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Home Editorial “The land is the bank”

“The land is the bank”

Mon. Sept. 6, 2021
The late nationalist Belizean doctor, Leroy Taegar, was a man of great vision, and not reluctant to share his insights into the potential and opportunities that “God’s goodness” had laid before our troubled little nation that he liked to refer to as “The New Jerusalem.” In the midst of our social and economic quagmire in the new millennium — having been sunk by reckless politicians under a mountain of Superbond national debt, and still bothered by the dark cloud of our neighbor’s unjust and unfounded claim to our territory, while our troubled young men persisted in gang warfare, and spilling precious, often innocent blood at an alarming rate across the country in tit-for-tat revenge killings; while our mothers wailed in candle-light street marches for peace, and our general population was crying out in despair for a way out of this unending malaise — Taegar pointed to one resource which he saw as the road to our nation’s redemption. He said simply, “The land is the bank;” and he also proposed the creation of a national bank to drive our country’s development and put our young men to work.

And now we must wonder seriously if indeed, this little Jewel of ours is truly “The New Jerusalem;” because, having once blown a golden opportunity during the past UDP administration (oil well and Petro Caribe) to solve our debt crisis, it appears that we may be now blessed with a second golden opportunity under the current PUP administration to free our people from the bondage of Superbond debt. And on both occasions, it is nature’s blessing, the land and the sea, that could become our saving grace. Under the UDP, it was the fossil fuel, oil that came out of the ground, the land, that presented a springboard of immense possibilities toward removing our debt burden, but they blew it. Now under the PUP, the land and sea are again our “bank,” but in a different way, as negotiations based on “carbon credits” which require a commitment to leave the land under forest cover and create marine conservation zones might be the way to give a “bolo punch” to our lingering Superbond nightmare.

The recent wave of weather-driven international calamities – record-breaking temperatures and raging forest fires, extended droughts causing the need for water rationing, major floods and deadly landslides, the increase of more powerful and disastrous hurricanes – has all but silenced any remaining skeptics about the reality of Global Warming. Climate Change and Global Warming are no longer questioned by sensible people; and, as backward as we may have been in so many ways, our little Belize is now poised to benefit financially in a substantial way from the international community’s desperate effort to slow down and possibly stop the current march to climate disaster for our world.

Without delving deeply into the scientific details, carbon dioxide, which plants consume, is one of the main so-called “greenhouse gases” that trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere. The fossil- based fuels that are burned in cars, factories and engines of various types, produce huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other carbon emissions that are released into the atmosphere; while plants consume much of this same carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, which humans and other animals breathe. So, the more plants, as in our rain forest, the better the fight to control rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. According to climate.nasa.gov, “Global sea level has risen by about 8 inches since reliable record keeping began in 1880. It is projected to rise another 1 to 8 feet by 2100. This is the result of added water from melting land ice and the expansion of seawater as it warms.” That is serious business for all low-lying coastal cities and towns.

So, the big developed countries, whose burning of fossil fuels in their factories, industries and transportation (land, sea and air) systems account for most of the world’s carbon emissions, have designed a program through which they are granting financial incentives to countries with still existing forests to preserve some of those forests as a way to help slow down and hopefully stop the current march to climate catastrophe for our next generation. And Belize’s negotiating team devised a way to capitalize on that, by leveraging our marine resources to secure financial support from the international entities which they approached, and by securing the willingness of currently 50% of bondholders to accept reduced payback under a newly calibrated arrangement.

In last Friday’s House of Representatives meeting in Belmopan, Prime Minister John Briceno made two very important announcements regarding our national land and marine resources and the servicing of the dreaded Superbond. And if his administration is successful in seeing those plans through to completion, it will be a major “win” for all the Belizean people.

Although 7News on Friday night leaked many details of the process that should see the conservation organization, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), help government in raising funds to buy back the Superbond “at a significant discount, about 55 cents on the dollar — and it will amount to a savings of a minimum of 225 million US dollars, almost half a billion Belize dollars,” P.M. Briceno was quick to caution that the deal is not yet sealed, as “we must have a 75% buy-in of the bondholders,” which he fully expects will be achieved because “this is the best deal we can offer to the bondholders.” He explained that the funds to be sourced by TNC to finance the buy-back and servicing of the Superbond will “be more marine conservation and it’s going to be conservation beyond the reef, into our exclusive economic zone.”

In regards to the Belize Maya Forest Trust conservation agreement involving some 260,000 acres of forest lands in northern Belize, which former UDP Minister of Lands, Hugo Patt had signed last November with the same TNC shortly before the elections, Briceno said his PUP government has re-negotiated and finalized the deal with TNC and gotten a much better arrangement for the Belizean people. UDP House members, Hon. Shyne Barrow and Hon. Patrick Faber, House Opposition Leader and UDP Leader, respectively, both grudgingly gave their support to the P.M.’s efforts, while reminding him that it was the UDP that had initiated that deal.

We won’t go into all the detailed explanations of the carbon credit arrangement here, as we await the final completion of the agreement that hopefully settles the matter of the Superbond. And we’ll try not to remind ourselves of the triumphant declaration by former P.M. Barrow when he returned from a Miami hotel meeting to declare that he had struck a fantastic deal with Lord Ashcroft for the buy-back of BTL, and it didn’t turn out so nicely after all. If P.M. Briceno’s negotiating team succeeds, with the help of TNC and Belizean land and sea, in slaying the dreaded dragon of the Superbond, even in these Covid-19 times, he should earn significant points with the Belizean people. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

P.S. According to www.nature.org, “The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners.”

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