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UEF Open Letter to Afrikan Black Belizeans

LettersUEF Open Letter to Afrikan Black Belizeans

by Sista YaYa Marin Coleman

United Black Association for Development Educational Foundation (UEF) efforts to notify our Afrikan/Black people and communities in Belize and the Diaspora about the plenary, and implementation processes for the Escazú Agreement Roadmap by the Government of Belize.

BELIZE CITY, Mon. Mar. 18, 2024

UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) is alerting media houses in Belize and the Caribbean Region of the Government of Belize’s potential violation of the Regional Agreement on Access to Information, Public Participation, and Justice in Environmental Matters in Latin America and the Caribbean known as the Escazú Agreement. Be
lize became a party to the Regional Agreement on Monday June 5, 2023.

UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) is a 28-year-old community-based organization with a focus on Afrikan/Black consciousness raising for the Liberation of Afrikan Belizeans racialized as Black people in Belize and the Diaspora.

UEF started raising awareness about the Escazú Agreement in Belize in July 2021. UEF also advocated for the Government of Belize to ratify the Escazú Agreement in 2022 by: giving media interviews; hosted online Escazú Agreement Awareness Community Meetings; connected with other individuals/groups in the Caribbean who were Escazú Agreement advocates; took part in regional Escazú Agreement webinars; sent emails to the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and Disaster Risk management informing them of UEF activism (while holding the state accountable); used the hashtags

bzeescazuagreementuef, #belizeansdahdienvironment, #onlidipeeplewillsavedipeeple on FaceBook to track and document UEF’s work.

The essence of the Escazú Agreement is to empower people especially Black people that UEF represents, in Afrikan Heritage Communities that are underserved, whose voices are often not adequately represented, or ignored, and who are on the frontline as environmental defenders in Belize.

Belize is on the mainland of Abya Yala/Central America bordered on the North by Mexico, on the West and South by Guatemala, and on the East by the Caribbean Sea. The 240 miles length of coastline in Belize has about 10 coastal communities, with more than 200 offshore islands, 4 major towns, 2 cities, and about 7 villages. A number of Belizeans in these communities are unemployed, or in the fishing or tourism sector and are heavily impacted by environmental decision-making which occurs without their voices being heard or being in the room.

The Government of Belize had a responsibility to inform and engage Belizeans in an accessible way when the baseline assessment process started for the Roadmap to Implement the Escazú Agreement in Belize. The Ministry of Sustainable Development, Climate Change, and Disaster Risk Management is aware of UEF’s interest in this Regional Agreement. UEF was not informed when this process started. UEF checked directly with Minister Orlando Habet in February 2024 enquiring about the status of the implementation process. Minister Habet said that the Focal Point Person for the Escazú Agreement, Vanessa Figueroa-Wade would contact UEF, and that the Ministry was midway into the completion of the Roadmap. No contact was made with UEF.

On Friday March 8, 2024 UEF received an email from Belize Escazú Focal Point person Vanessa Figueroa-Wade with 5 attachment documents inclusive of an invitation letter to The Escazú Agreement Implementation Roadmap Stakeholder Engagement Meeting Thursday March 21, 2024, the Agenda for the Escazú Stakeholder Meeting, the Revised Baseline assessment executive summary, the Stakeholder recommendations on the priority actions for Implementation of the Escazú Agreement in Belize, and the Escazú Agreement document.

UEF immediately sent an email raising serious concerns about how communities in Belize City were supposed to participate in this meeting at such short notice and with no support. Belize Escazú Agreement Focal Point Person Vanessa Figueroa –Wade responded, UEF responded back, and UEF has not heard from her again.

UEF is deeply concerned that the Government’s actions to supposedly further the implementation of Escazú are, ironically, actually in breach of their obligations under the treaty. Their failure to facilitate participation at this crucial stage is in direct opposition to the Government’s obligations to guarantee access to information, to decision-making spaces and to justice in environmental matters. The lack of communication or facilitation for the most vulnerable communities violates principles entrenched in Article 3 of Escazú including:

Principle of equality and principle of non-discrimination;

Principle of transparency and principle of accountability;

Principle of good faith

The Government’s actions to date fly in the face of these principles, and have been in direct opposition to these principles, not only disregarding them but actively undermining these principles.

The Escazú Agreement vows to “shift towards a new development model and tackles the region’s inefficient and unsustainable culture of narrow, fragmented interests. In that vein, the Agreement vows to include those that have traditionally been underrepresented, excluded or marginalized and give a voice to the voiceless, leaving no one behind.”

However, the government’s failure to engage the public and groups who have been historically shut out of such processes in the planning process for implementing the Escazú Agreement is a significant setback for environmental justice and democratic governance in Belize. Public participation is crucial for ensuring that environmental decisions are informed, transparent, and responsive to the needs and rights of all Belizeans.

UEF is calling on the Government of Belize (GoB) to immediately rectify this situation by establishing mechanisms that ensure public participation in the roadmap for stakeholders. This would involve a limited number of simple steps:

Public awareness raising on the upcoming meeting

Offering funding and support to communities to attend this meeting or in the alternative a commitment to host another event in Belize City

This is not just about compliance; it’s about upholding democratic values and ensuring that Escazú does not fail from the beginning in Belize.

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