And we end our newscast on that note: Everything in moderation. Indeed, 2012 was a year of excess: 145 murders is too much. And you probably also had your fill of politics because it was a year of election - and you surely had your fill of pedophiles and girl killers. But we were happy for Rowan Garel's excessive ambition that led him to walk 92 miles, and we were also happy for Giovanni Choto's excessive heroism, which led him to dominate the Cross Country like no Belizean had in decades!
And so excess has its virtues, but usually too much is just too much to take. And that's what we found when we looked back at 2012: too many murders - the biggest of them happening on a Friday night in April in Belize City. Here's that and some more images that made news in 2012:..
And for those hardcore news junkies who still want more, well you can tune in to Channel 7 tomorrow afternoon at 1:00 pm when we present the best, most important news stories of 2012.
There’s not just one word to summarize the year 2012. It was a historic year in the world of Belizean politics and in the nation’s fight against crime. 2012 has also seen development of exponential proportions – particularly in regards to infrastructure -- in all the major municipalities across the country, but it hasn’t been short of some controversy. All that aside, it has also seen the testament of the human spirit and how far one person’s vision can inspire an entire country to become juxtaposed and moved together for a singular cause. 2012 could be considered a year that truly has left some impact on us all. Let’s take a look back at the year that has gone by.
The year started off with perhaps one of the loudest bangs heard countrywide. The Government of Belize announced that by the start of 2012, as many as 10,000 Belizean families would own their homes. Readers will remember that in September 2011, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced that Government would be writing off $62.6 million worth of mortgages to homeowners, who had mortgages with the Housing and Planning Department; an initiative that affected 9,200 mortgage holders. That news was extended to almost 800 others when it was announced that the write-offs would affect those with mortgages with the Social Security Board.
The year also started off with some tragedy, incidents like these, it seems, we have become all too familiar with. The sound of gunshots was heard at the Palm Island Night Club on January 1st. At around 4 that morning, 32-year-old Renan Briceno, Jr. fired a nine-millimeter pistol during an altercation and 19-year-old Dale Tillett was shot to the head. He died four days later and Briceno was charged with murder. In that same incident, 25-year-old Brandon Tillett was grazed to the foot. Thirty minutes later, Michelle Myvett’s house on George Street was bombarded by armed assailants, who started fired shots indiscriminately and 9-year-old Aaron Myvett Pope was killed; his 17-year-old sister was grazed to the elbow. Shortly after the incident, it was determined that the shooting was a retaliatory shooting to the one at Palm Island, but it wasn’t any of the players that were part of the gang truce.
The second week of January saw Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow begin his national tour into the run up of the elections which would be called later in the year. The tour began in the far North of the country. On January 8th, the Prime Minister visited the villages of Chunnox and Caledonia, which are in the geographic area of the Corozal Southeast constituency. The Prime Minister would end up touring all six districts by the time the elections were held roughly eight weeks later.
January also saw the story of alleged insider trading at the Social Security Board come to light. The Board’s CEO, Merlene Bailey-Martinez and the Internal Auditor of the Social Security Board, Denise Mahler were placed on administrative leave for two weeks pending an investigation at the institution. The move came following a meeting of the Board of Directors of the SSB, which was prompted as a result of allegations that there was insider trading taking place at the institution relating to Government’s write-off program of loans. That program saw loans, which the Social Security Board holds for under $50,000, written off. According to reports, there were staff members of the SSB, who held loans with the board but which were over the write-off amount. In order to fit into the category, they secured loans elsewhere to bring down their principal to be able to benefit from the program.
On Thursday, January 12th, Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children and Global Ambassador to Special Olympics, presented wheelchairs to physically challenged Belizeans from across the country. The donation came as a result of a visit to the Republic of China-Taiwan by Mrs. Barrow in which she met with several NGOs to chart means of collaboration. The Pusian Foundation committed to donate 250 chairs to Belize.
At the handing over ceremony, chairs were delivered to various organizations. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital received 25 and individuals from Stella Maris School, CARE Belize and VOICE received chairs. One chair costs approximately $500.
Also in January, the new legal year started under Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin. In his address to members of Belize’s legal fraternity, the Chief Justice discussed a number of issues, the first of which was the limited funding that the Judiciary receives. He said that a request for more funds is the only logical solution because there are sections of this branch of Government that face resource problems. Another challenge is that criminal cases have spiked and the accused people don’t have access to many attorneys. As such, the state has had to cover the expenses, but many of the attorneys believe that they have not been adequately compensated for their services. Therefore, the legal aid assistance to accused persons becomes lacking, which forced trials to be delayed. He explained that solutions are being explored, such as the possibility of the Attorney General’s Ministry being able to increase the compensation to private lawyers.
As for the system itself, legislation allowing for trials without jury became effective in this legal year for murder and murder-related charges. This lessens incidents of witness tampering and jury intimidation. Another significant endeavor is the fostering of a mediation program as an alternative to going to a long and expensive trial for civil matters. The Judicial Administrators are also consulting on the formation of a Judicial Education Body as a means of providing regular training to the judicial officers, in an effort to continuously improve the capacity of those officers.
The first month of 2012 also saw another great announcement by Government: water rates would go down. On January 24th, Public Utilities Commission announced a 7.2% reduction in water rates. The announcement came a couple of weeks after the PUC also announced that electricity rates would be going down by 6.14%. Chairman of the PUC, John Avery, explained that the reduction would translate to savings of $0.62 for those consuming water only in the mainland, which will go from $8.62 for a thousand gallons or less in consumption to $8.00. Similar changes will take place in Belmopan and Belize City where there are Water and Sewage connections with the price going from $10.34 to $9.60. The reduction will also take place on San Pedro with the prices going from $25.27 to $23.45. The only location where the rates will not be changed is in Caye Caulker where the water system has not been performing as expected as residents on the island continue to use well water sources.
The year’s biggest announcement came at the end of January: the General and Municipal Elections would be held on the same day! Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow delivered a national address on Tuesday, January 31st, where he announced that the elections, both the Municipal and the General will be held on March 7th and that the day would be a national holiday. These elections would prove to be a test of the electorate’s confidence in the United Democratic Party’s policies and this election would crucial for the party because up to this point, it had not won consecutive general elections ever in its history. It was an opportunity for the public to either seek a change in how they are governed or to endorse the UDP’s pro-poor policies, which included the ongoing food pantry program, the BOOST program, housing loan write-offs, a policy to give Belizeans the opportunity to own land, scholarships and other educational assistance.
February saw yet another piece of good news come true for the Belizean public: electricity rates would go down. Readers will also recall that in June 2011, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow, at one of his quarterly press conferences, announced that Government would nationalize the nation’s electricity provider, Belize Electricity Limited. Almost two weeks after, the legislation was passed.
Seven months after that bold and historic acquisition, the rates went down. In December 2011, BEL had applied to the PUC for a Full Tariff Review Proceeding (FTRP) for the period July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2016 and proposed a 3.4% rate decrease. In January, the PUC recommended a 6.14% rate decrease, which came into effect on February 1, five months earlier than they normally would. Now instead of paying 44 cents per kilowatt hour, consumers are paying 41.3 cents per kilowatt hour. The threshold for social rate increased, which means that consumers, who currently use less than 50 kilowatt hours per month, pay a social rate at 26 cents per kilowatt hour. Consumers using less than 60 kilowatt hours per month are now paying only 24 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity. That change has the number of consumers paying the social rate increase from 7,000 to over 8,000.
With three weeks to the national and municipal elections, two very consequential announcements were made by two senior politicians. Hon. Mark Espat and Hon. Cordel Hyde announced their resignations from the People’ United Party, the fact they would not be offering themselves up for March’s elections and their retirement from politics. Hyde resigned on February 3rd; Espat resigned three days later. Considered two of the PUP’s outcasts, Espat and Hyde were deemed unbeatable in the Albert and Lake Independence constituencies; up until they retired from politics, neither Espat nor Hyde had lost an election since 1998. The last time Lake I and Albert were not held by the PUP was under the national hero, Philip Goldson (in Albert) and former Minister of Housing, Hubert Elrington (in Lake-I), when there was the UDP-NABR coalition government of 1993. In announcing Espat’s resignation, his committee cited that “What Party members like us seek and what Belizeans deserve is a Party where donors matter less and merit matters more; where results match rhetoric; and where policies live up to the Party’s creed of service to the people, social justice and a mixed economy.” Espat would later become Belize’s first economic ambassador and lead negotiator in talks in reaching a definitive solution to the burdening billion-dollar Superbond. As for Hyde, the reasons for his departure were based on some family difficulties; Hyde’s son was diagnosed with a serious medical condition called Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which required his undivided attention. He was also offered a diplomatic post in New York later on. Sadly, Hyde’s son, Khalil, would die from the condition later in the year.
Political changes in 2012 didn’t end there because after the departures of Espat and Hyde, the PUP was left to scramble to find candidates; one of the interesting scrambles was in Lake Independence. Fast-forward to Nomination Day on February 17th when the nomination of Yolanda Schackron was rejected. The rationale behind her rejection was that it was discovered that she was the holder of U.S. passport, which made her ineligible to stand for elections. Ironically, the PUP attorneys who rallied against the proposed change in the Constitution to allow Belizeans with dual citizenship to run for elected office at the national level wanted the rules to be bent for Schackron to run. It was also revealed in the exposé by 7 News that Schackron (born Edmée Yolanda Galvez in 1965) was that in fact, she was born in Guatemala. In the end, her brother, Martin Galvez ended up becoming the party’s standard bearer two weeks later. For Albert, Mark Espat’s replacement was David Craig.
Readers will recall that one of the judicial advances made in 2012 was trial without a jury. As the Chief Justice pointed out in January when the Legal Year began, the idea of trial without a jury was to reduce witness tampering and intimidation. The first murder case to be tried under the new legislation was the trial of Ricky Valencia and Akeem Thurton. They were the duo that was charged in connection with the murder attempt on attorney-at-law Rodwell Williams, the Prime Minister’s law partner. It was scheduled for a February 6th start, but was postponed until February 27th. The incident happened in June 2010 when Williams was leaving his Albert Street office to go to his vehicle when he was attacked by two men who then shot him. Williams’ injuries were life threatening and he had to be taken out of the country for treatment. Thurton was later found guilty of the charges and was sentenced to prison. Valencia didn’t live long enough to go to trial. He was killed in one of the more 140 murders in 2012.
Also in February, the Belize Sugar Industry and the Belize Workers Union brokered an agreement for increased wages for workers in the industry. The three-year collective agreement was signed on February 6. It is effective July 1st, 2011 to June 30th, 2014.
The Agreement covers employees at Tower Hill Factory, Transport and Field Engineering (both these are ancillaries in Orange Walk) and Slipway in the Corozal District. The agreement calls for a wage increase of 4% from July 1st, 2011 to June 30th, 2012 and a 5% increase effective July 1st, 2012 to June 30th, 2013. Additionally, a one-off supplemental bonus of 3% will be payable for the first year of the Agreement, retroactive from July 1st, 2011. Any movement in wage rates for the third year will be discussed at that time. The signing was witnessed by officials of the BWU, BSIL and the Labor Department.
Also in February, tragedy struck the music and disc jockey fraternities. Stephen Hall, known as DJ Scorpio, lost his life in a fatal road accident one weekend in the month of love. On Saturday, February 11th, Hall, who was also an avid cycling enthusiast, was in a road mishap involving a motorbike near the Bacab Eco Park on the Boom Circuit Road. It was reported that Hall was speeding to the end of a bicycle race with three other motor cycle riders, Marlon Smith, Andrew Ordonez and Alwyn Gonzalez. One of the men lost control of his cycle when attempting to make a turn around a deep curve. That caused a chaotic chain reaction in which all four riders were trapped. Smith ran off the left side of the road. Gonzalez rode into a nearby ditch. Ordonez and Hall suffered most from the mishap because their cycles took them into some rocks and palm trees. Ordonez broke his right foot and left hand. Hall suffered severe head injuries. They were rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital and Hall was pronounced dead on arrival. Eyewitnesses report that only two of the four motorcycle riders were wearing helmets.
In terms of physical development, February also saw the start of the massive programs under the Southside Alleviation Project come to fruition. The then Minister of Works, Hon. Anthony Martinez signed three contracts on January 20th and the work began on February 13th, 2012. They were for the dredging and proper lining of canals and the paving of Jane Usher Boulevard and Neal’s Pen Road. Cisco Construction received a $9.8 million contract for the concrete lining of Collet Canal from Conch Shell Bay to Yarborough Bridge and the entire stretch of the North Creek Canal. The project commenced with the rock piling of the edges of the canal. The adjacent streets will be paved and widened; piles of rock are being dumped to narrow the canal. Cisco will be working with at least two sub-contractors and dozens of youths from Southside Belize City have already been employed under the project. As the project continues, more job opportunities will be made available to residents of the area.
The second phase of the Belize City Southside Alleviation Project is funded jointly by the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and the Government of Belize.
The last week in February saw the launch of the United Democratic Party’s manifestos at both the municipal and national levels. Led by Mayoral candidate, Darrell Bradley, the team in Belize City launched an action plan that addressed fiscal responsibility and accountability, how to improve the streets and drains in Belize City, and how to deal with beautification and the lingering garbage problem, which are being addressed well into 2013. The national government manifesto works in tandem with the municipal ones, especially in areas of crime and violence, infrastructure, economic development and education. In addition to providing quality education for Belize’s children, continuing the pro-poor programs, which include the conditional cash transfer program (BOOST), the school subsidy, Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced even more write-offs. This meant that the amount of people who have mortgages with the Development Finance Cooperation (DFC) will also be getting relief, which then would bring the total of families expected to benefit well over 10,300. Those who had student loans would also be given relief.
Welcome news also came to the tourism industry, which would then translate to more development for the nation’s largest city. On February 22nd, the Belize Tourism Board broke ground on the Fort Point Pedestrian Walk project.
The project is the third of four that will be executed under the Sustainable Tourism Project, which is financed by the Government of Belize through an IDB loan. Minister of Tourism, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr. said that the project will cost $5.47 million and will take approximately 16 months to complete. The project will include the rehabilitation of Memorial Park and infrastructural development of the tourism zone.
Christy Mastry, Manager of the project said, “Memorial Park will be transformed into a multi-functional public space for special events, recreation and leisure activities.” It will include the renovation of the war memorial and inclusion of plaques of honor and ceremonial features. The landscape will be improved with 1 acre of green space. The bandstand will be renovated and a shaded walkway will be constructed around the park. 15 day-vending structures will be constructed along with 30 permanent vending structures. Public restrooms will be implemented for male, female and handicapped users. An amphitheater will be constructed with a stage and seating for 200 people plus a spectators’ lawn. The facility will have space for tour operators and residential parking. The Memorial Park will also house the largest Belize flag in the country.
Ideas for the project came following a series of public consultations which zeroed in on six priorities areas: poor traffic control, which caused congestion and conflicts; disorganized street vending, lack of standardized structures, blocked walkways and poor pedestrian flow; poor quality and limited pedestrian access because of potholes, lack of sidewalks and vehicular traffic; lack of security; the disturbing images of unkempt drains and the poor drainage in the area; and the lack of public amenities.
At the end of February, Oceana conducted its ambitious people’s referendum on offshore drilling and it saw thousands of signatures being presented to the Elections and Boundaries Department. The Guardian proved that the process itself was skewed after we received photographic evidence that many people voted more than once in the referendum. It would turn out also that the work of the Department would also reveal irregularities and more than 8,000 signatures would be rejected.
March also saw more indicators that the sugar industry was continuing its production smoothly. On March 4th, the miller, Belize Sugar Industries, which is one of the signatories to the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) along with Government and Farmers, reported that it is performing quite efficiently and is milling well above the 6,000 tons of cane per day that it had committed to in the MOU. The crop has surpassed its 40% mark without any major difficulty and is projected to be completed earlier than expected. Farmers are also delivering fresh, mature, and clean cane to the Factory, which should make for a profitable year for all stakeholders.
March also saw the historic double elections. Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow made the announcement of the double elections in a national address on January 31st and those elections proved to be the most hotly contested. For the United Democratic Party, it was to break the historical mold of one-term governments and continuing with the policies it founded its agenda on for the last four years. The United Democratic Party won 17 seats out of 31 in the General Elections, capturing 10 of the seats in the Belize District. The UDP won the majority of the town councils, repeating victories in Belize City and Corozal. At the national level, Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Michael Finnegan, Hon. Patrick Faber, Hon. Gaspar Vega, Hon. John Saldivar, Hon. Elvin Penner, Hon. Rene Montero, Hon. Anthony Martinez, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr., Hon. Pablo Marin, Hon. Edmund Castro, Hon. Erwin Contreras, and Hon. Wilfred Elrington were the representatives that formed the Government for a second time. They were joined by Hon. Santiago Castillo, Jr., Hon. Mark King, Hon. Herman Longsworth, and Hon. Hugo Patt to make the final tally of 17.
The returning mayors were Simeon Lopez of Belmopan, Hilberto Campos of Corozal and John August of San Ignacio & Santa Elena. The UDP won the majority of the city councils with the closely watched municipal race being in Belize City, where the team led by attorney-at-law Darrell Bradley was elected by more than 2,000 over the PUP slate led by now Senator, Hon. Karen Bodden.
The youngest son of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana, Prince Harry came to Belize for the very first time as part of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee.
As part of the Diamond Jubilee tour, Prince Harry embarked on a ten-day trip to Belize, Jamaica and the Bahamas. His first stop was in Belize and the people of the jewel were happy to grant him a royal welcome.
Prince Harry arrived in Belize on Friday, March 2nd. He was greeted at the Phillip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) by Belize’s Chief of Protocol, Diane Locke. Locke then introduced the Prince to the Queen’s representative in Belize, Governor General Sir Colville Young. Sir Colville then introduced him to the Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, and then the Leader of the Opposition, Hon. Francis Fonseca.
Before Prince Harry left for Belmopan City, he spent some time with Prime Minister Barrow and Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow inside the VIP Lounge of the PGIA. While in Belmopan, he took part in the unveiling of the newly named Queen Elizabeth II Boulevard. Then it was time for the free spirited war-fighting Prince to relax, enjoy and participate in some cultural activities at a street festival held in his honor. Prince Harry dressed casually and tasted some Belizean rum and beer. He also showed that he is quite a talented dancer as he danced to a couple cultural pieces. He even persuaded the Governor General to dance, something most locals thought they would have never seen.
His trip involved a visit to the Organization of American States’ monitoring Belize/Guatemala Adjacency Zone. The Adjacency Zone was implemented as part of the road to a solution in the Belize/Guatemala dispute. After the political stop, the Prince took some time to visit a more historic site. He toured the ancient Mayan city of Xunantunich on Saturday, March 3rd. Twenty-two children with special needs were invited to tour the site along with him. Fifteen of those children were among the forty people invited to have lunch with the Prince.
The Organization of American States (OAS) also sent an observer mission to Belize to monitor the double elections. The mission team comprised of 23 observers who were dispatched to roughly 85% of the nation’s polling stations. In their report on the March 7th election, the mission commended the Elections and Boundaries Department for “the incorporation of new procedures to have large polling areas serve as counting stations and to simultaneously count multiple boxes.” Team lead, Frank Almaguer said that this was “a more efficient counting process that prevented excessive delays.” They were concerned that the Elections and Boundaries Department took long to deliver the official results to the public. The mission also raised concerns about what they call electioneering. They want to discourage the practice of wearing party shirts and campaigning outside of the polling stations. According to Almaguer, this practice “produced less than a conducive environment for the voting process”. One observer even witnessed a party activist distributing money to a group of people that had just voted. This only confirms what many have already mentioned: the People’s United Party was trying to buy their way to Belmopan. In light of those few concerns, the mission concluded that “democracy has its complications”. Overall, the elections were free and fair to the satisfaction of the mission. Almaguer said, “There is a chance for people to vote; there is a chance for those votes to be counted; and there is a chance for the various political groups to make sure that those votes are counted in a way that meets the test of fairness and objectivity.”
For tourism, in addition to improved tourist arrival numbers and being part of the list of the best hotels in the world, Belize was one of the countries whose beaches made an esteemed list of being the best on the planet. Trip Advisor announced in March that San Pedro, Placencia and Caye Caulker were ranked 7th, 8th and 9th best on the Central American isthmus. The BTB said that this was “…indeed quite an honor and will definitely help to create more awareness of Belize as a ‘choice’ tourist destination.”
In sports, it was a test of endurance to complete the days-long trek down the Belize River for the La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge, which was held during the Heroes and Benefactors Day weekend. The Belize Bank Bulldogs were victorious overall. They were awarded medals, a wooden carved trophy and the title of the 2012 La Ruta Maya Belize River Challenge Champions.
The 2012 champions also broke last year’s record of 18 hours and 4 seconds by a time of 16 hours, 36 minutes and 3 seconds. Since the inaugural run of this race in 1998, there has been a steady growth in number of participating teams, both locally and internationally.
In 1998, there were only 22 competing teams; in this 2012 competition, which marks the 15th annual race, there were a total of 72 teams participating in the different levels, within the competition. The race’s route is 170 miles long.
Shortly after being elected to a second term, the UDP Administration led by Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow put together a team to start the process of negotiation with the holders of Belize’s Superbond. The gifted team includes Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight; Central Bank Governor, Glenford Ysaguirre; Deputy Governor, Christine Vellos; Special Advisor in the Ministry of Finance Alan Slusher, and Hon. Godwin Hulse. The team lead appointed was former Minister Mark Espat, who was part of the team that negotiated the original Super bond.
The debt review team prepared comprehensive fiscal and macro projections and identifying debt management alternatives.
Also in March, work continued on the Belize Municipal Development Project (BMDP). The $30 million, which aims to bring much needed infrastructure development to seven municipalities in Belize, took a major leap with the official launching and contract signing of the rehabilitation of the Punta Gorda Town Hall and Administration Building. The project saw the rehabilitation the Punta Gorda Town Administration Offices and adjacent Town Hall at a cost of $425,150, including counterpart funding from the Punta Gorda Town Council.
Under Phase 1 of the BMDP for Punta Gorda, Pampano and Robert O. Pennil Streets were rehabilitated. There is a second phase, which should start in 2013, where residents of Punta Gorda will again have the opportunity to prioritize important projects to be funded under the second phase.
The BMDP is a project financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the World Bank. The project aims to improve access to basic municipal infrastructure and to enhance municipal management in selected Town and City Councils of Belize. These include Belmopan, Benque Viejo del Carmen, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Dangriga, Punta Gorda, Corozal and Orange Walk.
Baldmiration! That was a new term that entered the English vernacular in 2012 not because some intellectuals with free time on their hands wanted to extend the list of portmanteaus but it came to being because of one person and her fight against cancer. Mrs. Kim Simplis-Barrow, wife of Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow and the Special Envoy for Women and Children, has had a public battle with breast cancer and in March 2012, a number of UB students and Belizean men and women stood behind Mrs. Barrow and all those who suffer from the condition by shaving off all their heads. Students of the University of Belize launched the campaign in an effort to raise awareness on the prevalence of cancer in Belize. The purpose of the movement is also to emphasize the importance of regular screening. Many of the students joined Mrs. Barrow, UB lecturer, Silvaana Udz; the University’s spokesman, Selwyn King; and long time educator, Sister Caritas Lawrence, who are all survivors.
Speaking of Mrs. Barrow, her public fight against cancer has even drawn international attention. In the latter part of March, she was featured in the British publication ComplexD as a woman of strength. The feature on Mrs. Barrow outlines the challenges, the fight to survive and how inspirational that fight has been. She said that her hope is to show other women than you can beat anything with a positive attitude. Since the publication, there have been other features on Mrs. Barrow on the magazine’s blog. She spoke about her feeling of relief after taking the 6th and final chemotherapy session earlier this year. She said, “While it was a great milestone to achieve, my last chemotherapy infusion didn’t mark the end of my journey with breast cancer. I am now about to embark on another leg filled with surgeries, radiation and more surgeries.” She continued, “My body has been through an enormous assault and the recovery is no small feat.” She has no regrets about making her battle public because it has already inspired so many and countless more will be blessed by her courage. Mrs. Barrow understands that she has to make changes in her daily life to live a quality “new normal life”. Such changes include a more monitored diet and finding ways to cope with fatigue.
Also in March, Prime Minister Barrow inked agreement the Belize Municipal Development Project (BMDP). Readers will remember that the Project has seen a number of towns and cities in Belize benefiting in some way or another. The project has seen improvements in Punta Gorda, Belmopan, Benque Viejo del Carmen, San Ignacio and Santa Elena, Dangriga, Corozal and Orange Walk.
According to the World Bank, the objective of the BMDP is to improve access to basic municipal infrastructure and to enhance municipal management in selected town and city councils of Belize. The project is divided into three working areas including infrastructure development and two sub-projects for improvement of management capacity. The second area of focus will be technical assistance and capacity building for the city and town councils. The third and final component will entail the strengthening of the operational capacity of the Social Investment Fund for implementation and management of the project, to ensure compliance with fiduciary controls, supervision, monitoring and reporting, and compliance with social and environmental safeguards, through the provision of technical advisory services, training, operating costs, and acquisition of goods including vehicles.
On the afternoon of March 24th, an amphibious aircraft crashed in the Port of Honduras area off the Abalone Caye, near Punta Gorda Town. The aircraft is privately owned and registered in the United States of America.
James Glen Wagner, a US national of Lakeland, Florida, was on board at the time of the crash. The plane flipped during a routine water landing.
Wagner was submerged underwater inside the plane; he managed to escape the plane without any injuries. The eight -seat aircraft, we learnt from a source, has been in Belize for almost two weeks. The aircraft had been returning from dropping off 7 tourists in the Placencia area and was landing in the sea, allegedly, to pick up another set of tourists who were fishing on a boat, when it crashed.
On March 26th, the Social Investment Fund signed agreements with eight local educational institutions as part of the Academic and Social Skills Training Program and the Vocational Training Program Phase I. Thirty-eight youths were to be identified and assisted financially to further their education in academic, social and vocational skills training. The Social Investment Fund signed agreements with the Youth Enhancement Services, Young Women’s Christian Association, Living Hope Preparatory School, Belize Friends School, 4H Youth Development Centre, the Orange Walk and Stann Creek ITVETs and the Cayo Centre for Employment Training (CET).
Under the Academic and Social Skills Training Program, 16 youths between the ages of 14 and 17 are receiving financial assistance to complete second chance schools in the Belize District. They are going sit the Primary School Examination and enroll in high school. Under the Vocational Training Program, 22 youths will pursue vocational training opportunities at institutions across the country to obtain the technical skills needed to secure gainful employment. The cost of tuition, school fees and transportation will be covered for all students under these programs.
The estimated cost of the project is approximate $21,500.
There was also the number of election petitions being filed. One of the ones closely watched was the one in Freetown. On March 29th, the UDP filed an election petition after it received proof that two agents working in the Freetown division for the PUP were caught bribing voters.
Election petitions were also filed in Lake Independence, Albert, Cayo Central and Cayo Northeast. In the case of Lake Independence, the PUP filed an application to the Supreme Court for leave to grant them an election petition. According to the PUP, Yolanda Schackron, who was disqualified from running in the Lake Independence constituency because she held dual nationality, should have been allowed to run. Section 58 of the Constitution clearly states that persons with dual nationality are not allowed to run as area representatives, but the PUP still accepted Schackron’s application.
Also in March, we learned of the miraculous story of 11-year-old Katarina Ishim, who had a life threatening cancer that consumed much of her face since October 2010. Since her plight became public, Katarina has gone abroad, had the tumor removed, and had undergone reconstructive surgery to her face.
It started as a mosquito bite in 2010 on the nose and then from there it started getting bigger from the size of a marble to the size of an egg.
On March 30th, Yolanda Schackron and the PUP’s attempts to nullify the election results in Lake Independence failed. Readers will remember that they had applied for leave for an election petition against Hon. Mark King, Lake Independence Area Representative and it failed in the Supreme Court before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin. Four days later, on April 3rd, they made another attempt. Her brother and standard bearer, Martin Galvez, filed the application for leave for an election petition. According to Galvez’s attorney, Lisa Shoman, and three affidavits she filed in court, King holds a contract with the Government, which should disqualify him from holding office because he did not declare it by way of publishing such in a newspaper before running for office.
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow quickly punched gaping holes in the affidavits presented. For the Galvez affidavit, he pointed out that it was riddled with hearsay. This, said Barrow, was contrary to the Evidence Act which states that affidavits should not contain hearsay. He then moved on to an affidavit by Marlon Clarke, who signed a document on the 27th of March and did searches at the Companies’ Registry on the 28th, which was presented in the affidavit a day earlier. He called these “egregious violations of the Evidence Act” and they were “manifestly incapable of being accepted”.
Barrow then moved on to, at great lengths, to prove through case law that the Constitutional Section 58 1(h) should be construed as persons being disqualified are those who hold contracts of employment or are consultants or permanent workers with the Government for and on behalf of the public service. He then went on to determine what the public service is and how it applied to this case.
On April 11th, Mayor Darrell Bradley launched the Belize City Council’s 100-Day Action Plan. According to Mayor Bradley, the plan was to set the tone for the administration of 2012-15. The plan sough to address six areas: improving governance and accountability within the council, city infrastructure, the council’s responsiveness to concerns of residents, finance and revenue reform, sanitation and beautification and law and order. In order to improve governance and accountability, the council will develop a code of conduct for City Councilors, which contains a clear description of duties. Among the many plans implemented were external auditors were to begin independent financial audit of the council. An institutional and human resource audit will also be carried out. An audit committee will then be appointed with representatives that are qualified and independent of the council to maintain a system of continuous audits.
In order to improve the city’s infrastructure the council will procure a roller, grader, back-hoe and other equipment. Proposals for a fifteen million-dollar infrastructure and a one million-dollar street improvement project will be drafted. Corporate citizens will be encouraged to partner with the council in order to fix nearby streets. Legislation will be drafted to ensure that 30 cents of every dollar the council collects will be spent on infrastructure. A weekly infrastructure work program will be developed and all drains will be inspected and fixed. These were precursors to the Municipal Bond that would be launched later in the year.
In sports, Belize had received an Easter gift: Belizeans dominated the top ten positions in the 67th Annual Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycle Classic.
The race started in front of Leslie’s Imports at 6 a.m. with 80 elite riders; 7 foreigners and 73 Belizeans.
After the dust settled, Giovanni Choto won the race, being the first Belizean to cross the line! He finished the race two minutes and twelve seconds before the next finisher. His final time was six hours sixteen minutes and forty-five seconds. He rode bravely and lifted the spirit of an entire nation.
Four other Belizeans completed the top five. Brandon Cattouse finished second, Darnell Barrow finished third, Byron Pope finished fourth and Gregory Lovell finished 5th. Choto, in addition to the various prizes, won cash including $5,000 from the National Sports Council.
In April, there was the scramble by cell phone users to get their numbers registered. On April 12th, that six-month window closed for phones to be registered and the Government ordered the companies to terminate all unregistered accounts but not before a three month extension period passes. The “deadline” was extended to Friday, July 13th.
The benefits of being able to link a number with a name are numerous but the most immediate need for phone registration is to deter or delay criminal activity. It is a known fact that many criminals use cell phones to set up hits and orchestrate other crimes. When there is evidence that a cell phone was used in the committal of a crime, investigators can use the number of the cell phone and trace it to a name. Other benefits include consumer protection. Cell phone theft is common and once your phone is stolen, you can now get back the same number and receive your credit at the time it was stolen.
On April 26th, the Ministry of Works signed a contract for the upgrading of the Loma Luz Boulevard in Santa Elena. The contract is part of a larger loan agreement between the Caribbean Development Bank and the Government of Belize, which will also see the construction of a new bridge that will link Santa Elena and San Ignacio.
In total, the CDB lent Belize US$24.7 million dollars with grant funding of US$249,000. The project is being executed the Ministry of Works, and involves the construction of a bypass road around Santa Elena and San Ignacio, upgrading 3.2 kilometers of existing road and the construction of 1 kilometer of new road as well as a bridge that will span 154 meters across the Macal River. The project is hailed as one, which will decongest downtown San Ignacio and Santa Elena, diverting traffic from the narrow streets of the twin towns.
April saw the demise of two very prominent and notorious underworld figures and they died days apart. The killings of Sheldon “Pinky” Tillett, leader of the George Street Gang, and his Taylor’s Alley arch-nemesis, Arthur Young had many people wondering if there would be an escalation of violence. Police responded to the scene of a shooting at the Esso Gas Station located at miles 2½ on the Northern Highway at about 11:20 p.m. on Friday, April 20th. There, they saw the lifeless body of Tillett, also known as Pinky, and 23-year-old Kamille Andrews inside a white Ford Ranger pickup truck. Tillett and Andrews arrived at the gas station at 11 p.m. and Tillett exited the vehicle and went inside the store. As soon as Tillett returned to his truck, a man with a dread hat and a mask over his face exited a grey Pathfinder SUV and approached the vehicle. The man fired several shots at Tillett and Andrews. Tillett was shot to the center of the chest, left side of the chest, right arm and neck. Andrews was shot to the right side of her chest, right rib cage, left arm and left arm pit. Both died on the scene. Arthur Young was considered a person of interest in police’s investigations of the double murder of Tillett and Andrews.
On April 22nd, Young was at a house in the Vista Del Mar of Ladyville. He was discovered inside one of the rooms trying to escape capture; however, he was apprehended. The police report said that “whilst being escorted to the Eastern Police Division in Belize City, a struggle ensued between Young and officers inside the pan of the Police vehicle as he attempted to disarm one of the officers. The firearm discharged and resulted in Young sustaining injuries.” Young was rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival.
The month of May produced some very important and again, very historic news on a very historic issue that has affected Belize for decades. It was announced that Belize and Guatemala would hold simultaneous referendums on October 6th, 2013 on whether the territorial claim would be settled at the Hague-based International Court of Justice. Readers will remember that the idea first came about when the Special Agreement was signed in Washington, DC in December 2008. What lies ahead in the coming 10 months or so, is that both countries’ Governments must undertake the task of educating everyone on both sides of the border on what the claim is and what it means to go to the ICJ. It’s agreed that the task is going to be a challenging one. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ perspective, the date agreed upon for the simultaneous referenda gives a timeframe during which the education process must take place and admittedly, there is a need for the awareness to be done. The Ministry has underscored the seriousness with which both the Governments of Belize and Guatemala are taking the issue to ensure that the public knows just about everything there is to know about the subject before voting one whether we should or should not go to the ICJ.
One of the most controversial deaths in 2012 was that of Kevin “Boco T” Kelly in April 2012.
He reportedly died in an escape attempt from San Pedro Police on April 26th and to this day, the family doesn’t buy the police’s version of events. The 38-year-old Kelly was detained for robbery earlier that night. According to reports, he robbed 24-year-old Philippa Lamb of a gold chain and her purse. Police in the area responded quickly to the incident and arrested Kelly. He was taken to the San Pedro Police Station. As he was in the process of being locked in a cell, Kelly escaped and was immediately pursued by police. According to police reports, Kelly jumped a fence while being pursued by police and landed on his head. The impact of the fall was severe and he struggled to remain conscious. Kelly was handcuffed and taken back to the police station where he was detained in a holding cell. While in the cell, he fainted and officers noticed he was struggling to breathe. They called in Dr. Javier Zuniga for assistance but Kelly never regained consciousness. He was pronounced dead at 11:48 p.m.
Belize Telemedia Limited (BTL) announced that it had signed the agreement with Ericsson to provide 4G service to the people and country of Belize. This would not have been possible without the $8 million US loan from the Government of Belize. Fourth generation (4G) also called Long Term Evolution (LTE) offers one platform for different wireless networks. These networks are connected through one IP core and integrate wireless technologies, avoiding the need for new uniformed standards for different wireless systems like World Wide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMAX), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), wireless local area network (WLAN) and General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). The 4G network will increase the data rates incredibly, by providing 100 Mbps to 1 gigabit per second (Gbps) in stationary and mobile environments respectively. The 4G can be considered a global network where users can find voice, data, and video streaming at anytime and anywhere around the globe. In the 4G integration of network, its applications are seamless therefore, there is no risk of delay. With the increase in the data rates, the mobile phones are made to perform higher performance applications. In 4G, the mobile phone is not only calling, but it is an extraordinary device that can be used for a variety of purposes. On average, 4G wireless is supposed to be anywhere from four to ten times faster than today’s 3G networks.
Staying with big economic earners in Belize, the sugar industry also received some welcome news: American Sugar Refineries expressed interest in investing and injecting serious capital in Belizean sugar. Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) heard a proposal by the company interested in purchasing the majority interest in BSI through the purchase of equity in the company.
American Sugar Refining (ASR), the parent company of Tate and Lyle, presented to BSI a proposal in which it intended to spend $40 million BZ in capital expenditure over the next 3 years. The infusion of capital will see the improvement and expansion of the Tower Hill Mill. Being that Tate & Lyle is a subsidiary to American Sugar Refining, the proposal includes the increase in price for the purchase of raw sugar by Tate and Lyle from BSI from 335 Euros to 425 Euros per tonne of sugar cane. This will be based on the yearly purchase of 70,000 of sugar. According to the proposal, this will yield BZ $16.6 million dollars, which will see the cane farmers receiving 10.8 million dollars more and the factory receiving $5.8 million more.
ASR’s investment would see the supply agreements with Tate and Lyle past 2015 for raw sugar, and premium special grade sugars. Also included in the proposal is the offering of technical services between BSI and ASR as well as the financing of extension services to cane farmers. There are also components for the funding of the planting and cultivation of sugarcane by cane farmers. An agronomist assisted by 4 staff members are also expected to be added to improve production of sugarcane as well as harvesting practices. They would close this deal later on in the year.
The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Hon. Kamla Persad-Bissessar also embarked on two-day visit to Belize. She arrived on Wednesday, May 16th, to take part in two Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) events. Upon arrival, her first stop was to pay a courtesy visit to Prime Minister of Belize, Hon. Dean Barrow.
That same evening, the Prime Ministers participated in a ceremony at the Princess Hotel and Casino to launch the Caribbean Local Economic Development (CARILED) Programme. The CARILED programme is a six-year $23.2 million project in which local governments will utilize assets and human capital to stimulate economic growth, create jobs and develop the business sector. CARILED is funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and being implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), in partnership with the Caribbean Forum of Local Government Ministers (CFLGM), the Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities (CALGA) and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLFG).
Even with all the steps made in governance, the economy, trade, diplomacy and the advancements of the United Democratic Party’s pro-poor programs, the seeming uncontrollable crime situation could not be abated or ignored. As a result of the continued violence, the Police Department had to draft and implement a new crime-fighting strategy. The Belize Police Department, on Tuesday, May 22nd, detailed their early results of their investigation into the killing of eleven-year-old Daniel Matura, Jr. Matura was also one of the children who died in gun violence in 2012, five months after Aaron Myvett Pope’s life ended tragically.
The Belize Police Department divided Belize City into six police zones. A patrol would cover the entire stretch of one of those six zones. In an effort to improve efficiency, the department will further divide those zones. Ending up with eleven police zones. With the expanding arsenal of equipment, the Department would also receive a sizable donation from the Government of the United States. There will be one patrol vehicle per each zone, making it easier to cover the areas. In addition, two task forces have been established to focus specifically on individuals that are being the most disruptive and destructive. Such individuals will be under the police microscope. The department will also increase its stop-and-search operations and revisit patrol routines.
11-year-old Daniel Matura, Jr. lost his life in one of the many murders in May 2012. He died on May 21st, five days 29-year-old Kaylon Matura lost his life in more violence.
Kaylon Matura was killed on the Central American Boulevard on Wednesday, May 16th. He was standing in front of his home getting ready to head to work, when a gun man pulled up and opened fire on him. He was shot twice to the chest and once to the face – executed in the early hours of the day in front of his family home before his young daughter’s very eyes. According to reports, the family pointed at Brandon Taylor as the triggerman in the murder and in street justice, there is only one way to use such information.
Police said at the time that individuals at the Matura residence spotted Brandon Taylor and Roy Bennett riding on Central American Boulevard from the direction of Faber’s Road heading towards Pen Road. Upon passing #3 Central American Boulevard, 31-year-old Andrew Willoughby ran out and opened fire at them. Willoughby is Kaylon Matura’s brother-in-law. Residents said many as fifteen shots rang out. Taylor and Bennett escaped unharmed. Unfortunately, 11-year-old Daniel Matura, who was returning from the shop at the same time, was walking on the sidewalk from the opposite direction of where Taylor and Bennett were riding. Three of the bullets fired by Willoughby hit him: once to the left side of the chest, once to the right side of the back and once to the left ring finger. Matura was rushed to the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital but died as a result of his injuries.
Quick police response led to the apprehension of Willoughby on Arlington Drive, a few yards away from the shooting. Willoughby is Daniel Matura’s cousin-in-law and he gave a caution statement to police. He is expected to be charged for the killing of the eleven- year-old. Brandon Taylor was also arrested in relation to the investigation of Kaylon Matura’s murder.
The month of May also saw the murder of businessman, Jerminie McNab. The 48-year-old was inside his business, Mobile Hardware Store, when he was approached by two men. According to reports, the men had a brief conversation with McNab before one of them pulled out a nine-millimeter pistol and fired three shots into his chest. McNab fell to the ground grasping for air. Police said that no money was stolen nor items taken. Speculations were rife that there was a hit on McNab. The men took McNab’s licensed firearm; two people of interest were questioned. That murder remains unsolved.
Belize Sugar Industries Limited (BSI) finally brokered the deal with American Sugar Refineries, an agreement that has brought much dividend to both sides. Readers will also remember that just two months prior, it was announced that the talks had begun. American Sugar Refining (ASR), the parent company of Tate and Lyle, presented to BSI a proposal in which it intended to spend $40 million BZ in capital expenditure over the next 3 years. The infusion of capital will see the improvement and expansion of the Tower Hill Mill. Being that Tate & Lyle is a subsidiary to American Sugar Refining, the proposal includes the increase in price for the purchase of raw sugar by Tate and Lyle from BSI from 335 Euros to 425 Euros per tonne of sugar cane. This will be based on the yearly purchase of 70,000 of sugar. According to the proposal, this will yield BZ $16.6 million dollars, which will see the cane farmers receiving 10.8 million dollars more and the factory receiving $5.8 million more.
Cancer and its awareness became one of the many talked about topics after Special Envoy, Kim Simplis-Barrow’s battle grew difficult in June 2012. At the time, many people were worried about Mrs. Barrow because of how debilitating the condition became. Prime Minister Dean Barrow had to take an emergency trip to Miami to give support to his wife, who experienced complications as a result of radiation treatment she was receiving for breast cancer. Mrs. Barrow began experiencing complications on Sunday, June 3rd and had to be rushed to the emergency room. She had developed fluid in her lungs and had an irregular heartbeat. Tests revealed that her heart was functioning at only a 15-20% output level and so she was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit.b She would later recover.
Also in June, the Government of Belize announced that the minimum wage would be increased. The minimum wage has been increased for people working in the citrus industry as well as for those working as domestics, labourers and shop assistants.
On May 8th, Minister of Labor, Local Government, Rural Development and National Emergency Management, Hon. Godwin Hulse signed Statutory Instruments No. 55 and No. 56 to increase the minimum wage. Statutory Instrument Number 55 allows for un-skilled workers employed in the citrus industry in cleaning, picking, transporting, processing and handling of citrus for a minimum wage of $3.30 per hour, that’s up from $2.50. Domestic Workers employed full-time or part-time will also see an increase from $3.10 to $3.30. Shop assistants employed full-time or part-time (excluding students who may be employed outside of school hours or during school vacation in premises covered by the Shops Act) will see an increase from $3.10 to $3.30.
Statutory Instrument Number 56 allows for manual workers, who are not engaged in the agricultural field to receive also receive an increase in minimum wage from $3.10 to $3.30. Manual workers engaged in agriculture, agro-industry or export oriented industries will receive an increase from $2.50-$3.30. Students employed outside of school hours or during school vacation in premises covered by the Shops Act remains at $3.00 an hour.
More good news came in June. Readers will remember that at the start of the year, the Prime Minister announced that more write-offs were to come. On June 13th, he announced that the people who have mortgages with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC) would receive a write-off.
Among the eligibility requirements include people with loans with approved amounts of up to $20,000 (this value is representative of low income beneficiaries); people who have repaid their loans by up to 20%; clients who have more than one loan will see the only one loan written off - the one with the highest outstanding balance - and in instances where houses have been sold and the value of the foreclosure did not settle the debt, the balance will be written off provided that the original amount was 20 thousand dollars. All Mahogany Heights loans will be written off regardless of the amount. This is the case since the government has been unable to transfer the title to the properties to DFC and from DFC on to the homeowners. The DFC spent $78 million on this project and it is non-performing.
For the education loans, the requirements include that it will apply for student loans of amounts up to $6,000 and these will be liquidated regardless of repayment performance of the student. All educational loans with approved amounts of up to $10,000 will be eligible for payout by the Government to avoid court proceedings.
Other factors in the program will be limited to clients who have balances at February 29th of this year. DFC staff will not be eligible.
All told, the government will be writing off a total of $8,438,366.18 in mortgages, education loans and Mahogany Heights.
In the transaction, 164 residential mortgages will be written off, 254 additional ones, which have been sold but have outstanding balances, will be affected. 346 education loans will be written off and an additional 70, which have not been settled through court action will also be written off. 190 mortgages from Mahogany Heights will be written off.
June, of course, was not short of public outcries. That came in the case of 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe who was brutally killed, and authorities roped in the man they believe was responsible. 27- year-old Bert Vasquez Haylock was the man at the center of the investigations.
Vasquez was arrested on Monday, June 19th after he was found in the company of a young girl no more than 13 years old. The girl was selling doughnuts in downtown San Ignacio near the market, when she was picked up and taken to an isolated area in the Branch Mouth area of town. Police were quickly alerted and found the suspect inside the vehicle with the little girl. She was reportedly nude and when she saw the police she ran out screaming for help.
On Monday, June 4th, 13-year-old Jasmine Lowe went missing as she was going to her mother’s beauty salon located on the Bullet Tree Road. Her body was found on Wednesday, June 6th, at around 12:30p.m., a mile and a half on the Cristo Rey Road in the Cayo District.
When police took Vasquez into custody, scenes of crimes technicians processed the vehicle and came up with what could be a break in the murder of 13-year-old Jasmine. Police found a ring and hair inside the vehicle. Marisol Lowe, Jasmine’s mother, was called in to the San Ignacio Police Station and she positively identified the ring as one that she had given her daughter for her birthday in April. and the other a fake diamond. Other items in the vehicle included a bag containing doughnuts in it as well as a number of vehicle license plates.
Tonight we give you a comprehensive look back at 2012; a year that saw a general and Municipal election held simultaneously, the Renegotiation of the Superbond, various landmark Court decisions, and a record breaking year in criminal activity; particularly murder. 2012 began in high gear as the Nation of Belize entered the year in election Mode. The UDP Government of Dean O Barrow had called early elections and the nation was gearing up for what was to be a close General election race. A poll released by the now defunct “The Independent” under the leadership of Glenn Tillett had shown the Opposition PUP with a slight margin over the UDP and all indicators were showing a close race. But on the economic front, one of Belize’s largest businessmen was experiencing major financial woes.
On January 5 the battle over the receivership of The Port of Belize, between the Belize Bank and Luke Espat escalated to a new level as Belize Bank receiver, Arturo Vasquez, along with police personnel, moved in at 7am to repossess the Port property. Espat arrived on the property around 10am and told the media that he will be fighting to take back his business. Attorney for Espat, Arthur Saldivar also addressed the media, explaining that the document Vasquez used cannot be legally recognized as there was no court sanction attached to it. He added that Luke Espat planned to get the courts involved in hopes of resolving the matter. Since then the port has been under new management, management that is, of the Ashcroft Alliance, or specifically, the Private Investment Limited, creditor of the port. Luke Espat has had a number of business losses including Crocland, Renaissance Towers, Indeco, cruise port project, and now Ports of Belize Ltd. It has not been smooth sailing for the receivership as on June 27th, stevedores held a “go-slow” at the facilities stating that negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement were moving too slow. In July, and again in August rumblings by workers at the Port of Belize captured public attention even as the 2 sides continue to negotiate the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. (END)
On January 11, 2012 Social Security Board Chairman, Lois Young, came public and verified what was to be one of the largest scandals for the UDP Government; allegations that senior management of social security had qualified themselves for the Prime Minister’s mortgage forgiveness program. The issue was made public by the PUP who claimed that “...certain select members of staff of the SSB have obtained loans ... to pay down these mortgages, to take their balances below $50,000 in order to benefit as well.” In speaking with the media, Lois Young referred to it as "insider trading”. Prime Minister Dean Barrow introduced the Social Security Board write off- motion of some seven hundred and eighty one mortgages that same Friday, January 14 at the First house meeting for 2012. He addressed the “Insider Trading” scandal by saying that, while his Government could not get away from what was taking place inside SSB, they dealt with the matter right away. During the week of February 15, the Board of Directors of Social Security held meetings with CEO Bailey-Martinez and Internal Auditor Denise Mahler who were both placed on administrative leave. The SSB Board was to meet February 21 to terminate CEO Martinez, but she submitted a resignation letter 24 hours earlier. The SSB Board, they stated that QUOTE “ Her resignation was tendered due to negative public criticism and its impact to her family and her Christian Community, as well as, to protect the SSB from negative publicity.” END QUOTE. The SSB board still claims that no member of management or staff who made additional payments to reduce their mortgage balance below the $50,000 threshold after September 30 benefitted from the write offs. Ms. Denis Mahler, Internal Audit Services, was not terminated and returned to work. Mrs. Leticia Vega continues to act as CEO of SSB. (END)
Kim Simplis-Barrow, the Prime Minister's wife, was diagnosed with stage three cancer in November of 2011 when 2 tumors were discovered in her left breast, and the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes. Since the diagnosis, Mrs. Barrow has been travelling abroad for an aggressive course of treatment but on January 12, for the first time since her diagnosis, Belize’s first lady she spoke publicly of her battle. In more ways than one Kim Simplis Barrow remains a very bright spot in the Belizean psyche; The University of Belize coined the word “Baldmiration” as a number of UB students and others shaved off their hair on January 12th to support Kim and others fighting the disease. On Sunday, April 22, Mrs Barrow was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of the Baptist Hospital in Miami after developing complications relating to the cancer treatment. Her heart was not pumping to capacity with tests showing that she had water in her lungs and only ten percent of her heart was functioning. A healing service was held at St John’s Cathedral on May 31st for her led by Bishop Phillip Wright even as the weekend’s Annual cancer walk drew the largest number of participants ever; including the prime minister and his daughter. According to the P.M., the damage is mostly incurable but the family still has hope that the situation can be managed. On June 20 she returned to Belize showing marked improvement in her health; and by the month’s end she was hosting a Mega Telethon at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts. A first of its kind, the Inspiration fundraiser saw the participation of Belize media, many local musicians, the business community and several government ministries and was able to raise $1,093,368.66 for the Inspiration Center. In spite of her personal battles, Groundbreaking ceremonies were held for the Center which is estimated to cost three million dollars. Kim continues to gallantly fight her health issues even as the nation prays and supports her public and private efforts. (END)
In preparation for the March 2012 elections, Employees of the Immigration Department burned the midnight oil in preparation for swearing in ceremonies. On January 18 PlusNews visited the Immigration compound in Belmopan as Ministers of Government and their operatives were on-site signing papers. PlusNews observed vehicles with license plates from all over the country including chartered busses. That afternoon at the GPC swearing in ceremonies, our PlusNews cameraman had only started filming when he was approached by two police officials who escorted him out the building from what was supposed to be a PUBLIC event! The cost per application was 300 dollars per person and an additional 100 dollars per dependent. Some of those we spoke to said that Ministers of government were paying those fees for them; one Minister, Elvin Penner went on record to state that he was helping to pay nationality costs for many of his constituents. 725 persons were nationalized at the first set of swearing-ins. In Belize City our cameraman was called out to Amara Avenue to the office of Herman Longsworth where a number of Hispanic people were there also being processed. Similarly we were told that at about 200 immigrants were at Hon. Edmund Castro’s office in Maskall. In a PUP press conference held January 19th , the opposition condemned the quantum registration of immigrants, calling it “unprecedented.” Hon. Johnny Briceno pointed out that the mass registration started out in the North and that many of the new nationals were using false addresses. Dolores Balderamos, then PUP standard Bearer for Belize rural Central, said large numbers were being processed at Michael Hutchison’s office. Oscar Sabido and Florencio Marin Jr. said that the same quantum registration was taking place in their constituencies as well. Noteworthy is that All aforementioned UDP constituencies voted PUP in the subsequent March elections. The deadline to register as a voter was originally slated for the 10th of January but was extended to January 20, the same day that the final swearing in was held. (END)
On January 27th UNIBAM and its supporters launched a public campaign to promote the homosexual agenda in Belize in line with its lawsuit against the Government and people of Belize. (UNIBAM FOOTAGE) The “We are one" campaign was placed under the banner of “human rights” as UNIBAM prepares to legally challenge the constitutionality of section 53 of the criminal code. According to Orozco, UNIBAM has 500 wristbands which read, “we are one in dignity and rights” will be distributed to supporters of their cause. On Sunday, January 29, in Belize City, the Roman Catholic Church held a special mass in response to the homosexual agenda in Belize. The mass was conducted by Bishop Dorick Wright under the theme, “upholding the divine laws of our nation Belize”. Organizers of the mass added to their promotion of the special mass the statement, “. BE NOT AFRAID BELIZE. THE CHURCH IS AWAKE, ALIVE AND ALERT”. The service held at Holy Redeemer Parish Hall was aired live on Plus TV. The following day, Monday January 30th, attorneys for UNIBAM, the Government of Belize and the church appeared at the Supreme Court for preliminary hearings. Belize Action and some of those who oppose what UNIBAM is trying to do, were outside the court room praying. While the Church’s Lawyers argued to remove UNIBAM from the case, UNIBAM lawyers were arguing to remove the judge from the case! In her ruling on April 27 Justice Michelle Arana said QUOTE“I believe that since the Constitution of Belize itself in the preamble begins with the affirmation that the nation of Belize shall be founded upon principles which acknowledge the supremacy of God, the nature of this particular legal and constitutional issue is such that it must be determined against the backdrop of and in the context of the teachings of the churches of Belize. To do otherwise would be to ignore the fact that all laws are based on a moral foundation and to deny that this particular legal claim affects public morality and public order in Belize.” UNQUOTE On December 5th, attorney for Orozco and UNIBAM, Senior Counsel Lisa Shoman, returned to court. The courts granted the request to have UNIBAM as a “representative party’ after Shoman argued that UNIBAM’s 121 members feel publicly discriminated against, they have asked the UNIBAM to represent their interests. According to Pastor Scott Stirm, Belize Action will continue its advocacy for the retention of the challenged law on Belize’s books, adding that, once the court date has been set, other activities hosted by Belize Action will come on stream. (END)
On January 31 Prime Minister Barrow made the official announcement at a press conference that the date for General Elections were set! March 7th, 2012! And as had been rumoured both municipal and general elections were to be held simultaneously. The Coalition to Bann Offshore Drilling had hoped that a referendum on the ban on offshore drilling would also be done, however, the Prime Minister stated that this will not happen based on various factors. That same Friday, February 3rd, the House of representatives was dissolved even as the media simultaneously dropped the bombshell that Hon. Cordel Hyde, PUP representative for lake Independence had stepped down and would not be contesting the elections for the PUP. By Monday February 6, Mark Espat confirmed rumours that he also was stepping down from his PUP Stronghold – the Albert Division. The PUP saw three resignations in less than three weeks with elections is only a month away when. It was unprecedented – but PUP party leader, Francis Fonseca, tried to reassure the public that the PUP was still strong and united. Other candidates took their place including Yolanda Schkron for Lake Independence. But the Scakron candidacy was not to be as she held dual nationality for Belize and the United States. Schakron spent Valentines day at the US Embassy in Belmopan surrendering her documents and her US citizenship but the process takes more than a few days. On February 17, Nomination day, Yolanda Schakron’s nomination as a candidate for Lake Independence was rejected by Returning officer Noreen Fairweather stating that, notwithstanding Schakron’s move to begin the process of renunciation of her US citizenship, as of Nomination day, her dual citizenship still stood. And though that was certainly bad news for Schakron and the PUP, it was a double whammy when the court challenge was also denied. By evening, just before the nomination deadline ended, the PUP had a replacement for Lake I; Yolanda Schakron’s brother, Martin Galvez. The General Elections of March 8 2012 in Belize, could only be described as a “nail biting political race”. Most predictions, barring some questionable polls, were that it would be a close one. And so it was! A close one that is, as after all the ballots were counted, the UDP once again was voted in. UDP took 17 seats while the PUP won 14 seats; a marginal victory but a victory none the less. Both Lake Independence and Albert Divisions; 2 key former PUP constituencies went to the UDP to help give them the victory. The 4 southern constituencies went Blue; as did several northern constituencies. Belize City voters voted predominantly red helping the UDP to retain their seat in Government. 63% of voters showed up to cast their votes. (END)
Only five days before the National Elections, Prince Harry travelled to Belize for the Diamond Jubilee in his first overseas solo trip on behalf of his grandmother, Queen Elisabeth of England. At the Airport, on march 2nd, Prince Henry of Wales was be greeted by H.E Sir Colville Young, the Governor General of Belize. After musical renditions of the national anthem and God save the Queen, He was introduced to Hon. Dean Barrow, Hon. Francis Fonseca, and H.E. Pat Ashworth and Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow. The Prince Henry of Wales then made his way to the City of Belmopan and after private meetings the contingent made their over to the Diamond Jubilee Block Party. There the Prince to officially unveil the Plaque renaming the Boulevard as “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II Boulevard”. The Diamond Jubilee Block Party then started and showcased a wide variety of Belizean music, performances and food which Prince Harry got a chance to sample. The following Day Prince Harry travelled to the OAS Adjacency Zone where he met various Ambassadors and OAS members. He also visited Xunantunich and then moved on to Price Barracks and the Batsub before leaving the country. (END)
On March 15th 19 year-old Akeem Thurton became the first Belizean to be convicted under trial by judge with no jury. Akeem Pic Thurton was charged with the attempted murder of Attorney Rodwell Williams, the Prime Minister’s Law partner. At the conclusion of the trial, Chief Justice Kenneth A. Benjamin announced that Thurton was found guilty of the charge of attempted murder; the crown having proven the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Thurton maintained his innocence blaming 28 year old Ricky Valencia, who was recently gunned down in late February. In a caution statement, Thurton had told police that Valencia told him that, “he had a mission that day to kill a lawyer” and that he and Ricky waited outside the lawfirm for over an hour Attorney Williams. Williams testified in court that it was Thurton and Valencia who were his attackers that night. (END)
On April 11th Governor-General of Belize, His Excellency Sir Colville Young handed out insignias on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen to Six Belizeans. Former Attorney General of Belize, Bernard Pitts, Received the insignia for Commander of the British Empire for his contribution to the Law and Public Service. Dr. Ann Gillett Elrington received the insignia as Member of the British Empire, for services to the Belizean Diaspora and Medicine. Louise Bridget Lewis received hers for her services to Education and Community Development; The fourth recipient was Belmopan’s very own Mayor, Simeon Lopez J.P... Lopez was awarded for his contribution to Education and Public Service. 78 Year old Ludwig Lightburn received membership for his contribution to Sports and to the Belizean American Community. In his youth Lightburn was a world class prize-fighter in the light welterweight division. The final recipient was Mrs. Enelda Rosado for her dedicated contribution to Education and Community Development in Belize. The awards were distributed at the Belize House in Belmopan. (END)
In April of 2012 a large scale sugar production company, Green Tropics Limited, began work to open a sugar production facility in the Cayo District. The Guatemalan Company has acquired some 10,000 acres of land in the Valley of Peace Area to develop a green enterprise to produce and mill cane. Green Tropics Limited intends to export sugar to Guatemala and Mexico but while its Environmental Impact Assessment was being reviewed, the company dug a canal approximately fifty feet wide and four miles long through a protected biological corridor. A stop order was immediately issued to the company by the Department of Environment and while the company pledged to repair damages done, Cabinet decided to settle matters outside the court system. In early October Minister of Forestry, Lisel Alamilla, said Government charged Green Tropics the maximum fee of $100,000 dollars, and that was paid by the company. Prime Minister Dean Barrow commented in his New Years Message that the Green Tropics sugar project will employ 600 during the factory construction phase, and 1,000 once operational." (END)
Traffic accidents, especially on the Western Highway, now the George Price Highway since September 21st, has seen several gruesome road traffic accidents over the years. Just before 8am on May 16 a gold color Geo Prism and a grey Isuzu Rodeo had a ghastly collision just outside of the Belmopan City limits. ACCIDENT FOOTAGE The Geo prism was on its way to Belmopan and the Rodeo driven by a Canadian National, Corrine Abcock, was headed to Belize City. Our understanding is that the Geo Prism car might have swerved out of control causing it to drift into the lane of the oncoming Rodeo which hit the prism squarely causing it to split in half. Four of the five persons who were in the car met their death: 12 year old Alicia Smith; 68 year old Nicholasia Tillett; and 45 year old Karen Castillo; a counsellor at Maude Williams High School whose body was lying in the middle of the highway. The body of the fourth person, Arthur Smith Sr. was found in some bushes off the highway. A 28 year old teacher, Monique Robinson was the only survivor, was trapped in the front right passenger seat. (END)
Global Day of Prayer was celebrated on Pentecostal Sunday May 27th across the world as more than 220 nations and hundreds of millions of believers prayed to God for their country. In Belize the event started six years ago guided by II Chronicles 7:14 While prayer gatherings were held all across the country the assembly in Belmopan continues to be the largest. Various pastors prayed for different sectors of society and issue currently affecting our country. Pastors in attendance at the event were also brought forward for prayer. Approximately one thousand persons attended this significant spiritual event in Belmopan. (END)
The name Bert Vasquez dominated much of the News Mid-year 2012. His name first appeared in the news on February 22nd in relation to the forcible abduction of a 16-year-old minor. She claims that on May 13, 2011 a car stopped in front of her near pound yard Bridge in Belize City and a tall clear skin man placed a.38 revolver gun to her left side and forced her into the vehicle. Vasquez allegedly took her to the Vista Del Mar, Ladyville and assaulted her. At that February Preliminary inquiry Vasquez met bail of $5000.00 and was released only to surface months later in Cayo when in June Jasmine Lowe a 13 year old high school student from the twin towns went missing. Jasmine Lowe was scheduled to participate in the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Ceremony on June 4th in Belmopan but she never made it. At midday on June 6, Lowe’s body was found just off a feeder road on the Cristo Rey Road. Witnesses say Lowe may have taken a white taxi which led to a frenzied taxi search with various taximen questioned by police. Calls from the public arose for adaption of standardized taxi regulations called “jasmine Laws” Crowds gathered at the Columbus Park in front of the police station on June 15 and residents marched tru the town demanding Justice and implementation of Jasmine Taxi Laws. On Monday morning, June 18, a 10-year old female student of San Ignacio was walking to school when a grey car stopped beside her. The Hispanic driver ID himself as a police officer and asked her assistance in finding a person. When she refused the man insisted that she get in the back passenger seat. The minor got very scared and ran to school reporting the encounter to the principal, her mother and the police. Police detained Bert Vasquez after locating him in the Trapeach area of Cayo in a car in a compromising position with another minor. Police had received calls from concerned residents near the market. (END)
On June 20 Bert Vasquez was arraigned in San Ignacio Magistrate Court around 2:30pm after being held in police custody. A large crowd gathered outside to witness the event. After an extended logistical dilemma he was finally escorted from the police station to the magistrate’s court located just upstairst. The police was uncertain as to whether the agitated crowd would storm the station. Fortunately civility prevailed and a single charge of murder for the death of Jasmine Lowe was read to him; no plea was taken as it is an indictable offense and Vasquez was remanded to Hattiville Prison. On Thursday July 19 another appearance by Bert Vasquez was expected and crowds again showed up in front of the Police station to witness the event. Bert made his entrance in the afternoon but not before he was bludgeoned to the head by Christopher Lowe, Jasmine’s father, with an umbrella. Vasquez received at least six stitches for the wound and Chris Lowe was charged for wounding; he pleaded guilty and was fined $500.00. Belize launched the “Jasmine Alert”, Belize’s Child Kidnapping Emergency Warning System on 31st July 2012. The system establishes clear standardized guidelines across the country, and to minimize potentially deadly delays when children are reported missing. The case has still not come up in Court. (END)
In PlusNews July 4 newscast, we introduced you to an ongoing land quarrel that has been plaguing the villagers of More Tomorrow since 1998 – that’s fourteen years. In 1998, Government acquired some 7500 acres of land to be distributed to villagers of Cotton Tree and More Tomorrow for agricultural purposes. An estimated 2500 acres of land was shared among More Tomorrow villagers with another 1000 pending. Somehow, a private land owner began to clear that land. Since then, residents say that they have been working with the Lands Department to sort out the acquisition of the land. More Tomorrow villagers claim that they were initially told by the Department that the acquisition was invalid and that they would be issued the respective land titles. After 14 years at the Lands Department, the villagers claimed that nothing has been done. Prime Minister Dean Barrow told the press that the acquisition executed by former Minister of Natural Resources Eduardo “Dito” Juan in 1998 was flawed and that the majority of land goes back to the possession of a Chinese developer. The Prime Minister stated that a compromise was in the making but that neither side will be happy by the compromise. One month later, August 3rd PlusNews reported that there was a major computer system crash at the Lands Department. According to CEO Beverly Castillo the problem surfaced when the system was being backed up and instead it suffered a breakdown. The breakdown at the Lands Department prompted widespread concern as the crash corrupted the department’s computer system and thousands of files had to be painstakingly restored. (END)
July of 2012 brought the entire Police department and the ministry of national security under public scrutiny when on July 25th, Acting President and vice president of the Police Association, Officers Eldon Arzu and Edlin Lorenzo respectively, were placed on interdiction. The officers had publicly criticized the directives of their superior for what they classified as rushed transfers and the Police high command responded by effectively shutting the association down! A tribunal hearing scheduled at the Police Training Academy to determine the fate of Arzu and Lorenzo lasted 50 minutes. PlusNews was reliably informed that Edlin Lorenzo was charged with being disrespectful to a superior officer, while Eldon Arzu was charge with wilfully disobeying a lawful command. The National Trade Union Congress of Belize came out in solid support for the Association and moved to organize a protest but in a sudden compromise, Leaders of the Association apologized to the Commissioner of Police, David Henderson and Minister John Saldivar for going to the media over the police transfers and other internal matters. The Commissioner of Police withdrew disciplinary charges against the Acting President and Vice President of the Association and expressed regret at the breakdown in communication that led to the fallout. As part of the agreement, the rules that govern the Police Association will be revisited and revised. Political interference in Police work was a major discussion point on the morning talk shows this year as in mid April, PlusNews highlighted the transfer of Sr Superintendent Alvin Gentle, officer in Charge of the San Ignacio Police Station. Residents interviewed felt that the OIC Gentle’s removal was because he did not bow to political pressure. On December 6 another concern of Political interference surfaced on San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, when Minister of Tourism and Area representative for Belize Rural South Manuel Heredia, Junior, confirmed to reporters that he requested a transfer of the head of Tourism Police Unit in San Pedro town, Corporal Sharmane Young. Minister Heredia said he made no apologies for been responsible for the removal of Police Corporal Young in light of the ‘magnitude” of the tourist that had been arrested. Instead minister of national Security John Saldivar confirmed that both the transfers of Corporal Sharmane Young and Officer in Charge, Assistant Superintendent Vienne Robinson would proceed BUT that both transfers were totally unrelated to the Heredia/Tourist incident. (END)
On August seventh, the US Treasury department designated businessman John Zabaneh as a drug kingpin operating, they say, for the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel. His nephew Dion Zabaneh and Corozal resident Daniel Moreno were also named as associates. The US Department of Treasury declared that the assets of the three were being frozen in the United States and that US businesses and citizens can no longer conduct business with the men. As a direct consequence Mayan King Banana Farm belonging to John Zabaneh declared that they were unable to pay their 200 employees. Zabaneh said that his bank, the Belize Bank had given him notice that they could no longer handle his account and with a payroll of over $200,000 dollars - Zabaneh said he simply could not pay. Now that he's been blacklisted as a Drug Kingpin, by the US Department of Treasury, banks will not do business with him. The economic backlash can and will have very serious negative effect for the banana industry, over 750 employees and Zabaneh’s varied business investments. (END)
On Friday August 10 the Supreme Court handed down a groundbreaking verdict as it pertains to white collar cime. CJ Kenneth Benjamin ruled that 36 year-old Melonie Coye and 65 year-old Michael Coye are guilty of money laundering. The Financial Intelligence Unit case culmination in a conviction after over 3 years of work; it is the first money laundering conviction in Belize, and for the members of the Coye family, it their first criminal conviction. The case dates back to 2008, when the Financial Intelligence Unit accused the Coye Family of money laundering using their Moneygram operation. In October of 2010, the case suddenly ended when Justice Adolph Lucas directed the jury to acquit the defendants but the FIU filed an appeal and got a retrial, before the Chief Justice. Director of the FIU, Marilyn Williams, explained that the FIU did its due diligence in its investigation and presentation of the evidence that resulted in the conviction. Michael and Melonie Coye received 3 years sentences and will serve the time unless their legal team can successfully argue on appeal. (END)
First put together in 2007, the SUPERBOND was due to be paid off in 2029, but when the Prime Minister's United Democratic Party (UDP) began their campaign for re-election they promised to re-negotiate the terms of the debt, as the payments had begun reach an unsustainable level. The Government of Belize announced on Tuesday August 14th that it was unable to make the August 20, coupon payment and a sovereign default for Belize became imminent. PM Barrow that Belize had already commenced discussions with the IDB and had informed bondholders of his intended Bond’s restructuring. The PM hoped to gain the assistance of the Inter American development bank with its restructuring exercise of what he called QUOTE “that horrible Damocles sort of a super bond”. September 19th was the default day and International media, specifically Reuters, reported that Belize's prime minister was QUOTE “considering making a partial payment of the coupon on its Superbond as a sign of good faith.” But on November 30 the Government of Belize rejected a counter-proposal set forth by holders of the superbond. The two sides had been in formal negotiations since early October after Belize agreed in late September to make a partial US$11.7m payment. At a press conference in Belize City on December 27th, Prime Minister Hon. Dean Barrow announced that Belize has reached agreement "in principle" with the Coordinating Committee representing a majority of the holders of Belize's US$547 million dollar Superbond. (END)
Allegations of sexual misconduct against Principal and founder of Belmopan Baptist High School and Pastor; Norman Willacey were made public on Tuesday August 21st. Willacey has been accused of having an affair with a then 16 year old student of his school. The media got wind of the allegations after the girl’s mother provided copies of Facebook correspondence between the two and the story was further magnified when the pastor mistakenly text a confession to the media which was intended for his attorney. Willacy stepped down from his Pastorate at the Belmopan Baptist Church and has since been dismissed from the School by the Board of management. They also submitted recommendations to the Ministry of Education that his teaching license be revoked. On November 6 the staff of the Baptist High School staged a public demonstration at school because they felt that the school’s current administration was not coping in view of the crisis. A New School Management Board was recently convened and tasked to address and resolve the matter. Even as that action was in effect at the Baptist High School, students and teachers were also walking out for a second time at the Orange Walk Technical High School; alleging mismanagement of the school's finances and pointing fingers at the principal. (END)
PlusNews broke the story on August 31st of an uncanny clause inserted in the Domestic Banks and Financial Institutions Bill. The clause stated that the term SPOUSE, for purposes of this specific bill, would be “in relation to an individual person: A wife, husband, OR OTHER INDIVIDUAL with whom the first named natural person is ENGAGED IN AN ONGOING CONJUGAL RELATIONSHIP, whether common-law union as defined by section 148(D) of the Supreme Court Judicature Act, OR NOT and whether or not the two people are living together. The fact that such a clause can set precedence for a re-definition of spouse, has been met with opposition by at least 50% of the Senate including the Church Senator Father Noel Leslie. The Governor of the Central Bank Glenford Ysaguirre claimed that the definition of ‘spouse’ as interpreted by the church denoting a homosexual relationship is ‘much ado about nothing’. The new law can be considered controversial because it did not get any support in the Senate from the opposition, church, and business senators, the Union senator abstained; only the Government representatives in the House and Senate approved the passage of the Bill into law. (END)
It was brought to Plus News’ attention December 2011 that a manual aligned with the Homosexual agenda, contains questionable materiel sponsored by the Peace Core. What made it even more an issue for concern is that the book was found in primary schools across the country. BOOK FOOTAGE - The matter was briefly addressed on Plus TV’s Rise and Shine which prompted Minister of Education Hon. Faber to comment that he did not have any knowledge of the manual within the Primary Schools. A full review of the manual was conducted by professionals and submitted to the MOE on February 3rd . Tensions mounted from February tru to the end of the school year as no official response was received from the Ministry. But on September 6th the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in a press release states that “a decision has been taken by the Ministry to withdraw the teachers’ manual, Education Today for a Healthy Tomorrow: Teacher’s Guide: Lessons for the HFLE Curriculum in its current form as a resource for teachers in support of teaching aspects of the Health and Family Education Curriculum (HFLE).” Rise and Shine Show host Louis Wade Jr. and partners had been agitating for a sober review of the manual and a ground swell of support has been steadily building as much of its content was revealed to be inaccurate. (END)
The Belizean Bus Association was able to successfully negotiate and implement an ‘increase’ in Bus fares nationwide. Effective September 22, the day after Independence celebrations, commuters between Belize City and Belmopan saw fares increased to $5 on the regular bus, and $6 on the express. The realignment is in accordance with a Statutory Instrument signed back in 1992, which authorizes a $0.10 per mile fare. According to Patrick Menzies of the BBA, his understanding that there was a 2002 Statutory Instrument which had given the go ahead for a price increase. However, to remain competitive, the bus companies had kept the run from Belize City to Belmopan at four dollars. There was not much resistance from commuters though calls for an improved public transport system continue unabated. (END)
BSI owns the only sugar mill in Belize, employing nearly 500 people and farming 4,000 acres of cane. The industry supports 6,000 independent growers who farm roughly 55,000 acres so when the company announced the sale of its asset in early October to American Sugar Refining, Inc., it made headline news. The move had been under negotiation for several months after BSI ran into financial problems following allegations of mismanagement and investments in the electrical generation project; BELCOGEN. Ltd. ASR, the world's largest sugar refining company, became the majority shareholder of Belize Sugar Industries, Ltd., while the company's previous shareholders, including BSI Employee Holdings Limited, continue to hold the remaining shares. On September the 26th the Government convened a Special Sitting of the House of Representatives to legislate tax concessions for ASR but the Bill was met with much opposition in the house with the PUP describing the incentives as excessive. Some of the arguments being put forth include the view that the company will outcompete and eventually put Belizean cane farmers out of business by gradually extending its own plantations exploiting its tax free advantages. PM Barrow said that ASR’s initial investment in Belize is not less than US $100 million. Of this $60 million is BSI debt it will assume, and the balance of US$ 30 million is for factory modernization and other expenses. (END)
On September 27th The Caribbean Court of Justice ordered the Government of Belize to adjourn the issuance of the dividends for Telemedia. The Court stated that it was making its order so as to ‘preserve the status quo’ in relation to pending litigation before the courts of Belize as a result of legislation enacted by GOB to acquire the company from Ashcroft and Associates. However, on Thursday December 13, the Court of Appeal ruled that it would not continue an injunction issued prior to BTL’s Sixth Annual General Meeting which stopped the payment of dividends to shareholders. This left the $11.9 million dollars (about 45% of the company’s profits) ready for distribution. In response the Ashcroft Alliance was able to, on December 17, convince the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to initiate hearings on the Telemedia dividends issue. In an explosive decision the Caribbean Court of Justice unanimously voted to expand the scope of the protection orders in place to preserve the assets of Telemedia. The CCJ ordered Telemedia not to take any actions that would dissipate any assets of the company. Now all that the Government-appointed board of Telemedia can do is to run the day- to –day operations of the company without taking any extraordinary measures or investments. PM Barrow in his New Years address stated that his government had earmarked 50 million dollars of the renegotiated superbond as down payment to Telemedia’s former owners. (END)
On the 2nd of October, University of Belize student, Twenty one year old Suzenne Martinez left her home in San Igancio Town, enroute to the University of Belize but she did not return home. Twenty four hours later Suzenne Martinez’s partially clothed body was found close to home; lying in a ditch. The following day, the 4th of October, San Ignacio and Santa Elena residents participated in a protest over her untimely death; calling for swift justice as San Ignacio police had in custody the man they believed was responsible for the murder. Pedro Alberto Ical, of the Salvapan Area of Belmopan, out on bail for sexual assault was found in Cayo with Suzenne's cell phone and police say his boot prints matched the prints found on the victim’s body. He was also found with jewellery taken from Robert Lewis' house in Belmopan. Lewis's jewellery were stolen after his throat was slit and he was stabbed in the chest several times in a gruesome home invasion. On October 8th Pedro Alberto Ical was only arraigned for charges of Handling Stolen Goods in which he pleaded guilty. He will be spending one year in jail, while the other investigations continue. The gruesome 2012 murders in the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena led to the formation of the Purple Movement. The group, along with Post Secondary Institutions held a massive demonstration on October 11th, pretty much shutting down the entire town. Part of that event was the signing of a petition by student representatives to be presented to the Prime Minister. The Purple movement continues to advocate amongst youths to collectively voice and foster positive change through education and community involvement. (END)
The murder rate continued to climb steadily to the end of the year, ending at a record 145 murders reported in the media. In October a series of strange murders occurred within the Lebanese community. Abdul Aziz Mohamed Dib, a Lebanese- American car dealer, was executed while at King Kabob Restaurant located at #4 Farmer's Market on the afternoon of October 3rd. The 40 year old was shot several times, while sitting around a table with associates when an unknown masked man entered the restaurant and fired several shots at DIB causing the fatal injuries. It appears that the shooting may have been a hired hit and Police retrieved nine 9mm expended shells from the scene of the crime. By the following day there was another daylight murder in Belize City. Another Lebanese businessman; well known ex-husband of Yolanda Shackron and the owner of JEC Pawn shop in Belize City, Alfred Shackron, was gunned down at Body 2000 Gym as he exited the facility. Minister of National Security Hon. John Saldivar said that he doesn’t think that there is much that the ministry or the police can do because of the nature of the crime. Nothing further has been released by the police regarding these murders. (END)
Another Bizarre event occurred in late October but this one involves three Indian students who landed in Belize on Sunday October 21st then just upped and disappeared three days later. The Belize Archives and Record Service were scheduled to host three male students from the University of India in a one week training course at the Archives Department. Herman Byrd, Director of the Department reported that on Sunday afternoon he picked up Amandeep Singh Brar, Parminder Singh and Gurmukh Singh at the PGIA. The students spent all of Tuesday at the Archives Department. They returned to the Bullfrog Hotel in the company of a staff member that same evening and that was the last time anyone saw them. Observers believe they may be in the US; another case of trafficking in persons. (END)
For years since the sale of minority shares to Banks Holdings of Barbados, the majority shareholder Citrus Growers Association has been agitating for changes within the Citrus Industry. This year’s troubles began brewing when CPBL opened its doors to process grapefruit without first settling the price rate with farmers. A heated Annual shareholders meeting on 19th October helped to bring the crisis to the brink and on Monday October 29 a press conference was held at the George Price Centre in Belmopan to announce sustained civil unrest against CPBL. The following day hundreds of farmers and their workers rallied and demonstrated. They paraded in front of the factory chanting and praying for justice in the industry. The promised sustained demonstrations were called off as Government scrambled to bring both sides to the table. An e-mail between CEO Jose Alpuche and Advisor Alan Slushier was a major point of contention. So was the lack of a sitting Citrus Control Board to oversee the troubled industry. At a Business forum at Old Belize, on November 1, Prime Minister Barrow addressed several issue regarding the Citrus Industry, commenting that the talks were progressing in Good faith and that an amicable solution was within reach. CGA, CPBL, Citrus mutual and banks interests met with the government and charted the way forward. Government has stated its conditional support to have CGA buy out the banks shares; provided CGA can put the commercial financing in place. (END)
On Thursday November 7 Police officially charged A Baptist pastor of Frank’s Eddy village with two counts of unlawful carnal knowledge. 46 year old Julio Cesar Garcia was accused of having sex with an 11 year old girl in, of all places, the church building. The Baptist Association responded that Garcia was not the pastor of Frank’s Eddy church; neither a registered pastor with the association, but only a member of a Church in Belize City. On Tuesday December 18th another foreign national, this time a British national 40 year old David Richard Taylor, was accused of child abuse and possessing pornographic material. Taylor was first detained on drug possession and after a search of his house yielded other evidence, he was arraigned in Dangriga Magistrate’s Court on three criminal counts: two of aggravated assault of an indecent nature and one of unnatural crime, all committed against a minor. On Friday December 14, in the final sitting of the House for 2012, the Trafficking in persons Bill and the Commercial Sexual exploitation of Children bill went through their final readings. This bill will implement the set of rules of the Convention on the Rights of the Child which deals with the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and offers protection for children and adolescence up to the age of 18. (END)
John McAfee, the American Software multimillionaire now resident of Belize, has been marked as a suspect for the murder of 52 year old Gregory Faull which occurred sometime between November 10 and 11. US national Gregory Faull, a resident of North Ambergris Caye was found dead on Sunday morning by his housekeeper, shot in the head. Police said that John McAfee, Faull’s neighbour, was a person of interest. But, John McAfee, whose Orange Walk compound was raided for drugs and firearms in May of this year, elicited a strange response...QUOTE "Under no circumstances am I going to willingly talk to the police in this country. You can say I'm paranoid about it, but they will kill me, there is no question. They've been trying to get me for months. They want to silence me” UNQUOTE. On November 14th, Prime Minister Dean Barrow called Mcafee “bonkers” and appealed to McAfee to turn himself in. McAfee continued communicating via the internet saying he had taken on many disguises, and constantly changed locations, accompanied by his 20 years-old girlfriend. In early December, McAfee surfaced in Guatemala, where he was detained for illegal immigration. He faked two heart attacks to get admitted to a Hospital in Guatemala City. Although he was wanted by authorities here, John McAfee was eventually deported to the United States. He arrived in Florida on December 13th , and very little has been heard from him since. He remains a person of interest in the Murder of Gregory Faull. (END)
On November 22 the Belize City Council launched the Municipal Bond at a press conference hosted by Mayor Darrel Bradley. Mayor Bradley informed nation of the official launch of a $20 million bond offering. The objective was to raise funds to finance street and drainage infrastructure programs in Belize City. The bonds were issued at a price of $200.00 for each block of bonds. Specific legislation has been enacted to set up a structure for the bond program, called the Belize City Municipal Bond Act, 2012. The first tranche is valued at ten million dollars and is now fully subscribed. The only debt that the council will pay off is their overdraft facility and the rest of money will go directly into fixing streets and drains. The entire project is expected to take eight months. (END)
PIC Belize's Under 15 national Football team returned home on November 28 after winning gold in Dominican Republic. This is a Historic win for Belize since it is the first time Belize has won gold in an International football tournament. The team left for the Dominican Republic the previous week and played their first official game that Friday against the host country. Belize scored four goals in that game and won. Then on Saturday, they had two games, one against Santo Domingo and the other against Mexico. They won both of those games. Their final match was against the Dominican Republic National "A" Selection where Randy Serrano scored the first goal for Belize followed by Marlon Garcia making it a two to one game and champion of the International Football Tournament. Minister of Sports, Herman Longsworth, offered a contribution of $1000.00 towards the Teams 40,000 expenses. (END)
Back in November of 2010 Police made the biggest drug seizure ever recorded in Belize. Authorities had been alerted to a plane landing on the Southern Highway, by an officer attached to the village of Bella Vista very near to where the plane touched down. The bust amounted to a whopping 2,604 kilos of cocaine; that's translates to 5704 pounds. The cocaine at the time had an estimated street value of $46 million US dollars. It was subsequently destroyed by the Police Department in a process involving the presence of the media and high level officials. The case that got underway on Wednesday, November 14th, 2012 called over 30 witnesses to support the prosecution side, led by Senior Council Cecil Ramirez. The most famous witness was probably former Commissioner of Police Crispin Jefferies, who testified that the radar at PSWGIA was not working on that fateful night. Conversely at the close of the prosecution case, attorneys for the defendants, namely Senior Council Simeon Sampson, Dickie Bradley, and Kevin Arthurs, made a no case submission, which was upheld by the Trial Judge Denis Hanomansingh. The men went home relieved, happy, despite the minor charges that they are yet facing. The DPP’s office has stated that it intends to appeal the case. (END)
In our final story, Seven municipalities in Belize saw work begin on infrastructual developments during 2012. The Government’s 30 million dollar Municipal Development Project commenced on March 22nd, with the official launching and contract signing of the rehabilitation of the Punta Gorda Town Hall and Administration Building. The nationwide project is financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the World Bank. The project has seen the enhancement of Church, Churchill and Burns Streets in Benque Viejo Town; the improvement of Eden and West Streets in San Ignacio and Santa Elena Town; First Street North in Corozal Town; and Robert Pennil and Pampana Streets in Punta Gorda Town. In Orange Walk Town work began on San Ignacio Street, the second half of Santa Familia Street, a portion of Tangerine Street, and Avelis Lane.” Another part of the project was the construction of a Visitors' Centre and Bus Terminal in San Ignacio, which is near completion. In the south the project renovated and expanded the municipal market in Dangriga, In Belmopan, the project involved the paving of the bus terminal area. Road improvements in the nation's capital include Lim ni Punit street, and parts of Hummingbird Avenue and Racoon street. But work has not always kept up to schedule. In his News Years address, Prime Minister Barrow has announced a new list of infrastructural development projects for 2013 including Phase 2 of the World bank project. (END)
And that ends this look back at PlusTv’s 2012 News coverage. It has been a pleasure bringing the nations most important stories to you. We promise to continue with even greater coverage of Belize’s issues into 2013.
The second half of the year closed on a real down note and with the presentation of his budget at the end of June, the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow tried to inject some optimism in the electorate. The 2012-13 budget, which would be normally be presented in April, was delayed by about eight weeks because of the General and Municipal elections.
Prior to presenting the budget, Prime Minister Barrow noted that it will be a challenging budget because of extreme aftershocks being put on the country by international pressures.
One of those pressures is as a result of declining world oil prices, which will reduce the revenue from the oil industry by as much as $30 million. But the international pressures are not the only ones which will affect the budget; the vaunted Super Bond will take a huge chunk of the budget on August 20th with a payment value of $46.9 million. Because of the pressure those payments have on the country’s budget, Government decided to tell bond holders that it simply cannot pay and negotiations must take place. Those negotiations would prove successful later in the year.
The budget featured relief for home owners and students when DFC will be writing off over one thousand loans. There will not be an introduction of any new taxes and the budget for National Security will be increased. The Education budget is also not expected to be greatly affected and the Prime Minister has pointed out that the Pro-Poor initiatives, which are benefitting thousands upon thousands of Belizeans will continue. Those initiatives include the BOOST program as well as the Food Pantry Program.
July also saw Belizean entertainers coming off a weekend of performances at the Bliss to raise funds for the Inspiration Center, the brainchild of Special Envoy for Women and Children, Kim Simplis-Barrow and CARE Belize. The goal was to raise $1 million to build the center, which will be built in 2013. The state of-the-art Inspiration Center will cater specifically for children with disabilities and special needs. As Global Ambassador for Special Olympics, Mrs. Barrow has worked extensively with children with special needs. She led the charge for the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The goal is to reach full inclusion of people with disabilities in our public institutions. More special needs children are in primary schools across the country than ever before, but still there is no place that provides the type of psychological and physical therapy needed by many Belizeans living with disabilities.
The Inspiration Center will be located 1.5 Miles, Western Highway. It will offer basic medical care and various therapies to children with special needs. Though the center is built specifically for the children population with special needs, other children will not be excluded. The center will also serve as a community center with after-school classes for children from the surrounding communities. The building will cost roughly $3 million to construct. The Gobie Foundation has already pledged $1 million towards the construction of the center. The telethon raised $1,093,368.66.
July also saw the commitment by the Government of Belize act on its promise to keep the cost of power down. The PUC made the announcement after the April 2nd submission by the PUC and the initial decision a month later.
BEL asked that new rates for Commercial 1 customers, be set up as well as a reclassification of Commercial customers who do not qualify as Commercial 1 be classed as Commercial 2. They also proposed a formula for the determination of rates for a proposed Industrial 3 customer category. BEL also requested that certain fees and charges be removed, to increase some and to introduce new ones.
In its final decision, the PUC accepted the proposal to establish new Commercial 1 and 2 customer categories. Consumers, who use on average 2,500 kilo watt hours or less per month, are now classified as Commercial 1. Those using more than 2,500 kilo watt hours per month are classified as commercial 2 customers. The request for an Industrial 3 classification was denied.
On the issue of Fees and Charges, there are in essence 4 new fees were added. BEL had proposed a $50 dollar fee for reconnection of customers who have been disconnected from the pole as a result of meter tampering. The PUC decided to allow for a $100 fee instead. There is now also a 40-dollar Replace of Meter due to Service/Meter Tampering provided that the customer is convicted of the offence. Pole rental fees for Telecommunication operators, Cable Operators in cities and towns are also now being formalized. Previously, fees were charged to the operators; however, these were only done so as a form of gentleman’s agreement. The new formalized fees will see telecom operators pay $2.70 per pole per month while Cable operators in Cities and Towns will pay $1.46 per pole per month. In Rural areas, cable operators will pay $1.16 per pole per month. The last fee to be approved is a late payment charge of .83% per month on arrears of 30 days or more, in excess of deposits held for customers in the Commercial 2 and Industrial categories.
In July, work really got underway by the Belize City Council to work on city streets in dire need of upgrading. Under the stewardship of Mayor Darrell Bradley, six streets were completed and many more were being worked on.
CISCO Construction and M&M Engineering did work on the streets, which include Cemetery Road, Glenn Street, Ferrell Lane, South Street, Belize Bank Street, Daly Street and Calle al Mar, Thomas Vincent Ramos Street in the Belama Phase 3 area. Work also began on Queen Street and Treasury Lane, which is immediately in front of the Supreme Court Building.
Notably in the street works, the contractors are ensuring that the work is being done in a labor-intensive fashion and as much as possible, manual labor is being employed. According to the Belize City Council, M&M Engineering has hired over 60 workers while CISCO construction has employed another 65 workers.
Belize also met an important milestone in healthcare. The Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital’s Director of Medical Services, Dr. Adrian Coye, performed the first open heart surgery in Belize made history on Monday, July 16th.
Dr. Coye operated for four hours on a 73-year-old man who suffered from coronary artery disease. The surgery performed was a cervical revascularization. A surgery such as the one conducted by Dr. Coye would cost around US$100,000 in the United States. That is because of the highly inflated cost of medical services there. Dr. Coye said that since the massive capital investments have been done for us already as a gift (mostly by the Carolinas Health System), this surgery in Belize should cost no more than $10,000. Dr. Coye conducted a second open heart surgery on Tuesday, July 17th. A 56-year-old woman suffered from a severe mitral valve disease. It took 3 hours for Dr. Coye and the team to conduct a mitral valve replacement surgery. That surgery too was a success.
Also in July, Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar empanelled an 8-member committee to make proposals for the decriminalization of marijuana. The Committee began receiving input from the public.Comments have come from bodies such as the Chamber of Commerce. After the consultation process, recommendations will be prepared as a Cabinet paper for consideration. If it is accepted, it will be forwarded to the Solicitor General’s Office for draft legislation to be prepared, thereafter it will be sent back to Cabinet for approval and further deliberation at the National Assembly. The entire process is expected to run up to 2013.
Mayor Darrell Bradley gave the word ‘bond’ a whole new meaning. By this time, Belizeans were inundated with the negative connotations of the Superbond and when it was revealed the Belize City Council wanted to “float a bond”, many observers were concerned. Even with that, Mayor Bradley and the Belize City Council pressed ahead with the issuance of a $20 million municipal bond, which will be used for infrastructure development in Belize City.
The bond would be issued in two tranches: the first will be comprised of two issues; one being for 3 million dollars bearing interest between 3.5 and 4.5 percent for 2 years. The second issue on the first tranche will be for 7 million dollars for 5 years and bearing interest at between 4.5 and 5.5 percent. The second tranche will be for 10 million dollars for 8 years and will bear interest at between 5.5 and 7.5 percent.
Mayor Bradley said that the Bond program was designed in such a way that the average Belizean will be able to invest and as such, they will be offering bond certificates in 200-dollar denominations. For the two issues of the first tranche, payments to holders are proposed for February and August of each year for the life of the bond while the second tranche will see payments in May and November. And for those who choose to invest in the bond, payments are guarantee to the holders. A sinking fund would be established, which is to be financed through existing secure revenue streams that include government’s yearly subvention to the council as well as the BTB’s head tax that is paid to the Council. These two revenue streams will secure the first tranche of the bond. The second tranche will be secured by asset-backed collateral and the Council is looking at putting the Commercial Center and the NICH parking lot on Regent Street as that collateral. The bond would prove to be very successful with one of the tranches being over-subscribed later in the year.
Frustration was perhaps the understated feeling Belizeans had when it was revealed more border encroachments by Guatemalans entering illegally saw more of our natural resources being pillaged. It was happening in the jungle of the Chiquibul Reserve. In the past, we’ve become accustomed to hearing about xate and hardwood, but we learned in July that gold was part of the pillagers’ kitty.
Rafael Manzanero, Executive Director of Friends for Conservation and Development (FCD), released a report saying that as many as 300 Guatemalans are operating in the Ceibo Chico Drainage System. That number also includes a large amount of women and children. The Ceibo Chico Conservation Post and the South Chiquibul Joint Enforcement Unit was inaugurated just a couple weeks ago to monitor and enforce the protection in South Chiquibul. That unit is in need of additional man power. Patrols by that unit have led to encounters with multiple groups of illegal gold panners. Their shortage in resources and man power does not allow them to push the immigrants back across the border with any serious effect.
He said at the time that the situation is still controllable but Belizean authorities must act immediately. He suggested the deployment of additional troops to the area and collaboration with counterpart Guatemalan authorities. Manzanero says that if action is not taken soon, it may get out of control because the operation is becoming “a highly lucrative venture” for them. According to reports, the Guatemalan immigrants receive up to 250 quetzales per ounce of gold or about $70, which is way below market value but plenty of money for a poor Guatemalan.
August began with the startling revelations by the Prime Minister in the House of Representatives in the final days of July about one of the Opposition’s representatives; before then, Belizeans had no clue how vast the number of properties that were attached to the family of Hon. Florencio Marin, Jr.
A company, Belcor Industrial Limited, for example, held 195 acres of land along the sea coast in Sarteneja. What’s worse is that each acre was purchased at a mere $91 dollars each. And there are others dozens of other parcels being held or once held by companies, such as Coromex, and other company names in the Corozal Free Zone.
Through research at the Lands Department, the evidence on Marin, Jr. however, gets bigger. When his name is entered into the system his name pops up and there are 106 entries, which show his name - and all attributing land of 1/4 acre each to him. All of the land is located in San Jose Palmar.
San Jose Nuevo Palmar has a storied history where the original inhabitants arrived there in 1936 and settled on 2,500 acres of land that was specifically allotted to them, after they were forcefully removed from the village of San Jose in the Yalbac area by the then Belize Estate and Produce Company. The villagers at the time endured severe hardships both during and after they were removed from their home village. When they finally received the land on the southern periphery of Orange Walk Town, it was with the specific understanding and in fact, laws were drawn up that no one other than the original villagers of the old San Jose could have tenure to the land in the new settlement.
That has been how it has worked out for decades so, it is a wonder to everyone how it is that Florencio Marin Junior’s name appears at the Lands Department as having tenure or having had tenure to the lands. We can only surmise that indeed, anything is possible.
While that was a major scandal, the officers of the Police Department received some great news, after the public clamoring by the Police Association, which saw two members of its leadership hierarchy, Corporal Eldon Arzu, and Sergeant Edlin Lorenzo, being at odds with the Ministry.
Starting on August 1st, all officers of the Patrol Branch began receiving an additional hundred dollars ($100.00) in their pay. Also, officers’ living allowances will increase from $147.00 to $200.00. The increases came after Commissioner of Police, David Henderson visited with officers at the Eastern Division and invited officers to share their concerns. Improving the work environment was one of the top concerns. As a result of those discussions, money has been allocated for the rehabilitation of the police barracks at Eastern Division and in Hattieville.
The Belize Police Department was also under the Public Service’s allowance review. Following the review, the officers will see the true bump in their salary retroactive to August 1st.
Belize also was spared the wrath of Hurricane Ernesto in the month of August. The National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO) had been monitoring a tropical cyclone in the Caribbean Sea since for at least a week prior to making landfall. That cyclone strengthened into a Tropical Storm named Ernesto. On Monday, August 6th, NEMO released a public advisory declaring that Belize was under Hurricane Warning Red II. At the time, Ernesto was still a Tropical Storm with maximum sustained winds at 65 mph. It was moving west northwest at 12 mph. Meteorologists forecasted strengthening before the storm made landfall because the sea in front of Belize and Mexico had favorable conditions for tropical cyclone strengthening which are warm sea temperatures in excess of 26 degrees Celsius or 79 degrees Fahrenheit and high relative humidity.
At 1 p.m. on Monday, NEMO was activated countrywide and Belizeans were urged to put their hurricane plan into action. The organization immediately instructed all employers to give their workers time off on Tuesday morning to secure their families. Since Ernesto featured Tropical Storm force winds up to 125 miles from the center, people living along the coast and in the outer cayes were advised to move inland voluntarily. The activation of NEMO meant that all local emergency management organization was to become operational.
The Belize City Emergency Management Organization (CEMO) held a meeting with the media at 2 p.m. on Monday afternoon. CEMO wanted to assure city residents that they were extremely prepared for any storm that posed a threat to Belize City. CEMO established its headquarters in the building that Channel 5 received during the previous owner’s shredding of Telemedia. The names of shelters on the north and south side of the city were announced and four were opened on Tuesday.
Fast forward to Wednesday, August 8th. NEMO released an advisory warning people in the “North of Belize, San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Orange Walk and Corozal Districts to be cautious as they may experience some gusty winds with showers.” NEMO also advised all mariners to keep their boats in harbor and all water taxi runs were delayed until further notice.
Despite the interruption in business activities, Belizeans are once again counting their blessings as our country was spared from the wrath of another powerful storm. The National Emergency Management Organization and their regional counterparts were impressive in maintaining order while facilitating the evacuation process. On the following Wednesday, Prime Minister Barrow issued a press release in which he congratulated NEMO, DEMO, CEMO, the security forces, the Ministry of Health, Red Cross, public officers, the Chief Meteorologist and the media for a job well done.
Also in August, it was reported that three Belizean businessmen were blacklisted by the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). On Tuesday, August 7th, the State Department sent out a release calling “John Zabaneh and two members of his drug trafficking organization, who are based in Belize key associates of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman Loera, and other members of the Sinaloa Cartel.” The Sinaloa Cartel is reportedly the most powerful drug trafficking organization smuggling all manner of drugs including cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin and marijuana into the US.
Through the designation which was done by the U.S. Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, persons are prohibited from conducting financial or commercial transactions with the individuals and their companies. Their assets that are held in U.S. jurisdiction are also frozen.
While Zabaneh was placed under that designation, so too are his nephew, Dion Zabaneh, and Daniel Moreno. The release is accompanied by an organ-gram which squarely lists John Zabaneh as the head of the Sinaloa Cartel operatives functioning in Belize. It also lists 4 of Zabaneh’s companies including Mayan King Ltd., which is one of the largest banana producers in the country. Also designated are Crown Paradise Enterprises LTD., which is a building contractor and property consultant company and Mid South Investments Ltd., a resort management and marina company. Also designated is Belize Chemicals Ltd., which is a pharmaceutical company. This company operates out of Belmopan while the other three out of the Stann Creek District. Along with Zabaneh’s company is D’s Supermarket Co. Ltd., which is owned by Moreno and operates in Corozal Town.
The release by the state department said that John Zabaneh’s drug trafficking activities and his organization’s ties to Colombian sources of supply and Mexican buyers make him a critical figure in the narcotics trade. By designating Zabaneh, OFAC is disrupting those activities and continuing its efforts, alongside those of our law enforcement partners, to expose operatives of Chapo Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel, including their businesses. According to the OFAC, Zabaneh has been involved in drug trafficking in Belize since 1980’s.
The announcement by the State Department is a major one and is perhaps the first time that businessmen and their operations have been specifically named as being involved in the drug trade between Latin America and the U.S. Because of the large interests that the businesses hold in the country, in particular as it relates to the exportation of bananas, it is uncertain how the designation of the Zabaneh businesses will affect Belize’s economy.
According to the release by the State Department, the OFAC has designated more than 1,100 businesses and individuals linked to 97 kingpins since June 2000. For those found in violation of the Kingpin Act, there are heavy fines and penalties including millions of dollars and many years in prison.
Also in August, the Court of Appeal handed down a very important ruling in favor of the Government in its fight against the Ashcroft Alliance. Readers will recall that in December 2010, the Ashcroft Alliance had claimed a major victory against the Government of Belize when it got a judgment by Justice John Muria in the Supreme Court in Belize. The judgment basically gave the Ashcroft Alliance the right to enforce a $40 million arbitration award, which it was given by the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) in 2009. That award was related to the vaunted Accommodation Agreement which saw the former PUP government make numerous concessions to the Ashcroft Alliance.
The UDP Government had always maintained that the Accommodation Agreement went contrary to Belize’s national interests and did not even made representation at the tribunal. That allowed for the Alliance to get a judgment against GOB. That however, did not matter as the Ashcroft Alliance proceeded to have the award enforced in Belize and Justice Muria gave them a favorable ruling. The Government of Belize appealed the judgment however, and on August 3rd, Justices Manuel Sosa, Douglas Mendes and Duke Pollard gave their decision.
In that decision, both Justice Sosa and Pollard agreed with arguments put forward by Senior Counsel Michael Young, who successfully argued that the matter was taken before an international panel based on a treaty called the New York Convention. However, the Convention is not a valid instrument in Belize since it was never ratified. The Convention was extended to Belize by the United Kingdom when Belize was still a colony, but as a sovereign nation after independence, Belize has not yet ratified the convention making it invalid. Justices Sosa and Pollard ruled that the judgment by Justice John Muria in the Supreme Court be set aside meaning that the LCIA arbitration award is not enforceable in Belize.
In August, Government of Belize announced that it will not be able to make a coupon payment on the Super Bond, which is $23.5 million, which was due on August 20th. This was one of the final steps made before the negotiation with bondholders began later in the year.
At this time, Government presented three possible alternatives for bond holders. The first scenario sees holders giving the government of Belize a 15-year grace period and a 2% rate of interest and a maturity date of 2062. The second scenario has a 45% discount on the original amount. There is no grace period and principal payments are to be made at 1% up to 2019, 2% through to 2026, and 4% through to 2042, which will be the maturity date of the bond. The third scenario also sees a discount of 45% of the original value with a 5-year grace period and maturity date of 2042. Interest rate would be at 3.5% throughout until 2042.
Later on, Belize’s Economic Ambassador Mark Espat, and Financial Secretary, Joseph Waight, left for the United States to meet representatives of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and United States Treasury Department.
In his address to the nation, Prime Minister Barrow expressed hoped that the IDB may assist Belize by partially guaranteeing the restructured bonds through a policy-based loan. By this time, Belize has already shown willingness to comply with requested reforms from the IDB by introducing several financial legislations at the House of Representatives. Those legislations, including the Commercial Banks and Financial Institutions Amendment Bill, which was to go back to the House for second and third readings on Thursday, August 23rd.
The Government would then broker a deal with bondholders later in the year.
2012 was a happy and fruitful year for Ronny Hernandez after he won the biggest single jackpot in Belize’s history. Fantasy 5’s jackpot on August 21st was $468,000 and Hernandez, who is from Corozal, collected his historic prize. Hernandez said he has been purchasing Fantasy 5 for some time now. He began by playing quick pick numbers but recently changed his strategy to buying two sets of numbers, which he came up with. In the end, it paid off after he made his most recent purchase at Ranchito Store in Corozal Town. The husband and father of two children said he would use the money to build and house and the rest he will save in the bank.
After taxes, Hernandez took home $397,800.
Naturally, in September, Belize ushered in the celebrations of the Battle of St. George’s Caye and on September 1st saw the King and Queen Competitions. The Carnival King and Queen competition took place at the MCC grounds. A total of 34 kings and queens contested against one another for four hours for the right to be the overall winner.
In the junior queen competition, Sunshine Masqueraders’ Mayan Rain Goddess took home the first place. Second place went to Pickstock Carnival Band – Queen Fauna and the Third Place was captured by Western Paradise – Queen Florecenta.
In the Junior King Category, Jump Street Posse’s King Kent took home the first place with the second place going to Jump Street Posse – King Gus; and third place to went to Sunshine Masqueraders – Mayan Moon God.
First place finishers in the Junior King and Queen competition took home 4 thousand dollars; second place received 3 thousand dollars and third place got 2 thousand dollars.
The competition continued with the Senior King and Queen which saw 11 entrants in the Queen category and 9 in the King Category. At the end of fierce competition, it was Mahogany Masqueraders who took home the first prize with their Queen Ruby. Second place went to Soca Warriors – Queen Ixchel and third place was taken by Oceana Soca Moca – Queen Tia Dalma.
The Senior King Competition also saw fierce competition with 6 bands submitting 9 competitors. At the completion of the competition, Mother Nature’s King Combo took home first place. Second place went to Oceana Soca Moca – King Kraken while third was taken by Mahogany Masqueraders – King Cashka.
In the senior King and Queen competition, first place finishers got 5 thousand dollars, second place received 3 thousand dollars and third place got 2 thousand dollars. The DJ of the year was Wave Radio’s Floyd “Pinky” Flowers of Evolution Sound.
The 67th Queen of the Bay pageant was held at the Birds Isle on Saturday, September 1st. The Queen of the Bay title is the most prestigious of Belizean pageantry because it is synonymous with Belizean nationalism. It started back in 1946 when Guatemalan warships were seen in the harbor of Belizean waters. Public Meetings were held to discuss the threat and seek help from Great Britain. During those same meetings, the Loyal and Patriotic Order of the Bay (LPOB) was formed. Nothing developed from the Guatemalan threat but the LPOB had the desire to show Guatemala that we are different here on this settlement and we are a proud people. Therefore, the idea arose to start the Queen of the Bay Pageant. The first Queen of the Bay was Rita Lewis in 1946. There has been a Queen of the Bay Pageant every year for the last 66 years. Yadira Argueta, who represented the Stann Creek District, was selected as the most fit to be the symbol of love for the jewel. If there is any reason she is unable to carry out her duties as Queen of the Bay, Ivory Mendez, Queen of the Bay Corozal, will act as our source of nationalistic inspiration. Gorlee Marin, Miss Caribbean Sea, also impressed the Queen and her advisors. She is the second runner up to Queen of the Bay Designate, Miss Yadira Argueta. Argueta was crowned by her predecessor, Amanda Taylor.
“Hezbollah in Belize – Is JP Involved?” When that headline appeared on the front page of our paper on September 16th, a lot of people were surprised that such a notorious network would have extended its tentacles in Belize. As we reported, Yasser Safa is one of two naturalized Belizean men, who were captured in Mexico along with United States fugitive, Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun on Saturday, September 8th, after a successful operation by the National Migration Institute (INM) and the State Police.
Allaboun is an American citizen, who has lived in the States for over 30 years. He was convicted of credit card fraud and after serving time in prison, he was released on parole. However, he violated the terms of that parole when he left the United States. Mohammed Labboun was deported to the U.S. a few hours after his arrest, because there was a warrant out for his arrest in Houston, Texas. He appeared before a judge in Texas for violating his parole and was returned to California for imprisonment.
According to officials, Mohammed Labboun identified himself at the time of the arrest using a Belizean passport with the name William Dyck. The Belize Police Department is currently engaged in an investigation to determine exactly how it is that he got the passport. The Guardian spoke to the Senior Public Relations Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Delroy Cuthkelvin, who explained that the matter has been turned over to the Criminal Investigation Branch. Authorities have determined that William Dyck was born in Shipyard in Orange Walk on February 8th, 1976.
The birth registration was confirmed by the Vital Statistics Unit. Police visited the listed address for Dyck and, according to Cuthkelvin, they spoke to Dyck’s sister and she informed the officers that William Dyck died two months after birth in 1976. Both of their parents have since died as well. Police then visited the Vital Statistics Unit but could not find documentation of the baby’s death. They then focused the investigation on the application and issuance of the identification documents. Mohammed Labboun was also found with a Belizean driver’s license.
Police investigation has revealed that a copy of William Dyck’s birth certificate was issued on August 29th. Anyone can request a person’s birth certificate. However, their name must appear on the application form. The application form for Dyck’s birth certificate has not been found at the Vital Statistics Unit since police started their investigation. Therefore, it is not known who applied for the document. Police investigation has also revealed that, on the same day the birth certificate was issued, a passport application was filed. The applicant paid $100 for express service and received the passport the following day, on August 30th. The driver’s license that Mohammed Labboun had was issued by the Belmopan City Council. Subsequent checks at the Belmopan City Hall revealed that the license identification number already belonged to another Belmopan resident. A further check showed that Belmopan licenses had reached the 12000 series as yet. As part of police’s investigation into the validity of the passport, police have spoken to Juliana Arana who was the Justice of the Peace that signed on the passport application. In a striking bout of coincidence, Juliana Arana’s house was burnt on right around the same time. Just like the case with the Vital Statistics Unit, the Immigration Department is experiencing difficulties tracking down the passport application form. Cuthkelvin says that if it is not a culture of negligence, it is a practice of poor filing techniques because old application forms at both departments seem extremely hard to locate. The application forms would answer very important questions like who applied for the documents; who accepted the application form; who issued the document and who received the document. Cuthkelvin says that police have confirmed that Mohammed Labboun visited the immigration office himself to apply for and receive his passport. How he got into the country in the first place is another question still unanswered.
The tragedy that struck Belizeans perhaps the hardest with the murder of two-year-old Kaylee Burgess. She’s the toddler who was found dead in a bucket on September 4th and murder charges were to have been levied on her aunt.
The child’s death is prefaced by a string of allegations and counter allegations between the child’s mother, Deidre Pratt and her father, Kevin Burgess. It is alleged that Deidre Pratt made her way to her ex-common law husband’s house and set it on fire. An hour later, he is said to have gone to Pratt mother’s house and punched three louvers causing damage to them.
A post mortem conducted on the baby girl determined that she died as a result of suffocation, adding even more speculation to the incident is that family members had gathered at Dr. Mario Estradabran’s house following the outcome of the post mortem. That case remains unsolved.
More than two dozen Belizean patriots were honored for their hard work they put for Belize in various fields of excellence.
This year, 20 individuals received Meritorious Service Awards; four received Orders of Distinction and Justice Manuel Sosa was honored with the Order of Belize for his contribution to the Belize Judicial system.
The four individuals that received Orders of Distinction are Cynthia Henry, Audrey Courtenay, Benjamin Nicholas and Sabino Savery.
Twenty Belizeans received Meritorious Service Awards. Included are educators, politicians, athletes, entertainers, community organizers and a doctor. Leotine Gillett Lewis was honoured for her contributions to education. Hortence Wade was also an educator. She has held several key positions in the education system, including General Manager of the Government Primary Schools. Hadie Gomez was honoured for her contributions to sports and education. Mapye Yolanda Smith received the award for her contributions to the community as an educator and mentor for young interns from the YWCA, ITVET and the Department of Human Services. Dr. Gilda Lewis has served as an educator for many years. She taught at the University College of Belize from 1989 to 2000 as well as other schools in Belize and England. Brenda J. Armstrong, who is the longest serving secondary school principal of this era, 23 years at Wesley College, was also given this honor. Geraldine Elizabeth Joseph received the Meritorious Service Award for her community service to Bermudian Landing and surrounding communities. She was a breast feeding counselor for over ten years before she went on to become a counselor for the Belize rural Women’s Association. In the association, she promoted the importance of self employment for women from 1990 to 1999. She is still an active member of her community today.
Marie S. Kos is another community server. At an early age, she became a nurse and midwife and worked in the rural districts of Belize. However, her calling was to inspire other young women to serve their country similarly. She grew up in the Girl Guides Association, going from member to leader. She was elected Girl Guide Commissioner for Belize South and represented Belize at the 1993. Rita Maehetibel Flowers from a very young age was a Sunday school teacher, Sea Ranger Officer and playwright. She became the owner of the Minorettes and changed it to a children’s band in 1963. She has trained and developed many marching bands in schools across Belize. Daisy Olga Marin was the first female Mayor in Belize. She opened the first spare parts business and kindergarten in Corozal in the 1960’s. she ran for Mayor of the Corozal Town Board in 1981 and won. Under her leadership, Corozal saw several accomplishments; such as, the establishment of a Carnival Committee. David Nicholas Ruiz of Benque Viejo del Carmen is an educator and writer. He has been a teacher, principal, project coordinator and education officer. Kenrick Alexander Halliday is one of Belize’s most decorated cyclists. He began his cycling career in 1970 and won four Cross Country titles from 1974 to 1978. In 1977, he led the race from beginning to end, winning all station prizes. David G. Dakers has fought in over 48 amateur and professional boxing tournaments locally and internationally and has only lost 6 fights. He fought for 20 years and is the former Middleweight Champion of Belize, a Pan American Games silver medalist and a Central American Games bronze medalist. Dr. John Waight returned to Belize in 1976 after studying medicine abroad and has been serving his country since. He has held positions such as Surgeon of the Ministry of Health, KHMH Superintendent, Director of Medical Services and Medical Officer for Orthopedic Services. He has been the coordinator of the Medical Internship at the Ministry of Health since 2010.
Bredda “David” Obi is the creator of “Kungo Muzik”. In the United States, he was introduced to reggae music and was inspired by the positive message. He then returned to Belize and formed a band with some of the best musicians and came up with a new genre, realizing every country needs its own sound. Hilberto “Hilly” Martinez is the General Manager of the Belize Brewing Company. However, more than being a huge player in Belize’s beverage market, Martinez is a champion for sports in Belize. He served as Chief of Mission for Belize in several international competitions. He served as the Secretary General of the Belize Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association for 30 years. Israel Jacinto Alpuche was a member of the Corozal Town Council for three consecutive terms, late 70’s up to mid 80’s. He served as Mayor and Deputy Mayor and secured funding for the Andres Campos Civic Center and founded the Corozal Free Zone project. Godsman Celestino Ellis led the charge in developing professionals in agriculture here in Belize. He worked on the radio show “Farming in Progress” and pioneered the National Agriculture and Trade Show and Belize School of Agriculture. Rudolph Ellis received a scholarship from the Belize Sugar Industry in 1967 to study agriculture in Essex, England. His entire life has been dedicated to the advancement of the Belize Sugar Industry, where he still works today. Jeffery Perriott was the Chief Finance Officer of Belize and serve as finance Officer of numerous ministries of government. He retired from the public service in 2002 but was hired as the interim General Manager of RECONDEV in 2008.
Also in September, Belize announced that it was going make the way for visa wavers for citizens of a number of countries in Central America. Visitors from Brazil, Argentina, and Chile will no longer need visas to visit our country. The Statutory Instrument waiving visa requirements for visitors from these countries to Belize was signed in August 2012. The Ministry of Tourism and the BTB view this as a major accomplishment as both have been working tirelessly to change the previous legislation.
Minister of Tourism, Hon. Manuel Heredia, Jr. said that the visa waivers will allow for ease of entry for travelers from South America. This will encourage more visitors from these South American countries to travel to our jewel as we make travelling to Belize a more appealing and easier experience. North Americans have always travelled to Belize without visas and we are extending this courtesy to some countries in South America as well.
It is expected that these visa waivers will increase the flow of tourists from the South American countries to Belize benefitting both the tourism industry and the economy. WTO statistics have verified that countries such as those from emerging economies within Latin and South America, and a few others, have been doing well economically and their populations have more disposable income and are travelling more.
The month of October 2012 saw some welcome development for the small village of Sunday Wood in the Toledo District. Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, Hon. Patrick Faber spoke at the opening of a new school.
The project was implemented by the Social Investment Fund, in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, at a total cost of $438,000 and was financed by the Government of Belize through a loan from the Caribbean Development Bank. The project included the construction of a one story reinforced-concrete building 25ft wide by 120 ft long including a 6ft verandah. The works included construction of three (25 ft x 30 ft) classrooms with two movable partitions, a male and female bathroom block and a principal’s office. The building is equipped with hurricane storm guard aluminum windows, solid panel doors, security grills, ceiling fans and a solar panel system, with a manual transfer switch, which provides electricity to the building. Furniture including teachers’ desks and chairs, black boards, cupboards, book shelves and students arm chairs were also provided as part of the project. The building will be used as a shelter in the event of an emergency. The building was designed for a second storey in anticipation of future expansion.
The Social Investment Fund also completed the renovation of the Golden Stream Government Primary School building. The project consisted of the rehabilitation of two-ferro concrete school buildings and a small library building. The project was funded by the Basic Needs Trust Fund (BNTF) 6th Programme at a total cost of $54,000. It has significantly improved the learning environment for the children of Golden Stream Village in the Toledo District. Golden Stream Village is approximately 25 miles north east from Punta Gorda Town. The village lies along the Southern Highway near the Mayan Site of Nim Li Punit. The community was established in the late 1970s by Ketchi and Mopan Mayas, who departed from areas like San Antonio, San Jose, Big Falls and Crique Jute in search of more fertile lands for their crops.
Belize hosted the 23rd meeting of International Cooperation Directors for Latin America and the Caribbean on October 1 and 2 on the topic “Regional Cooperation in the Area of Food Security”. The meeting focused on ways in which the region can cooperate to improve food security as well as to take stock of existing agreements to achieve this goal. Chief Executive Office in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche explained that while Belize does not have problems with food security, we do have challenges to overcome the problem of food affordability. He explained that the Government’s priority is at ensuring that the poorest of the poor can have access to food. For Belize then, the meeting will help in the country focusing on existing programs and to better coordinate responses to improving access to food for the poor.
The two-day meeting had participation from various countries across the region as well a international development agencies such as SICA, UNICEF, and the CDB among others.
The focus on border security became even more real when it was reported that there were more illegal loggers entering Belizean territory. The Friends of Conservation has reported that that illegal logging activity continued in the Chiquibul Forest with one more logger being arrested and charged.
A patrol, based at the Tapir Camp in the Chiquibul Forest, detained a Guatemalan man who was doing illegal logging in Belize. The man, identified as Edgar Rene Amador Jenis of the village of La Calzada Mopan, Dolores Petén was detained, after he was found cutting mahogany into planks of lumber some 7.5 kilometers in Belizean territory in the Caracol Reserve.
Jenis was reportedly operating a chainsaw and was accompanied by another Guatemalan man, who managed to escape capture. In a release by the organization it states that “Sounds of several chainsaws were heard in the area at the late hours of the night. Reports and observations had been made earlier of this ongoing activity but it had been difficult to apprehend the illegal loggers.”
Jenis, the one Guatemalan who was detained was found with 6 flitches of mahogany ready for transportation. The lumber along with a chainsaw and two horses were confiscated by law enforcement personnel. Jenis was taken to San Ignacio Town where he was charged with illegal entry, illegal logging, drug possession and entry of an animal without proper documentation.
The Ministry of Energy, Science & Technology, and Public Utilities launched Belize’s first progressive energy and technology policy in the country’s history. The Ministry’s Strategic Plan 2012-2017 charts the path forward for Belize in terms of its expansion of technological services and contraction of foreign energy sources. The launch took place on the first day of a two-day seminar at the Biltmore held under the theme “Belize Tomorrow: The Catalytic Role of Energy Science and Technology”.
Minister (Senator) Hon. Audrey Joy Grant says that Belize will take full advantage of the opportunities made possible by the CSF, which is the Caribbean Science Foundation. She says that if Belize is to ever maximize on its potential it will be by innovative thinking; therefore, we must invest in developing innovative thinkers. Minister Grant revealed some staggering statistics at the launching of the strategic plan. She said that Belize uses fossil fuels for 65% of its energy needs and “the country imported 88% of its fossil fuel needs at a cost of $339 million dollars in 2011”. It got worse as she continued, “the global competitiveness index report of 2012 ranks Belize as one of the least competitive economies in the world. We are rank 123 of 142 countries. In the region, only Haiti has a lower rank. On further analysis we note that our technological readiness Belize is ranked 101 for internet users for every 100 people in the population and ranks 136 of 142 countries for foreign direct investment and technology transfer.” The Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities has charted the way forward with simple goals. One is to “improve energy efficiency and conservation by at least 30 percent by 2033.” According to the Ministry of Energy, Science, Technology and Public Utilities, CARICOM countries are very inefficient users of energy.
Also in October, the Social Security Board announced it would invest $15 million in Belize Electricity Limited. Chairman of the board’s Investment Committee, Douglas Singh says that the investment committee has made the recommendation to make the investment and the Board has accepted the recommendation. It is now a matter of a legal process where the decision has to be published twice in the Gazette and in two consecutive publications of two newspapers before the disbursement is made.
The 15-million-dollar investment is a solid one and at this time. It is a golden opportunity to secure the SSB’s funds. BEL invited the SSB to purchase debentures, which are being expanded from 17 million dollars to 25 million dollars. As a result of this, there was an offer for the Board to purchase 5 million preferred shares with a guaranteed rate of return of 5% per year for a lifespan of 3 years. According to Singh, the debentures will be purchased for 5 million dollars, while the preferential shares will be purchased at 2 dollars each amounting to 10 million dollars bringing the investment to a total of 15 million dollars.
There is an excess liquidity in the SSB with the most recent figures showing that it has 150 million dollars that is earning very little and over the last two years, the returns are consistently being reduced to below 4 percent. Vasquez noted that currently BEL has some 26 million dollars that is available for investment. These monies, he noted, is earning between 1 and 1/4 percent to 2 percent when 15 million can be invested in BEL to receive 7 percent on debentures and 5 percent on shares.
The $15 million, which will be received through SSB, says Singh, will be used to refinance expensive debts.
Also in October, the Government of Belize reached an agreement with Belize’s trade unions.
The Government of Belize signed a Partial Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Public Service Union (PSU), Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU) and the Association of Public Service Senior Managers (APSSM) on Tuesday, October 9th, four years after the process started. Both sides were relieved after the agreement was signed.
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports, signed on behalf of the Government. He chairs the Cabinet sub-committee appointed to negotiate with the Unions.
Minister Faber called it an opportunity to celebrate this partial agreement, which represents a realistic picture of what it is we are able to do as a Government given the economic situation we are facing now.” The agreement, though, excludes a 30% salary adjustment which was one of the union’s main proposals. Minister Faber said the Government could not agree to the salary adjustment at this time because it would be unmanageable. Minister Faber was asked how the result of the debt restructuring exercise would impact negotiations. He said that Government looked forward to any relief that may come but “we are yet to see what kind of relief that would be so we have to wait and see”. He said that the agreements signed included requests that can be managed regardless of the results of the restructuring exercise. Those include increases in allowances for cashiers, revenue allowance per month, housing and rent allowance, general allowance, hazardous allowance, travelling allowance, motor vehicle allowance, responsibility allowance, commuting allowances, hardship allowances, public sector modernization, a review of regulations, an audit of public sector and the establishment of a teacher training subsidy.
On Wednesday, October 10th, Attorney General, Hon. Wilfred Elrington was at the ITVET building in San Ignacio where he met with residents of the Cayo area to discuss the crime situation in that district. Accompanying the AG was the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of National Security, Col. George Lovell.
Minister Elrington’s visit was as a result of an earlier meeting which was held between the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow and a newly formed group, the Solidarity Movement for Justice and Peace. In that meeting which lasted an hour, the Prime Minister expressed his great concern over the growing crime problem and decided on asking the Attorney General to attend the meeting since he was the one responsible for the justice system.
The overarching sentiment by the gathering, which packed the room, was that the Director of Public Prosecutions be replaced and that a forensic laboratory be put in place as soon as possible. On the question of the DPP, Elrington explained that she was one of the best prosecutors and legal minds in the country and she can only work with what evidence is given to her. People cannot be convicted unless there is evidence, he noted, and added that the entire community can contribute much for that to take place.
On the question of the forensic laboratory, he said that the Government is limited by the availability of financial resources. To this, one young woman in attendance pointed out that the Cayo community (and the entire nation for that matter) would be willing to contribute to the forensic laboratory through a telethon. Another resident suggested that the bridge that is being proposed to be built in Cayo be put on hold and the finances used for the lab. This is not possible however, as the finances secured from the international lending agency has earmarked the money, specifically for that project and it cannot be diverted.
And while there was healthy discussion and Minister Elrington was candid about solutions to the crime problem, asked for collective action to be taken to solve it, the suggestion could not go down with a grain of salt. He explained that the judicial system too is one where the right thing needs to be done cost it what it may. He pointed out that the laws are in place but enforcement is what is lacking.
Businesses closed on October 11th.
Staying in the west, work also began for the new Santa Elena Bridge. Minister of Works, and Area Representative for Cayo Central, Hon. Rene Montero told The Guardian on Wednesday, October 17th that work started two weeks ago.
Readers will remember that the project, which will cost some $58 million dollars, got under way with the signing of a contract between the Ministry of Works and CISCO Construction in April. In the first phase of the project, La Loma Luz Boulevard will be paved leading up to the river. This is one of 4 components of the project. The other component will also see the paving of Joseph Andrews Drive from Sacred Heart College to the intersection with the Benque Viejo Road. Another component is the filling of Joseph Andrews Drive up to the Macal River. And the last component is for the actual construction of the bridge.
Minister Montero says that while the work has commenced on the first lot, the bidding process is still open for the other three components. The contracts will be awarded by the Caribbean Development Bank, the financing agency, along with the Ministry of Works.
As for the supervision of the work, it will be done also by a consultant from the Caribbean Development Bank and engineers from the Ministry of Works. The project is expected to last for two years and at the end of the project, the twin towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena would have a two-lane bridge that connects them.
Currently, there are two bridges that connect the towns: the Hawkesworth Bridge and the Low-lying Bridge. However, these have become inadequate as the Hawkesworth can only allow for single lane traffic, causing congestion in the towns, while the Low-Lying Bridge gets flooded during heavy rains rendering it impassible. That bridge has also only one lane.
Among one of the many killings in 2012, one of the most publicized was that of businessman Alfred Schackron. Schackron was shot three times as he exited Body 2000 gym, located on Coney Drive at around 9:20 on the morning of October 24th. Schackron was shot just as he was about to get into his vehicle that was parked nearby. Police report that shots were fired at Schackron from a vehicle, which was in the area. Those, who were in the area, say that men pulled up in a black Ford Escape and he had an exchange of words with them. After which, the men in the vehicle attempted to drag him into the vehicle. He resisted and was subsequently shot. He received wounds to the neck and chest. He died shortly thereafter as a result of the injuries he sustained. At the scene, police recovered two expended 9 millimeter shells as well as a .22 millimeter expended shell.
Schackron, who is of Lebanese descent, was a well-known businessman, being the owner of JEC Pawn Shop in Belize City as well as the owner of the popular lottery game Mega Bingo.
Shackron’s murder comes just a day after another Lebanese businessman was similarly killed. 40-year-old Abdul Aziz Mohamed Dib was at King Kebab Restaurant located in the Farmer’s Market in Belize City along with other men of Lebanese extraction, when a gunman approached them. The masked assailant simply approached Dib and opened fire. He received a gunshot to the head, left hand, the center of the abdomen, the upper chest and the lower back. Dib fell off his chair, breaking it, and died on the spot. Police recovered 7 expended shells on the scene.
It is unclear what connection there is between the two murders, but, that two businessmen of similar backgrounds being killed less than 24 hours apart has investigators looking at the likelihood of a connection existing between the two murders.
Police have stated that the killings were not random acts of violence or gang related. They believe that the Schackron killing had all appearances of being an organized hit having to do with a business deal gone sour.
The Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) was in Belize on Tuesday, October 23rd. Jose Miguel Insulza met with the Belizean press after having talks with the Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Barrow; Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Wilfred Elrington and Minister of National Security, Hon. John Saldivar. At the press briefing, Insulza explained to the press that the reason for his visit to Belize was to appraise the Prime Minister about talks, which had taken place a day earlier in Guatemala. “It would be proper to come to Belize to report to the Prime Minister and talk to the authorities to ensure that everyone is well informed,” stated Insulza.
At the meeting held in Guatemala, Insulza met with Hon. Wilfred Elrington and his Guatemalan counterpart, Minister Harold Caballeros. During the meetings, the men spoke of the upcoming referendum process, takes place on October 6th, 2013. Key in the talks was the cost that will be associated with the referendum process.
The Guatemalan press is reporting that the education campaign in Guatemala will be in the region of US$33 million or 260 million Quetzales. According to the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Alexis Rosado, Belize’s figure is significantly less at US$4.4 million. The monies will be used in various aspects of the education campaign including setting up an office, equipment and staffing. The campaign will also be a dynamic one where printed material, documentaries, debates and panels will be held as well as website blogs and other forms of electronic media will be used.