Photo: Arial of Angel Fish Caye proposed development location off the coast of Hopkins Village, Stann Creek. (Credit: Angel Fish Caye LLC EIA)
Placencia-based coral restoration NGO, Fragments of Hope sent a letter to Sustainable Development Ministry CEO, Kenrick Williams, urging that the second version of the EIA for the proposed Angel Fish Caye development be rejected.
by Marco Lopez
BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept. 14, 2023
Executive Director of Fragments of Hope (FoH), Lisa Carne raised an alarm and called for the rejection of the Angel Fish Caye LLC development EIA in a five-point letter sent to CEO of the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Kenrick Williams dated Tuesday, September 11, 2023. At the tail end of the two-page letter, Carne raises a startling concern regarding the acquisition of the land known as Angel Fish Caye and its connection to murder victim and posthumous land-fraud whistleblower, Ricardo Borja, which casts a cloud of suspicion over the Texas-based company and its dealings in Belize.
Numerous issues with the overall quality of, and information gaps in the first iteration of the Angel Fish Caye LLC Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) led to a rejection of the proposal in late 2022. They were told to go back to the drawing board by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee (NEAC). On July 20, 2023, Belize Environmental Technologies Ltd., the entity which had prepared the first EIA, submitted a second EIA to the Department of the Environment (DOE) – once again requesting approval to construct an eco-resort in the marine space described as having “significantly healthy biodiversity” by FoH.
A Sanctuary Under Threat
The proposed development location is south of Bread and Butter Caye and in the Spruce Caye area about 12.5 miles off the coast of Hopkins Village. The location is a mangrove patch, mostly covered by water. It has been a coral reef monitoring site used by FoH since 2017, the letter states. The letter notes that as of June 10, 2023, zero presence of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) has been detected in the area. SCTLD has plagued the Belize Barrier Reef since 2019 and has caused significant coral mortality across the region. This has caused once common coral species like the “massive starlet” and the “symmetrical brain coral” to be placed on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) IUCN Red List. The letter states that these species and many others still strive in the location where the eco-resort construction is being proposed.
The location, which houses coral, seagrass beds, and mangroves, is situated in the wider Belize Barrier Reef System-World Heritage Site (BBRS-WHS). FoH suggested that the approval of the Angel Fish Caye LLC development may compromise commitments made by the government under the Blue Bond agreement. The letter also reminded GoB of the reference under the Debt for Nature swap agreement which speaks to an update of the EIA Regulations before any EIA for proposed developments within the BBRS-WHS can be approved. Under clause 3(e) of the agreement, the government commits to finalizing the revision of the EIA, but notes that the commitment is not linked to any milestone under the agreement, and failure to meet it would not incur a penalty.
The letter states that the site is not suitable for development, since there are no solid land masses. The developer plans to dredge from a nearby site and reclaim land. While the development is described as “a small eco-resort,” FoH notes that the extent of the development “even includes a helipad”.
The letter notes that the second public consultation for the project was held on August 24, 2023, and the deadline for comment was the next day, August 25th. The EIA annexes cite only 25 stakeholders as being consulted.
Murdered land fraud whistleblower, Ricardo Borja, and Angel Fish Caye LLC
Businessman, Ricardo Borja was fatally shot on August 19, 2023, as he parked in his yard on Coney Drive in Belize City. Prior to his death (being investigated as a murder by the Belize Police Department), Borja had recorded testimonies (“coming clean”) about fraudulent land transactions. He claimed to have been involved in a scheme that included foreign and local players, some employed at the Lands Department.
The letter from FoH rightly points out that in Angel Fish Caye LLC’s EIA Annexes, Borja’s name appeared on all the documents associated with the land transfer of the proposed development area “from Lands, to two Belizeans, to Angel Fish Caye.”
Annex III of the EIA starts at page 59 showing two parcels of land totaling 2.27 acres which make up the proposed development location. A land title search executed by Borja shows a Minister’s Fiat Grant for a 1-acre block of the location acquired by Allen Garbutt at the price of BZ$13,000 on July 8, 2023 at p. 60. This title search was done on September 21, 2020. A second search which can be seen at p. 61, signed as executed by Borja, was done on that same day — a Minister Fiat Grant for 1.27 acres in the proposed project location, adjacent to the first 1-acre block. This land was acquired by Alexandra Castillo at the cost of BZ$16,500.
Under his company JC Consulting, Ricardo Borja certified the Land Title Investigations of both blocks of land seen at p. 62 and 63 of the document.
By September 29th, 2020, Deeds of Conveyance were drawn up for both properties; these can be found from p. 69 – 76. The 1.27 acres within the marine space acquired by Castillo were sold to Angel Fish Caye LLC for BZ$212,600. The 1-acre block also acquired by Garbutt from the government was sold to the company on the same day for BZ$167,400. Both these transactions were witnessed by Borja.
Borja, on September 24, 2020, days before the land transfer, was listed as the person in Belize authorized to do business locally for the Texas-based company. This was done through the company JC Consulting Belize, owned by Borja, for Terry Mclachlan, who is listed as the manager of Angel Fish Caye LLC.
In Borja’s testimony, he pointed out how they would pay operatives inside the Lands Department to expedite transactions. The investigation into his killing is still ongoing, with the leaked recording of his testimony now at the forefront. While his comments in the recordings, since uploaded online, do not list Angel Fish Caye LLC, the nature of his questionable dealings with the Lands Department, the expedited execution of the land transfer, and his proximity to the company raise concerns.
The letter from FoH points out that, while the company, Angel Fish Caye LLC, can be found in the Texas registry, no listing on the IRS for the provided EIN or the name of the company could be found.
The NGO urges the DOE to take “the legal option of No-Action,” given the multitude of issues surrounding this project, and calls for the second rejection of the EIA.
Lisa Carne shared today that no reply, or acknowledgment of the letter has been received from the DOE or CEO Williams.