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strikeCity of Belmopan, February 2nd, 2011

Under pressure from growing public discontent and protest action, the Barrow Administration announced that it was withdrawing from their highly-perceived intention to issue a new oil exploration license for the 1.14 million acres of offshore area relinquished by OPIC, the Taiwanese state-owned petroleum company.

The decision was made official today, following a Cabinet meeting held on Tuesday morning, February 2nd in Belmopan.  While the meeting was being conducted, outside of the Prime Minister’s office, a group of protesters were conducting a 24-hour sleep-out as a form of protest against what they have called Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s utter disrespect and indifference.

Last week, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage had sent a clear message to Prime Minister Barrow that if contracts for oil exploration in protected areas and offshore were not revoked and if Government didn’t withdraw from its “drill, baby drill” obsession, civil disobedience would be the only way to go.  So said, so done!

The first action taken was spearheaded by the Coalition for Liberty through Action (COLA), and it was to camp out in front of the PM’s office in Belmopan until Government showed it was willing to listen.

COLA was joined in this initiative by representatives of other movements, including Belizeans for Justice, Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association, the Federation of Cruise Tourism Associations Board, Commoners.  Other members, such as APAMO and Oceana, indicated support through a press release from the Coalition, but did not take part in the action.

While the news that the offshore area will not be re-distributed to a new or existing oil company, the question is for how long will GOB abide by the commitment?  The official announcement made by the Prime Minister’s office makes it clear that the moratorium was only “for now”.  Also, considering recent revelations of the Prime Minister personal interest in oil exploration, one can only remain suspect about the commitment.

One person who expressed shock at the Prime Minister is Rufus X.  “I had always come to the conclusion that Mr. Barrow was a brilliant guy.  [But] we have never seen political management in this country dip this much.  This guy is far from brilliant.  We are out here to send a message,” he said.

While COLA’s action has had an instant result, the achievement is minimal when compared to the NGOs list of demands.  One of those is a call for the Prime Minister to retract his open support for oil drilling in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park in Toledo. Another dealt with Government’s reluctance to put on hold all offshore oil exploration licenses, as well as those in protected areas.

The Prime Minister’s reluctance to yield to the demands may have to do with revelations that he has personal interests in the oil industry [see story “The web we weave” on page 4].  His nephew, Kimano Barrow, owns 50% shares in Paradise Energy Belize Limited, a company which the Barrow Administration granted license to explore in 1,274,443 acres which spans across the Maya Mountains in October last year.

The Prime Minister has claimed he wasn’t aware that his nephew was a major shareholder in the company, but for the license to be granted, it had to go before Cabinet, which means PM Barrow had to have known.

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