NOTED BELIZE ANGLER AND HOTELIER LOGAN GENTRY DIES IN BOATING ACCIDENT Logan Gentry, who with his sister, Ali Gentry, revitalized El Pescador fishing lodge on North Ambergris Caye and who also helped develop a new fishing lodge in Toledo district, died May 9 in a late-night boating accident. BELIZE FIRST extends all sympathies on this tragic loss. Logan Gentry's passing is the latest in a series of recent deaths of important figures in Belize tourism, including Ken duPlooy of duPlooy's Lodge in Cayo, who died of heart failure; Tom Giblin, who built and ran Serenity Resort in Placencia, murdered in Puerto Cortes, Honduras; and Skip White, who for many years operated Turtle Inn (which became Blancaneaux's Turtle Inn) in Placencia, set to reopen in December.
BENQUE BUS FARE PROTESTERS SHOT BY POLICE In late April Benque Viejo residents protesting a hike in Novelo’s bus fares were fired on by police. In the ensuing “riot” at least two protestors were hit by gunfire and more than two dozen police were injured. Two Belizeans were hospitalized with gun wounds. Bus fares were raised -- the new fare from Belize City to Benque is US$4 -- reportedly due to hikes in the price of gas and diesel fuel. Unleaded gas in Belize is now about US$3.40 a gallon and diesel is around US$2.25.
ALL TELEPHONE NUMBERS IN BELIZE CHANGED MAY 1: On May 1, Belize went to seven-digit dialing nationwide, with all telephone numbers being changed. Now, when dialing Belize from outside the country is is necessary to dial the international access code (011 from the U.S.), country code (501) and the new seven-digit number. Formerly when dialing locally it was usually only necessary to dial the last four or five digits of a number. Most local area codes have changed. In some cases, the new numbering system results in the entire telephone number changing, and in others, the last five digits remain the same with only the first two digits changing. The changeover caused some problems, as some numbers could not be dialed using either the old or new numbers. Some communications problems continue, according to reports from around the country. BTL’s Web site, www.btl.net,
provides an on-line database which provides the new number when you input the old number.
USAIR TO BEGIN CHARLOTTE-BELIZE SERVICE USAir has announced plans to fly from its hub in Charlotte, N.C., to Belize City twice weekly, starting in early November 2002. Separately, American Airlines says it plans to add a second daily flight from Miami to Belize. The flight, whose late afternoon departure will allow those flying from Europe to make connections to Belize the same day, rather than overnighting in Miami, will operate only during the summer. Also, a charter service, Bel Air, has begun operating weekly flights from Miami to Belize. On its Web site, Bel Air claims to be the “national flagship airline” of Belize, but the Belize government says this is not the case.
TWO CORO MEN MURDERED IN THEIR SKIFF NEAR SAN PEDRO José Majil and his brother-in-law, Alejandro Arevalo, both of Corozal, were murdered May 7 in Majil’s water taxi near the southern tip of Ambergris Caye. Police report a stocky Hispanic man chartered the boat for a trip to San Pedro from Corozal Town. Majil was shot in the stomach and Arevalo in the head, in an apparent “gangland” style killing. Their bodies were discovered in the water near the skiff. Authorities reportedly believe the murders are in some way drug-connected.
TOURISM BEGINS TO BOUNCE BACK IN MARCH Tourist arrivals at the Philip Goldson International Airport inched up 0.8% in March, compared to the year-ago period, according to the Immigration Department. A total of 16,347 visitors arrived at the International Airport, where about 80% of Belize's total tourists come in to the country. The first two months of the year experienced decreases in arrivals of less than 10%. International arrivals by air to Belize increased 1.6% in 2001 over 2000, to 133,774 according to the Belize Tourist Board. September arrivals, following the terrorist attacks in the United States, were down 22% and December arrivals were down about 8% from the previous year. November was flat and October actually saw an increase, but statistics for these months are misleading because Hurricane Keith cut travel to Belize dramatically last October and part of November. Belize eked out the year-to-year gain despite the impact of Hurricane Iris and the recession in its major market, the U.S., which contributes more than three-fourths of air visitors to Belize.
CRUISE TOURISM BOOMING A total of almost 60,000 cruise ship passengers visited Belize in the first quarter of 2002. This represents an increase of 185% compared to the same period last year. The new Fort Point Tourist Village, designed primarily to serve cruise passengers, has more than 35 shops, stores and services. Cruise ships are docking at Belize's City year round with more than 200 expected to call on Belize during 2002. The latest cruise ship to announce a stop at Belize is Celebrity's Galaxy, which this summer will include Belize on a 10-day itinerary from Baltimore.
‘CURRENCY CRISIS’ DRAGS ON: Belize's currency crisis appears to be here for awhile. The demand for U.S. dollars in Belize exceeds the supply, resulting in a weakening Belize dollar and concern among business owners that they will not be able to get U.S. currency to pay for imported items or for freight costs. There is renewed talk of devaluation of the Belize dollar which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar at 2 to 1 for many years. On the gray market in Belize and border areas, currency traders are giving up to 2.40 Belize dollars for 1 U.S. dollar. The Belize government has announced that it has licensed 12 cambios around the country to control the currency flows. These cambios use the 2 to 1 rate but a service fee brings the rate up to 2.15 to 1, an effective 7 1/2% devaluation. So far, the currency exchange problem has not affected tourists directly. Hotels, tour operators and others in the tourist industry continue to do business at the 2 to 1 rate. Most visitors to Belize are unaware of the crisis.
SAN PEDRO AND BELMOPAN GET NEW OFFSHORE MED SCHOOLS BUT ST. MATTHEWS LEAVING FOR CAYMANS It’s getting so you can’t tell the offshore med schools in Belize without a program. Two small offshore schools have opened, but Belize’s largest med school, St. Matthews University, is packing up and moving to the Cayman Islands. The school, which has about 180 students in San Pedro, graduated its first class last year. The Medical University of the Americas began operation in mid-January with 35 students in residence on it temporary campus in San Pedro at the Belize Yacht Club. If students in clinical rotation are included, the school has 75 students. Some of the faculty are former St. Matthews University staff. Grace University School of Medicine, formerly of St. Kitts/Nevis, has moved to Belmopan. A fourth school, Belize Medical School, remains in Belize City.
NEW AND DIFFERENT:
* The Fountain Blue Hotel in San Pedro, which just opened late last summer, has closed. The suites hotel was controversial when it was being built by a local businessman, San Pedro Hardware owner Simon Harmouch. Originally set for four stories, which would have made it a story higher than any other building on the island, a permit for the top story was denied by the town council. The hotel opened to mostly positive reviews for its attractive, though not overly large suites, pool and convenient setting. Then, just six months later, it closed, reportedly in foreclosure, and more controversy swirls around its financing and the use of associated tax concessions.
* Ambergris and Caulker water taxis may be moving to the new Fort Point Tourist Village from the Marine Terminal, according to sources in Belize City. The Tourist Village, developed by the well-connected Michael Feinstein group, which also operates Black Bird Caye Resort, Royal Mayan Spa and other businesses, has about 45 stores and shops. It targets cruise ship passengers but has been closed at times when there are no ships in port.
* A new budget hotel, Chateau Giselle, opened March 1 in Caye Caulker.
* The troubled timeshare development, Basil Jones Club, may open later this year under the name Cabana Reef.
YOU CAN’T WORK WITHOUT NEW BELIZE SOCIAL SECURITY CARD As of April 1, 2002, it is illegal to hire or employ anyone without a valid new Social Security card. Non-citizens will not be able to get a Social Security card unless they have proof of legal status, such as a permanent residency card, temporary work permit or naturalization certificate.
SALE OF PASSPORTS DISCONTINUED After years of controversy under both the PUP and UDP administrations, the economic citizenship, AKA buy-a-passport, program has been halted as of January 15. Applications still in the pipeline will be processed, but no new applications are being accepted. The Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Act program, designed to attract retirees aged 45 and over to live in Belize, continues and is not affected by the discontinuation of the economic citizenship plan.
GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATIZE 'FOUR Ps' -- PORTS, PRISON, PRINTING AND POST OFFICE Belize ports, prisons, printing department and post office soon will be in private hands, if plans announced by the government materialize. Already, electricity, water and telephone services have been privatized.
PLACENCIA RECOVERY ON TRACK Most of the debris from Hurricane Iris has been removed, and the peninsula has water and electricity again, although some land telephones still are not working. Nearly all the hotels and restaurants north of Placencia village have reopened, as have many in Placencia village.
Still, with many businesses having little or no insurance to pay for rebuilding, full recovery is likely to take many more months. Placencia and Seine Bight villages are still badly beaten up. The famed sidewalk through Placencia village, for example, has yet to be rebuilt. Few tourists are venturing to the peninsula, and hotel occupancies in most cases have been low since the hurricane.
Belize news round-up provided courtesy of Lan Sluder, Belize First, www.belizefirst.com