As the Vice President for Oceana in Belize, she led the charge which resulted in the banning of bottom trawling in Belizean waters and the recent court victory in quashing production sharing agreements granted to companies operating offshore Belize. And that’s just merely scratching the surface of the works she has accomplished for the country’s maritime. But today, Audrey-Matura Shepherd has announced her resignation as OCEANA Belize’s VP. In a short statement she explained that “It is time for me to move on to new opportunities and to fully pursue my legal career which remains my passion while balancing it with my family obligations. I have stayed much longer than I had committed to upon accepting this challenge because the marine issues Oceana works on are so important for Belize.” This afternoon, the environmental activist and attorney hosted a one-woman press conference in Belize City. While she officially leaves on August 22, some believe she has been forced out because of her strident personal views on the current gay rights push in Belize. Writing in a column for the Amandala, Matura’s personal views on the issue led to a letter written to OCEANA’s head office in the U.S. by one person, a Kenrick Theus Diaz, to get her fired. Today she told PLUS News that while she was not forced to resign, she foresaw a potential conflict of interest and deliberately chose a different route.
No, I was never asked to resign. The only pressure I felt was that I would have to abide by a policy where I would not be able to write or speak on any other issue. I deliberated on that, and while it was never said to me directly, I knew it would come down to that. Everybody’s smart to know how these things go. I did not feel it fair for me to put anyone in my organization in that position to even have to say that. I think I’m smart enough. I can see things as they come, before they come. I knew clearly that it would be selfish of me to even put anyone in the position that they have to endure pressure, because to my heart I knew I could never agree to stop writing, or to stop speaking on other issues. So it’s really a personal choice of mine. I did not give anyone the opportunity to feel guilty, or to have to make a tough decision, because I am responsible for my every action and whether I can live with the consequence.
So I made the bold move and said I would resign. My bosses has been taken aback, because that’s not what they expected.
In his statement, OCEANA CEO Andy Sharpless made no reference to any outside influence as a factor in Matura-Shepherd’s resignation, instead choosing to congratulate her. His statement reads in part, “We and the oceans owe Audrey a lot…. I, and Oceana’s Board of Directors, thank Audrey for her service and wish her continued success as she moves onto the next steps in her remarkable career,” adding that her successor when named will have “big shoes to fill.” Today she spoke of the feedback between herself and the organization after the column in question.
Honestly, there was no negative feedback. My boss said that we can talk about it, but by the time I had tendered my resignation really there wasn’t anything much to talk about, because he knows me very well. We have a very good relationship. He knows my principles and where I stand, and i had always told my boss if there ever comes a day where I find that the rules of working at OCEANA, or any principle is compromised or can be uncompromised, or there can be a conflict of interest, I will know when to walk away, and i chose to walk away.
The experience has left Matura Shepherd somewhat bemused, especially after being threatened with the “power” of LGBT Belizeans to shut down her program. While she may consider joining the UNIBAM/Caleb Orozco case for the interested parties, she holds no malice with the LGBT crowd.
No, they’re not worth the fight. The fight is beyond that. They act in the flesh. They’re forgiven. They wouldn’t know better. I think that the discourse in this nation has to be risen to another level. I don’t think people realize that this issue is not only one of sexual orientation, and too many people don’t want to engage in the discourse.
For the first time in my country I felt something different. I felt I was living in a surreal moment. And if I had not been experiencing it I would not have believed it’s true. I recalled reading a story about the guy who started e-harmony. Then I read the story of the Gospel singer Kirk Franklin, who because he said that he did not support the homosexual agenda is now under heavy attack. You know, I just can’t imagine Belize getting like that. At least I don’t want to see it in my lifetime, and I stand against it.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd leaves a credible legacy, and supporters flocked to her Facebook page today, thanking her for her work and bidding her success in her future endeavors.
On Thursday, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage issued a statement, expressing their gratitude to Audrey Matura-Shepherd, for her “dynamic and unwavering advocacy in the fight to properly plan Belize’s oil industry.” And while the Coalition is “disappointed that one of the strongest advocates for a properly planned oil industry … is leaving in an official capacity, the Coalition is assured that Ms. Matura-Shepherd will continue to support the cause. Her dynamism, legal training and unbridled passion for her work has changed environmental advocacy in Belize and as well, garnered the support of thousands of Belizeans as Oceana as a member of the Coalition was a leading force behind the People’s Referendum and petition drive.” As Oceana’s VP, Matura-Shepherd has been instrumental in forwarding one of the goals of the Coalition, as it relates to achieving a ban on offshore drilling in Belize’s territorial waters