December 11, 2001
Belizeans Challenge Illegal Actions to Promote Canadian-backed Dam
BELIZE CITY--Belizean environmental groups opposing a hydro-electric dam in the country's rainforest are formally challenging, as illegal, government attempts to smooth the way for this project proposed by Newfoundland-based Fortis, Inc. In a letter to Belize's Minister of Natural Resources, John Briceno, the groups' lawyer, Marilyn Williams, details the illegal maneuvers to secure environmental permits for the project: the company did not comply with the legal requirements for environmental permits, and a government-led committee charged with reviewing the company's application refused to hold public hearings and ignored expert reports on the dam's economic and environmental effects.
The Minister of Natural Resources has not responded, to date, to the groups' legal complaint.
The Natural History Museum of London, which prepared the wildlife studies for the report, concluded that the dam would threaten rare and endangered species, including the jaguar, Scarlet Macaw, and Belize's national animal the tapir. Critics of the project point out that the dam would also raise electricity rates in Belize--already the highest in Central America. Fortis owns a monopoly on energy production in the country, and Belizeans pay more than three times more for electricity than the average in Canada.
Fortis has stated its intentions to begin construction on the facility in January, 2002, but legal experts say this cannot be done without steamrolling the Belizean legal process. They point to Belize's Environmental Assessment law, which includes provisions for public hearings, and serious consideration of public and technical expert concerns. "Belizean citizens have a right to due process, and that is being denied to them" says Grainne Ryder of Probe International. Ms. Ryder's group unearthed the secretive funding by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for the study which Fortis is now using to attempt to obtain permits to build the dam.
Records obtained under the Access to Information Act reveal that CIDA has agreed to supply nearly half a million dollars for the company's studies. "We find it outrageous that CIDA would subsidize a company to extend its monopoly and undermine the legal rights of the people of Belize." said Ryder.
Click here for details of the illegal actions challenged by Belizean groups.
, Probe International, Toronto, Canada Phone: (416) 964-9223 ext.228.
, Executive Director, Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, BACONGO, Belize, (501) 2 33385
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