The United Democratic Party (UDP), the main opposition party in Belize, spoke in favor of holding a national referendum regarding oil exploration on the country’s offshore areas. This is after the international company, Oceana, announced that it would be looking for the signatures necessary to hold a referendum after reaching an agreement with the government on oil exploration. Oceana’s Vice President Janelle Chanona claimed that during a meeting, Belize’s Prime Minister John Briceno had indicated “his administration’s intention to proceed with seismic testing in Belizean waters without prior approval of the public to lift the moratorium against the exploration and exploitation of offshore oil.”
However, the Belize government refuted the claims by Oceana. It released a statement labeling the announcement by Oceana as “regrettable.” The statement went on to deny that an agreement had been made to explore for oil without the approval of the people of Belize. “In pursuance of his commitment to environmental and social principles, the prime minister reiterated the need to understand the extent of Belize’s offshore non-renewable economic resources in order to have an informed strategy on their potential for leveraging, given the national direction towards decarbonization and nature-based economy. Furthermore, the government’s commitment to allow the determination of such an important policy to be people-centered was restated by the prime minister,” the statement said.
The UDP’s leader, Shyne Barrow, said that while he regularly disagrees with Prime Minister Briceno, he was going to give him the benefit of doubt regarding the agreement allegedly reached with Oceana. Barrow firmly supports the idea of a referendum. According to Barrow, the moratorium placed on offshore drilling was decided by referendum and if oil exploration were to proceed, the people of Belize would have to play a role in the final decision.
“There is no greater voice than the voice of the people. They say the voice of the people is the voice of God. So whereas the UDP administration enacted a moratorium on offshore drilling after a robust campaign by Oceana and over 30,000 people signing a mock referendum, I believe that any reversal of that moratorium, especially given our conservation treaty legislation that we recently enacted that wiped away BDZ$500 million ($248 million USD) debt,” Barrow said.
Barrow confirmed that he had spoken with Oceana’s Vice President Chanona, making it clear that indeed he supports holding a referendum.