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Belize Tourism Showing Positive Signs and Setting New Records
Belize continues to ride the wave of the record-breaking overnight tourist arrivals that awed the Belize Tourism Industry in 2011. Last year’s success spawned an outstanding momentum that has resulted in an impressive 7.4% spike over 2011’s figures for the first five months: January to May, which all points to yet another jaw-dropper for the Jewel. This impetus has also done wonders as it pertains to airport arrival numbers, which accounts for over 70% of the overnight arrivals. These landmark figures are, of course, worthy of our attention and perusal; thus, we have taken the time to elaborate on these key facts below.

Soca Star Kevin Lyttle for Costa Maya 2012
“Turn Me On” says the San Pedro International Costa Maya Festival as it confirms the participation of Caribbean Soca superstar Kevin Lyttle for Friday, August 3, 2012 at the festival that will run from August 2 to the 5, 2012. The Costa Maya Festival committee wants to please all generations of music lovers and decided to bring in two international artists for this year’s festivities. Kevin Lyttle will light up the stage on Friday while Los Pasteles Verdes have been confirmed for the following night, Saturday, June 4, 2012. Kevin Lyttle is a soca artist hailing from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, who had a worldwide monster hit with the addictive soca ballad "Turn Me On", which was recorded by Lyttle and the dancehall artist Spragga Benz. His strong live performances of soca influenced by dancehall and contemporary R&B made the song a hit throughout the Caribbean. The single was released in the U.S. in 2004 and the video was added to MTV on 24 May 2004. "Turn Me On" eventually went gold in the U.S. and peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100.

Belize Budget Spurs Talk of Debt Relief, Not Default
(Reuters) - The Belize prime minister said on Friday that a federal deficit leaves the government more likely to seek debt relief but he did not raise the threat of default. Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that expenditures - which include an 8.5 percent interest payment on a $550 million 'super bond' - will exceed the roughly $450 million in expected government revenue. That kind of imbalance has prompted creditors to join together to try and stop the government from balking on the loan that has a $23.5 million payment due August. Moody's pushed Belize's credit rating further into junk status early this month, pointing to falling oil-related revenues and rising liabilities following the nationalization of local phone and telephone utilities.

Barrow’s slim budget and tax reforms
The delayed national budget was tabled in the House of Representatives this morning. The forty two page document delivered by the Prime Minister is themed “Exercising Discipline while Preserving Growth.” On the expenditure side, the P.M. says there will be no increase over last year which means that we will generally see a continuation of [...]

Slim budget, but U.D.P. programs to continue
The P.M. says that the budget is not austere, but to swap words it is certainly spartan. He signaled the need for everyone to tighten their belts ahead because the country does face declining oil revenues, increased interest and amortization payments for the Superbond and he referred to “exercising a heightened level of fiscal discipline [...]

Draft Estimates for 2012-2013
The P.M. says that provisions are also being made for support to alternative education, especially the community resource centers in the south side of Belize City, and, the ITVET. The National Health Insurance programme will also continue and funds have been to the upgrade of the Toledo District Highway to the Guatemalan Border. But the [...]

P.U.P. not impressed with budget
The Opposition side this term is robust with fifteen parliamentarians, some who made their maiden intervention today. While the budget will be debated on July twelfth and thirteenth, we got an early reaction from the Opposition side when we caught up with former Leader of the Opposition and current Orange Walk Central Area Representative John [...]

Small demonstration by Jasmine Lowe supporters in Capital
While the Prime Minister was presenting his first post election budget, outside the National Assembly building, a handful of demonstrators kept up the pressure against crime. Jasmine Lowe, the murdered thirteen year old girl from Santa Elena, was central to the demonstration. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.   Isani Cayetano, Reporting What should have been [...]

Hung jury; retrial necessary in murder case
A jury of twelve had a tough time deciding the fates of brothers, Emory and Maurice Felix, who were on trial for the murder of twenty-nine year old Mitchum Heredia. After four hours of deliberation, the jury first emerged shortly before five o’clock this evening, but were undecided. Justice Herbert Lord sent them back to [...]

Brian Brown gets bail for drug charges
Brian Brown is out; he was released this afternoon after Justice Adolph Lucas granted him bail at the Supreme Court. His attorney, Ellis Arnold, submitted that Brown should be granted bail because of non-compliance with an order made by Judge Lucas on June nineteenth when Arnold initially made attempts to get him bail. Judge Lucas [...]

Compensation figures for B.T.L. and B.E.L. widely vary
And now back to the budget, a large part of the public debt is still undecided as the cost of nationalizing Belize Telemedia Limited and Belize Electricity Limited has not been worked out. Now that both utility companies are government properties, Barrow says that B.T.L. is investing fifty-one million dollars in capital improvements this year, [...]

Hoop dreams to become reality in 2013; new basketball facility
There are few new initiatives in the budget. The prime minister brought back the construction of a basketball arena, which the Mexican government was initially committed to. He hopes that with support from B.T.L. and Social Security, the sporting facility will finally come to fruition.   Dean Barrow “Under Infrastructure, I must as well mention [...]

Regional HIV Testing Day
There were other activities taking place aside from the budget. Across the Caribbean, today is recognized as Regional HIV Testing Day. The initiative was started by the Caribbean Broadcast Media Partnership on HIV/AIDS in collaboration with the Pan Caribbean Partnership on HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) in 2008. For the first time it is being implemented locally with [...]

Mayor cements his bond with Belize City
Streets in the downtown area are getting a much needed face lift. The roster includes ten streets that are heavily trafficked on both the north and south sides. The novelty is that nine will be paved with cement instead of asphalt, which City Hall says will better withstand the traffic and elements and is cheaper. [...]

2012 Carnival, Pickstock Style
Carnival is less than two months away and bands are already gearing up for this year’s fete. Pickstock Carnival Band Leader, Gareth Gill, says that this year they’re going all out and are kicking off their moves this weekend with the Miss Pickstock pageant. The show will feature six young girls, which Gills says promises [...]

A Game Change On Tourism Tax
While the budget presentation was the main business at the house today - we couldn't cover all of it in our lead story. One feature that has to be dealt with all on its own is the change in the hotel tax regime. Maybe change isn't the right word, though because the bottom line is that there won't be any more 9% hotel tax. Hotel guests will now pay the standard GST of 12.5% just like everyone else. Now this would seem to drive up the cost of accommodations, but on the flip side, it will liberate the hotel sector from the oppressive zero-rated tax regime they are currently under - where they can't claim back GST on their inputs. So, when they claim back their GST which will cut costs to hotel owners, it should even out - but, truth is, these things rarely do. The loss though is to the BTB - which is funded completely by the collection of hotel tax. The PM outlined the plan today:.. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "One key recommendation that the government has accepted in principle is to bring the hotel and accommodation wholly into the GST net while at the same time repealing the 9% hotel and tourist accommodation taxes."

Barrow's Discipline Budget Unveiled
As a standard practice, the budget is presented before the fiscal year starts usually in February or early March. But this year is a very marked difference - elections came in March - which pushed the budget back, and back some more - all the way until today, the last working day in June. In our 20 years of covering House meetings, it's never been presented so late. So was it worth the wait? We'll let you be the judge of that. Jules Vasquez has the overview:... Jules Vasquez reporting Many things were new in the old house today - a new speaker as well as 14 new members, 11 of them first time representatives, and three of them newly returned reps. They would have to learn quickly: The business of the day was the presentation of the national budget - reams of pages of estimates and a one hour thirty three minute, 409 page budget speech from the Prime Minister - which he made clear was about discipline not austerity:

Celebrating Saint Peter, A San Pedro tradition
June 29th is celebrated as Dia de San Pedro in honor of the Patron of the island Saint Peter (San Pedro). The fire engine siren sounded at 3AM to wake up island residents, while the church bells at the San Pedro Roman Catholic Church rang at 3:30AM. By 4AM, a mass of thanksgiving started in honor of Saint Peter, considered the Saint of the fishermen. By the time the Fishermen’s Mass of thanksgiving started, the church was packed with mostly men and there was only standing room. Presiding over the mass was Roman Catholic Priest Arturo Año-Nuevo. Father Año-Nuevo explained that Saint Peter is the champion of fishermen and the 29th of June should be the most important day for the island, an island that was once a striving fishing village and adopted Saint Peter as their Patron. Following the Fishermen’s Mass, those in attendance were invited to a breakfast at the Lion’s Den for the fishermen. Everyone who attended got a special shirt, a coffee mug and a glass cup as souvenirs. Warm chocolate, coffee and fresh orange juice was served along with bread, cheese, chicken meat pies and homemade Johnny cakes. At 6AM, the statue of Saint Peter was then taken out of the church and placed on the bow of a boat for an annual boat procession, a tradition that the island has maintained for over 30 years. The procession left from the municipal dock and slowly moved northwards. The group of church goers in the leading vessel conducted a small service on the moving vessel. The fishing vessels then turned left into the Boca del Rio cut, winding through the lagoon and then eventually going into the Laguna de San Pedro. Once in the lagoon, the procession ended at the El Embarcadero Area. After a short prayer by Father Año-Nuevo, boat captains and fishermen each had their vessel blessed as a symbol of protection while at sea. Once blessed, the vessels slowly departed, making way for other vessels to be blessed.

La Alborada: a traditional start to Dia de San Pedro celebrations
The San Pedro the House of Culture and the San Pedro Cultural Committee (SPCC) outdid themselves on the night of Thursday June 28th as they brought back a popular San Pedro tradition, “La Alborada”. According to Mito Paz, Chairman of SPCC, the celebration was a big success some 60 years ago when residents from neighboring Corozal, Xcalac and Belize City would make the long journey yearly to celebrate La Alborada in anticipation of the Dia de San Pedro – the Patron Saint for the Island. The celebration commenced with a mass followed by a block party along Barrier Reef Drive in front of the Catholic Church. Chairs were set up for viewers to enjoy a night of cultural presentations leading up the midnight, when the Patron Saint was serenaded by the Mariachis and Natalie Arceo with las Mañanitas.

San Pedro joins the country in celebrating Police Week
Police Week 2012 is being celebrated in Belize under the theme “Lets Unite and continue to make Belize safer.” The Police Department has been holding activities country wide and on Ambergris Caye it is no exception. In San Pedro, activities started on Sunday June 24th with a church service and ends on Saturday June 30th with a parade through the streets of downtown followed by a closing ceremony. Police officers attached to the San Pedro Police Department attended their annual church service at the Living Word Church in full uniform. Senior officers, regular officers, special constables and tourism police attended the church service, some of whom helped to officiate the service. A special skit showcased the importance of choosing God over law-breaking behavior, and the penalties of breaking both earthly and heavenly covenants was the theme for the service. Pastor Ian Saldiver, in his sermon, explained that the bible predicted troublesome times and indicated that even in the troublesome times the law enforcement officers are not alone in the line of duty. The mass was very inspirational for the many police, who in most instances find themselves in danger while working in keeping the peace. After the service the church treated the law officers to a home cooked lunch.

Javier Castillo is the King of Kings Karaoke Champion!
After seven weeks of eliminations, 2012’s King of Kings Karaoke competition came to and end on Thursday night, June 29th with eight stellar performances by the four finalists. This year’s competition was different from previous years, as the viewers were the judges. By casting your text vote via Smart Phone to 7333, the viewers decided who the winners were. Weekly, the participant with the lowest votes was eliminated. Ten past champions signed up to work for a chance to be crowned Reef Radio’s King of Kings Karaoke Champion and take home $2,000.00. At the end of the six weeks leading up to the finals, four participants remained: Javier Castillo, Joel Andino, Carlos Montejo and Claudia Handal. Thursday night’s show started off with a performance by fallen competitor, Velma Melendez. Singers then came on stage one by one to wow the crowd with the best they had to offer in the hope of garnering the grand prize.

Edited by Marty (11/17/12 10:02 AM)