Perla Perdomo, Belize’s newly-arrived High Commissioner to London means business – and she has just the credentials to back that up.
The High Commissioner is part diplomat (she spent ten years as deputy head of mission in Mexico City, setting up the Belize Embassy almost from scratch) and part businesswoman – she has spent the past six years in the private sector where, as the General Manager of Travellers Liquors Ltd, she oversaw the global expansion of the brand.
“Now as a diplomat my job in London is about branding Belize as a country that is open for business and a good place to invest,” explains Perdomo.
There are plenty of opportunities, she adds, from tourism to infrastructure and agriculture. Perdomo wants investors to develop untapped potential in value-added agro-industries, whether it’s converting its cocoa beans into premium chocolate, sugarcane into rum or ethanol.
She also wants to tap into the potential of the Belizean diaspora to promote culture and business and wasted no time in hosting a big picnic at her residence to get to know them. “Everyone in the diaspora that has a close link to Belize is an Ambassador for the country,” she says.
With a literate English and Hispanic labour force, the nation is ideally suited to offshore outsourcing – and with one foot in the Caribbean and the other in Latin America, the country is a gateway to both regions.
But such enviable geography comes with challenges. Belize sits in a trans-shipment zone for the drug trade which requires a “careful and creative response” to limit the effects of the illicit trade on the country says the High Commissioner. The Government has therefore prioritized the Restore Belize project, a coordinated, multi-agency government programme designed to tackle the root causes of crime.
One of her priorities in London is to access British assistance in the various spheres of this programme, from technical assistance in law enforcement to social inclusion projects. Inspired by the Summer Olympics, she is keen to meet with NGOs working in deprived areas of London to investigate the role sport can play in social inclusion.
Belize hopes the UK can assist in development projects aimed at poverty reduction. Having worked at both the Inter-American Development Bank and on the board of the Development Finance Corporation in Belize she understands what levers to pull to unlock development aid.
Passionate about sustainable development, the High Commissioner has been a champion of a local campaign to convert part of Belize City’s waterfront into a conservation area. She also managed to secure an EU grant to install a waste water treatment plant at Travellers, making the company one of the few producers of ‘green rum’ in the region.
“Of course both projects come at a price but the benefits outweigh the costs over the long term,” Perdomo points out. “The mangroves we have replanted in the waterfront area provide natural flood defences for the city in hurricane season, and the waste water treatment plant helps to preserve our marine life, coral reefs and natural beauty which attracts the tourists who will also drink our rum – so it’s all interconnected!”
Yet some uncertainty hangs over this paradise, notably differences over territory between Belize and Guatemala. Both countries, however, have worked together under the auspices of the Organization of American States and have agreed to hold a simultaneous referendum in each country for the people to decide if the matter should be taken forward for a ruling by the International Court of Justice in 2013.
“We are entering a delicate phase,” adds the High Commissioner, and there are additional pressures on the process because Belize’s natural resources are a temptation for cross-border infractions in Belize’s protected forest reserves.
“But Belize is committed to ensuring a just, peaceful and equitable resolution to the territorial claim,” she stresses.
Confidence-building measures have helped to cement good relations with Guatemala and other countries in the region, and trade between both countries is robust. Belize now sees itself as an important cultural and economic bridge between Central America and the Caribbean. This makes Perdomo’s mission in London all the more important because it is one of the few bilateral posts where all these countries are represented.
“In a very real sense, London is the centre of the world,” smiles Perdomo. “You can do a lot of other bilateral work that you simply couldn’t do in other capitals. This is useful on the business side too because a lot of multinationals have their headquarters here.”
On the multilateral front, the Commonwealth remains a very important platform for Belize, particularly as it is a strong voice for small states. Belize also sees the UK as a vital interlocutor with the EU, particularly on trade matters.
An anglophile to her fingertips (she spent a year studying in Oxford and vowed to return) and a keen cyclist, the High Commissioner is itching to explore the capital via its cycle paths.
“I’ve always loved to immerse myself in different cultures so just stopping on a London street corner and listening to the many accents and languages is a thrill.”