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Forum on Development of Mesoamerica’s Atlantic Coast opens in Honduras

LA CEIBA, Honduras – More than 150 delegates from indigenous groups and Afro-descendent communities from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua and Panama today took part in the opening of the II Forum of the Atlantic Coast of Mesoamerica.

During the two-day event, community representatives from the eight Mesoamerican countries will hold talks amongst them and with national and local officials on the outlook for development in the Atlantic Coast, as well as on indigenous peoples’ and minority ethnic groups’ participation in regional economic and social development projects.

The forum, which was organized with support from the Inter-American Development Bank and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), also offers participants an opportunity to discuss the Plan Puebla Panama promoted by the eight Mesoamerican countries.

Honduran Vice President Vicente Williams, who opened the event held in this Caribbean resort town, underscored the importance of the contributions of the Atlantic Coast’s communities to the success of sustainable development projects and to the improvement of the region’s living standards.

“Without your commitment, many of the things we hope to achieve while in office may never be attained or may yield poor results,” said Williams, who is also his country’s commissioner for Plan Puebla Panama.

Belize’s Plan Puebla Panama commissioner, Salvador Figueroa, noted the number of public consultations held in various countries of the region since the first Atlantic Coast forum was held in Belize City in December 2003.

Figueroa, who is also Belize’s ambassador in Mexico, added that the plan is not limited to infrastructure projects such as highways and power transmission lines but also supports regional cooperation on human development, environmental conservation and disaster prevention.

“What’s important is to continue with this dialogue, to get your points of view,” added Figueroa. “I am convinced that the best way to ensure that the region’s development meets your expectations is for you to participate actively.”

The IDB’s coordinator for Plan Puebla Panama, Marcelo Antinori, stressed the Atlantic Coast’s need to deepen the regional debate on its own development priorities. He also urged participants to consider the potential impact of phenomena such as the rise in oil prices, the growing demand for commodities from countries such as China and the integration approaches made by extra regional neighbors such as Colombia.

During the first day of the forum, participants expressed their opinions and voiced concerns about the Atlantic Coast’s development and the participation of local governments and communities in economic and social development projects. They also raised questions about the impact of integration and globalization on their region and issues concerning property rights in areas with indigenous and Afro-descendent populations.

Participants attended presentations on various issues related with sustainable development in the Atlantic Coast region. Monica Castillo, executive secretary of the Central American Commission on the Environment and Development (CCAD) discussed the application of environmental safeguards in Plan Puebla Panama projects.

Oscar Quesada, a specialist with the Regional Council on Agricultural Cooperation (CORECA), talked about rural development in the Atlantic Coast region.   Maria Eugenia Salvatierra of the Alliance with Central America for Energy and the Environment (AEAC), outlined this initiative supported by Finland to finance small electricity generation projects using alternative energy sources in poor communities.

On the second day, the meeting will focus on tourism development in the Atlantic Coast region and priority issues for indigenous groups and Afro-descendent communities, such as the preservation of cultural and ethnic diversity; participation mechanisms in regional programs and the experiences of native peoples in the execution of economic and social development projects.

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