Robert F. Kennedy Jr., joins Belizean and Canadian Environmentalists to speak out against the Chalillo dam
November 1, 2001, 11:30 AM:
Toronto Stock Exchange, Conference Center Board Room
Robert Kennedy, Jr., Natural Resources Defense Council
|Jamillah Vasquez, Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs
|Sharon Matola, Belize Zoo
|Greg Malone, Newfoundland hydro activist
|Elizabeth May, Sierra Club of Canada
|GrŠinne Ryder, Probe International
Ladies and gentlemen of the press, my name is Grainne Ryder, I am Policy Director for Probe International. Weíre hosting the press conference today. Iíve been investigating Canadaís role in the proposed Chalillo dam in Belizeís Macal River Valley for more than a year now and weíve been working with environmental groups from Canada, Belize and the United States, try and stop the plans by Fortis, to flood the Macal River Valley.
Now, Fortis is a Newfoundland-based Power and Real Estate Company. Itís publicly traded on the Stock Exchange and weíre here today to tell you our concerns about that. We originally, we had invited the directors of Fortis to meet with us here today, but the directors have refused, to meet either in private or at a public forum in St. Johnís. Just recently, weíve learned that Fortis has announced their company is ready to start building this hydro dam in January.
So today weíre announcing a major campaign in Canada, including television ads, print ads, weíve created a website, stopfortis.org and weíre telling people to go there, get the information and take action to help us stop this dam and Iíd just like briefly to show you that 30 sec. television ad now.
So we believe the directors of Fortis have a responsibility to their shareholders to hear our views and to receive the evidence we have that the Chalillo dam is not only an environmental disaster, but an economic boondoggle for Belize and because the directors are not here today, we are appealing directly to all shareholders, all Fortis ratepayers in Atlantic Canada, and all Canadians who have unwittingly subsidized Fortisí plans to use their influence and to urge Fortis to cancel this project for the good of Belize, the environment and the economy.
Joining me here today, are members of our International Coalition united to stop this project, and we have a very distinguished group of environmentalists, so please allow me just to introduce our speakers. We have Mr. Robert Kennedy Jr., who is Senior Attorney for the U.S.-based Natural Resources Defense Council, we have Sharon Matola, who is Director of the Belize Zoo and a tropical education center. Sharon is one of the first persons in Belize to us-to alert the National community to the threat posed by this Canadian company in Belize.
Jamillah Vasquez, sheís executive Director of the Belize Alliance of Conservation Groups BACONGO, and we have Elizabeth May, whoís Executive Director of Canadaís largest grassroots organization, the Sierra Club of Canada and finally we have Greg Malone, from Newfoundland. Heís a long-time environmental activist. He led the campaign six years ago, to stop Fortisí takeover the Newfoundland Hydro -
- and we have other experts in the audience. We have Jacob Scherr, whoís head of NRDCís International program, we have Ari Hershowitz, whoís director of Central Americaís Biogems project and we have Ambrose Tillett, from Belize, whoís Technical Advisor to BACONGO, and a former Senior Utility Planner with Belize Electricity, Belize Electricity being the company thatís majority-owned by Fortis.
So weíre going to go now to the speakers, who will provide you with a few introductory remarks and then weíll open it up to questions from the audience. Thanks very much.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr.:
Iím very happy to be here. I first want to say how happy I was last night to hear that the Premier had announced that the purchase of large parts of the protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine and thatís an issue that Iíve been interested in for several years and just to see the headlines this morning when I got off the plane, it was really a delight for me. I think it reinforces and I want to congratulate the Premier, Mike Harris for that.
But I think it illustrates the commitment that this country has and is known to have around the world to the environment, to a sense of responsibility to future generations. The Belize project is inconsistent with that Canadian tradition, the best traditions of Canada. Itís really, itís about bullying, itís about profiteering, itís a boondoggle that is the worst example of globalization, where a billion-dollar multinational company is going to enrich itself by impoverishing the people of Belize and by destroying a world-class environmental jewel.
The Macal Valley is the last pristine watershed in Northern Central America and one of the last pristine, probably the last pristine watershed North of the Darien Gap. So in most of Central America there is nothing like this left. It is unique. It has been there for tens of thousands of years, a highly evolved system, that has a high degree of endemism. In other words, many of the species that exist there exist nowhere else in the world. Thereís at least 12 listed endangered, threatened species in the Macal Valley, including jaguars, tapirs, and a sub-species of the scarlet macaw that exists nowhere else in the world.
Thereís fewer than 200 (of this sub species of scarlett macaw overall), but thereís a very very strong population in this valley. The same scientists that Fortis hired to do its own review of this project, they are scientists from the London Museum of Natural History, have said that this species will almost certainly disappear off the planet if Fortis goes ahead and develops this project.
The economic benefits of this project are probably zero to the people of Belize. It actually is going to end up imposing a cost and these are people who pay one of the highest rates for their electricity in the world. The electric rates in Belize are completely controlled already by Fortis. Fortis owns the electric company in Belize and the people of this developing nation pay three times the rate for their energy that that people of Canada pay.
The dam will create at most 12 permanent jobs, the smaller dam is also owned by Fortis in that area. That already exists. It employed almost exclusively imported Chinese laborers during the construction project and the same thing is likely to happen now. So Belize probably wonít even get short-term economic benefits from the construction project. This is a large-scale capital project that will have almost no benefits to this country. It will make it even more dependent on a foreign supplier of energy and they could get this energy a lot cheaper and I have to say this. I went down, oh about eight or nine years ago, I went down with a team of NRDC economists to Cuba to try to persuade Fidel Castro to not construct a Chernobyl-style nuclear power plant that had already begun and almost completed construction of the containment zone.
In Cuba and we were able to show Mr. Castro that by using sugarcane remnants from the cane industry in that country and newly developed high efficiency turbines that he could actually generate more electricity with a local product and create more jobs than by investing in this nuclear power plant and largely as a result of our trip the Cuban government made the decision not to go forward with that plan and instead looked at these other forms of energy.
Well, in Belize we have the same opportunities. We had thereís a very large and important sugarcane industry that employs 10,000 people in the Northern part of that country the remnants of the sugarcane are simply being disposed. They are a garbage problem now, they could easily be turned into an energy source for a lot less money than constructing this dam and provide permanent jobs to many more people and itíd be a very very important boon to a struggling sugar industry in this country.
This makes a lot of economic sense. This is one of the reasons why this project has very little support, among the people of Belize, who are very skeptical about the energy company, which again is owned by Fortis, which has raised their energy rates because of a series of other boondoggles and even within the Belize government in the last weeks, we have seen resignations and a lot of internal discord because of this project. As I said, this is the worst kind of example of globalization. If Fortis tried to do this project in Newfoundland, it could not do it. It would be illegal. These kinds of dams, thereís a moratorium on these kinds of dams in Newfoundland now.
We got involved in this, NRDC got involved in this project because we were contacted by citizens of Belize, who said that there complaints about this boondoggle were falling on deaf ears. At that point, the primary actor in promoting this dam project was Duke Power of North Carolina. We began a campaign against Duke. We helped generate tens of thousands of letters to Duke and Duke was thoughtful about the issue. It saw that this really was a project that was likely to enrich their shareholders but to injure Belize in a way that was very serious and they decided to back off of the project. Unfortunately, Fortis took over - and Fortis did this, Iím sorry to say, with some surreptitious help, from the Canadian government, which provided $250,000 to do a justification study. (cont.)
Which has been denied by the Canadian government and then subsequently admitted, but many of the documents that are part of that justification study have not been provided to the government, to the to the public, and weíve asked for them, weíve requested them, weíve tried to get them from the Canadian government to no avail.
One of our primary objectives on this campaign is to publicize the involvement of the Canadian government in this shady deal to publicize and to educate the Canadian public that their money and a Canadian corporation are really involved in activities in Belize that are going to bring shame on all Canadians. This is not a project that anybody can seriously argue is going to bring benefits to the people of Belize. It is, as I said, going to enrich a billion-dollar multi-national corporation and impoverish the people of that country and in some ways, irreparably.
Iíd like to introduce now, Sharon Matola, who is one of the experts and one of the few people who spend a lot of time in the Macal Valley, which is as I said, the last pristine watershed in Northern Central America and one of the most inaccessible places in the Western Hemisphere.
Thank-you. Thanks for coming everybody. This is an extremely important issue that weíre discussing, as Grainne Ryder mentioned, I was one of the first people to bring the issue to light and it was pretty lonely back then, so I canít thank all of you enough, especially the Natural Resources Defense Council and especially the fact that when youíre doing something alone you need inspiration and I have to say one of the most inspiring works that I turned to back then was a book called Riverkeeper. It was one of the most motivating resources that I had, doing this alone, over two years ago now.
My name is Sharon Matola, I have lived in Belize for about 20 years and Iíve done field research in this area now threatened by Fortisí Chalillo dam since 1990 but I want to give you a visual picture of what weíre talking about. If you think that Central America is a carpet of tropical jungle youíre wrong. This is a shredded landscape.
In the past 40 years, over 70 percent of this forest has been destroyed. However, now that I gave you that grim picture, as I speak there is this little country called Belize. Itís about the size of New Brunswick and it still has a really healthy chunk of tropical forest and within this healthy chunk of tropical forest, thereís a very, very, very remote river valley called the Upper Macal River.
And it is so special. Itís nature in overdrive. Itís biological diversity expressed today, as itís been expressed for hundreds and hundreds of years. Itís unique and I got to know it very well in 1990, when I started studying tapirs there. A tapirís a huge animal, itís over 400 pounds. Itís related to the horse and the rhinoceros. Itís an endangered species. Itís been wiped out. Itís extinct in most parts of Central America. We see it every time we go there for fieldwork. How rare is it? In 1879, a biologist named Tom Spelled (sp?) traveled all way from England to Nicaragua. He stayed four years - he just wanted to see one - never saw any.
In July this year, we spent a week doing some reconnaissance work with scarlet macaws - we saw 11. Itís an endangered species. It lives there. These guys have been around since the age of dinosaurs. Now studying the tapirs brought me to realize the important and vital role of that river valley, the same one thatís threatened by this 150-foot cement structure, called the Fortis Chalillo Dam.
Another endangered species called the scarlet macaw. Now this is a three-foot-long big red parrot. I can tell you from field research that less than 200 remain in Belize. In that river valley, itís the only place in Belize where we know they mate, they breed and they raise their young. Itís the only place. Itís the only place in Northern Central America where this species lives, minus any human intervention.
All of that would be destroyed should this dam go forward. Now when you study the bird, you just donít go out - I mean it takes two days to get to the study site and the bird, you have to chase it through the jungle, but you have to do that. Where does it nest, what does it eat and Iíll never forget the day we were chasing three pair through the jungle and we went straight into the jungle and I said ďGreg, (I work with a Mayan Indian) we need to climb this hill, theyíre eating something, I havenít seen them eat there before.Ē So we climbed up this hill. It wasnít a hill. It was a temple of the ancient Maya.
In this area, these birds lead us to the ruins of ancient people. When we took archaeologists back to these places, they say ďIncredible, significant ruins.Ē Those ruins would be drowned, by the Fortis, Chalillo Dam.
And ruins donít grow back. I mean these are resources, this is a cultural heritage of a country that is destroyed - sorry (laughter) and it shouldnít happen. So, I want you to know that the opinions that I have shared with you are not just mine. The Natural History Museum of London as Bobby so succinctly pointed out - they did the studies for the dam proponents. They said it is an extremely rare fragile ecosystem. Donít go forward with this dam.
This opinion has been upheld by countless scientists including Canadaís own David Suzuki, who has said, ďSave it, donít destroy it. Donít sacrifice this precious landscape for an energy project that has clearly shown to be a very bad project for a very good country called Belize.Ē
And I think that we need to work together, we need to stand united, because if this Chalillo dam, if Fortisí program does go forward, it is nothing less than environmental crime, expressed to its very highest degree. Thank you. Iíd like to introduce our executive director of BACONGO, the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs Ms. Jamillah Vasquez.
Hi, good morning ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jamillah. As Executive Director of the Belize Alliance of Conservation NGOs, I represent nine environmental organizations from various aspects of the country. BACONGO represents and voices the concerns of those local people who would directly be affected if the Chalillo Dam is built. The effects would be felt economically, culturally and environmentally.
People living downstream depend on the Macal River and as Ambrose Tillett, our Technical Consultor has pointed out in his comments in the EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) flooding and contamination would render this river unusable. The current dam that Fortis now owns has already given us problems. The government of Belize has claim that this existing dam would decrease electricity rates. My friend, the total opposite has occurred. So why are Belizeans to expect anything positive from Chalillo.
Canadians can do something to help. We need to unify and together we can stop Fortis in their tracks. The Chalillo Dam is a bad deal for Belize. It isnít as if though there are no other energy options available. We want coal generation, not Fortisí Chalillo dam. Coal generation, or the burning of sugarcane would empower the livelihoods of at least 10,000 Belizeans. We want that, not Fortisí Chalillo dam. If you think there is no local opposition to this project, you are wrong. In five days, hundreds of Belizeans are expected to congregate at our nationís capital, in the airport to have a protest.
Those participating in these protests will include the Mayas from the south, the cane farmers from the north and the people who live along this Macal River. Also, please note that the government of Belize is not unified in the decision to build the Chalillo dam. In conclusion, I would like to say that on behalf of hundreds and thousands of Belizeans, I am offended that a company like Fortis could think that they could get away with building a dam in my country. Thank you.
Hello, my nameís Elizabeth May, Iím the Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada and I donít think Iíve every been so proud to work with anyone in my life as I am to work with Sharon. We only met today, weíve been working together to try to stop Fortis from this despicable project of damming the Macal River Valley.
I just want to say very few things, because thereís very little that one can add to the eloquence and the detail and the passion youíve already heard from previous speakers. Iíd just like to state for the record that Sierra Club of Canada, our member groups and individual members throughout Atlantic Canada and across Canada and the director of our Atlantic chapter is also hear today are committed to stopping Fortis and if we canít stop them, by God weíll punish them. Iíll never stay in one of their hotels again in Atlantic Provinces, the Delta Sydney, the Delta St. John. Weíll make sure that all their tenants in the big office towers in Halifax know what theyíre doing.
Weíll find their shareholders, weíll make them sell their shares of stock and we will stop them from starting construction in January. Theyíve broken their word to us. Stanley Marshall, the CEO of Fortis promised that if the environmental assessment which the taxpayers of Canada mind you so graciously made possible with a grant of $250,000, that if that environmental assessment showed environmental damage he would not go ahead.
And when no less than an authority than the Natural History Museum of London supports what BACONGO had been saying and what the Belize Zoo Naturalist and experts had been saying, theyíve chosen to ignore those words. We have options, we have renewable energy resources in sugarcane, there are alternatives. The tapir, the scarlet macaw and the people of Belize deserve more than the options of the dammed and Canadians will be ashamed to eternity if we are not able to stop this. Therefore, I submit to you that with the television ads, which start running soon, the newspaper ads, which are running now, we will get the word out to Canadians and turn Fortis around. Iíd like to give you now, one of the leaders of the fight on the ground in Newfoundland, Greg Malone.
Thank-you Elizabeth. Hi, Iím Greg Malone and Iíve been sent up here by several Newfoundland environmental groups that many individuals that are very concerned about what Fortis is trying to do in Belize. Of course, Fortis is based in Newfoundland and it has often been a very good corporate citizen, involving itself in recycling projects and composting projects, etcetera. About six years ago, I did find myself on the opposite side of the fence from Fortis, which is where I am firmly, today. Fortis owns Newfoundland power, which supplies, which distributes power to most of the province of Newfoundland.
What they wanted to do was to acquire Newfoundland Labrador Hydro, a publically-owned Crown Corporation which generates and supplies that power. They had the golden eggs, they wanted the hen that laid them and the government of Newfoundland, with a lot of Fortis connections in it, introduced legislation to privatize hydro.
Now itís a great story, but the short of it is, after a one-year struggle against very great odds, we stopped that dam. Now, we stopped that sale. Now, the sale price at the time was 300-million dollars. Now, since that date, hydro has returned to the provincial treasury over 400 million dollars in dividends to the people, the ratepayers of Newfoundland who paid for and still own that utility.
If Fortis had got it, they would have received those dividends, they would have paid off their costs years ago and they would be receiving those dividends and dividends for years to come. They would have been the big winners, the people of Newfoundland would have been big, big losers, but that didnít happen. The people of Newfoundland won, as they should have won.
Now, Fortis seems to want in Belize, what they could not get in Newfoundland. As youíve heard, they control Belize Electric Limited, which distributes the power in Belize and now they want to own and control the means of generation and supply of that power. A monopoly, with a captive audience. Just what every capitalist wants, of course as Bill
Gates and others keep reminding us, thereís nothing capital dislikes quite so much as competition.
Give them a monopoly any day and by all means give them a river. Who doesnít want a river? Itís probably the best guaranteed income you will ever get. You donít have to pay Mexico for power, you donít have to pay for messy coal or oil or even sugarcane. You donít have to pay for nothing. The river does all the work for you - a very sweet deal. Too sweet by far.
In Newfoundland, weíve spent the last several years fighting off these dams. Every yo-yo with enough money for a generator wants a river. Apparently, but of course once the river starts working for the new owners, it stops working for everyone and everything else. It dies. You know, weíve only been damming rivers around the world in a big way for the past 100 years, to the great delight of the concrete lobby and for decade after decade weíve saying we donít need that lake - flood it. We donít need that river - dam it, we donít need that river, we donít need that one.
Exactly how many rivers donít we need? Weíre probably going to find out very soon, weíre a very curious species, but we do know the effects of the dams. The evidence is in and itís quite conclusive. Dams equal death. There is no mitigation. There is no rescuing the scarlet macaw, no mouth-to-mouth for the jaguar, no saving the tapir. They die. Theyíre flooded, they drown, they lose their home, they lose their food, they die. Their story is over.
We humans, we stand at the top of the pyramid of life and underneath us, very complex organisms like the monkey and the jaguar and everything all the way down to simple amoebas and itís a very broad base and itís a very comfortable position we occupy, but due to our accelerated rate of destruction and extinctions, the base of that pyramid is a lot smaller today than it was a hundred years ago.
And if we continue to destroy other life forms, we may soon find ourselves standing on a flagpole, with a straight line between us and pond scum. Weíre simply not sophisticated enough yet to know the real value, the real value of the complex plant and animal life in the Macal Valley. What it will offer us in terms of DNA or pharmaceuticals or herbs or and understanding of life itself, we donít know yes, but itís too are advantage to make sure that we get a chance to find out. We need that river and the sacrifice and the destruction, of any rare and diverse life system, must produce great advantages to a large amount of people, not just to a few people in some company in Canada and certainly thereís no advantage to the people of Belize.
Their rates will go up and the people in the valley will suffer greatly from this dam and for what? Six, seven megawatts of power? I nearly choked when I heard it. The Upper Churchill River, the Upper Churchill Dam on the Churchill River in Labrador caused great environmental damage, no doubt it did. No extinctions, but significant damage over a large area, but it does boot out six thousand megawatts of power, not six. Six megawatts, seven megawatts my friends? It cannot possibly justify the extent of the damage that is going to occur.
Seven megawatts of power? Put the members of the board of directors of Fortis on stationary bikes and let them pedal up that much power.(laughter) Country after country in the developing world is decommissioning these dams in an attempt to bring back life to their river systems and push back the damage that they have caused. Newfoundland, as Mr. Kennedy just said, has now imposed a moratorium on dams on the island after the tragic loss on the Star Lake ecosystem. This could not happen here in Canada.
The board of directors of Fortis cannot possibly justify taking the life from the Macal River Valley to increase their dividends. I urge them to show some healthy shame and to withdraw and not take what does not belong to them. Fortis has a comfortable profit margin. Yesterday they announced greater than expected earnings. This is not about the survival of Fortis. This is about the survival of life in the Macal Valley. Thank-you.
(Questions begin/paraphrased in italics)
Question: For Mr. Kennedy - How do you respond to those who think this is a good idea for Belize, that this is a vital project for our country?
Yeah, we need power to exist, to flourish, to service our communities to create jobs. There are much cheaper, more efficient ways of getting this power than building this dam. The amount of energy that is going to be generated by this dam is laughably low. Itís six or seven megawatts and you know many dams and power plants create tens of thousands of megawatts of power. The load of energy that exist in sugarcane alone is hundreds of times that and that power is extractable much cheaper. Itís a local source of power, so - the problem with this dam is it doesnít make economic sense -
- and certainly the economics of this dam do not justify the destruction of species that is going to occur if this dam is created. You know, we have to ultimately - itís not, itís bad economics but itís also a moral question. Do we have the right to create, to destroy something that we donít have the ability to recreate and thatís what Fortis is doing.
Belize - former Senior Utility Planner with Belize Electricity
The question of energy sufficiency was an issue that was just brought up this year. When Fortis started its campaign. Previous to this, since the early part of the 1990s, we have forged a very strong relationship between Belize and Mexico and right now we have a contract which goes to 2007 and we purchased 25 megawatts from Mexico under a special agreement and we take up to about 40 megawatts about 15 more megawatts under market pricing and BEL went ahead and invested 40 million U.S. dollars to support that arrangement.
Now since Fortis has taken over the company, thereís been a shift away from the cheapest source, using Mexico which is a resource which has cheaper ways of producing energy, to self-sufficiency, but it is really convenient that they are using that now, when previous to this the last 10 years they have been saying, ďwe want the cheapest sourceĒ -
- and as Bobby pointed out, I mean, this project is very small. I mean, the capacity of the plant is about 7.3 megawatts. The actual firm capacity weíll produce on a normal level is only about 3 megawatts. Itís miniscule.
We know that they can create the energy a lot cheaper by investing in high-efficiency turbines associated with the cane industry, but the argument that this is about self-sufficiency by Belize is not a credible argument, because if the choice is between Mexico and getting their energy from a foreign nation in Mexico or getting is from a foreign company in Canada, whatís the difference? You still have a monopoly there. I mean here you have a monopoly by a Canadian company that is not voted into office any more than the Mexican government.
So, itís really, I donít think itís credible to argue that this is about self-sufficiency. Itís, there are a lot better sources within Belize to make the country self-sufficient and the utility itself is owned by a Canadian company. Thatís not self-sufficiency.
Question: For Mr. Malone - Fortis has said that this is issue for the people of Belize to decide, not for us
No, theyíre an international company and theyíre going into Belize and their shareholders are here. It crosses a lot of boundaries, you know. It is our business and itís in Fortisí interest only to put up the dam and try to achieve that kind of self-sufficiency that they have but these tropical dams are notoriously inefficient. I mean, they have rainy seasons there and in the dry season theyíre just about wiped out. (cont.)
In fact thatís the reason theyíre putting up they want to put up this dam is to correct the inefficiencies on the dam they put downstream which suffers from chronic water shortages and is supposed to put out 25 megawatts but doesnít so theyíre really throwing good money after bad in this situation and no - we have every right to be to be in there at the invitation of the Belize people to protest this.
If I could answer that question too. You know, I think it grates a lot of people who have questions about globalization when a large powerful billion dollar multinational says that well we donít have any responsibility for the impacts of what we do in this country because the government said it was O.K. for us to do that -
- and, itís so obvious that large corporations billion dollar corporation - foreign dollar corporation can so easily dominate the local political landscapes in a nation like Belize. Thatís why people are worried about globalization, because you have companies coming in and doing these projects, companies that actually have values that exceed the gross national product of that country who, who wield extraordinary political clout because of the wealth that they bring with them.
And they can come in to a place like Belize, they can overcome the impediments of democracy in that country and if you polled the people of Belize and the polling has been done, they donít want this project. Thereís a high level of distrust for the energy company in Belize and they donít want the project and in fact there are many government officials who donít want the project. So, itís a few government officials who are persuaded in one form or another by large corporations who are coming in and in this day and age, I donít think we can allow our corporate citizens to disassociate themselves from the impacts that theyíre imposing on these, on developing nations.
We have to hold them accountable. They know they would never be able to do this project in Canada and they would never be able to do it in the United States and Iím very grateful and Iím proud that Duke Power acknowledged that and they said ďyes, this is something that has moral overtones and that we know we could never do this kind of project in our country and so weíre not going to do it in Belize -
-and unfortunately you had a Canadian company who stepped in and said we donít have those kind of qualms. We donít have those kind of scruples. Weíre willing to go down there and do something that I believe is criminal, because itís a crime against future generations. Itís a crime - theyíre using their political clout to get away with something that they know is wrong. Itís wrong for the people of Belize, itís wrong for the economy and itís absolutely - itís a theft from future generations, not only of Belize but of the global environment, of all the global population, because theyíre stealing something that can never be recreated, which is these valuable species, a dozen of which will probably go extinct because of this project.
and I might add too, that originally Stan Marshall of Fortis was acting like the man with all the power. If the environmentalists say (this last word not very clear) that this will cause environmental damage, we will not do it. When that was manifestly clear, he ran around to the back door and said ďWell, itís up to the Belize government. They really have the power here. Right? You know what I mean. Itís up to whatever they want to do. So, you know, heís trying to have it both ways, really. But if we want to believe in free trade, if we want to believe in free access to information, and free protest, or free debate and all the rest of it that goes with this, you know, then weíre pretty weak.
Question: As a Newfoundlander is it particularly galling that this is an issue in Belize? Because Newfoundland itself has had so many difficult experiences with hydro electric dams in terms of business contracts and environmental damage to them, to see a Newfoundland company doing this in Belize?
Yah, it is a bit galling to see them try to get away with something in Belize they couldnít get away with in Newfoundland. And that was, you know, would have great public debate would have great public debate about it and we had a poll. In the end fully(?) 80% of the population was against this sale to Fortis. All of that, you know what I mean? It was clearly demonstrated that it was only in the interest of a few shareholders and that the majority, that great many people would suffer. As it is, exactly as is the case in Belize. Theyíve gone to a smaller country, were 500,000 in Newfoundland. Belize has 250,000. So theyíve gone to a smaller country in the hope their clout, you know, will win the day for them down there. But when people in Newfoundland do find out theyíre disgusted.
People who look into it. And thatís why Iíve been sent up here by so many individuals who haveÖ I had a ton of emails before I came up saying, you know, go for it. This is great. You know what I mean? Fortis, shocking that theyíre trying to get away with this in Belize, when we stopped them in Newfoundland. You know. They didnít learn their lesson. I just hope we can stop them here.
Question: The government of Belize has said that these species are not actually endangered. They donít exist on an endangered species list. Can you comment?
Thatís not true. Thatís completely not true. But this whole issue has been followed by untrue statements from the very beginning. Including Stan Marshall saying that he has spoken to me, and then I didnít have any words to say to him at all which is a complete lie. The scarlet macaw is so rare that Bird Life International, which has the mandate to address categories of protection for 9,000 of species of birds in the world, took particular interest in this and addressed it in a letter, which I have with me if anyone would like to see, stating that the population, because of the low numbers, should be elevated to endangered and should this dam go forward it would critically fragment its reproductive habitat -
- and it should then be considered critically endangered. The tapir, which the government says isnít endangered at all, is so rare that it has recently been elevated to the category of endangered by the International Union for The Conservation of Nature, IUCN, which is the largest conservation organization in the world. Jaguars are extinct in most of their range, their remaining range. Dr. Allen Rabinowitz, who has done the pioneer work on jaguar research, Ö.theyíre endangered, they are extinct. They donít live any more in these parts. Iíve seen them in this river valley. Theyíd be dead should this dam go forward. So, it just isnít true, and I can back up what I have said with documentation.
Comment: All macaw species, at this point, are listed as endangered by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, by CITES. There are six species in the Macal Valley that are listed as endangered or threatened under CITES. In addition I believe there are another five species that are on the IUCN red list. And these are the principal lists thatÖ. the international forums that govern listing endangered species. So, in fact, there are 12 altogether that are listed either by the IUCN or by CITIES. And we would be happy to provide you with a list of those species, right now.
Another comment: It goes even further than that. Fortisí own study, if you look at their own environmental impact assessment, showed the endangered listing of all these species. So, it is not as if they donít have access to the information.
Question: I spoke with Stan Marshall in May and I just spoke with him today at about 10:00 oíclock this morning. He seemed no more inclined to back down today than he ever was. Iím wondering,Ötwo questions. First what are you going to do if he decides to proceed, which I think he will? And just a question practically of where things stand. I understand that it is now resting with the Belize committee, Environment Committee. I donít know. They say thereís a few environmental people on that committee but I suppose itís expected to be rubber-stamped through. If you could explain where things are at?
Weíre going to use every tool of advocacy in this campaignÖthat we need to stop the dam. They are on a fast track, and I believe, I think itís clear to everybody that Mr. Marshall has put this on a fast track because he knows how shaky the project is and that the more public scrutiny, the less chance that this will ever be constructed. You know, our objective isÖWe know that the best way to get cockroaches out of the room is to turn on the light and if you want to, what we want to do is shine the light on this project and show the public how loaded with cockroaches it is. Our objective is litigation if we have it, agitation, education, do everything we can to educate the public. If people know whatís going on with this project, this project will never happen. If the citizens of Belize are informed of this, if the citizens of Newfoundland, if the shareholders, if we can get the word out, I am absolutely confident that we can stop this project. (cont.)
The only way that this project can proceed is if itís done in secret and, without the public knowing the true implications of what Fortis is up to and what Mr. Marshal (is) up to. This is, as I said, Iíve worked on a lot of environmental issues. I canít think of one, that is more borderline criminal behavior than what Fortis is up to with this project and, if the public, ..we are confident that if we can, if we can get the word out to the public, even in the short time that we have leftÖand Fortis is trying to rush this through, so they can start construction in January. Already we have gotten the word out in Belize and this week, one of the government officials resigned because of this project and, more government officials are now talking about doing the same thing.
So the more people know about this project the less chance that it will ever be constructed and if everybody knows about it I can guarantee you it will never be constructed.
Comment: Weíre asking people to go to stopfortis.org to learn more about the project and also to organize the opposition to the project.
There is an environmental committee, the National Environmental Appraisal Committee, that is has the overlook to judge whether the EIA should be accepted or not. Their first meeting was last week, or rather twelve days ago. The upcoming week is going to see the second meeting. They have said the EIA has many shortfalls. There are many gaps of information. This is the EIA that Stan Marshall said was ďworld class.Ē Itís so full of misleading information, actually quite a few mis-statements and lies. And there is a great paucity of data that needed to be accomplished before it can even be considered. So, what Stan is talking about isnít being realistic. The reality barometer of Fortis is pretty low. They need to look at this EIA as a document, as a process. The people on the committee, as you say, thatís what everyone is thinking. It will be rubber-stamped, but it has to have the data first, before they can make any decision to go forward or not and IUCN and Natural History Museum both, these are independent analysis saying more information simply is needed.
Comment: The technical committee has eleven members. Two of them are non-governmental organizations, including one seat held thatís held by BACONGO. The others are all government members, and even today they show a lot of concern about the inadequacy of the document. But thereís still a lot of concern that political pressure either force the committee to push this through or overrule whatever the committeeís decision is.
Question: How does that work? Answer: I believe itís a majority of six out of the eleven.
Question: Just a short question for Mr. Malone. Your former Premier, recently Brian Tobin, is now the Industry Minister of Canada, and favored son of our current Prime Minister. The obstruction you are getting on this situation is what we have come to expect as standard operating procedure from the Chretien government. Iím just curious, how closely do you feel that this story is linked to the current leadership ambitions of Mr. Tobin and (his branch) of the Liberal party?
Ah, I donít know actually. I really donít know how this connects to the leadership race within the Liberal Party. Ah..thatís the short answer to that. I dare say there are connections if you want to dig for them. There, you knowÖall these caves are connected somewhere.
Comment by Nicolas Sanchez, Belize:
Iím Nicolas Sanchez. Iíve been in Canada about 48 year. (Change of mic) Good afternoon folks. Iím from Belize. Iíve lived in Canada for about 48 years. But Iíve been through all that country your talking about. Back in 1951 or so, when I was just a youngster, I walked through that place, working with the..Robert H. Ray, an independent exploration company out of Houston, Texas, searching for oil. Iím not sure, somebody asked, said it was the government of Belize. Well, Iím wondering how many government officials have ever been in that place except for the forestry department. They donít know whatís back there. They probably have never been back there.
But, there is millions and millions of tons of cohune nut, not all that size..but that fall to the forest floor every year. Along with the bagasse, or the residue of the sugarcane, Iím sure those two items alone could make enough energy, way surpassing whatever they could get from this Chaillo Dam. And, so I would say to Sharon and Jamillah, when they go back. We can start this. If you really want to help the people of Belize, then the sugarcane, the bagasse from the sugarcane would help the farmers, the cane farmers. Just make what they could get in addition to the sugarcane price for their sugar, theÖthe bagasse, a few pennies, would pay for their fertilizer. And if you want to harvest the cohune nuts from all over the country. There are millions and millions of treesÖ Thereís a map there. And thereís millions and millions of trees and pounds of, each pound of cohune nut is about this tall, and itís just loaded. Maybe each tree would produce maybe about 3 to 400 pounds. And you can use this. You can make charcoal. It makes the best filter for gas masks. Because during World War II thatís where they got the cohune nut, they made it into a cohune coconut filter and the gas that comes out of that can be use (for a) turbine, to generate electricity. So, this dam is a damn dam. Lets damn it. Thank you.
More questions? If there arenít any more questions and if you want more details about the flawed economics of this project: My name is Grainne Ryder. Iím with Probe International. Iíve just written an article. Itís in the Financial Post. It was in yesterday. Weíre making the economic case against this project along with our colleagues from Belize. And, if there are no further questions Iíd like to thank you very much for coming. Please make sure youíve picked up the information at the back. And Iíd also just like to make a quick announcement. Our colleagues are here from the Conservation and the Oak Ridges Moraine Trust. If any of you are interested in their work and the event they are holding tonight, with Bobby Kennedy, please stick around and youíre welcome to ask questions.
Immediately following the Press Conference: On camera interview with Ari Hershowitz:
Question: Tell me what you think the key points are about the Chalillo Dam?
Ari Hershowitz: I think the key points are that the Belizian people donít want it, that it represents a monopoly control by a foreign corporation of Belizeís natural resources and energy production. And that this will, in the long term, mean economic decline for Belize and ruin for an incredible bio-diverse area in southern Belize.
Question: Nobody mentioned the issue of karst. That the dam might be ineffective. Do you have anything to say about that?
Right. Well, there are a lot of key issues that this dam does not address. There are a lot of ways that this dam could fail. The studies to determine how much water would come into the dam, which means, which turns into how much energy it could produce, are very, very deficient. They have only done five point samples at the site where the dam would be built. Thatís in contrast to thousands and thousands of samples if a respectable engineering company were really interested in power production from this dam. It doesnít really matter to Fortis whether they produce energy at all, because theyíve got a guaranteed contract for the Belizean people to pay whether they make energy or not.
So not only have they not done the studies to show that thereís going to be enough rainfall for the dam to produce the energy that they want, but as you point out, thereís a cave system, a very extensive cave system, one of the largest in Central America that is right behind where the dam would be built. Thereís evidence that there are entrances to that cave system within the area that would be flooded, and Fortis has completely ignored that, and ignored the fact that the lake that would be build up by the dam would fritter away into the extensive cave systems..
Question: There was also very little said about the Mayan ruins and of the archaeological potential.
Right. Well the Maya sites have only recently been discovered. Itís a very remote area. And that makes these sites unique in Central America in that they have not been excavated. They havenít been looted. Unlike almost any Maya sites that you would find in Central America, these are in pristine shape. This is the cultural heritage for the people of Belize. But any legal procedures in Belize the government would have to do a full assessment, fully excavate all of the Maya sites. But that would take time. That would push them past their deadline, and they are very afraid that this whole deal is going to fall apart before their eyes. So they donít have time to do the proper assessments of the archaeology.
Question: Do you want to say any thing about the political situation, the conflicts in Belize?
Ari Hershowitz: Well, Iíve been very encouraged since weíve been working in Belize for nearly two years now, that the Belizian people have become much more vocal. Theyíve felt a certain strength from getting the international community behind them that they didnít have before. Originally you would hear private conversations where people would be opposed to the dam, would be skeptical of Fortis and of BEL, but they were scared for their jobs, sometimes for their lives, to speak out in public. The government has, in its government publications, called opponents of the dam ďenemies of the state.Ē Thatís turned around now. The government may still be putting the pressure, but people are feeling bolder. Thereís going to be a protest on November 6th, in Belize. Even within the government thereís turmoil over this issue and other issues of natural resource extraction that the government has done, not in the interests of the people of Belize and I think this is soon going to overwhelm the few wealthy interests that want to see this project go through.
Question: Any other special comments you want to make?
Ari Hershowitz: I want to, I would like to say how thrilled Iíve been at the international aspect of this campaign. This is one of the best examples of true international cooperation. Our partners in Belize asked us to come in, we worked with Canadian groups, and now we have a really extensive and very fortified network, throughout Canada, especially in Atlantic Canada, Fortis home, in Belize, in the United States. And now we are going to get more and more citizens involved, to really stop this project.
Question: Your full name and permission to use your comments, please?
Ari Hershowitz: Iím Ari Hershowitz. I work with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Iím the Director of the Latin America Biogems project. (And permission?) Yes, absolutely.
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