It’s safe to say that The Santander Group has become a household name in Belize. Since 2007, the group of privately held Belizean companies namely: Santander Sugar, Santander Farms and SS Energy have invested $BZ 360 Million dollars into Belize with a goal to double Belize’s sugar exports and provide renewable energy to the local electricity grid. One would assume that might be something Belize would welcome during these times. As of recently, the papaya industry has folded, banana and citrus are on the brink, oil has flat-lined and hopefully, the shrimp industry will shortly recover. The offshore industry is on the verge of collapse, the banking system is ever closer to being shut off from international banking, already affecting incoming investment and payments for supplies. With the world about to go into another recession and impacts already being felt in Belize prior to Brexit, The Santander Group is contributing positively to Belize in more ways than one when most other industries’ outlooks are not robust or positive.
With the current issues surrounding the unfounded territorial claim Guatemala has over Belize, it leaves us to wonder, is The Group fairly treated in Belize and are we measured by the same stick as everyone else simply because we have been labeled as “Guatemalan”? Indeed some of the group investors are from Guatemala. However, the majority of stakeholders are originally from Spain but are currently living and working full time in Belize. The remaining shareholders are a mixture of numerous nationalities. With all the fervor surrounding this issue, our genuine intent and investment in Belize are being doubted.
We have tried to avoid controversy at all costs. We have settled on previous matters even when we thought it was not within our legal rights, in an attempt to avoid legal hostilities within the Belizean business atmosphere. Earlier this year, when the Belizean public took a negative stance against our attempt to borrow from the Social Security Board, we withdrew out of respect for the opinion of the Belizean people. But have we really been given a fair chance before these opinions were formed? Have we been received with an open mind even after showcasing that the investment is real? Traditional and social media continue to paint a tarnished picture of who we are, rarely highlighting anything in a positive light, but always quick to broadcast any faults in our journey towards the completion of this project. In 2014, we settled with farmers of The Valley of Peace, offering them a package better than anyone could have imagined. In addition to giving more than double the area of land they originally occupied, we are processing land titles at our company’s cost. We have built roads, drainage and assisted them with relocation capital. Among other social projects and donations, The Santander Group has contributed financially to Friends of Conservation and Development, headed by Rafael Manzanero and many sports, civil and social projects. We are committed to the continued growth of the project with the inclusion of local farmers throughout Belize by seeking and securing contracts with local growers for the purchasing of sugar cane from third parties.
LET’S LOOK AT THE FACTS:
We have positively impacted Belize by the creation of over 800 jobs, of which 75 percent are local and we continue to provide a paid technical training program, with the goal of having a workforce that is 100% Belizean transferring new technologies and knowledge through experience.
Within the Belmopan area and countrywide, countless other indirect jobs and suppliers were engaged in the construction of our facility that contributed to a positive economic spin-off.
We have paid approximately: BZ $10 Million dollars in direct taxes to the Government of Belize and BZ $1 Million dollars in payroll monthly that is being injected into the local economy.
The loans of the project were borrowed in U.S. Dollars and were also injected into Belize’s economy under a unique syndicated loan agreement, a first of its kind for Belize’s banking system that included local banks, as well as, regional and multi-lateral banks.
We have also invested and expanded the facilities at The Port of Big Creek, and this week marks our company’s first of many shipments to depart Belize with Santander sugar.
SS Energy Ltd., aims to provide Belize Electricity Ltd. with 10% of Belize’s aggregate demand of energy, reducing the dependency on Mexico and will provide stable energy to strengthen the country’s electricity matrix.
The Company invested over $BZ 40 Million dollars in a new biomass co-generation plant and interconnectivity to the local electricity grid. To date, our project is the only approved applicant in the RFP that stands ready, willing and able to proceed with integration to the national grid in 2017. We only now await BEL’s execution of relevant agreements to begin.
This co-generation facility is doing its part to help keep our environment healthy rather than relying on fossil fuel generated energy, assisting in the reduction of the global greenhouse effect.
Despite the many challenges we face including permits from different departments which have not always been timely or given any indication of when we can proceed on certain matters, we continue to move forward in the best ways we can. Due to many of these delays, development has taken much longer than expected and cumulatively have cost the company in time and productivity as well as created major financial implications.
With regards to the recent environmental matters being publicized, it is not the intent of The Santander Group to disrupt or disturb any of Belize’s natural resources. Why would we pollute or negatively affect the surrounding environment that we so heavily rely on? We may have made some missteps but we have since been liaising with the Department of Environment (DOE) and have taken immediate action upon their advice and will continue to do so until a resolution has been made.
In addition, The Santander Group contractually abides by the highest environmental international standards recognized worldwide that reflect the proper management of Environmental and Social issues, such as - International Finance Corporation’s Performance Standards (IFC PS), World Bank’s Environmental, Health and Safety Guidelines, and Equator Principles (EP), referred to collectively as the Applicable Standards. IFC Environmentalists visit Belize routinely to monitor the project. These standards are in addition to DOE requirements and in most instances, are even more onerous.
Compliance with the World Bank standards on Air Emissions and Ambient Air Quality in building a cleaning system in our chimney.
Santander differentiates itself from other sugar mills in the region by doing a 100% green harvest without the burning of any cane.
Utilizing a 100% green harvest is only practiced by select sugar mills in 3 other countries in the world: Australia, Brazil and Argentina - Poising Belize to stack up as one of the most efficient sugar mills in the world.
We are complying with all the technical and natural regulations required in the area that the project is located. The White Water Lagoon is located in the one of the lowest points in the area and naturally it is the place where rainwater will flow. In an effort to protect this area, we have built systems inside our property as part of our drainage network to ensure that the majority of water (80%+) doesn’t drain into the lagoon. Additionally, there are 11 designated water sampling points throughout our waterways that have been continuously monitored along with the DOE throughout our projects development and ALL tests have come back free of contaminants. Together, with the technical staff of the DOE we are looking for the best solutions for the area, keeping the White Water Lagoon and its protection in the highest of priorities. The Santander Farms are split between two farming areas so we are collaborating with our neighboring landowners to create a mutually beneficial solution in order mitigate the issues of protecting our waterways.
Since the enforcement notice by DOE on July 13th 2016, The Group has been willingly working with the relevant government authorities on a way forward to further ensure that interpretations are mutually agreeable and that we remain in full compliance of farming activities. We have undertaken to seek the advice of the DOE prior to moving forward with any decisions on the property.
This project has demanded of us human efforts beyond our furthest expectations as well as in the financial, agricultural and industrial realms. Today we are blessed with the reward of knowing that we are ultimately building an industry, growing an economy and improving human lives. We have worked hard in every aspect of this project creating a zone of development in Belize where there was hardly any growth and jobs just a few years ago.
Just for a moment, imagine the North of the Belize without the sugar industry ...
The Santander Group is just taking its first steps in creating this industry in Western Belize with a goal of providing abundant opportunities in the future.
Our project will realistically take some more time to mature. As an international group, there’s been a learning curve entering new territory, and we concede, just like everyone else, that we are by no means perfect. However, with what is now only a dream and the hope of being welcomed and partnered by the Belizean people one day, we have been exhausted by an overwhelming amount of delay, negativity and selective treatment.
To those that have come to know us, we thank you for the support you have provided during the first phase of our projects development. We are seeking the support of the Belizean public and relevant agencies to take a look at us and our project through a wider lens and view The Santander Group for what we truly stand for, a company that is built on integrity and responsibility. With productivity, job creation and community well-being at the forefront, we are dedicated to the efficient, high quality production and export of sugar and the contribution of electricity to Belize’s energy requirements. We are taking the necessary steps towards a long lasting future and we acknowledge there is more that can be done and improved. We remain committed to doing things the right way and the best way for the sugar industry and for the country of Belize.