It was a festive atmosphere at the UNO service station at mile 1 ½ on the Northern Highway as officials of the Honduras-based company gathered to celebrate the expansion of their petroleum empire. Guillermo Monroy, Country Manager of UNO Belize Limited, said, “Today UNO is proud to present the new image of our service station chain; it is a confirmation of our commitment with Belize, our interest in serving our customers in the best possible manner, our permanent innovation and a contribution to reaffirm our leadership in the oil industry of the Central American region.” Hon. Santiago Castillo, Minister of State for Finance and Economic Development, welcomed UNO on behalf of the government and people of Belize: “We congratulate UNO for the investment they are doing in Belize. This is a perfect example of foreign investor confidence in the government of the day and of the positive business climate progressively taking shape with each passing month of this new government’s mandate.” Castillo continued, “This is also a testament that the government has been very successful in creating a positive and enabling business environment which continues to flourish under the guidance of the Hon. Dean O. Barrow.”
While there was celebration at the service station, UNO’s rise in Belize has not come free from controversy. The company is operating under a new platform in which local retailers have been steamrolled. UNO controls ten service stations countrywide. Those previously operated under the brand Texaco, but the company no longer has a license to operate in Central America. With Texaco at the helm, local retailers/service station managers purchased the fuel from the wholesaler and collected from sales at the pump. The retailer then paid for rental of equipment such as gas pumps. These transactions factor in pump prices. UNO will discontinue this practice. UNO will control wholesale and retail operations, eliminating the middleman. Based on reliable reports, retailers received about $1.50 per gallon of premium gasoline. That savings will be additional profit for UNO and will not be passed on to consumers. In responding to the suggestion that UNO is taking two bites of the cherry, Andrea Eiley, UNO’s Local Finance Officer, said, “It is a platform that [UNO] has used in the other countries and it has been successful so they are introducing it to Belize.” Eiley went on to recite the corporate motto, “All we are trying to do is get a return on our investment.”
Meanwhile, service stations that once operated under the Texaco banner have been subsumed by UNO, and in the wake, there are employees who are in a state of limbo. Since the takeover, some of those service stations, which once operated as dealerships, have given it up to sign management contracts with UNO. Then there are others who simply refuse to do so and are giving up the service stations all together. Those caught in the middle however, are employees, including gas attendants who are uncertain if they will be re-hired by UNO's managers, who are put in place.