two choices with regards to the continuation of the suspended project – let the Guatemalan company finish the job, or complete the job yourself.
GOB, who chose the latter option in the name of nationalism and dignity, called a press briefing today at the Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel in Belize City to inform the nation of the circumstances, and of their plans in terms of the completion of the FOB, the construction of which has since been halted in the face of public objection, based on Belize and Guatemala’s territorial differences, to the Guatemalan company and laborers chosen to carry out the project.
The stop order was issued earlier this month by the US Army Corps of Engineers, after which it was agreed that BINARQ would suspend the construction indefinitely as a result of a request made by the Ministry of National Security following the public uproar that ensued when Mose Hyde first broke the news on KREM’s WUB.
According to Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar, the US Army Corps of Engineers, representatives of the US Embassy, and their military liaison office in Greece, met during the suspense period and discussed the possible courses of action, one of which included allowing the Guatemalan company to continue its work with a group of 17 employees who, it was later revealed, did not have the proper documentation to be in Belize, much less to work within the country.
He said, “We have been advised by the US Army Corps of Engineers that at this point, there are only two options for Belize – one, that the construction of the Forward Operating Base continues under the existing contractual arrangements with BINARQ and no change in their workforce configuration; [and] option two is for the Government of Belize to complete the construction of the Forward Operating Base. These two options were presented to Cabinet on Tuesday by my Ministry and Cabinet has made a decision to go with option two, which is for the Government of Belize to continue and complete the construction of the Forward Operating Base.”
Saldivar added that as of today, they have received correspondence from the US Army Corps of Engineers that indicates that BINARQ “might be acceptable and agreeable to some compromise”, and if GOB is able to reach a compromise with them [BINARQ], the matter will be taken back to Cabinet.
Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Dean Barrow, noted that the cost of completing the structure is BZ$1.6 million, but asserted that it is a cost that GOB will gladly assume in the context of their determination to demonstrate to the Belizean public that they [GOB] is “both willing and able to stand on its own two feet.”
Barrow mentioned that in view of the outpouring of national sentiment of a population which prioritizes the preservation of national dignity in the execution of the project, he is “perfectly happy” that Cabinet, in its ultimate analysis of the situation, should be prepared to complete what he said, “is after all, our Forward Operating Base, a facility that plays such a vital role in the national operations of our Coast Guard.”
The Prime Minister said that the move to use GOB funds to finish the FOB was “not meant to be a rebuke to the United States,” which is strongly believed to have placed the ultimatum on GOB in the wake of the Prime Minister’s refusal to facilitate the airlifting of a 59-year-old female American lab technician who was suspected of having been exposed to Ebola, a deadly virus that has killed almost 5,000 people in West Africa, from the Carnival Magic cruise ship which, at the time of the alarm on October 16, had been docked in the Belize City harbor.
Even in the face of a 30-minute appeal by US Secretary of State, John Kerry, who, we understand, personally contacted Prime Minister Barrow to convince him to allow the woman, who had handled a specimen from a Liberian man who died from Ebola at the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital, to be conveyed through the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) in order to be flown to Galveston, Texas – her hometown – for further examination and possible treatment, the Prime Minister stood his ground in consideration of the devastating implications of the possible introduction of such a pandemic to the shores of an ill-equipped, “Third World” country like Belize – a decision for which heaps of bouquets have been thrown at his feet.