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									                                        Annex 4

                      The Mesoamerican Biological Corridor – Belize
                        An Integral Part of Regional Cooperation

                                         Mr. Oswaldo Sabido
                                          Technical Adviser
                     Ministry of Natural Resources, the Environment & Industry,
                   delivering the Main Address, Anselmo and Lola keenly listening.

Thank you very much, Mr. Castañeda, National Technical Liaison Officer MBCP Belize, for
inviting me to share a few thoughts at this important first national workshop on the preparation
of the organization’s operational plan for 2002.

I extend greetings from the Hon. Johnny Briceño, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural
Resources, the Environment, Commerce and Industry. He would have liked to be with us today,
but pressing other official business prevents that. Although he’s not here in person, he has asked
me to assure you of his support for our endeavors of these two days and of course the hard work
that the implementation process requires.

The Mesoamerican Biological Corridors Project is a regional undertaking comprised of Belize,
Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama. With that in
mind, I hereby welcome our Mesoamerican colleagues and representatives of other international
agencies on behalf of the government and people of Belize. And, of course, the same warm
greeting is meant for my fellow Belizeans and organizations affiliated with or supporting the
great work of the MBCP.

I also take this opportunity, on behalf of the government and people of Belize, to express my
sympathy to our Honduran and Nicaraguan guests whose countries suffered so much from
Hurricane Michelle last week. A measure of the resilience of Central Americans is that, despite
the devastation, Nicaragua went ahead with the democratic process of conducting national

elections only a few days after the hurricane. Please join me in observing a brief period of
silence for those who died in both hurricanes.

Thank you.

 The MBCP is a priority of the Central American Alliance for Sustainable Development
(CCAD) and an important project enhancing conservation and biodiversity in the region. This is
being accomplished by establishing various biological corridors granting unimpeded natural
access to animals and plants traversing all of Central America and southern Mexico. This means
participants must work together in a coordinated, cooperative way to achieve this laudable goal.

Speaking for Minister Briceño and the government of Belize, I’m proud to say our country fully
supports this project.

The Mesoamerican Biological Corridors Project may be defined as a land-use planning
mechanism for buffer zones and multi-use areas anchored by the Central American Protected
Areas System, SICAP. It provides environmental goods and services to all Central Americans --
- and I must add this other very important element --- with global spillover benefits. The reality
is the MBCP doesn’t just provide regional benefits. The system also promotes sustainable use of
natural resources through a consultative process with those directly affected in order to improve
their standard of living and quality of life.

This area in which we are meeting is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. It is located
not far from a number of forest reserves and national parks consisting of hundreds of thousands
of acres extending westwards to the Guatemalan border and deep into southern Belize. There is
an abundance of wild animals, plants, insects, birds and flowers in the area. There are a number
of small villages on the boundaries of this vast region whose inhabitants make their living
through a close partnership with the wilderness. Their understanding of and affinity for the land
and its resources have melded them into a symbiotic relationship with nature.

The crucial word here is “respect”. By that I mean respect for the land. Respect for the forest.
Respect for all living things thereon and within. This respect has resulted in the establishment of
small, manageable but sustainable eco-tourism ventures such as the Crystal Paradise Resort;
although many of them are a lot smaller. This respect has resulted in villagers becoming guides
taking tourists to points of interest in the forest, taking them canoeing along the rivers, taking
them horseback riding, taking them bird watching. Sustainable, people-oriented ventures.

This respect has resulted in planting milpas of manageable sizes and even experiments with
organic farming. A limited number of villagers have been licensed to collect certain non-
endangered species of orchids for export to botanical gardens and scientific institutions around
the world. Again, the objective is sustainable, people-oriented ventures tied to the concept of the
sustainable use of natural resources to improve livelihoods.

Belize is conscious of its environmental responsibilities to its people and the world. That is why
successive governments have ensured that 45 percent of its territory is under protected status.
Because of our relatively small population we have almost 80 percent of our territory under some
form of forest cover. This will inevitably be reduced as our population increases through a high
birth rate and immigration, legal and illegal. Our government, however, is committed to
ameliorating any negative effects through policies being established to provide better land use
management through institutional transparency, official accountability, and wide stakeholder

Our environmental consciousness predates the global spurt during the latter half of the last
century. Belize was established as a former British colony by rapacious bands of buccaneers
interested only in exploiting the vast logwood and mahogany forests. But once permanent
settlement occurred the colonists and workers brought in quickly realized that future
development lay in a pact with the land. This realization was buttressed when the settlers pushed
ever deeper into the virgin forests and encountered pockets of indigenous people whose
understanding of and affinity for the land and forest went back eons.

That is why we are alarmed by obvious environmental threats such as global warming,
desertification, marine pollution and the extinction of plant and animal species. That is why we
signed the Framework on Climate Change, which includes the Kyoto Protocol and the Vienna
Convention for Ozone Depleting Substances, which includes the Montreal Protocol. That is why
we are signatories to numerous other environmental treaties and protocols such as the Trans-
boundary Movement on Hazardous Wastes, the Convention on Biological Biodiversity and the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

More pertinent to the MBCP, in 1992 we signed the Central American Agreement on
Biodiversity, which led to the embryonic development of the project concept two years later.
MBC-Belize was launched last year, which led to today’s workshop. It has also established a 17-
member national steering committee comprising representatives from seven government
ministries, NGOs, academia, indigenous groups and other stakeholders. Buttressing the steering
committee is a 40-member technical advisory committee comprising a well-balanced cross-
section of professional and local leaders from throughout the country. It has acquired a national
program coordinator and has established good private sector and public sector alliances.

On a parallel track, the MBC-Belize has excellent working relationships with its strategic
partners such as the United Nations Development Fund-Global Environment Facility, the
Protected Areas Conservation Trust, the Community Agricultural and Rural Development
Project, the Inter-American Development Bank, the European Union, and Canada among others.

But what about the essence of what this is all about? What about actual biological corridors?
The MBC-Belize, working hand-in-hand with government, NGOs and the private sector, has
helped establish five corridors. Yes, you heard me right. Five.

They are the Northern Belize Biological Corridor, which is being funded by the World Bank and
managed by Program for Belize.

The Northwestern Biological Corridor, which is being funded and managed by Program for

The Central Biological Corridor, which is being managed by the Sibun Watershed Association
and is seeking funding.

The Southeastern Biological Corridor, which is being managed by Yax-Che Conservation and is
preparing a proposal to the government for funding.

The Southern Biological Corridor, which is being managed by the Sarstoon-Temash Indigenous
Institute Movement and being funded by the GEF.

All five corridors share tentative links and efforts are underway to solidify and expand their
contiguous connection.

Another development that will have significant impact on the biological corridors in Belize is the
pending national land administration system. This is a nationwide project funded by the IDB to
promote better land management through computerization of all land matters. It is in its final
development stage and will go on stream shortly. As a matter of fact, much, though not all, of
our land-related matters are already in the system. The Ministry of Natural Resources, the
Environment, Commerce and Industry has also established a national land advisory committee to
assist in formulating viable, sustainable land use and land management policies.

I envision the tri-partite MBC-Belize, Land Administration System and National Land Advisory
Committee as having major input and impact on how we deal with land matters in the future. As
the minister responsible for land matters, the Hon. Briceño is committed to putting in place
ironclad policies taking environmental matters into consideration when dealing with land.
Beyond that, he’s also committed to ensuring the interests of the biological corridors are always
taken into account when large-scale land development is being contemplated.

Moving from the national to the regional level, I see exciting opportunities for working with
neighboring Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Belize is going to continue working closely with
Guatemala and Honduras on Golf of Honduras issues; and with Mexico on matters pertaining to
stakeholders in northern Belize and Quintana Roo. We also need to grasp opportunities to
strengthen Selva Maya in the Belize-Guatemala-Mexico tri-border region of northwestern

Actually, such ideas were endorsed by the heads of state of all Central American countries in
Guatemala back in 1995. The MBCP summary states, (quote): “The governments of Central
America recognize the value of regional cooperation for the management and sustainable use of
these valuable natural resources that are vitally interconnected across their national borders,
and which provide a wide range of environmental products and services essential for the
economic competitiveness and social stability of the region” (unquote). By 1998 Mexico had
also endorsed this regional cooperation.

Who among us can be against regional cooperation where national sovereignty is not abridged?
None, I daresay. This becomes even more imperative when we realize that forces beyond our
control --- those of Mother Nature --- sometimes force us to realize how truly interdependent we
all are. On October 8 Belize suffered crushing devastation in the south when Hurricane Iris
punched across beautiful seaside villages and picturesque mountain villages inland. The
hurricane created havoc with agriculture in the banana, citrus and rice sectors, shrimp farming
and tourism. It also laid waste vast stretches of forests before sweeping into Guatemala to
continue its damaging journey.

Hurricane Michelle reinforced the message of interdependence last week. Such forces know no
boundaries and respect no national border. While a number of people lost their lives in both
hurricanes, we’ll never know the number of terrified animals and birds that lost their lives or the
number of plants and trees lost to the wind.
But I thank Almighty God that the tragedy was not worse and say if such tragedies cause us to
realize how much we really need each other, not just as puny human beings, but as sovereign
nations as well, then maybe the storms were sent by divine plan.

My friends, the Mesoamerican Biological Corridors Project is but one element in a vast network
of interlocking treaties, protocols and understandings binding us together for our common good.
Our foreign friends, who I mentioned earlier, are also here on a parallel meeting of four CCAD
sub-regional projects. The projects are PROGOLFO, PROARCA II, MBRS and MBC. Again,
all are interlocking; all are complimentary to our major objective of regional cooperation to
enhance the role of Mesoamerican Biological Corridor-Belize to play a full role in the
Mesoamerican Biological Corridors Project.

Of course, this being a developing country, there is only so much the government can do to assist
the MBC. Our most important contribution is setting cooperative policies for the project’s
success. But, like other MBCP members, we are financially constrained by the demands of our
people for better health care, education, infrastructure and all the other necessities that help
generate progress. We are therefore limited in how much financial, material and human
resources we can plow into the MBC. But we are not letting such constraints dim our vision of
what is possible. We are not letting such constraints curtail our goals. It merely means we have
to work that much harder to build strategic partnerships with those who share our vision and can
help achieve our goals.

As I said before MBC-Belize is not just for Belizeans. The MBCP is not just for Central
Americans. What we are doing in our region has global impact and benefits. We must make
others aware of the true value of what we are trying to achieve and convince them that this
regional project deserves their support.

I realize those are some of the issues you will be dealing with during the two days of this
workshop, especially Objective II which is about economic viability. You have impressive
participants and a well-structured agenda. I’m not really surprised because Anselmo isn’t merely
the national technical liaison officer. That’s only his title and job description. He hounds me all
the time on MBC matters. He communicates with Minister Briceño constantly on MBC matters.
He is Mr. MBC-Belize. His enthusiasm and dedication to this project is well known and ---better
yet --- infectious. We’ve all caught the bug.

My friends, you may be assured the government and people of Belize recognize the importance
of the MBC-Belize and are fully supportive. Without further ado, I declare this workshop open.


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