December 19-23, 2001
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks out in Belize on Canadian-proposed rainforest dam
Click here for a transcript from an interview with Robert F. Kennedy in Belize
Kennedy speaking with Bill Rowe, VOCM morning show, before his trip, challenging Fortis to make its secret contracts public (12/17/01, Quicktime audio download)
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) visited Belize from December 19-23, on the invitation of BACONGO (the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs) a coalition of environmental groups in Belize.
Kennedy and BACONGO had hoped to meet with the Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources to discuss the illegal process to date in the decision process concerning the proposed Chalillo dam, and to discuss more environmentally and economically sensible alternatives to the proposal by Fortis, Inc. of Newfoundland, which owns a monopoly on energy production in Belize. Top government officials refused requests for meetings.
Kennedy met with leading scientists and geologists who presented information about the dam’s threats to wildlife, and to the lives of people living downstream. He also spoke with concerned residents of these downstream communities.
In interviews with the Belizean media, Kennedy called the dam project “one of the most hairbrained, reckless schemes that I have seen in twenty years of environmental advocacy. There’s no justification for it, and there is no way that this dam will ever be built if the light of day is shined on this agreement.” (See interview transcript).
Mr. Kennedy participated in a “Save the Macal River” canoe race on December 22, organized by residents of San Ignacio, Belize’s second largest town, who say that an existing dam owned by Fortis has already affected water quality, and that the new dam would further affect the river, destroy important habitat for wildlife in the Macal River Valley, and burden Belizeans with higher electricity bills.
The 2-hour river race along the Macal River attracted 14 canoe teams from throughout the region to compete for the top prizes and show their concern over plans for the dam. The race was broadcast live on the local “Radio Ritmo” station.
Belizeans pay the highest electricity rates in Central America, three times higher than the average in Canada, largely due to costs associated with a Canadian-owned dam on the Macal River. Fortis, Inc., the Newfoundland company which owns and operates the dam, has proposed to build a much larger dam upstream, that critics say will only raise electricity rates, while destroying a unique rainforest habitat, home to more than a dozen rare and endangered species, including jaguars, tapir—Belize’s national animal— and an endangered subspecies of Scarlet Macaw, fewer than 200 of which remain in Belize.
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