The issue of the Commerce Bight Port, or as it is better known, the Jetty Pier, is one that slipped past the headlines; but is one that is true and dear to the residents of Dangriga. At the last meeting of the House of Representatives, Rodwell Ferguson, introduced a motion for the National Assembly to consider giving a 25-year lease for the port to Recological Systems Limited even after the lease had already been given to the company by the previous administration.
The most bizarre thing about the matter being taken to the National Assembly is that it was flatly denied by the PUP. They did not take into consideration the jobs that would be created or the economic activity that the reopening of the port would bring to Dangriga which has been suffering an economic slump for almost 20 years.
The Commerce Bight Port has not been in operation since 2002 when the then PUP administration had leased the port to Luke Espat. He did absolutely nothing at the port and in fact, closed it down shortly thereafter, rendering all commercial activity in Dangriga to a halt. Following extensive legal maneuvering, the UDP government managed to retain the port once again in 2013 and it was returned to the Government and people of Belize.
Thereafter there were attempts to get the facility going but to no avail, at least not until the waning days of the UDP administration, when in 2018, Recological came on the scene and proposed to lease the port. They were granted that lease in the last days of the UDP administration, but as fate would have it the PUP won the 2020 general elections.
When that happened, the old players and true owners of the PUP who have interests in another port operating down south, took control and ordered their minions that Commerce Bight is not to be functional. And so it was that Rodwell Ferguson stood up at the National Assembly to have the lease denied and end the resurgence of the Commerce Bight Port.
And while Ferguson did the bidding of the southern masters of the PUP, there is at least one other player that simply remained mute. Area Representative for Dangriga, Louis Zabaneh, said nothing. Remember, the port would bring economic activity as well as provide jobs for his constituents but he said nothing. That comes as no surprise however, looking into this man’s pedigree, we know that he is a close family member to at least one of the principals in the competing port down south. It is simple, blood thicker than water. And in this case thicker than the waters of the deepest naturally occurring docking facility in the country.
The move to deny the rebirth of Commerce Bight has baffled at least three senators, Senator Elena Smith was concerned that during this time there would be opposition to an endeavor that would surely guarantee employment for residents of Dangriga. Senator Kevin Herrera expressed that denying the lease sends the wrong message to investors where a Government reneges on previous agreements. Senator Bishop Alvin Benguche expressed similar concerns as Smith concerned that jobs would be lost in the denial of the opening of Commerce Bight.
A bit on Commerce Bight
It was first opened in 1908 and as it progressed it evolved into a commercial point where bananas would be taken to the port through a railroad for loading directly onto cargo ships. Citrus would later be another export product that would be transported out of the southern part of the country via the port. Most recently, petroleum was one of the products exported via the port. Commerce bight is a naturally occurring deep water port that only requires 500 feet pier to reach 30-foot depths of water. In contrast, the Belize City Port requires a half-mile pier to get to 20 feet of water.