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Last night's TV news on Channel 7, Channel 5, LOVETV, PGTV, West Vision (Cayo) and CTV 3. Also with the most recent Open Your Eyes, and other specials
The San Pedro Sun
Belize’s Queen of Brukdown ‘Leela’ Vernon passes away
Belize’s Ambassador for Creole Culture and Brukdown Queen, Lila ‘Leela’ Vernon passed away on Sunday, February 19th at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City. The cultural icon had been hospitalized at the Intense Care Unit since February 10th, where she was receiving treatment for chronic renal failure. Vernon was 66 years old. Her passing away leaves behind a rich legacy of empowering music celebrating the Creole culture at its highest level.
Vernon was a Punta Gorda-born singer who greatly impacted the Creole culture of Belize. She gained local and international recognition for her popular song, ‘Ah Wah know who seh Kriol Nuh Gat no Culcha.’ She was also the vice-president and founder of the National Kriol Council, and even translated the Belize National Anthem into creole. Her music became synonymous with the celebration of Belizean and Creole cultural identity.
Senior Mechanical Engineer Averaldo Badillo recognized for 30 years of service at Tropic Air
Averaldo Badillo is the Senior Mechanical Engineer at Tropic Air Limited, and on Monday, February 20th, he was honored for THIRTY years of service to the airline. ‘Picho’, as he is affectionately known, has been with Tropic Air since 1987. Over three decades of work, has gained the trust and admiration of his employers.
“The thing I like the most about Picho is that he looks at a problem from three dimensions,” said John Greif III, President of Tropic Air. “While you and I may look at it two-dimensionally, he looks at the issue but is already crafting a solution.” Steve Schulte, CEO, chimed in. “Picho animates mechanical things. They aren’t just objects – they are alive to him, and he wants to fix it.”
Both Greif and Schulte shared tales of Badillo’s legendary problem-solving skills. From figuring out how to revamp air ducts in Cessna Caravans, to building air stairs that are now used throughout Central America, all over Belize and even Mexico – all from a simple blueprint, he has managed to become an invaluable asset to Tropic Air. Apparently, the only time that parts end up in the trash is when Picho can’t fix or use them!
Tiger Sharks suffer their first loss in the 2017 NEBL season
The San Pedro Tiger Sharks experienced their first loss in the National Elite Basketball League (NEBL) season on Friday, February 17th against Dangriga Dream Ballers. The island boys travelled to the cultural capital of Dangriga in southern Belize, where after four quarters of intense battle against the home team, they fell short by five points, giving way to the Dream Ballers’ victory 57-52. Other games that took place over the weekend included Belize City No Limit against Smart Belize Hurricanes. The two Belize City based teams clashed in an action packed game on Saturday, February 18th at the Belize Elementary Gym. The Smart Belize Hurricanes started by dominating the match, but not for too long. At the end of an intense game, Belize City No Limit walked away with the victory in a final score of 75-70.
Saga assists in the rescue of injured ocelot
Saga Humane Society was recently made aware that an ocelot had been seen wearing an apparent collar and dragging its hind legs north of San Pedro Town. Saga was unsuccessful in capturing the wounded animal, as the wild cat escaped to the nearest mangroves whenever it was approached. However, on Monday, February 20th, it was captured by Norman Gutierrez and Gaspar Alcoser, and Justin Romsa transported it to Saga’s clinic for veterinary care.
Saga’s Veterinarian Assistant Ingrid Lima gave the ocelot a thorough exam before it was stabilized. Dr. Isabelle Paquet-Durand, who is the CEO and founder of the Belize Wildlife & Referral Clinic, was then contacted and arrangements were made with Tropic Air to fly the wild cat to the mainland.
Sargassum is BACK, Clean Efforts Pick Up
The nasty, smelly and unsightly sargassum is back! You can smell it in the air while walking through town and its blocking our beaches once again. Will the problematic sargassum wash ashore in abundance like it did last year? No one knows for sure, but we know that there is a lot of clean up ahead.
Islanders are once again pulling out the rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows and heading to the beach to clean up. It's an arduous task, but if left untouched it becomes an even bigger problem. Let’s hope it’s not as bad as 2016!!!
Two Men Fined $10,000 for Illegal Entry into the Mayflower Bocawina National Park Protected Area
Carlos Palacios (35 years) and Donald Wewe (47 years) both pleaded guilty to illegal entry into a protected area in the Dangriga Magistrate court on February 20th, 2017. The men were charged under the National Protected Areas System Act of 2015 and were fined $10,000 each. Failure to make payment will result in a 1-year imprisonment. Authorities found the two men during a routine patrol within the Mayflower Bocawina National Park, Stann Creek District in April 2016. They were found in possession of twenty-seven (27) pieces of prickly-yellow lumber and a chain saw.
The Mayflower Bocawina National Park spreads over 7,800 acres of broadleaf forest and contains Mayan archaeological sites, three primary waterfalls and is home to a variety of wildlife species; however, it is fast becoming a hotspot for illegal logging operations and looting. Recognizing that the complexity of illegal logging and illegal timber-trafficking requires greater collaboration of all stakeholders, the Forest Department officers and rangers of the Mayflower Bocawina Environment and Development Group have stepped up patrols and monitoring to stem the illegal forestry activities in this area. Over the next months, the Forest Department will increase the number of rangers and patrols, improve collaboration with co-managers and join law enforcement officers in setting-up road blocks and inspection points at strategic areas.
Misc Belizean Sources
January 2017 Trade & Consumer Price Index
The latest figures released by the Statistical Institute of Belize show that, on average, the prices of goods and services purchased by Belizean Households were 0.9 percent higher in January 2017 than they were in January of 2016. The All-Items consumer price index stood at 104.1, an increase from 103.2 in January 2016.
During the month of January 2017, Belize’s total imports were valued at $141.1 million, rising by 7.7 percent or $10.1 million when compared to almost $131 million imported in January 2016.
The start of the year saw increased imports across most categories, with goods destined for the ‘Commercial Free Zones’ recording the largest growth at $5.6 million. While this upswing was mainly the result of heightened purchases of cigarettes, greater importation of books, plastic crates and prefabricated buildings led to a $3 million rise in the ‘Other Manufactures’ category. Notably, the year began with an upsurge in world market prices for fuel, and despite seeing only a moderate increase in the quantity of regular fuel imported, Belize spent considerably more in January 2017 than it did in January 2016 on this product.
MEXICAN AMBASSADOR AND TRANSPORT MINISTER MEET
Mexico’s Ambassador to Belize H. E. Carlos Quesnel met yesterday in Belmopan with Minister of Transport and National Emergency Management Hon. Edmond Castro.
The Minister and the Ambassador discussed opportunities for cross-border operations for motor carrier services between Belize and Mexico. A memorandum of understanding is being prepared and should be signed shortly to establish the framework under which such services will be provided.
Ambassador Quesnel described the meeting as “very productive”. Hon. Castro thanked him for the visit and says he is pleased with the deepening of the longstanding friendly relations between our two countries.
Western Ballaz Host Bandits
The Western Ballaz are hosting the Belmopan Bandits on Friday, February 24th. This is one of the big games this season. Go, Ballaz!
"You can't miss out on the game that we've all been waiting for. Your Cayo Western Ballaz will be going up against Belmopan Bandits this Friday at 9 p.m. Keep your ticket stubs for the half- time give away of a cellphone and other great prizes. See you this Friday at SHC's Auditorium. Let's go Ballaz!!!"
Phoenix & LA Sales Presentations 2017
The Belize Tourism Board Team conducting country presentations in Phoenix and Los Angeles!
US Embassy's Woman of the Year award
Do you know a Belizean woman who deserves recognition? Nominate her for the Embassy's Woman of the Year award!
International Women's Day and Women's History Month is in March. The Embassy will recognize an outstanding Belizean woman for her inspirational accomplishments and positive contributions to her communities.
We are pleased to announce the call for nominations for the "Woman of the Year 2017" contest.
Shark fishing is taking place again at Lighthouse Reef Atoll
We have been informed that shark fishing is taking place again at Lighthouse Reef Atoll and have been sent images of some of the landings. The shark fishers are refusing to vacate private land. We were informed that they hold shark fishing licenses and further hold the special Managed Access fishing licenses meant for long-time users and traditional fishers of Zone 7 / Lighthouse Reef Atoll.
One year ago exactly, fishers using nets and longlines killed an estimated 1,000+ sharks (per accounts of several occupants of Sandbore Caye in Lighthouse Reef). See our FB post from 21 February 2016 for details. We were informed that the shark meat and fins were exported to Guatemala. The impact of this fishing was substantial: dive operators and our annual scientific monitoring both registered a significant drop in records of sharks following the shark fisheries discovered in February 2016.
Belize was outraged that its long-lived marine wildlife that generates a conservative estimate of BZ$6.8 million in renewable income from protected area entrance fees and snorkel/dive tour costs from ONLY Lighthouse Reef Atoll should be fished unsustainably if at all. Belize is in a rare position worldwide of being able to benefit from sharks and rays for tourism and does not depend on these species for food.
Happy Birthday to Mayor Daniel Guerrero and his twin sister Dalinda Guerrero!
Before the night ends, the Staff and the San Pedro Town Council would like to wish a Happy Birthday to Mayor Daniel Guerrero and his twin sister Dalinda Guerrero! May God bless you always and fills you with great blessings.
Grand Raffle to benefit Lizette Alamina Gutierrez
Get your Numbers now to win this amazing Prize. $500 in retail purchases from Brand Shopping Wholesale...the home of your favorite Catalog Brands including Avon, Betterware and Tupperware..PLUS so much more!
Prize is a Donation. All proceeds and earnings will go to Lizette Alamina Gutierrez to continue her ongoing Cancer Treatments in Guatemala City. Your kind purchase will be most appreciated!!
Numbers go on Sale as of NOW!!
WWF Belize Saving our Shared Heritage!
This Thursday we get to spend the day with national treasure Rebecca Rath - Miss Belize 2016. How cool is that?!
Join us LIVE at 11:40am from Laughingbird Caye, one of the beautiful protected areas that make up our Belize World Heritage site, and coincidentally, very near to where Bex grew up.
Discover why these areas are so important and why we need your help to protect it.
Tune in and join us in taking action at panda.org/belize
Flock of Guinea Fowl at Belize Bird Rescue
There's a flock of Guinea Fowl living on the property. They can fly, but seem to prefer walking. They stay pretty close together, probably for security.
San Pedro House of Culture
"El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro" book
As part of this year's Carnaval Celebrations, the San Pedro House of Culture will launch "El Gran Carnaval de San Pedro" book. The book is dedicated to the memory of el Rey del Carnaval, Jose Felix Ayuso.
Sacred Heart College Career Day
Today the Institute of Archaeology was present at the Sacred Heart College Career Day, and we are confident we spotted some junior archaeologists in the group.
David Nanes, And the Art Of Working Over The Immigration System
David Nanes Schnitzer is in a Mexican City jail, awaiting trail on charges that he defrauded investors in a Ponzi scheme. He was caught in Mexico after coming over form Cuba, in a bearded disguise.
But, in Belize, a place that Nanes-Schnitzer is believed to have made his home for as many as three years, he needed no disguise. And that is because he - or his agents - worked the corrupt immigration system like a bag of tricks, coming up with one surprise after another.
Nanes-Schnitzer applied for nationality in late 2012 - what you might call the "bad old days" when the Immigrant Office in Belmopan was over-run by irregularities - the kinds that we hear about every week in the Senate Hearings. But this case never made it into the auditor general's report. But, there was a report, done by then Director Maria Marin. The media has now obtained this internal document which provides a compelling insight into how easily the system was hijacked to produce a passport for a fugitive:
Inquiry Says They Cannot Go After Nanes Case
Those two public officers, plus former Director Ruth Meighan, and a UDP Minister are all Nanes called in the internal report.
The Senate Select Committee can or have called these persons to testify. In fact, Gordon Wade was called back this evening, and we'll have more from him in tonight's newscast. But, the Committee Chairman says that he doesn't believe that the Committee can question them about the David Nanes Case.
That's because the Nanes scandal was never covered in the audit period of 2011 to 2013, and so, the Chairman believes that they aren't allowed to bring up that topic in these hearings. Here's how he explained why:
"Can you share your personal view on whether the committee is able to review cases that maybe outside the scope of the audit report but it demonstrates the same irregularities that the senate is trying to examine?"
A Casual Case Of Bribery At The Immigration Department
So, we turn now to the immigration hearings held by the Senate today in Belmopan. Teresita Castellanos, the former Finance Officer for the Department, was one of 2 witnesses called back to testify today.
Her time on the stand was spent mostly on administrative matters, but close to the end of it, the Senators asked her about a very curious case highlighted in the passport Audit. It involves a 500-dollar bribe which the former officer in charge of the passport office was allegedly given to process the Belizean passport for a Asian woman.
Now, instead of making a formal complaint and handing the money over to the police to investigate this bribery attempt. The Auditor General questions the decisions they took to instead collect the money and deposit it into the Government purse as regularly collected revenues.
So, since Castellanos was part of the courier for payment, the Senators asked her about, it. That topic caused an interesting back and forth between Castellanos and the Committee, which would have been comical, if they weren't talking so casually about a crime. Here's how that went:
More Cutting Corners In The Elections Rush
Another of the witnesses who came back today for a second round with the Senate Committee was Gordon Wade, formerly the Officer In Charge of Nationality at the Immigration Department.
PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay used that opportunity to get more information from him on that immigration rush heading up to the 2012 General Elections.
Wade and former Director Ruth Meighan have told the Senate the same thing, that the rush compromised the Nationality procedures when over 2,000 applications were processed before that Election. The Opposition is accusing the UDP of using that feverish activity to steal two marginal electoral seats: Cayo North East, and Cayo Central. When we asked the Prime Minister about it, he said that was nonsense, and so, Courtenay asked Wade more questions to explore what exactly happened during the last 4 months before the 2012 General Elections. Here's how that conversation went:
PUDP Both Play the Immigration Game
Our archives show that in January 2008, before the March General Elections, the Musa Administration swore in over a 1,000 new citizens, in a closed door session, just in time to meet the deadline to register to vote.
So while both sides of the political colour bar are guilty of the same thing, there is only one constant: and that is the misuse of the Immigration Department. Today, Gordon Wade confirmed as much to the Senate Select Committee today:
Gordon Wade - Former OIC, Nationality Section:
"Whatever year an audit would have been done in our department from a department when civilian - if any 2 years or 1 year would be chosen to run an audit we would be doing the same thing we are doing now with different people answering questions because that has been the norm ever since from I have been in the department that's the way it has been."
Eric and Patrick Will Be Required To Appear
But, one UDP who the Senate wants to question is former Deputy Mayor Eric Chang. He and Patrick Tillett, the former Financial Controller for the Belize City Council, are named in the scandal for involvement with 8 stolen visas.
Chang is also named in the Won Hong Kim Passport scandal, and both men are refusing to show up to answer questions from the Senate.
Well, it appears that both men will be compelled through the Legislative Assembly Powers and Privilege Act 1962. As we told you, this law allows the Committee to compel anyone, even private citizens to show up and give testimony. Today, Senate Committee Chairman Salazar told us how they will use it in this instance against both men:
Hon. Aldo Salazar - Chairman, Senate Select Committee:
"Yes we have as far as I understand issued the summons. I'm not sure if it's on today's date or yesterday but we have issued it."
And we have one more piece of Teresita Castellanos's testimony to the senate today. It's her condemnation of the way the Auditor General's team handled the audit, and she says, they made mistakes that they could have avoided. Here's how she explained it:
Teresita Castellanos - Former FO, Immigration Department:
"I need for them on the record to do a proper auditing. I think they should have sent in their best team, top team to do this investigation at the audit department because they are causing a lot of unnecessary confusion and wrong information and then I don't want to say I was not remembering because I remember things - certain things I remember in detail as if it was yesterday. But the thing is they should have sent in their top team to do this investigation."
Mother: Police Pepper Sprayed My Son
Tonight, Southside police are investigating a complaint of child abuse. This is after a cop pepper sprayed an 11 year old boy. Yesterday, we received a report that police were breaking up a fight within a group of boys. Anacelia Castillo of West Street told me that they pepper sprayed her son - even though he was not in the fight:
Anacelia Castillo - Mother:
"Like a little bit after yesterday evening, my baby came home on his bicycle, but when my baby reached home, like I notice my kids because in notice kids, I always notice my kids when they come home so when the little boy reached home, he said "mommy" …he didn't say Mommy, he said like Hmmm they chanced me, and I asked him who chanced him and he said it's the police and I said "What!"
"The least he could have done was spank my son and send home my son, he didn't need to spray pepper spray in my baby's eye, I need for Chester Williams to do something about him."
"But what you understand happened? Why would police pepper spray your 11 year old son?"
PUP and VIP come Together To Call For Re-Registration
A strange thing happened today: the PUP and the VIP issued a joint press release. Strange because the VIP is an independent party and it doesn't usually team up with the main mass parties. But they have a common cause, and that's re-registration.
The joint release says, quote, "leaders of the political parties inclusive of the PUP and the VIP met last week to call on the Government to comply with the rule of law and immediately begin the legally overdue re-registration of electors." Now, the PUP is as much a part of the overdue re-registraiton because they failed to do it when it first due in 2007. But now, it's a different issue. The release says, quote, "in light of the revelation that a number of persons were given fraudulent nationality certificates, which allowed these individuals to register and vote in elections in Belize…a proper re-registration exercise (is) the only way to ensure that future elections are free and fair. The leaders agreed that the current voter register is compromised and as a result illegal." End quote.
Are Your Prescriptions Hard To Fill? Here's Why
Recently, we've been hearing complaints that certain prescription drugs are scarce, and many have had to look over the border to find what they need. Well that is because the Ministry of Health is now enforcing strict standards for importation of pharmaceuticals across the board.
While this new system may cause major inconvenience to those who depend on the regular supply of pharmaceutical products, the Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin Manzanero told us via telephone today that these standards are for the publics own good.
Dr. Marvin Manzanero - Director of Health Services, MOH:
"There's not no real restriction in terms of medication once the medication meets the established requirements. As you will recall from last year in the middle of last year we faced a moratorium in terms of medications that can come into country or not which means all new medications coming into country would have to have a good manufacturing practice certificate or a certificate of analysis. This is across the board and if the new sender process that the government has sought to enforce that which means we want to be able to ensure to the public that whatever is coming into country is of good quality and it meets international standards."
SIB Says Exports went Up In January
The latest figures from the Statistical Institute of Belize show that exports in January of 2017 increased quite significantly, up 51.2 percent from January 2016. And most of it is thanks to sugar where earnings were up 10 million dollars compared to last year. The SIB reports that Belize's other major exports, banana, crude petroleum and marine products, also performed well in January. Banana sales shot up by $3 million dollars. but the news for citrus isn't quite so good. Citrus was the only major export to experience decreased earnings in January 2017, falling from $3.5 million to $1.6 million. The SIB says it is due to a drop in orange concentrate exports, but Citrus Products Chairman Doug Singh says it's a little more involved than that. He says, quote, "demand last year was high so we did not come into January with sufficient inventory for sale….Secondly, the damage caused by Hurricane Earl in August eliminated our first crop which would generally be processed in the last quarter of 2016 and sold in 2016-17."
GOB: Life Without Oil Revenue
And one part of the increased revenue from exports is an increase in sales of crude oil from $4.8 million to $7.8 million. That's a sharp increase, but it's because of world prices which are going up - it doesn't mean more oil is coming out of the ground. The SIB notes that the export volumes in January 2017 remained virtually unchanged from January 2016.
So while there is an increase in revenue, the oil resource continues to diminish as the Mike Usher oil wells in Spanish Lookout are drying out. According to Dr. Justin Ram of the CDB, that is a big part of Belize's economic downturn, and the cocktail of crippling debt with revenue downturns:
Dr. Justin Ram - Director of Economics, CDB:
"We know that the government now is experiencing fiscal difficulties and a big part of that as they have rightly seen, is that their debt burden, about 34% of their debt burden is related to the super bond, and, of course, there is some requirement to look at how you're going to repay that."
City Paving Starts In Earnest
And a different kind of oil, known as bitumen, or tar, was going down today in the Belama Phase four area. It's the ongoing testing of new equipment acquired for the city council as part of the municipal drainage project. 10 days ago, we showed you the city council putting down the first layer of asphalt on Link road. Today, as they put down the final layer, two city councillors were beaming about the promise contained in their first success:…
Phillip Willoughby - City Councillor:
"We are doing the second coat to seal what we coated last week, so this is the first street since about I believe late 80s early 90s I believe the city council has paved its first street and it's a momentous occasion, it's historic. With that in mind we say again this is what the Belize City residence has to look forward to as we embark on tackling one street at a time."
"What I don't understand, you all are going two directions at one because the mayor he believes only in concrete streets but now you all are doing what I guess would be called chip and seal. So I'm not understanding what really is the direction of the council?"
"Well it's two fold. Those heavily traversed streets will be concreted to give us longer usage and longer life."
Valentin's Drinking Session Leads To Morgue For Husband, Court For Wife
On Valentine's Day, Eric Moses and his common-law-wife, Genevia Estrada were drinking at their Victoria Street home, where Estrada allegedly pushed him down the stairway. Estrada was detained, and Moses was taken to the KHMH to receive treatment for his traumatic head injuries.
Estrada appeared in the Magistrate's Court last week, where she was read a charge for the offense of dangerous harm. She was granted bail of $2000 despite objection from the prosecutor, and the case was adjourned for May. However, it seems that those charges will need to be upgraded, because last night, Moses succumbed to his injuries at the KHMH.
Estrada has been detained and is expected to be brought back to court tomorrow, to be read a new charge of manslaughter.
Water Sports Enterprise Ready For Liftoff
Some time ago the Belize city council erected two wooden structures on Sandlighters' Promenade. They were for an eco project that never materialized and the two structures fell into disrepair and were abandoned. But now the project has been fully re-activated, it’s conceptualized a water theme park with wake boarding, and a high rope obstacle course among other fun water sports. We spoke to the developer about the project and what it means for city residents:…
The department of the Environment has green-lighted the project. The developer says that there will not be any major re-structuring to the area.
The budget is 2.2 million dollars and if you would like to learn more you can attend a meeting tomorrow night at 6:00 pm at the Sandlighters Promenade.
Finding The Grace Notes
Grace Kennedy is one of Belize's largest import and export businesses. 2017 marks the company's 35th year operating in Belize, so today Grace's executives held a press conference to review it's strides so far, and to discuss what's next. Grace Kennedy Belize's Executive Chairman, Gilroy Graham told us more...
This year also marks the Jamaican company's 95th year in business.