Today's Belize News: June 30, 2016 - 06/30/16 11:48 AM
The news will be a bit brief for the next week or so due to time constraints
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, Rise and Shine Morning Show, and the Dickie Bradley Specials
Belizean Olympiad Representative, Katy Sealy visits Ambergris Caye
Belizean athlete Katy Sealy took a well -deserved break on La Isla Bonita after competing alongside 21 other Belizean athletes at the 17th Central American Championships in Athletics held in San Salvador, El Salvador. The tournament took place from June 17th through June 19th, where Sealy performed exceptionally, capturing gold for Belize in the heptathlon division. As a result, she and her Belizean colleague Brandon Jones will be representing the Jewel at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil to be held from the 5th to the 21st of August. Sealy is from England but her father is from Belize’s southern district, Stann Creek. He lived for some time in the valley community of Pomona before moving to England, where he met Katy’s mother. However, Sealy has decided to represent Belize in her sporting career for the sole love of her heritage and Belize.
Area Rep awards outstanding students
On Friday, June 24th, Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation and Area Representative of Belize Rural South, Manuel Heredia Jr. acknowledged three students for their outstanding academic achievements. Minister Heredia hosted a small ceremony at the Belize Tourism Board, San Pedro Branch to honor Rachel Alamilla of San Pedro Roman Catholic School, Rafael Marin of Caye Caulker Roman Catholic School, and Rowan Garel. Both Alamilla and Marin were the top scorers in the Primary School Examination (PSE), while Garel is a visually impaired youth challenging the stigma of his disability. Minister Heredia presented Alamilla and Rafael with certificates, along with a $500 check to assist them in their high school expenses. As for Garel, Heredia awarded him with a $10,000 scholarship to further his education at Drew University in the United States. Receiving the grant was his sister Aesha, as Garel is presently in New Jersey, USA with his mother, Milagro, to get familiarized with the campus of his new school. Garel is the first blind person to dive the Blue Hole and climb Victoria Peak as well. He also walked 90 miles to raise funds for the Belize Council for the Visually Impaired. Despite being visually impaired, his vision of his future is bright through his efforts and determination.
International Costa Maya Festival Presents: Miss Panama
This week we present to you the lovely Miss Panama, Margareth Villanueva, as she joins the roster of beauties vying for the title of Miss Costa Maya International 2016. Model, entrepreneur, writer and Panamanian philanthropic, the 22-year-old has determination and conviction to achieve whatever goals she proposes. A model from the age of 15, Margareth has done campaigns, commercials and walkways with some of the best brands in Panama. She is also one of the official candidates for Miss Panama 2017. Her enthusiasm, love and joy for life are contagious. A volunteer at heart, Margareth began to give of her time and efforts from an early age. In 2014, she began her own movement focused on socio-environmental aid, drawing in youth to join her in activities that promote goodwill.
Saga receives generous donation from SPTC
On Friday, June 24th, the San Pedro Town Council (SPTC), and Mayor Daniel Guerrero made a major donation to the Saga Humane Society. On behalf of Area Rep Manuel Heredia Jr., Mayor Guerrero announced the donation of a red carry-all golf cart with a year of free licensing, two lots in North Ambergris Caye, along with two months’ rent at their current location at Sea Star Street. The donation was given to assist Saga in furthering their work in the community. Not only is the golf cart much needed by Saga, but the extended trunk is convenient when transporting animals. During the presentation, Mayor Guerrero spoke of his positive relationship with Saga since taking on his role of Mayor in 2012. He also recalled the excessive number of stray animals that led to an unfortunate eradication in Ambergris Caye. “After that wakeup call, I gave my 100 percent support towards the team at Saga Humane Society. With support from Health Inspector Horris Patton, and as long as I am Mayor, there will be no eradication here in San Pedro,” said Mayor Guerrero.
International Attention Focused on Vulnerability of Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System
A World Heritage Committee draft decision released on the 10th of June by UNESCO signaled a possible decision to retain Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System on the List of World Heritage in Danger. Several deadlines to meet required indicators outlined by UNESCO in the Desired State of Conservation Report (DSOCR) have been missed despite the Government of Belize’s affirmation of its resolve in ensuring the continued protection of Belize’s Barrier Reef System and its seven World Heritage Sites in December 2015. The Committee’s Draft Decision notes, inter alia, that the announcement of an offshore oil ban in World Heritage Sites still needs to be translated into a legislative instrument and that the adequacy of the one-kilometer buffer zone needs revision to secure the protection of the property’s Outstanding Universal Value (OUV). The 21 member countries of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee will gather in Istanbul, Turkey in two weeks’ time to debate the status of some of the most extraordinary natural places on the planet, including our Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System. “If adopted by the World Heritage Committee next month, this decision would send a message that more needs to be done”, said WWF’s Reef Scientist and Climate Change Officer in Belize, Nadia Bood.
Misc Belizean Sources
BELIZE FISHING REPORT: Weeks of June 19th – June 25th, 2016
Good permit fishing despite some of the iffy weather. It was a small group at the lodge with just a few boats going out each day. Christa got the tarpon picture of the week with a tarpon flipping out of hers arms catching her totally by surprise and her face tells it all. Father son team Mike and Sean visited us from Connecticut to attempt some large migratory tarpon. Weather was not in their favor and ended up seeing some rolling fish but no bites. On another day they did manage to land a couple resident tarpon to help ease the pain!
June 2016 External Trade & Consumer Price Index, GDP, Labour Force Survey
Here are the Statistical Institute of Belize's most recent statistics, published today June 29th 2016: May 2016 External Trade, May 2016 Consumer Price Index, First Quarter 2016 Gross Domestic Product, April 2016 Labour Force Survey Findings. Belize imported goods valuing $175.3 million, representing an 8.2 percent or $13.3 million increase over the same month in 2015. More than a quarter of all purchases from abroad fell within the category of ‘Machinery and Transport Equipment’, which totaled $49 million. ‘Manufactured Goods and Other Manufactures’, valued at $32 million, accounted for almost one fifth of total imports for the month. Iin April 2016 there were a total of 146,918 employed persons in the country of Belize. This represented a considerable increase of 8,773 persons over April of 2015, when a total of 138,145 employed persons was recorded. The national unemployment rate stood at 8 percent, down 2 percentage points from April 2015, and was the first single digit unemployment rate recorded in almost a decade. The median monthly salary for employed persons was $1,192, almost unchanged from one year ago.
Paradise Theater playing this weekend:
The ticket sales and a donation pot will be donated to the San Pedro Fire Relief Fund to assist the families and business in the rebuilding process. Anyone wishing to donate directly can do so by contacting the San Pedro Lions Club. Equals, Green Room, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ronaldo.
Caye Caulker Tourism Plan
CCVC held a meeting today with ministry of tourism and civil aviation to discuss: Caye Caulker destination launch. Sustainable Tourism Product 2 and its benefits Present at the meeting were: Mr. Abel Castellano, Ms. Terry Wright, Ms. Juliet Neal for the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation, and members of the CCVC.
Caye Caulker craft market meeting
Our first meeting with BTB to improve area through: Craft market and possible tourism zone area/attraction that will include our fist Caye Caulker welcome center/information center/ museum! More details to come!
We will donate $10 to the fire relief programs for every person that comes to paint tomorrow. Please sign up at www.paintnsplash.com under the events tab.
Humphrey Fellowship Competition
The U.S. Embassy is accepting applications for the the 2017 Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship program, which would allow people to train in the U.S. The deadline is August 15th. . "The Humphrey Fellowship Program is for experienced professionals interested in strengthening their leadership skills through a mutual exchange of knowledge and understanding about issues of common concern in the U.S. and Fellows’ home countries. As a non-degree program, the Fellowship offers valuable opportunities for professional development through selected university courses, attending conferences, networking, and practical work experiences. During the year, Fellows pursue both their individual program goals and work closely with their Humphrey colleagues in workshops and seminars. Unlike a typical graduate school experience, the Program encourages Fellows to travel away from their host campus to learn more about American culture and to network with their American peers. If you are interested in broadening your perspectives and becoming a global leader, the Humphrey Fellowship is for you.
Sargent Pepper's Grand Opening
Sargent Pepper's had their grand opening on Sunday the 26th. Mayor Trapp was there to help with the ribbon cutting. "On behalf of Sargent Pepper's Management and Staff, we want to thank all our invited guests, our businnes suppliers, family and friends who attended this historical moment for our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Grand Opening Event! An even more special and heart felt warm thank you goes out to our customers who has been supporting us from day one to present! And all those who came out yesterday thank you all! We are committed in serving you!"
Climate Change Video Competition
The NCCO is doing its first Climate Change Youth Video Competition. If you are between 18 and 30, and are doing something to combat climate change, you can enter the competition. Go for the gold! "The National Climate Change Office (NCCO) is embarking on its First National Climate Change Youth Video Competition. This competition will allow Belizean youths the opportunity to showcase ways in which they are implementing concrete actions in their communities to address Climate Change. Youths between the ages of 18-30 are eligible for entrance into the competition.
The BTL Bill?: Half Billion
458 million dollars – nearly half a billion dollars – that's how much the government of Belize will end up paying the Ashcroft Alliance for BTL. The full decision from the Permanent Council on Arbitration came down yesterday. In early May, the preliminary findings were made public and it showed that the shares were valued at five dollars sixty five cents each. That brought the total figure owing to the Ashcroft Alliance to 258 million dollars – which was bad enough, but the final decision adds eight years interest at a bruising 8% per annum. In total it's another 200 million Belize dollars in interest alone - bringing the total to a staggering 458 million dollars. Today at a press conference, the Prime Minister outlined the figures – and he didn't shrink from it. Surprisingly, he said, government is still coming out ahead! Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister: The picture looks to be like this. Under costs to GOB I would list the shares at US 128 million. The interest at 99 US million, the arbitration cost awarded by the panel of US 2.2 million for a total of 229 US or 458.4 million Belize. Under benefits to GOB I would list the share value at 5 dollars as opposed to what we paid for just the shares minus accommodation agreement alone. So I would total that as 226 million dollars. I would list the savings of the accommodations on the accommodation agreement; and I set out for you earlier what we were losing, I would list that at 202 million dollars. I would calculate the consumer savings arrived at by way of the lower nationalised BTL charges and service enhancements at 140 million by 20 million per year; dividends and taxes to date 106 million dollars, dividends forecast over the next 10 years is Belize 100 million, for a total of 774 million. Some of you might want to quarrel with my figures but even if I grant you a concession here and there; 774 minus whatever is certainly far greater 458.4 which is what we are paying now. That is why we feel utterly vindicated by the conclusion now of this long saga.
PM Blames Musa for 60% Of Share Cost
And now, those "people of Belize" – have a very big bill to foot – and they have to pay the first half of what's outstanding in 10 days. That's 190 million dollars – and we'll tell you how government plans to do that shortly. But, back to today's press conference, where the Prime Minister deflected blame for the entire bill – and said at least 60% of it has to be blamed on his predecessor Said Musa. He's the one who signed the unlawful accommodation agreement which was what led to the BTL takeover. The accommodation agreement constitutes 60% of the share value – so it's more than half of the 258 million that has to be paid for the shares. But, there's also an upside to it because it can be paid in Belize dollars – and the proceeds are supposed to go for social purposes. The PM explained, while taking serious swipes at Right Honourable Musa:
Staggering Cost Of Interest Doesn't Faze PM
And while he can blame the accommodation agreement on the former Prime Minister, the 200 million dollars in interest payments is all on Mr. Barrow. Coming up shortly you'll hear COLA's attorney argue why the interest never had to go so high, but first, the Prime Minister went deep into the spin cycle when he said that even with that 198 million bill – he feels Government still came out ahead:.. Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister: "The arbitration panel awarded 8.3% interest with the interest as I indicated also being split 40% for the acquisition of the shares and 60% for the accommodation agreement. Total interest in therefore by my calculation 198.2 million Belize Dollars. The bottom line ladies and gentlemen is that while we would have wished a less onerous interest rate from the tribunal; 8.3%, we can't really complain given how well we did in the actual share price award. So that especially in view of what we were able to accomplish in rescuing the accommodation agreement position, government has no regrets. We consider the nationalisation by any measure to have been absolutely in the best interest of Belize and GOB stands as strongly as ever by its decision."
Government Paper To Pay Ashcroft Alliance
As we mentioned earlier, half of the award has to be paid within 10 days. Subtracting 65 million dollars that has already been paid, the outstanding figure is 380 million dollars. So, that means half – 190 million dollars has to be paid by the end of next week. That's not easy for government to come up with in a few days – and the Prime Minister explained how they will scrape up the money:… Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister: "Half of the totality of the award is payable within 10 business days with 60% being in Belize currency and 40% in US. The second half of the award will be payable a year from now. Very simply we believe we will have no difficulty especially in view of the excess liquidity in the financial system; getting all the money locally by way of issue of government paper, bills and notes. And the 40% that has to be converted into US and send abroad will also be fairly comfortably covered by Central Bank reserves." And apart from the strain on the reserves, this substantial additional debt will cause Belize's debt load to balloon, likely sending the debt to GDP ratio into the 90% range, which is the red zone. It will also cause a spike in the fiscal deficit as a percentage of GDP.
COLA's PUP Attorney Says GOB Didn't Have To Pay
The activist group, COLA, brought in their politician attorney and asked him to interpret the arbitration judgement. He says that the Barrow Administration chose to fight an extensive legal battle dragged out over years, and costing hundreds of millions of dollars, only to retract their defense before this international arbitration tribunal. For COLA and their attorney, they see all that time and money spent in court as especially wasteful, since – in their opinion - the Prime Minister as an attorney – should have known better. They explained that today an impromptu press briefing: Geovannie Brackett - President, COLA: "What we've been saying is that we felt from the very get go that if the government had been more strategic in taking over BTL and if they had just settle from the time that they had the time to settle as you will hear our attorney will explain that the government could have settled this matter a long time ago; rather than dragging this through the mud and dropping it at the mercy of the tribunal."
17 Year Old Female Found Slain In Mahogany Heights
There's another Mahogany Heights murder to report tonight, but this time the victim is a 17 year old girl. Jasmine Petillo was last seen yesterday evening. She was hanging out with a group of friends and left at 4:00. That's the last time they saw her alive because this morning, they woke up to find her half nude body wrapped in a blood soaked quilt. Today we travelled to Mahogany heights to get more answers in this frightening case. It's in her cousin's small bedroom that Jasmine would have her rehearsals. She would plug in her microphone in this sound system and sing the new song she had composed for her aunt's birthday. Jasmine was here on Monday practicing with her other marching band members.
Family Calls Out For Jasmine
And late this evening we also got to speak with Jasmine's grandmother and aunt in Belize City. Her grandmother took care of her and raised her as a child but it is only recently that Jasmine left to go live with her mother in Mahogany Heights. Today Jasmine's family told us what they suspect could have happened and expressed how broken the family will be now without their Jasmine. Judith Petillo - Grandmother of Deceased: "Whatever they do to my granddaughter, who ever do it God no the sleep; da man up there see whe di happen and always he will know what to do. Now you can't think about justice because that you no wa get you understand me so you put everything inna god's hand mommy. Da mi granddaughter, I wa miss ah because then she always say gran when you get sick I will mind you, I will take care of you and now mi granddaughter no wa di deh to mind me again you understand me. I miss mi granddaughter so bad and ih just happen but I feel it to mi heart, I can't take it, I just can't take it miss. She mi have a lee dispute at Mahogany Height I hear with some people and ih mi had a lee case thing and they mi crowd ah, 3 of them crowd ah and they jump ah and self-defence but she help ihself, she mi do they something and we no know if that da the payback for what they do to ah or da something else whe mi happen long time I mi hear da Mahogany Heights because all kind of things happen da Mahogany Heights."
Human Traffic: Coyotes Caught
2 Belizeans and a group of 18 Salvadorans are facing major illegal entry and human smuggling charges. Police intercepted Belizean driver Anival Alvarenga in a van near crooked tree. When they searched the vehicle they found the 18 Salvadorans jammed in the van. Today police told us more about the 2 angles they are considering in this case. ACP Edward Broaster - OC, Eastern Division Rural: "Also last evening at about 8 o'clock we intercepted one grey van from Cayo district that had in 18 Salvadorians and 2 Belizeans who were transporting them north. This interception happened between Ladyville and Gardenia. We have managed to confiscate the van and arrested the 2 coyotes who were taking the Salvadorians to the north. We have our assistant superintendent Juanito Cocom presently in Salvador at this time so he'll be making checks to see whether or not any of these individuals are wanted or have any affiliation to the Mara Salvatrucha in Salvador."
PM Says Sarstoon Situation Normalised
Last week Friday, we took you to the Sarstoon River three days after the most recent round of Washington talks. Both sides were locked in meetings for more than 5 hours. Coming out of it was the very vague undertaking that both sides had agreed to, quote, "best practices for the de-escalation of tensions in the Sarstoon River." And we witnessed what may have been that de-escalation on Friday when our news team was not harassed by the Guatemalan Navy. That appears to lend credibility that there was modest success in Washington, since Guatemala was still blocking Belizeans, days after the Istanbul Talks. Today, the Prime Minister was asked to clarify what is the latest understanding on Belizean's free use of the River.: Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister: "We cannot be satisfied until we get that so call cooperation, Sarstoon cooperation mechanism in writing. And I believe that the efforts to do just that are fully underway, ambassadors Rosado from our side and Roldan from the Guatemalan side are to take the first stab at reducing what has been discussed to writing with a view to producing this protocol. In the meantime, it was my expectation after the OAS meeting, last OAS meeting."
GOB Waiting For Sarstoon Mechanism To Consider Changing Referendum Law
The media also asked the Prime Minister if he was still willing to entertain the idea of changing Belize's referendum law from the 60% threshold, to just a simple majority. As we've shown you, Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington had advocated for it. The PUPs Leader's former Representative, Assad Shoman, with his considerable knowledge and experience in Belize Guatemalan relations, agreed with him. The Prime Minister said that he still continues to see merit in changing the referendum law, but he's not prepared to do so while the uncertainty over a Sarstoon Protocol remains. Here's how he explained why: Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister: "We certainly have the intention of amending the referendum act to remove that high threshold. I believe the foreign minister has indicated that the international community in particular the group of friends who's been so forth coming in helping to fund the OAS office in the adjacency zone and the OAS presence in Belize; that group is getting a little bit impatient. They feel that not enough progress is being made in respect to the referendum and try as we might in telling them it's not our fault we are ready to go just about whenever. They do point to the fact of us this high what they view as abnormal threshold in terms of our law; it is their feeling that would make it next to impossible or that any vote on that basis would not be a fair vote in terms of the internationally accepted standards."