Magazine article E Magazine

Damming Belize

Magazine article E Magazine

Damming Belize

Article excerpt

Belize's western mountains are an ecotourist's dream: a largely uninhabited region of dense tropical forests, wild rivers, cave complexes, Maya ruins and bountiful wildlife. While many of its Central American neighbors were clearing forests to make way for slash-and-burn agriculture, Belize has been making far more money keeping the trees in place. Today tourism--almost all of it nature-based--accounts for a fifth of the nation's economic activity and employs a quarter of its workforce. The mountainous Cayo region is one of the main draws.

But Belize's government is dead-set on building a dam on the upper Macal River, smack in the heart of Cayo. The $30 million Chalillo dam will flood 2,800 acres of tropical forest that is home to jaguars, ocelots, tapirs and the country's only known flock of the rare and colorful scarlet macaw. "This is the prettiest river in the country," says Mick Fleming, who owns the Chaa Creek Lodge, an ecotourism resort set in the jungle 20 miles downstream from the dam site. "We're going to lose something incredibly valuable in return for an extremely small amount of power."

Plenty of people in Cayo agree with Fleming's assessment. The city council in the district capital, San Ignacio, opposes the dam, and the vice mayor testified against the project during an unsuccessful attempt to block construction brought before the Privy Council in London last year. T-shirts and banners bearing such slogans as "The Macal is Ours" are seen all over town. …

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