Headline — 17 December 2013 — by Kareem Clarke
S.O.S. from San Pedro

Some home/business owners, in danger of losing all they have worked for because of stagnant economic conditions and unforgiving creditors, have spoken of suicide

The financial crisis is “worse than a hurricane”

What would you do if you found yourself in a situation where the hard-earned assets that you have acquired over a lifetime were about to be disposed of in front of your very eyes, and you are absolutely powerless?

Today, Amandala spoke with a group of people from the “tourism mecca” island town of San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, who have resorted to seeking the assistance of the media to address what they term as a “very real” issue that is currently affecting some residents of the island.

It appears that a group of mainly prominent, native San Pedranos are in danger of losing either their businesses, or properties that they have essentially toiled for during the course of their entire lives because of unforgiving creditors who refuse to take into consideration the stagnant economic conditions that have beset the island in recent years.

According to one of the hoteliers who have been affected, the situation has been created by the constantly rising costs of living, compounded by the fact that the unsuspecting borrowers procured loans at a time when the economic outlook was bright on the island; however, they have now found themselves in a distressing predicament – stuck between “a rock and a hard place” – and facing potential bankruptcy because of their inability to service those loans, which is ultimately leading to the complete loss of their homes and/or businesses.

These home/business owners are up in arms because they are presently at the mercy of seemingly heartless commercial bankers who apparently do not show a shred of leniency toward, or understanding for, their clients.

Overwhelmed with despair, the home/business owners emphasize the fact that they have been long-standing customers of the banks for many years, who have diligently serviced their mortgages; thus, they would have never thought that their businesses/properties would be liable to be auctioned.

Some have been overcome with fear that they would be targeted or victimized by their creditors, so most of the victims were reluctant to share their stories or reveal their identities.

However, one of the persons who said that she had felt the brunt of the meltdown that has unfolded, described the financial crisis as “worse than a hurricane,” because she said that people get aid in the event of natural disasters, but presently, the islanders believe that they are now “on their own,” because they have exhausted all avenues in terms of getting help from any of the relevant authorities, such as the San Pedro Town Council, the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), Beltraide and even the National Bank of Belize.

The situation has the potential of becoming even more tragic, since we understand that at least two of the business proprietors who have been affected have thought of committing suicide. Their frustrations stem from the fact that they don’t have anywhere else to turn, and are petrified of the fact that their families would have nowhere to go if their homes were confiscated.

The persons with whom we spoke told us that the situation is “devastating,” because the affected persons have so far done all that they could.

Their emotions were visibly high when they mentioned that they have pleaded with their creditors to “have a heart” and work along with them in order to renegotiate their payment plans, but to no avail.

When that option did not work out, they repeatedly requested Government’s intervention, but GOB has also turned a blind eye to their plight, say the business owners.

The business owners stated that they simply want an opportunity to reconstruct their loan payments.

On two separate occasions this year – first on April 3 and then on December 9 – the concerned citizens wrote to Prime Minister Dean Barrow. In their letter, they declared, “For decades, we have endured crippling utility, transportation and labor costs, and it is only because of the lack of a level playing field in gaining access to investment capital and the rigidity of the financial institutions combined with the current financial crisis that have caused many of us not to be able to meet our financial obligations, causing us to suffer many reversals, foreclosures and hardships which are affecting our homes and everyday lives.

“Because of this, we have united and are forming an association to fight for our birthright and inheritance, and also to salvage what remains. For this cause, we request immediate action on your behalf (as the PM) to intervene and assist us in this urgent matter.”

Hence, the San Pedro Founders Association was formed to provide opportunities for individuals who find it difficult to help themselves out of overwhelming debt.

In that effort, the members of the association plan to raise funds through donations and fundraising events, and to use those funds to provide financial assistance and legal advice to persons in need.

If you would like to find out more about the San Pedro Founders Association, or if you are interested in reconsolidating a loan, call 634-0041 or e-mail [email protected]

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