Having read the editorial “The Reef, The Oil and The Politics” from the July 19, 2017 issue of the Amandala,
I wanted to comment. The author hits the nail on the head with regards to oil exploitation.
As a tour guide and tour operator in Placencia, Belize, I know that our tourism industry is one of the largest direct and indirect job generators and our country depends on maintaining the beautiful, healthy ecosystems that attract our visitors. Our reef environments are the backbone of our tourism AND fisheries industries and any kind of offshore oil exploration puts that priceless reef system at risk of destruction. Coral are so fragile that even large amounts of sunblock can damage them. Even a small oil spill could wreak havoc on our barrier reef.
Across Belize, I hear and see very little support for offshore oil exploration for good reason – it goes against basic common sense to risk our precious marine environments that foster two of our largest economic sectors (tourism and fisheries) while protecting our entire coastline from storms. Risking these key industries to try to grab at some possible oil dollars is, simply but, a case of “greedy choke puppy”.
As the author noted, all we have to do is look at other developing countries around the world to see that oil dollars rarely go to alleviate poverty, create sustainable jobs or educate a nation’s people. Look to our South American neighbor Venezuela where oil production has funded corruption and where despite having their own refineries, fuel prices are, along with Belize, the highest in the region. Nigeria is a case in point. Initial agreements would have sent the bulk of oil profits to the southern (Niger Delta) regions of Nigeria where the oil was extracted, but within 30 years the central government had reduced that percentage to less than 3% while many oil jobs went to people from outside of the region. In the meantime the environmental damage that oil exploitation caused to the region was devastating. I recently met a Nigerian woman visiting Belize. She was from a coastal region in southern Nigeria and I asked her if people ate a lot of seafood there. She frowned and said, “Not anymore. The oil has polluted the water so much that people can’t eat the fish.”
Some countries have few resources and if oil is one of them, they seize upon it because there is little else to fund their educational, health care, infrastructure and justice systems. We, fortunately, are not one of those countries. Belize is blessed with abundant natural resources that can be managed to allow for continued use of our forests and marine areas for sustainable farming, fishing and forestry. There are many opportunities for value added production in these sectors which would encourage small business and not destroy our natural heritage. Our splendidly diverse and dynamic ecosystems are full of beauty and adventure which makes them priceless for our lucrative and growing tourism industry which employs tens of thousands of Belizeans across the nation.
And let us not forget that these same beautiful and abundant environments make Belize a wonderful place for us Belizeans to live. We call our country “The Jewel” for good reason. We cannot allow corruption and greed destroy it all in the name of a few short-lived oil dollars that will line some already wealthy individuals pockets.
Lyra Spang, PhD
Anthropologist & Tour Guide
Taste Belize Tours