INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Belize: Tropical Forest Conservation Act Oversight Board

Published: Thu 21 Dec 2006 04:04 PM
VZCZCXYZ0000
RR RUEHWEB
DE RUEHSJ #2800/01 3551633
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 211633Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY SAN JOSE
TO RUEHBE/AMEMBASSY BELMOPAN 0007
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6883
INFO RUEHZA/WHA CENTRAL AMERICAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHBR/AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 0788
RUEHME/AMEMBASSY MEXICO 3843
RUEHBH/AMEMBASSY NASSAU 0247
RUEHWN/AMEMBASSY BRIDGETOWN 0743
RUEHPU/AMEMBASSY PORT AU PRINCE 0555
RUEHGE/AMEMBASSY GEORGETOWN 0418
RUEHKG/AMEMBASSY KINGSTON 0764
RUEHPO/AMEMBASSY PARAMARIBO 0327
RUEHSP/AMEMBASSY PORT OF SPAIN 0453
RUEHUB/USINT HAVANA 0029
UNCLAS SAN JOSE 002800
SIPDIS
SIPDIS
STATE FOR OES/PCI (LSPERLING)AND WHA/CEN (JMACK)
STATE PLEASE PASS TO AID
AID FOR SCOTT LAMPMAN
SANTO DOMINGO FOR MICHAEL DONALD
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SENV ECON PGOV EAGR SOCI BH
SUBJECT: BELIZE: TROPICAL FOREST CONSERVATION ACT OVERSIGHT BOARD
MEETING
1. SUMMARY. REO attended the November 2, 2006 meeting of the
Belize Tropical Forest Conservation Act Oversight Committee in
remote Punta Gorda. The meeting provided an opportunity to review
2006 NGO reports, which focused on community outreach and
enforcement activities, and approve 2007 workplans. While the PACT
Foundation reported agreement in principle on guidelines for
managing Foundation monies intended for a small grants program,
subsequent private conversations suggested that differences among
Foundation Board members may result in tasking another entity to
manage Foundation funds. Oversight Committee members recommended to
REO that a second debt for nature swap be considered. END SUMMARY.
2. REO attended the November 2 Board meeting of the Belize Tropical
Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) Oversight Committee meeting (the
Committee) in Punta Gorda, Belize at Toledo Institute for
Development and Environment (TIDE) headquarters. Members of the
Committee included Artemio Osorio (Ministry of Finance); Wilbur
Sabido (Ministry of Natural Resources); Marnix Perez (Protected
Areas Conservation Trust-PACT); Valdemar Andrade (PACT Foundation -
the Foundation); Anna Hoare (Belize Audubon Society-BAS); Edilberto
Romero (Programme for Belize-PfB); Alex Martinez (Nature
Conservancy); Wil Maheia (Toledo Institute for Development and
Environment -TIDE); and REO on behalf of U.S. Embassy Belize. Also
in attendance were Dominique Lizama (BAS), Herbert Haylock (PfB);
and Angelica Chavarria (TIDE).
PATIENCE WEARS THIN OVER FOUNDATION NEGOTIATIONS
------------------------------------
3. Andrade briefed the Committee on the status of the Foundation
established by the U.S.-Belize TFCA agreement to support small
grants to the wider Belize environmental NGO community. Divisions
on the Foundation Board (the Board) between the NGOs (BAS, PfB, and
TIDE) and government (PACT) prevented both agreement on procedures
for managing Foundation funds and the scheduled October call for
projects. (These divisions prompted NGO to insist that the
Foundation hired its own lawyer to avoid relying on PACT counsel.)
PACT and NGO Board members also differed over the base for
calculating PACT's proposed 15 percent fee. PACT wished the base to
be Foundation income earned (NGOs argued that PACT would have no
incentive to actually disburse funds) while NGOs wished to apply the
percentage on actual monies disbursed (which placed the risk of
delay in decision-making on PACT). Andrade reported that the
November 2 Foundation Board meeting reached an agreement in
principle on the issue, but NGOs reserved judgement until they could
scrutinize the fine print.
4. Both NGOs and PACT privately raised the possibility that the
Foundation administrator (currently PACT) might be replaced if
agreement could not be reached. The three NGOs argued that any one
of them can manage Foundation funds as effectively as PACT. Should
the fund migrate to another institution, PACT would prefer to remove
"PACT" from the Foundation name in order to establish a new vehicle
for fundraising.
HIGHLIGHTS OF NGO REPORTS
-------------------------
5. All reports emphasized improvement to park infrastructure like
new guardhouses, renovated trails and renovated quarters. Each also
highlighted community outreach, ranging from educational
presentations to children's activities. The three NGOs noted that
their freedom to cover park staff salaries gave them the security to
leverage funds for more innovative projects than would otherwise be
the case.
6. BELIZE AUDUBON SOCIETY (BAS)
Seventy percent of Land Management funds were used to cover the
salaries of ten field staff to manage 9 protected areas. The
balance was used for administrative support and as partial payment
for its Executive Director, accountant and Park Manager. Highlights
included:
-- Outreach to surrounding landowners to share information about
illegal loggers and hunters transiting property.
-- Cooperation with Armenia Mayan Women's Group to build a
community gift shop, conduct birding walks, and hold a clean-up
campaign.
-- Mapped Saint Herman's Blue Hole and Guanacaste National Parks
and conducted overflights and joint patrols with police and defense
forces.
7. TOLEDO INSTITUTE FOR DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENT (TIDE)
TIDE's 2007 goals largely mirrored its 2006 activities. Of
particular interest were its outreach efforts on behalf of the
endangered Hicattee turtle and the second season of its innovative
Freshwater Cup, in which local teams are as competitive in putting
forward environmental projects as they are on the soccer field.
Monies were spent on TIDE Private Lands Initiative enhancement,
pushing its land acquisitions to 23,000 hectares, and on hiring
rangers, a Science Director and a forest management specialist; and
conducting river and ground patrols of private lands, including
alternating patrols with three other NGOs of the Bladen Management
Area. TFCA Support helped make possible:
-- development of a medicinal garden, nurturing of 800 mahogany
seedlings and the designation of two areas for scientific
monitoring;
-- 21 patrols with police and Forest Department officials that
destroyed three gill nets and posted eleven signs on fishing and
hunting regulations;
-- participation in forestry/land conservation conferences and
training opportunities on fire management, medical emergencies, and
boat and engine maintenance.
8. PROGRAMME FOR BELIZE (PfB)
PfB manages the Rio Bravo Conservation Area, which constitutes 4
percent of the country. In FY 2006, 2/3 of PfB funds covered
salaries of park personnel; nearly 1/3 was used to cover
administrative expenses; and 4 percent supported communication
system maintenance, vehicle repair and aerial reconnaissance. TFCA
funds leveraged a Wallace Foundation donation to support the study
of the endangered Yellow Hooded Parrot. Rangers reported an
increase in poaching and illegal fishing, to which they responded
with increased patrols; detected and destroyed 5 marijuana fields;
and halted two illegal logging operations that resulted in charges
against 6 persons and 2 convictions.
RAISING A SECOND DEBT SWAP WITH TREASURY
------------------------------------
9. Regardless of differences over the Foundation, Oversight
Committee members were enthusiastic about a second debt swap, which
Osorio valued at USD 3.5 million. While attending the November 7-9
Environmental Fund Network for Latin America and the Caribbean (Red
de Fondos Ambientales de Latinoamerica y el Caribe -REDLAC), Andrade
and REO raised the recommendation with Department of Treasury
official Katie Berg. Berg took the request under consideration,
noted the requirements to be met, and observed that the delay in
implementing the Foundation did not strengthen the case for a second
swap. She emphasized that more detailed reporting from NGOs on the
fruits of their expenditures would be useful, and inquired how
administrative fees authorized by the agreement were used.
PUNTA GORDA: NOT ON THE WAY FROM ANYWHERE TO ANYWHERE ELSE
-----------------------------------
10. TIDE Director Wil Meheia confirmed that he planned to leave
TIDE in December to run for the national legislature. Frustrated
with a government unresponsive to Toledo District needs, Meheia is
founding a new political party that will combat corruption and
promote local NGO takes on environmental issues.
11. Belize's last Caribbean cultural outpost before the Mayan
culturescape straddling the Guatemalan border, Punta Gorda's few
thousands are a mix of Creole (African-European), Garifuna
(Carib-African), Mestizo, and Mayan peoples, with a small but
economically important population of East Indians, Chinese, and
Mennonites. Relatively untouched by beach or cruise ship-driven
development, a new road and six-hour drive from the capital has not
overcome Punta Gordans' self-perception as out of sight and out of
mind to Belmopan. Enough adventure tourists and aficionados of
puntarock (modernized Garifuna rhythms) reach Punta Gorda to justify
adding 2 or even 3 stories to the family homes-cum-inns lining the
shore. Outside the town, bed and breakfasts, farms and fishing
lodges seek to bolster eco-tourism in Toledo District. Their
expatriate owners are not a new phenomenon, as the graves of
Confederate refugees testify.
12. Toledo District hosts many NGOs and sustainable development
efforts, of which TIDE is the most successful. The Toledo
Association for Tourism and Empowerment (TASTE), a consortium of
tourist businesses in the district, administers idyllic Sopadilla
Cays. Various Mayan community organizations support (with Peace
Corps help) the marketing of wood crafts and other products, offer
Mayan village homestays, and administer community lands, including
the dramatic Rio Blanco falls. British organic chocolate maker
Black and Green, purveyors of the orange-accented "Maya Gold" dark
chocolate bars, worked with the local cacao growers to replant with
native cacao - genetic tests, it claimed, show that it is the
original source stock. Local boosters are planning a 2007 cacao
festival in the nearby, evocative Mayan ruins of Lubaantun, where,
some claim, the cacao tree was first cultivated.
LANGDALE
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