After visiting the village of Gales Point Manatee, The Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, this week claimed that residents support the employment opportunities that come from investment.
by Khaila Gentle
GALES POINT MANATEE, Stann Creek District, Tues. Sept. 13, 2022
The responses of villagers in Gales Point Manatee to efforts by Vulcan Materials Company to establish a mining operation in the area have been reported by local media on numerous occasions over the past few weeks. And after August 20, when a meeting was held in the village, it was found that a vast majority of the residents are not in support of the company’s proposed mining project. According to the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow, however, there are still many residents who are hoping for employment and other opportunities that come from investments like Vulcan’s.
The Opposition Leader, accompanied by former Belmopan area rep John Saldivar and Senator Beverly Williams, visited the village this week and spoke with residents about their views on the American mining company.
“The UDP Shadow Cabinet believes strongly in the policy of balancing the need for economic development with the need to protect the environment,” wrote the Opposition Leader on his official Facebook page on Monday.
In that post, Hon. Barrow also suggested that the villagers of Gales Point might be divided on whether or not they support the mining company, noting that many residents agree with the aforementioned policy of balance. Just last week, there were reports of a pro-Vulcan protest taking place in the village, with those residents expressing the view that the company’s project would provide much-needed jobs. Still, added Hon. Barrow in his post, there were those who during his visit opposed the project for various reasons, including its potential for causing environmental damage.
Despite the Leader of the Opposition’s suggestion that the village may be more divided than has been reported, however, the chairman of the Gales Point village council, Jason Altschaft, says otherwise.
“We’ve been working on this for over three years now. We’ve had plenty of meetings on this situation, and we definitely know that the village is not for this kind of economic activity,” stated Altschaft in an interview with KREM News’ Marisol Amaya.
Altschaft, in speaking about the visit, said that it almost felt as if the three UDP members had come to promote Vulcan’s mining project—possibly for political reasons.
The company, following their mostly unsuccessful meeting with villagers on August 20, issued a letter to the people of Gales Point, stating that it would begin providing jobs to the villagers that would pay “a minimum of double the current minimum wage.”
“Most of the people that are working for Vulcan now just happen to be UDP. And those are the same people that have been getting the jobs all along, so we understand why they don’t want to lose those potential jobs,” Altschaft said.
According to the village council chairman, the visiting UDP members were asking a lot of questions about Vulcan—particularly whether more people were in support of the project than what has been reported in the news.
The visit took place just one week after Cabinet affirmed its policy decision that no mining activity would be undertaken in the Gales Point area, “having regard to the surrounding communities’ concerns.”
According to the Opposition Leader, the UDP believes, however, that the Government of Belize should not close its doors on investors, even though it should not ignore the concerns of environmentalists.
“But most importantly, we must always put the socioeconomic well-being of our Belizean people first and foremost,” he added.
But while the people of Gales Point do look forward to job opportunities, the village chairman says that their focus is on eco-tourism.
“We are an untouched jewel. This is really what we’re focusing on,” Altschaft said.
The UDP has stated that it looks forward to meeting with Vulcan to get their perspective as well.