By Marion V. Ali
Colombians visiting Belize no longer need to get a visa to enter our ports of entry.
Cabinet made the decision earlier this year “on the urging of the Ministry of Tourism”, according to Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington.
In an exclusive interview with The Reporter on Tuesday, Minister Elrington said “while we are mindful of what other countries say, as a government our primary interest is that our country develops and creates employment”.
The minister said that the Colombian airline Copa has expressed an interest to fly into Belize, but asked for visa-free entry from South America in order to ensure the viability of its flights.
This move, he said, brings about potential year-round employment and income for those whose livelihoods depend on tourism, since currently Belize’s peak season is the winter months when North Americans travel most. On the contrary, South Americans travel most during the summer months, when they experience their “winter”.
The Foreign Minister went on to say that “the Colombia of today is not the Colombia of 20 years ago”, in response to our reference to that country’s notoriety of being the drug capital of the world in the manufacture of narcotics, primarily cocaine.
In response to Reporter’s question of whether the United States has brought forward any objection to the decision, in light of Colombia’s reputation, its Medellin and Cali cartels, and Belize’s geographical location as a transshipment point for drugs heading south to north, the minister said it has not been brought to his attention of any such indication.
Our efforts to reach anyone at the US Embassy to comment on this have been futile. We were told that the person who could field our questions was still out for the holidays.
The foreign minister also shared that Belize is a member of CELAC, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States. This is a regional bloc of Latin American and Caribbean states created on December 3, 2011, in Caracas, Venezuela.
CELAC consists of 33 sovereign countries in the Americas, representing roughly 600 million people. Its objective is to deepen Latin American integration, to reduce the once overwhelming influence of the United States on the politics and economics of Latin America, and is considered as an alternative to the Organization of American States (OAS).
“Leaders have to be informed” in making these decisions”, Elrington said. “Colombia is one of the safest countries in the world today.
“Most of the drugs coming out of the Americas now originate from Peru and Mexico”, Elrington stated, adding: “It is always imperative [to determine] what is Belize’s interest, not the United States”.
” Minister Elrington added that a decisions like this one, to waive visas to visitors from can always be reversed if it is seen to create any problems in the future.
Colombia, by Elrington’s reckoning, is the only South American country that does not enjoy visa-free entry to Belize.