Roundup of News and Opinion about Belize and the Caribbean Coast



SETTLEMENT MAY BE NEAR ON GUATEMALA-BELIZE TERRITORY DISPUTE Reports are that a final agreement may be reached soon in the old dispute between Guatemala and Belize regarding Guatemalan territorial claims. The settlement could involve a land swap and a national referendum in each country. Details are still secret pending a final agreement.

TOURISTS ROBBED IN CAYO AND BELIZE CITY In mid-May, tourists were victims of at least two criminal incidents. At El Pilar, the Maya site near Bullet Tree Falls, ten visitors were approached by a gang of six armed men who took close to US$6,000 from the tourists. No one was injured. The gang is believed to be made up of Guatemalans. In Belize City, two Texans staying at a Belize City guesthouse were approached on Eve Street at around 2 in the morning by a young man on a bicycle who demanded money. When the Texans refused, the bicyclist pulled a handgun and fired at the ground. The shot ricocheted and hit one of visitors, identified as Scott Williams, 21, in the head. Williams was taken to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital, where he was treated and released the next day.

NEW PHONE BOOK PUBLISHED The 2002 Belize telephone book, delayed so that new seven-digit numbers introduced May 1 could be included, has now been published by Belize Telecommunications Ltd. A new feature is a section of e-mail addresses.

SANDY BEACH LODGE NEARLY DESTROYED BY FIRE Sandy Beach Lodge in Hopkins was severely damaged by a fire in mid-May. Damage to the thach cabañas was estimated at US$40,000. The lodge is operated by a women's cooperative in Hopkins.

SOME WATER TAXIS TO CAYES NOW LEAVE FROM TOURIST VILLAGE Travelers to San Pedro and Caye Caulker now have two options for water taxis. Several operators previously leaving from a variety of points in Belize City have banded together as the Tourism Village Water Taxi Association, with their boats leaving from the Fort Point Tourist Village in the Fort George area where cruise ship passengers are brought in on tenders. The Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association boats to San Pedro and Caye Caulker still leave from the Marine Terminal near the Swing Bridge.

BENQUE BUS FARE PROTESTERS SHOT BY POLICE In April more than a hundred 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 -- allegedly 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.

NOTED 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 boating accident. Returning to the lodge late at night, Gentry's boat hit a dredge, which reportedly was unlit. BELIZE FIRST extends all sympathies on this tragic loss.

TWO CORO MEN KILLED 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. 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 suspect the murders have a drug connection.

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%. In another positive sign, American Airlines announced that this summer it would add a second daily flight to Belize from Miami. 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.

USAIR TO BEGIN CHARLOTTE-BELIZE SERVICE USAir, a troubled carrier that has been trying to avoid bankruptcy, 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 AA 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.

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. The cruise ship business in Belize is no longer seasonal. Cruise ships are docking at Belize's City year round with more than 200 expected to call on Belize during 2002.

Lan Sluder/Belize First