News and Opinion Blog about Belize and the Caribbean Coast
LATE NEWS OF BELIZE AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST
By Lan Sluder
21 September 2014
FODOR'S SELECTS CAYO ESPANTO AS ONE OF 100 TOP HOTELS IN WORLD Cayo Espanto, a deluxe private island retreat near Ambergris Caye, was selected by Fodor's as one of the Top 100 Hotels in the World. It was named in the all-inclusive category. BELIZE FIRST Editor Lan Sluder, who also authors Fodor's Belize guidebook, recently revisited Cayo Espanto and reviewed it for Fodor's. To see the Fodor's photos and review of Cayo Espanto, which has only seven villas, click HERE. (September 21, 2014)
TRIP ADVISOR NAMES HAMANASI #2 HOTEL IN WORLD FOR SERVICE TripAdvisor has named Hamanasi Adventure and Dive Resort in Hopkins as the #2 hotel in the world for exceptional service, based on member input. Hamanasi was listed second in the world in TripAdvisor's 2014 Travelers' Choice Awards for Exceptional Service. Riad Kheirredine in Marrahech, Morocco was named #1. (May 15, 2014)
FUEL PRICES EDGE UP The government announced small increases in the cost of diesel and some gasoline. The price of regular petrol increased by 28 Belize cents a gallon to BZ$11.56 (about US$5.78) while diesel increased by 2 Belize cents to BZ$10.41 (about US$5.21). Premium or super prices were unchanged at BZ$11.67 (US$5.84). Fuel in Belize is sold in U.S. gallons. Prices vary slightly around the country, usually being higher on the cayes and in Toledo.. (April 16, 2014)
BETEX COMING BETEX, the largest tourism show in Belize, organized by the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA), will be held in Belize City from May 7-12, 2014. Herbert Haylock, president of the BTIA, notes that the first BETEX event was presented in 1996 and since then has taken place every two years. In recent years, it has attracted around 350 local and international tourism professionals and press representatives. The travel show is a business to business event that showcases Belize’s travel destinations, hotels, tour operators and other tourism service providers. BTIA members can exhibit at a cost of US$1,000 and up. (April 14, 2014)
ESQUIVEL-FRAMPTON RESIGNS AS BTB DIRECTOR; REVOLVING DOORS AT TOURISM MINISTRY Laura Esquivel-Frampton has resigned "for personal reasons" as director of the Belize Tourism Board. Since Manuel Heredia was appointed Minister of Tourism in 2008, it's been hard to follow the game without a scorecard. Esquivel-Frampton has been tourism director for less than two years. She replaced Seleni Matus, who also served for only about two years. There also have been several changes in the Ministry's CEO post. Current Director of Revenue Collections and Registrar of Hotels Javier Paredez will serve as interim director. Despite the revolving door at the Ministry of Tourism, Belize has seen increases in tourism, and many hotels are enjoying higher occupancy levels. (March 13, 2014)
FYFFES AND CHIQUITA TO MERGE, CREATING WORLD'S LARGEST BANANA PRODUCER; IMPACT ON BELIZE UNKNOWN
GUATEMALANS HELD UP BY ARMED GUNMEN ON MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE ROAD A Guatemalan businessman reported to police that around 9 am on Saturday, February 18, he and an associate were driving on the Mountain Pine Ridge Road (aka Georgeville Road or Chiquibul Road) toward Barton Creek when he was stopped by two men armed with shotguns. They robbed him of about BZ$4,000 plus around 500 quetzales (about US$65). Observers speculated that if the cash were for a payroll or purchase that this could have been an inside job by someone who knew he was due on the road with a sizeable amount of cash. Police are investigating. (February 25, 2014)
TRIPADVISOR NAMES AMBERGRIS CAYE 'BEST ISLAND IN WORLD' FOR SECOND YEAR IN ROW Readers of the high-traffic website TripAdvisor.com voted Ambergris Caye as the "Best Island in the World." This is the second year in a row the island has won the award. TripAdvisor said in part, "For the second year in a row, Ambergris Caye takes top honors. The beautiful Belize island offers the perfect blend of modern development and laid-back tranquility." (February 21, 2014)
CENTRAL AMERICA SEES ONLY MODEST GROWTH IN EUROPEAN TRAVELERS IN 2013; BRITS SHUN BELIZE About 648,000 Europeans visited Central America from January through September, according to data from the Central America Tourism Agency as reported by a UK magazine, Incentive Travel & Corporate Meetings.That was a modest increase of 1% from the same period a year earlier. Travelers from Spain were the #1 source of European visitors, followed by Germany, the U.K., France and Italy. Costa Rica was the first choice of Euro travelers in Central America, with Panama seeing the greatest growth (14%) in European visitors. Europeans made up about 7% of all 9.4 million international visitors to Central America during the nine-month period in 2013. Even though Belize is the only country in Central America with English as the official language, it was next to last in the number of visitors from the U.K. British travelers chose Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama as their top destinations. Costa Rica had about 28,000 U.K. visitors. In Central America, only El Salvador got fewer British visitors than Belize, about 1,700 versus around 7,000 Brits coming to Belize. (February 5, 2014)
TROPIC AIR PLANS NEW SERVICE TO MERIDA, MEXICO Tropic Air announced that it will inaugurate non-stop service between Belize City and Mérida, Mexico, on March 3, 2014. Tropic will be the first and only airline to operate non-stop scheduled flights between the international airport in Ladyville (BZE) and Merida (MMMD). Initially, the service will be three times weekly. Mérida is the capital of the state of Yucatán and the largest city in that Mexican state. The city has a population of about 1 million and is known for its colonial buildings and good medical care. (January 31, 2014)
BELIZE UNEMPLOYMENT RATE FALLS BUT STILL HIGH AT 14.2%; INFLATION LOW; MEDIAN HOUSEHOLD INCOME BZ$900; TRADE IMBALANCE WORSENS The Statistical Institute of Belize presented a report on the health of the Belize economy in 2013. Among the highlights are that the unemployment rate fell from a record high of 16.1% in September 2012 to 14.2%. Cayo District has the highest rate now, at 16.7%. Another finding was that the median average household income in Belize is BZ$900 a month, or US$450. Median means that one-half of households had incomes higher than BZ$900, and one-half lower. The Statistical Institute also reported that inflation in 2013 was low, at only 1.6%.However, the trade imbalance worsened, as imports rose and exports, mainly revenue from citrus and oil, fell. Belize imports about three times as much in value as it exports. (January 30, 2014)
BELIZE HOTEL OWNERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT CHANGES Peter Lawrence, well-known entrepreneur, hotelier and raconteur on Ambergris Caye, says he has purchased Caribbean Villas just south of San Pedro Town. Cahal Pech Village Resort in San Ignacio has announced a new management team consisting of Peter Tonti as CEO, Larry Waight as chief technology officer and Lloyd Alvarez as reservations and sales manager. The three have worked at The Lodge at Chaa Creek and other properties in Belize. The announcement was made by Cahal Pech Village Chairman Dan Silva. With 59 rooms, Cahal Pech Village is the largest hotel in Cayo. (January 26, 2014)
BELIZE PROPERTIES SCORE WELL IN TRIPADVISOR'S LATEST TRAVELLER AWARDS: Among the Top 25 hotels and resorts in Central America, according to reports by TripAdvisor members, four are in Belize: Grand Caribe, North Ambergris (#2 of 25); Coco Beach Resort, North Ambergris (#11); Victoria House, San Pedro (#12); Las Terrazas, North Ambergris (#24). Grand Caribe was also rated by TripAdvisor as the #1 hotel in Belize. (January 25, 2014)
CONTENTIOUS MEETING ON NCL CRUISE PORT HELD IN INDEPENDENCE A meeting in Independence on the proposed NCL cruise port at Harvest Caye off Placencia drew a crowd of 350 mostly skeptical local residents who took issue with the Environment Impact Assessment, calling it flawed and outdated. Attendees pointed out mistakes in the EIA and noted lack of adequate planning for waste disposal and for providing local Belizeans with a real stake in the project. According to news reports, only about 3 of 50 local speakers supported the port. (January 24, 2014)
KIDNAPPERS HIT COPPER BANK AND BULLET TREE FALLS A small epidemic of kidnapping for money has hit Belize. The latest was in Copper Bank, Corozal District, where four Hispanic men kidnapped two Copper Bank residents and threatened other family members. The kidnappers reportedly were paid BZ$15,000 in cash, and they released the two men. Police so far have not arrested any suspects. Earlier in January, two U.S. tourists staying at Parrots Nest Lodge near Bullet Tree village were kidnapped. The kidnappers demanded $75,000, but reportedly due to quick action by police the two tourists were released without paying any ransom. (January 23, 2014)
LARGE NUMBER OF GUATEMALAN TROOPS DEPLOYED IN PETEN According to eye-witness reports in the Petén, a sizeable number of new Guatemalan troops has been deployed apparently in an effort to reduce smuggling between Belize and Guatemala and to provide a show of force to reduce crime around Tikal, Yaxha, Melchor and elsewhere. (January 23, 2014)
NEW EDITION OF TREES OF BELIZE BY KATE HARRIS PUBLISHED The 2nd edition of Trees of Belize by Kate Harris has just been published.It is a handy reference for the traveler and for those with an interest in identifying the most notable trees and shrubs in Belize and the region. Even though Kate Harris has an M.A. from Oxford in forestry and lived in Orange Walk for four years, this is not a book for the professional botanist or other scientist but more for the interested amateur or enthusiast. It has many color photos by the author. The book is available at some stores, gift shops and hotels in Belize now, and wider distribution in Belize and online is being arranged. For more information, go to www.treesofbelize.com or contact The Added Touch (www.theaddedtouchbelize.com) in Belize City to buy copies. (January 20, 2014)
BELIZE MAKES NEW YORK TIMES 'PLACES TO GO IN 2014' LIST Belize made the prestigious New York Times' "52 Place to Go in 2014" list, squeaking in at #52. This is arguably the most notable of the where-to-go bucket lists. See the entire list, along with many amazing photographs and videos, at www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/01/10/travel/2014-places-to-go.html?_r=0 (January 18, 2014)
GAY MAN STABBED TO DEATH IN BELIZE CITY; FAMILY CALLS IT A 'HATE CRIME' Joseph Jatnel Sanchez, 18, was stabbed to death in Belize City early on the morning of Sunday, January 12. Police initially called it a robbery, but the dead man's family say it was a hate crime, because Sanchez was gay and sometimes dressed in women's clothes. He was often harassed because of its sexual orientation, family members say. Some money were found on his body, unlikely in the case of a robbery. Police have a surveillance video that shows the attack and say they are looking for persons of interest. Homosexual acts remain illegal in Belize, and LGBT and gay civil rights group say that homophobia is rampant in Belize, even among community and church leaders and politicians. (January 15, 2014, updated January 16, 2014)
BELIZE MURDER RATE FALLS BY ONE-THIRD IN 2013 Belize had 99 homicides in 2013, down from 145 in 2012, for an annual rate of about 30 homicides per 100,000 population. While the rate is still very high in comparison with the U.S., Canada, Western Europe and most of Asia, the good news is that the rate of homicides in Belize is lower than in many other countries in the region including Guatemala (40 murders per 100,000), Honduras (80), Jamaica (46) and Venezuela (79). For the most part, neighboring countries also saw increases in murders, while Belize had a 33% decline. Belize officials attribute the decline to better security, efforts to reduce gang violence in Belize City and a generally better economy. .(January 4, 2014)
CANADIAN MISSIONARY REPORTEDLY ATTACKED ON CHRISTMAS IN CAYO, BODY FOUND IN GUATEMALA A Canadian national who has been doing missionary work in Belize for nine years was apparently a victim of an attack at his home in Valley of Peace on Christmas Day. The body of Brian Townsend, 64, was found two days later floating in the Mopan River in Guatemala just across the Belize border. (January 2, 2014)
'SHARK' RUM FROM BELIZE DEBUTS A new, upscale Belize rum brand called Tiburón ("shark" in Spanish) is set to debut soon. The rum is a blend of four-, six- and eight-year old rums produced by Traveller's for Belizean entrepreneur Basil DeStefano. The goal is to produce and sell about 12,000 cases of the premium brand.
FITCH WITHDRAWS RATING ON BELIZE'S SUPERBOND Fitch, the international rating service, has withdrawn the 'A+'/Stable rating assigned to the US$85.7 million notes issued by Belize Sovereign Investments III (Cayman) Limited (BSI). This follows the withdrawal of a AA- rating on Steadfast Insurance, an insurer of the bonds. (December 13, 2013)
FLOODS AND RAINS CONTINUE TO PLAGUE BELIZE Many Belize City streets were underwater, due to continuing heavy rains. (December 12, 2013)
MAJOR CRIME DOWN IN BELIZE Major crimes in Belize in 2013 to date are down significantly, according to Belize police reports. Homicides rates in particular have dropped dramatically, especially in Belize City, where murders dropped by half from 74 to 37 through November. Country-wide, the homicide rate has dropped 32% from last year .Rape, robbery and burglarly rates also dropped significantly. Officials attribute the decline to better security, work with gangs in Belize City and increase employment in public infrastructure jobs in Belize City. (December 9, 2013).
AMBERGRIS CAYE PICKED AS 'UP AND COMING' DESTINATION TripAdvisor named Ambergris Caye one of the world's' Top 10 "Destinations on the Rise." Havana was number one.(December 6, 2013)
NEW CHAA CREEK RESTAURANT IN SAN IGNACIO GETS RAVE REVIEWS The new Guave Limb Café in San Ignacio is getting rave reviews for its eclectic, interesting menu and moderate prices. The café is owned by Chaa Creek and is located on Burns Avenue next to the Chaa Creek reservations office. (November 14, 2013)
APRIL THE TAPIR DIES AT BELIZE ZOO April, a tapir who represented the national animal symbol of Belize, reportedly has died of natural causes at the Belize Zoo. April (so named because she was born in that month) was more than 30 years old. April reportedly was the oldest female tapir in captivity. (November 1, 2013)
CANADIAN EXPAT LIVING NEAR CONSEJO VILLAGE MURDERED IN APPARENT HOME INVASION A 57-year old Canadian citizen was brutally stabbed to death in a house she rented in Consejo Shores about 7 miles north of Corozal Town. Lynn Nichiporowich of Vancouver was found by neighbors in a pool of blood in the usually quiet Consejo and Consejo Shores neighborhood on the night of October 30. Police are investigating and say they suspect that it was a failed home invasion/robbery, although nothing seems to have been taken. (October 31, 2013)
HEAVY RAINS AND FLOODING ALL OVER BELIZE Unusually heavy rains have resulted in flooding, road closings and other problems especially in the Central and Southern parts of Belize over the past several days. (October 29, 2013)
WELL-KNOWN HOPKINS EXPAT AND HOTEL OWNER KILLED IN AUTO ACCIDENT Ingrid Stahl, owner of the All Seasons Guesthouse in Hopkins died in an auto accident on the Hummingbird Highway. She also managed several rental cottages in Hopkins. Friends say that she and her constant companion, Emmie, a cocker spaniel, will be sorely missed in Hopkins. (October 19, 2013)
BELIZE FIRST FOUNDER AUTHORS NEW GUIDEBOOK TO ASHEVILLE AND THE NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAINS Lan Sluder, editor of BELIZE FIRST and author of about a dozen books and ebooks on Belize, recently published a new travel guidebook to his U.S. hometown, Asheville, North Carolina. Asheville has been called the "hippest town in the South" by Fodor's and "America's weirdest city" by Rolling Stone. The new book is called Amazing Asheville. The new 400+-page, 150,000+ word guide covers Asheville and the North Carolina mountains, which include the tallest mountain peak in the U.S. east of the Rockies, Mt. Mitchell at nearly 6,700 feet. The guide also covers Biltmore House, the largest private home in America, and the two most-visited units of the U.S. National Park system, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which gets more than 9.5 million visitors a year, and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which gets some 22 million visitors a year. The website for Amazing Asheville is www.amazingasheville.net. The book can be purchased in regular and online bookstores including Amazon.com. It is available in paperback and ebook editions. (October 19, 2013)
OVERNIGHT TOURISM IN BELIZE UP 8% THROUGH AUGUST Overnight arrivals from January through August 2013 totaled around 215,000, up 8% from the same period last year, according to the Belize Tourism Board. “With these numbers, we are well on our way to making the 300,000 overnight visitors mark (for the full year),” said BTB officials. Cruise arrivals during the same period were up 5.3%. (October 8, 2013)
LEADING TOUR COMPANY IN RECEIVERSHIP David Gegg's Discovery Expeditions, a long-established tour company based in Belize City, has been placed in receivership. Reportedly the company owed several hundred thousand Belize dollars in GST payments to the government. However, reportedly Gegg says he is working with his bank to resolve the issue, and says that another company he controls, Cruise Solutions, is doing well. (September 30, 2013)
MANY AREAS OF BELIZE FLOODED BY RAINS FROM TROPICAL DEPRESSION Atropical depression that remained in place over Belize for about a week brought heavy rains and flooding to several areas of Belize, including Corozal and Consejo and parts of Cayo and Stann Creek districts. Several roads were totally flooded. (September 25, 2013)
MENNONITE CHILD KILLED BY AFRICANIZED BEES A young Mennonite boy, age 4, was stung to death by Africanized bees near Little Belize in northern Belize. His brother, 5, was also badly stung and was hospitalized. (April 17, 2013)
NEW BELIZE SUPERBOND RENEGOTIATED AND LAUNCHED The Belize governmentannounced that the Super Bond has been successfully renegotiated and launched. Holders of the country’s old U.S. Dollar Bonds due in 2029 tendered their bonds in response to Belize’s February 15, 2013, offer to exchange those instruments for new Belize U.S. Dollar Bonds, which will mature in 2038. (March 11, 2013)
FODOR'S NEW BELIZE GUIDE BEING RESEARCHED Fodor's and Random House announced that Lan Sluder, longtime author of Fodor's Belize guidebook, will be in Belize in April and May researching the new edition of the guide, which again includes Tikal. The guide will be appear on the Fodor's booklist in Fall 2013. Sluder is the author of about a dozen books and eBooks on Belize and has been reporting on the country since 1991. (March 11, 2013)
DAY OF FEAR AND MAYHEM IN BELIZE CITY After four members of the George Street gang were found with their throats cut in a house on the South Side of Belize City, shootings and other violence broke out in the city on January 8. School and businesses were closed. Prime Minister Dean Barrow held a press conference to say that everything was "under control" and that leaders of the George Street gang had been "furloughed" to a location outside Belize City, to avoid retaliation and further bloodshed. The U.S. Embassy issued an alert and advised U.S. government employees to temporarily avoid the city. Some in the community say they think members of the Gang Suppresion Unit were responsible for the murders, while others think it was a result of gang feuds. Both UDP and PUP politicians deny that the GSU had anything to do with the murders of the gang members. So far in 2013, Belize has averaged a murder a day. (January 9, 2013)
RECORD 145 HOMICIDES RECORDED IN BELIZE IN 2012 Belize has set a sad record with 145 murders in 2012. With a population of only around 330,000, this means the murder rate in Belize is one of the highest in the world. In fact, you're 20 times more likely to be murdered in Belize than in Manhattan, which has a day-time population near 3 million but only 65 homicides in 2012. (January 6, 2013)
JOHN MCAFEE ESCAPES TO U.S. In hiding in Belize for several weeks and wanted for questioning in the death of an American expat on North Ambergris, John McAfee finally escaped to Guatemala and then flew to Miami. Since arriving in the U.S., he has continued to seek media attention through his blog and otherwise. He claimed to have given 75 Belize officials and politicians doctored laptops to spy on them and also to have hired more than 20 young women and men to provide information on Belize politicians. (December 28, 2012)
U.S. EXPAT SHOT TO DEATH ON AMBERGRIS CAYE; SOFTWARE MILLIONAIRE SOUGHT FOR QUESTIONING Virus software pioneer John McAfee reportedly is on the run in Belize after his neighbor on North Ambergris Caye, Greg Faull, another American expat, was shot in the head and killed Saturday night. Faull and McAfee had a running dispute, especially about the dogs McAfee kept at his beachfront property, and at one point Faull had reported McAfee to San Pedro authorities. Belize National Security Ministry officials say that although McAfee is not now formally a suspect he is wanted for questioning and "if his story does not add up, he may be arrested and charged." San Pedro, Belize, police came to McAfee's house about 5 1/2 miles north of San Pedro Town to question him, but no one was there.
Word spread on various Belize forums and via the coconut telegram on November 11that a U.S. national had been shot to death on the island and that McAfee was a possible suspect. A neighbor of McAfee told BELIZE FIRST via email Sunday that "John McAfee shot his neighbour Greg in the head last night ... no, I am not f**king joking." Soon afterward, Jeff Wise, a Popular Mechanics columnist, book author and freelance writer who had done a series of stories on McAfee over the past five years, tweeted that McAfee was in hiding and was a prime suspect in the murder and also published an article to that effect on Gizmodo, a popular electronic gadgets site. Jeff Wise had written a number of stories from 2007 to this year about McAfee for Outside's Go Magazine, Fast Company, the Gizmodo website and other outlets. At first the articles portrayed McAfee in a positive light, But in the later articles Wise noted that McAfee, now 67, was living with a 17-year-old Belizean girl and had been experimenting with bath salts and other psychotropic drugs. According to Wise, he had become increasingly erratic, carrying guns, arguing with neighbors, employing known gang members for security and acting in ways that seemed irrational.
Also on November 12 , a reporter from Wired.com reported a conversation with McAfee: “Under no circumstances am I going to willingly talk to the police in this country,” [McAfee] told me this afternoon. “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. I am not well liked by the prime minister. I am just a thorn in everybody’s side.”
Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow called McAfee "bonkers" and "paranoid" and asked that he turn himself in for questioning.
In the spring of this year McAfee was arrested by the Gang Suppression Unit of the Belize national police at his compound in Orange Walk District. The police temporarily confiscated a number of guns and shot McAfee's dog, but McAfee was eventually released and not charged.
Wise wrote that McAfee's one-time female associate in Belize, a young PhD who had formerly had a job at Harvard and who had been working with him on drugs extracted from plants, had earlier fled the country in fear.
Media around the world are carrying the story, including the Wall Street Journal, Le Figaro, ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News and various other media outlets in the U.S., Europe and Asia. It is expected to remain a big media event, as it involves sex, drugs, a celebrity, violence and an exotic setting.
McAfee insists he has no plans to leave the country. “I like it here,” he told the Wired.com writer. “It’s the nicest place on earth.”
McAfee founded McAfee in 1987. It was one of the earliest anti-virus software companies. In the 1990s, McAfee sold his interest in the company for a reported US$100 million, then made additional money with another software start-up. After leaving the software business he suffered a heart attack in his 40s, allegedly brought on by heavy drug use. He bought a ranch in New Mexico and became involved in ultralight aircraft and ocean-going jet skis. At his New Mexico ranch he gathered a group of about a dozen fellow ultralight enthusiasts who called themselves Sky Gypsies. He filled the remote ranch with a collection of vintage Airstream trailers, a fleet of classic cars and a movie theater. Then he was involved in an aircraft accident where his nephew died. Later he claimed he had lost most of his money in the Great Recession, but many thought this was an attempt to shield his fortune from lawsuits related to the aircraft accident. McAfee moved to Ambergris Caye, Belize, in 2008. He bought or started several companies and lived on a million dollar beachfront property. McAfee also had a compound in Orange Walk and an office at Galen University, a small college in San Ignacio, in the Cayo District of Belize. (November 14, 2012)
'CRIME-RIDDEN' AREAS OF BELIZE CITY TO BE DESIGNATED Plans have been announced by , but not yet implemented, to designate certain high crime areas of Belize City as "Crime-Ridden Areas." These sections will be provided with additional police presence, and police may enter and search homes or other buildings believed to have gang connections. Details of how this will be done, and exactly which areas which be designated by the Ministry of National Security as crime-ridden, are as yet unclear. (November 7, 2012)
HEADING FOR A RECORD (AND NOT IN A GOOD WAY) As of Halloween, Belize has recorded 118 murders this year to date. (November 1, 2012)
TOURIST STABBED IN SAN PEDRO An American tourist was stabbed in a burglarly attempt October 20 at his rental apartment on Boca del Rio Drive in San Pedro. The visitor reportedly knew the perps, as he had socialized with them for several nights. Police have detained three men. The tourist was treated at an island clinic and at Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City but has been released. (October 22, 2012)
ARREST AND CONVICTION RATES FOR MURDER IN BELIZE LOW At least 106 murders have taken place in Belize in 2012 to date, but only 26 arrests for homicide have been made by Belize police. Prosecutors say they can't convict if arrests aren't made. (October 19, 2012)
FOUR MINORS CHARGED IN BEATING DEATH OF MAN IN SAN PEDRO Emerito Itza, a former teacher and B.D.F. soldier from Succotz in Cayo, was attacked and beatenon the beach in San Pedro October 10 by a group of boys. He later died of severe head injuries. The motivation for the brutal attack was not clear. Four minors, all students from San Pedro age 12 to 15, have been arrested and charged with manslaughter. (October 18, 2012)
BALE OF COCAINE FOUND AT TURNEFFE ATOLL Square groupers are back. A bale of coke weighing about 100 pounds and said to be worth around BZ$1.8 million was found by authorities at Turneffe Atoll. The bale was spotted by tourists who were on a fishing trip. (August 31, 2012)
BELIZE MISSES PAYMENT ON SUPERBOND Belize opted not to make the August 20, 2012, interest payment of US$23 million on the US$544 million Superbond, and government officials said it was "unlikely" that Belize would pay during the 30-day grace period. Observers think Belize is playing hardball to get a further reduction on the interest rate and total amount due on its sovereign debt, but by missing the interest payment it is in at least technical default. (August 21, 2012)
TOLEDO LODGE BURNED, ARSON SUSPECTED Several buildings at Indian Creek Lodge in Toledo, part of Belize Lodge & Excursions, were set afire and burned. Punta Gorda police say they suspect arson. Local villagers, employees of the upscale lodge, have been angered because they say the lodge has not paid them, in some cases for many months. This is the lodge where one captive jaguar was found dead, and a second jaguar alive but severely malnourished. The lodge has been closed since April or May. The managing director of the lodge earlier had returned to Belize but reportedly had to escorted from the lodge under police protection, after an incident with former employees. (August 11, 2012)
GAS PRICES RISE, PREMIUM HITS US$6 A GALLON After dropping slightly in recent weeks, gas prices as set by the government are on the rise again. Premium is now BZ$12.03 a gallon, a little over US$6, while regular is BZ$11.07 and diesel is BZ$10.17 (August 2, 2012)
GUATEMALANS ENTER BELIZE ILLEGALLY, PANNING FOR GOLD IN CHIQUIBUL AND LOGGING IN SOUTHERN BELIZE As many as 300 Guatemalans reportedly have moved into the Chiquibul, illegally panning for gold in streams in the wilderness area. Separately, in southern Belize rangers of the Ya’axche Conservation Trust on patrol in the Columbia Forest Reserve and Bladen Nature Reserve encountered armed xateros and illegal loggers from Guatemala. (August 1, 2012)
SUPERBOND DEFAULT FEARED With a payment on the Superbond due August 20, international bondholders worry that Belize will default or again attempt to renegotiate the value of the bond. The Belize Superbond was the worst performer among emerging market bonds in July, Bloomberg reported. (August 1, 2012)
TWO DOUBLE MURDERS IN COROZAL In July, Corozal witnessed two double murders. On July 4, the owner of Paradise Bay Villas, Clari Fredersdorf, and her daughter, Shanny, were shot to death on the grounds of their South End hotel in what may have been a robbery. On July 12, two cousins, reportedly no strangers to run-ins with police, were shot to death on Sixth Avenue in the center of town. (July 13, 2012)
Spotted jaguar (left) allegedly died of starvation at Belize Lodge & Excursions; black jaguar found severely emaciated
Photos from Ya'axche Conservation Trust and Belize Wildlife Conservation Network
JAGUAR REPORTED STARVED TO DEATH AT UPSCALE LODGE IN SOUTHERN BELIZE; MANAGING DIRECTOR REPORTEDLY OWES EMPLOYEES UP TO A YEAR IN PAY A captive male jaguar on display at Belize Lodge & Excursions, a group of upscale lodges in southern Belize, allegedly starved to death after the company's managing director, Ken Karas, reportedly left the lodge this spring to go to the U.S. Belize Forest Department authorities spent July 17 at the Belize Lodge & Excursions property on the Southen Highway in Toledo District caring for a second, black jaguar, severely emaciated, that was still alive. The dead jaguar had been found by a ranger from Ya'axche Conservation Trust, located nearby. Belize Forest Department employees moved the emaciated black jaguar from Indian Creek Lodge to the Belize Zoo for rehabilitation. The jaguars had been on display at Ballum Na (House of the Jaguar) Lodge and at times in a concrete cage at Indian Creek Lodge, two of the lodges operated by Belize Lodge & Excursions. Belize Lodge & Excursions allegedly had struggled to find guests and to pay bills and had had various financial issues and disputes in the past. The company's website now has been taken down. At least 28 employees of the lodge from Indian Creek village, along with employees from other Maya villages in the area, are reported as saying they have not been paid by the lodge in from two months to as much as a year. Karas claims he has left the jaguars before in the care of employees and that they were properly cared for. In a statement, Karas blamed a "caretaker" for not feeding or watering the animals after the lodge closed for the off-season. Belize Lodge & Excursions at one time operated three jungle lodges in mainland Toledo and one lodge on an offshore caye. The company claimed to own 13,000 acres in what was billed as Boden Creek Ecological Preserve. BELIZE FIRST Editor Lan Sluder reported on the situation of the captive jaguars at Belize Lodge & Excursions as long ago as 2008 and had removed the lodge from his lists of recommended accommodations in his guidebooks to Belize. (July 17, 2012; updated July 21, 2012)
AMERICAN WOMAN RAPED AND ROBBED IN HER HOME IN DANGRIGA A U.S. national, 54, suffered a home invasion in her home in Dangriga. She was raped and robbed. Her name was not given due to the rape charge. A resident of Maya Center Village has been charged in the rape. (June 26, 2007)
EPIDEMIC OF CRIME AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE STUNS BELIZE A series of crimes against young people has stunned Belize. In Cayo, a 13-year-old girl scout, Jasmine Lowe, disappeared while walking in San Ignacio and was later found dead off the Cristo Rey Road, apparently a victim of homicide. Two teenagers were found dead near Altun Ha; they had last been seen enroute from San Ignacio to Belize City. In Toledo, a young girl has been missing from her home for nearly a week. A suspect in the Jasmine Lowe case, Bert Vasquez, aka Bert Haylock, 28, from Belize City, was picked up and held by police; on June 20, a large crowd, said to number near 1,000, gathered in front of the San Ignacio police station, with speakers calling for "justice for Jasmine." Police reinforcements were called to the scene to help control the crowd, which dispersed peacefully. Vasquez was later charged with one count of murder and also charged in connection with several abductions of young women. In July, the father of Jasmine Lowe, Chris Lowe, was charged for throwing an object a Bert Vasquez as he was being transported to a hearing in San Ignacio. (June 10, 2012; updated June 20, 2012, June 26, and July 20, 2012)
FOUR DIE IN TRAFFIC ACCIDENT ON WESTERN HIGHWAY The Western Highway has claimed more victims. On May 16, a family of four from Belize City died when their small car spun out on rain-slick pavement and was strunk by an on-coming vehicle. Nicholasia Tillett and three members of her family died near Mile 44 of the Western Highway, a section of the road that is notorious for accidents, especially following rain. (May 18, 2012)
IAN LIZZARAGA NAMED NEW BTB CHAIR Ian Lizzaraga of Ka'ana resort near San Ignacio has been named the new chair of the Belize Tourism Board. He replaces Mariam Roberson of the San Ignacio Resort Hotel. Other members of the board include Roger Espejo, Gaspar Guerrero, Neil Bradley, James Scott, Einer Gomez, Robert Pennel, Emil Arguelles and Orlando de la Fuente. Tracy Panton, CEO of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, serves as ex-officio board member. The Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism and Culture, appointed the board. Separately, Laura Esquivel has been named BTB Acting Director of Tourism and Alyssa Carnegie has been appointed BTB Marketing Director. (May 18, 2012; updated June 1, 2012)
CAYO SUFFERS CRIME WAVE Marco Thompson, a teacher at Sacred Heart College, was stabbed to death May 13 in his home in San Ignacio. Gilles Chereau, 69, a retired French Photographer and his mother, Yolande Chereau, 91, were victims of a May 17 home invasion in Bullet Tree Falls. Earlier in the month, an American businesswoman, Nancy Skiles, 60, was robbed in her home in San Ignacio by three men with machetes. Police are investigating the crimes. On June 9, another home invasion took place in Cayo, this one in Bullet Tree Falls village, where a woman was held for an hour by two masked men dressed in black. (May 18, 2012; updated June 10, 2012)
FODOR'S BELIZE BY LAN SLUDER PUBLISHED The 5th edition of Fodor's Belize by Lan Sluder has been published. The new edition also covers Tikal in Guatemala. Sluder has been writing about Belize for more than 21 years. (May 16, 2012)
JOHN SMITH, PUP FOUNDER, DIES IN LOUISIANA John Smith, 93, a founder of the People's United Party, died May 15 in Metairie, Louisiana. Smith was the first leader of the PUP, in 1950, but subsequently emigrated to the United States. (May 16, 2012)
GANG SUPPRESSION UNIT RAIDS MCAFEE COMPLEX NEAR ORANGE WALK TOWN A team led by the GSU raided the John McAfee complex April 30, breaking down doors and shooting a pet talk, according to McAfee, 66, who was a founder of a pioneering anti-virus computeer company in the United States. The GSU found a number of guns, but they were all licensed, according to McAfee. The controversial McAfee, who says he is now involved in finding natural antipathogen agents in the Belize rainforest, was handcuffed and held for several hours in Belize City but was released without being charged. The investor and entrepreneur, who also has property on Ambergris Caye, says politics may be behind the raid. In mid-May, three alleged associates of McAfee were charged by police with attempting to corrupt the police. McAfee suggested that the name of the GSU be changed to BSU, or Business Suppression Unit. (May 1, 2012; updated May 18, 2012)
MULTIPLE MURDERS IN BELIZE CITY AND BELPOMAN Violence flared again in Belize City and Belmopan, following the death of two leading Belize City gang leaders. There was also a murder in Corozal. At least ten people died in homicides in late April, and for the month 21 people died of homicide, making April the deadliest month in Belize crime history. (April 28, 2012, updated May 20, 2012)
VISITORS ON CHARTER SAILBOAT ATTACKED AND ROBBED Eight visitors on a catamaran, chartered out of Placencia, were attacked and robbed March 18 by four armed pirates off the coast of Southern Belize near Tobacco Caye; two were stabbed, and one 61-year-old woman allegedly was raped. (March 20, 2012)
MANGO'S OF MAYA BEACH ROBBED, OWNER FRANK DA SILVA SHOT Frank Da Silva, operator of Mango's in Maya Beach and formerly the long-time chef atthe Inn at Robert's Grove, was shot during a robbery March 10. Da Silva, who was briefly hospitalized but appears to be in satifactory condition, said this was the third robbery or burglarly since he opened less than a year and a half ago. He said he may close the popular restaurant. (March 13, 2012)
FIVE MORE YEARS? UDP NARROWLY WINS GENERAL ELECTIONS The United Democratic Party under Dean Barrow was narrowly re-elected in national elections March 7. The UDP lost eight of its 25 seats. The People's United Party under Francis Fonseca gained six seats, for a total of 14. Turnout was low for Belize, at 63%. (March 8, 2012)
S&P DOWNGRADES BELIZE DEBT AGAIN Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said February 6 that it lowered its long-term foreign- and local-currency sovereign credit ratings on Belize to CCC+ from B-. This is the lowest sovereign debt rating of any S&P-rated country in the world, except Greece, which also has a CCC+. On February 13, Prime Minister Dean Barrow admitted in a statement that "long term" Belize would not be able to pay its "Superbond" debt and would have to renegotiate its terms. Moody's also downgraded Belize's debt, to seven steps below investment grade. (February 6, 2012; updated February 13, 2012 and February 19, 2012)
PRIME MINISTER CALLS EARLY NATIONAL ELECTIONS As widely expected, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has called for early national elections. General elections will be the same day as previously scheduled municipal elections, March 7. Opinions vary as to why the United Democratic Party called for elections at this time. Some Belizeans say they think PM Barrow and the rest of the UDP leadership believe Belize’s economic situation and the government’s financial position will worsen later in the year. However, others note that a rebounding U.S. economy is likely to improve economic and financial conditions in Belize. At the same time, the opposition People’s United Party appears to be in disarray, with two top standard bearers, Anthony Mahler of Caribbean Shores and Cordel Hyde of Lake Independence are stepping down. It is anticipated by many that the PUP’s Albert standard bearer Mark Espat also will step down. (January 31, 2012; updated February 3, 2012)
BELIZE BANS IMPORT OF PORK PRODUCTS AND LIVE SWINE FROM GUATEMALA DUE TO SWINE FEVER Working with the Belize Agriculture Department, BAHA has banned the import of live swine and all pork products from Guatemala, where there has been a nationwide outbreak of Classical Swine Fever. Some 7,000 hogs have been destroyed in Guatemala due to the disease. So far, Swine Fever hasn’t been detected in Belize, but the porous border with Guatemala both around Benque Viejo and in Toledo may make it difficult to keep Guatemalan hogs out of Belize. Some Belizeans expect the price of pork to rise. (January 28, 2012)
POPULAR AMBERGRIS CAYE WEB SITE OVERCOMES DENIAL OF SERVICE ATTACK Marty Casado’s www.ambergriscaye.com, the highest-traffic web site on Belize, was down for several days the week of January 23 as a result of a Denial of Service attack by an unknown individual. Casado was able to secure the site and restore normal service, though some messages posted on the site’s message board were lost. The motive behind the attack is unknown. (January 27, 2012)
MAYAN ARTIFACTS DISCOVERED UNDER BURNS AVENUE IN SAN IGNACIO A crew working on underground water lines on busy Burns Avenue in downtown San Ignacio discovered a cache of Maya pottery including a number of unbroken pots, stone tools and skeletal remains. Archeologists have dated the items from the Late Pre-Classic Period (c. 250 BC-250 AD). Some of the artifacts will be displayed at the new San Ignacio Welcome Center when it opens. (January 22, 2012)
PRINCE HARRY TO BE IN BELIZE IN EARLY MARCH Britain’s Prince Harry is expected to be in Belize March 2-3. He plans to be in Belize and Cayo districts. (January 21, 2012)
NEW FERRY SERVICE BETWEEN BELIZE CITY AND HONDURAS A new weekly ferry service is operating between Belize City and Puerto Cortes, Honduras. The Pride of Belize leaves the Vista Del Mar Marina in Ladyville at 9 am on Saturdays and departs Puerto Cortes at noon on Mondays. Fare is BZ$145 plus exit taxes. The boat also carries freight packages. For information, visit www.prideofbelize.com. (January 18, 2012)
FUEL PRICES GO UP Fuel prices have increased. Premium is now BZ$11.22 per U.S. gallon; regular is BZ$10.82; diesel is BZ$10.19. These are prices in Belize City and may vary slightly around the country. (January 17, 2012)
BELIZE ELECTRICITY RATES SET TO DROP BY 6% Electrical rates in Belize are set to drop by 3 Belize cents per kilowatt, or about 6.1%. (January 14, 2012)
BELIZE TOURISM EXPECTED TO BENEFIT FROM ‘END OF THE WORLD’ Alleged predictions by the ancient Maya that the world could end December 20, 2012, are likely to have at least one positive benefit – increased tourism to Maya sites in Belize and elsewhere in the region during 2012. The Belize Tourism Board is selling a “Belize Passport” that allows admission to 12 Maya sites in Belize including Caracol, Xunantunich and Lamanai (but not Actun Tunichil Muknal) for US$25. NICH (National Institute of Culture and History) is allowing overnight camping at Caracol on the dates of solstices and equinoxes at a cost of US$150. (January 3, 2012)
SERIES OF HOME INVASIONS IN SAN PEDRO, CAYO AND BELIZE CITY APPEAR TO BAFFLE POLICE An unprecedented number of home invasions on Ambergris Caye, in Cayo and in Belize City, some involving violence and in at least one case, murder, appear to have police bamboozled and baffled. Police appear unable to respond effectively or to solve most of these crimes against locals and expats. (December 4, 2011)
THIRD QUARTER TOURISM UP, BUT CRUISE SHIP VISITATION DOWN AGAIN According to the BTB, third quarter overnight tourist arrivals in Belize were up more than 3%, but cruise ship visitation was down over 6% from the same periods a year ago. (November 20, 2011)
U.S. EXPAT BRUTALLY MURDERED IN CAYO The recent rash of home invasions in Cayo has turned deadly with the brutal murder November 9 of Dr. Lawrence Johnson, 68, a retired chiropractor, father of 10 and U.S. expat co-owner of Iguana Creek Resort near Ontario village. Dr. Johnson and his wife have owned some 700 acres off Mile 58 of the Western Highway since the early 1990s, and he had slowly developed the small eco-resort. The family came from the state of New Mexico. According to police and media reports, six men were waiting for Dr. Johnson Wednesday night when he returned to the lodge, possibly with money for his payroll. They shot him and then beat and chopped the caretaker. Reportedly the gang put Dr. Johnson and the caretaker, Julio Funes, in the Johnson van and threw gasoline on them but didn't have a match to light the fire. Several people have been detained by police in connection with the robbery and slaying, but no charges have yet been filed. According to the media and to reports from residents, there has been a series of recent robberies and home invasions around San Ignacio, Santa Elena and elsewhere in Cayo. This incident is the seventh since August, but some say that not all have been reported. (November 11, 2011)
PRIME MINISTER BARROW'S WIFE HAS BREAST CANCER Kim Simplis Barrow, wife of the Belize Prime Minister, announced November 7 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is in Miami for treatment. (November 8, 2011)
IMF OFFERS MIXED REPORT ON BELIZE ECONOMY An International Monetary Fund economic report on Belize paints a mixed picture. GDP growth for the first half of the year was around 2.5%. Foreign reserves are healthy, but the budget deficit remains at around 3% of GDP, and public debt is 83% of annual GDP. The IMF says that the investment climate in Belize is weak, and the poverty rate, at around 40%, is high. There is also concern about the high level of non-performing loans at banks in Belize. (November 2, 2011)
BELIZEAN PLACES 7th IN POKER WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP Bob Bou-Nahra placed 7th in the Poker World Series Finals in Las Vegas. He was one of nine finalists competing for a pot of US$8.7 million. Bou-Nahra took home US$1.3 million before taxes. A large contingent of Belizeans was in Vegas to cheer him on. (October 31, 2011)
RUMOURS: UDP MAY CALL EARLY ELECTIONS With the PUP seemingly in disarray, political talk is that the UDP may call early national elections. (October 29, 2011)
HURRICANE RINA MISSES BELIZE Belize escaped damage from Hurricane Rina, which veered northeast before dropping back to tropical storm levels. (October 26, 2011)
REPORT RANKS BELIZE #6 IN WORLD IN MURDERS A new United Nations report, using 2010 data, ranks Belize #6 in the world in intentional homicides. Belize had 41.7 homicides per 100,000 population in 2010, and Belize City has a rate approximately double the national rate. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. To date in 2011, Belize has had 106 reported homicides. (October 9, 2011)
JOHNNY BRICENO RESIGNS AS PUP LEADER; MARK ESPAT DECLINES PERMANENT POST AND FRANCIS FONSECA STEPS IN Johnny BriceĖo resigned October 7 as People's United Party Leader. He was replaced as opposition leader on an interim basis by Mark Espat, who on October 18 said he would not run for the permanent post of Party Leader, despite having overwhelming support. Francis Fonseca was installed as Party Leader on October 29. (October 8, 2011; updated October 19, 2011; updated October 30, 2011)
"FATHER OF BELIZE" GEORGE CADLE PRICE PASSES AT AGE 92 George Cadle Price, who led Belize to independence and who served as the country's first Prime Minister, died September 19 in Belize City at age 92, just two days shy of the 30th anniversary of Belize's independence. He had undergone surgery at a Belize City hospital following a fall at his home. George Price entered British Honduras politics in the 1940s, helping found the People's United Party, and beginning in the 1950s served as PUP party leader. He also was elected mayor of Belize City in 1956. In the 1960s and 1970s, he led the effort to achieve independence for the British colony, serving as the colony's Premier and First Minister. When Belize became independent in 1981, George Price became its first Prime Minister, serving until 1984. He held the position again from 1989 to 1993. He retired as PUP party leader in 1996. Of both Creole and Mestizo background, George Price attended St. John's College, a prominent Jesuit-run secondary school in Belize City. Never married, he was known as an ascetic, dedicated political leader who had little interest in worldly possessions or monetary gain. Religious and a populist, he believed in Belize for Belizeans and often opposed tourism development because he did not want Belize to "become a nation of waiters." In 2000, George Price became the first person to receive Belize's highest honor, the Order of National Hero. (September 19, 2011)
HONEYMOONER LOSES LEG IN SNORKELING ACCIDENT OFF SAN PEDRO An American snorkeling off the south end of San Pedro, near the Caribe Island condotel, was struck September 16 by a water taxi. The leg of Rob Leonard, 31, was amputated by one of the boat's props. His wife, Dana Leonard, also was slightly injured. A tourniquet was applied to the man's profusely bleeding leg, probably saving his life, and the couple were transported on a Wings of Hope plane to Belize City for treatment. Several accidents and near-accidents involving boats and swimmers and snorkelers have occurred previously on the busy east side of the island. Ambergris Caye resort, vacation home and dock owners are discussing ways they can improve safety for swimmers and snorkelers. (September 17, 2011)
AMERICAN RAPED AND ROBBED IN STANN CREEK A 30-year old American woman reportedly was raped and robbed while bicycling on the Stann Creek District Highway (the southern part of the Hummingbird Highway) on September 2. She was biking from Belmopan to Dangriga. She said that an Hispanic man came from the side of the road, stopped her and raped her. He also took a camera and other valuables. (September 6, 2011)
WIKILEAKS RELEASE OF U.S. EMBASSY IN BELIZE CABLES CAUSES CONSTERNATION A series of confidential cables sent by staff of the U.S. Embassy in Belize to the U.S. State Department and released by WikiLeaks has caused strong local reaction among politicians and others in Belize. One group of cables discusses the renationalization of BTL. Another cable from 2009 makes allegations about Dr. Louis Zabaneh's purchase of Galen University Cayo and about the Zabaneh family. Dr. Zabaneh has denied the allegations. Yet another cable makes allegations about PUP politician Johnny BriceĖo, who also denied the allegations. (September 5, 2011)
BZ$3 MILLION WELCOME CENTER FOR SAN IGNACIO PLANNED A new BZ$3 million welcome center is being built in downtown San Ignacio. The new complex will have a visitor center, shops, kiosks and a bus station. Completion of the center, which will be connected to Burns Avenue, is expected by late 2012. (August 28, 2011)
U.S. NATIONAL SUFFERS HOME INVASION IN CAYO U.S. national Susanne McMillan's home in Santa Elena, Cayo, was robbed by several men who held her hostage and took some BZ$11,000 in jewelry, electronics and other items. Ironically, McMillan is the author of a small booklet sold on as a Kindle book Amazon.com about how foreigners can move to Belize. She said the home invasion could happen anywhere and that she plans to get a new watch dog. (August 27, 2011)
TENSION WITH GUATEMALA INCREASED BY LATEST BORDER INCIDENT A young Guatemalan campesino was shot and wounded in the hand by Belize Defence Forces troops on routine patrol in the Chiquibul. The BDF claims a group of Guatemalans was in Belize territory and were armed with machetes and an AK-47. The Guatemalans say they were cutting wood near the border. The Guatemalan government has protested the incident. (August 24, 2011)
TROPICAL STORM HARVEY DOES LITTLE DAMAGE Tropical Storm Harvey made landfall in Dangriga August 21, never reaching hurricane strength. There were no injuries and little damage reported. (August 22, 2011)
ALGAE BLOOMS REPORTED OFF SOUTHERN BELIZE Algae blooms have been reported and confirmed by biologists in coastal waters off Stann Creek District. The blooms appeared to be related to the poor water visibility in some areas off Placencia, which began in mid-June. (August 18, 2011)
S&P DOWNGRADES BELIZE CREDIT RATING Standard & Poor's has downgraded Belize by one notch after the government acquired a 70% stake in the distressed utility Belize Electricity. S&P cut Belize's foreign-currency credit rating to B-minus from B, saying the acquisition increased government liabilities, adding to the country's fiscal problems. The outlook on the new rating is stable. (August 4, 2011)
PM MOVES TO GRANT LEGISLATURE THE RIGHT TO AMEND BELIZE CONSTITUTION Prime Minister Dean Barrow wants to grant the Legislature the right to amend the Belize Constitution, with a two-thirds to three-fourths vote. Civil liberties proponents, many opposition figures and even business groups like the Chamber of Commerce strongly oppose this, characterizing it as a threat to democracy and as an attempt to create "parliamentary supremacy" where the Legislature can pass any law without regard to the Constitution. (August 2, 2011)
BELIZE GOVERNMENT NATIONALIZES POWER COMPANY Saying that it was “necessary in the public interest for government to assume control of electricity supply” Prime Minister Dean Barrow on June 20 rushed through legislation to re-nationalize Belize Electricity Limited, the monopoly power company in Belize that was privatized in 1993. B.E.L., 70% owned by Canadian company Fortis, claimed it was having difficulty meeting its financial obligations including paying for power from Mexico, with rolling blackouts possibly in the offing. It’s unclear how much the Belize government will pay for B.E.L., or when it will pay. Fortis will maintain its ownership of BECOL, which provides power from dams on the Macal River. The B.E.L. re-nationalization follows the re-nationalization of Belize Telemedia Ltd., prompting some observers to say that international investors may now be wary of doing business in Belize. (June 21, 2011)
BELIZE DIESEL TAKES OVER JMA AND ROYAL DEALERSHIPS In a small auto market where sales have fallen due to the economic recession, Belize Diesel, the Toyota dealer in Belize, has moved to consolidate its leadership position, taking over JMA Motors and Royal Motors. Royal has sold Mitsubishi and a couple of Chinese brands, and JMA has been the Suzuki, Land Rover, Hyundai and Mitsubishi dealer. JMA Rentals also has operated the Budget Belize auto rental franchise, which will continue, with offices in Belize City, the international airport and Placencia. (June 19, 2011)
SEASONAL RAINS BEGIN IN BELIZE With the start of seasonal rains, much of Belize is enjoying a respite from drought and heat. Significant rainfall has been reported in Toledo, Stann Creek and Cayo districts, with some rain in the north. The 2011 dry season was unusually dry in many areas, with little rain reported since January, and the rainy season was late in starting. In some areas there remains a significant rainfall deficit. (June 18, 2011)
HURRICANE SEASON BEGINS, AND IT MAY BE AN ACTIVE ONE The Atlantic/Caribbean hurricane season officially begins June 1 and lasts through November. NOAA predicts an above-average storm season, with 12 to 18 storms, of which 6 to 10 are predicted to be hurricanes and 3 to 6 major hurricanes of Category 3 to 5. (June 1, 2011)
NEW FERRY SERVICE BETWEEN TAMPA AND MEXICO PLANNED A cruise line executive has announced plans to start an auto and pedestrian ferry between Tampa and Mexico beginning in early 2012. Bruce Nierenberg, a founder of now-defunct Premier Cruise Lines, says his company, United Caribbean Lines, will operate a large, European-style ferry ship between Tampa and an unnamed port in the Yucatan, possibly Mahahual, twice weekly beginning as soon as January or February 2012. The ferry will carry several hundred vehicles and more than 1,000 passengers on the 30-hour trip. For a short time in 2002-2003, a Canadian-owned ferry, Yucatan Express, operated between Tampa and Cancun and then Merida, before discontinuing service in early 2003. The Yucatan Express was plagued by problems at Mexican ports and also by relatively low numbers of people using the service. Premier for a time was the official cruise line of Walt Disney World. It went out of business in 2000. Nierenberg also served in executive positions at several cruise lines before becoming a consultant and then a founder of United Caribbean Lines. United Caribbean is also looking at service between Florida and Cuba. (May 23, 2011)
U.S. EMBASSY WARNS AGAINST TRAVEL TO TIKAL FOLLOWING MASSACRE The U.S. Embassy in Belize has “strongly recommended” American citizens not travel to the Petén department of Guatemala, which includes Tikal and Flores, after 27 farm workers in on a ranch southwest of San Benito were killed and 25 of them decapitated on May 15 in an apparently drug-related attack by several dozen gunmen brought in on trucks. Mexico’s Los Zetas drug cartel is said to be operating in this part of Guatemala, which adjoins western Belize and southern Mexico. The U.S. Embassy also announced it would prohibit its staff from traveling in the Petén for the next 30 days. Canada and several other countries also have issued warnings about travel to the area. The government of Guatemala declared a temporary “state of siege” in the Petén. On May 20, the main suspect in the massacre province was arraigned on charges including conspiracy to murder and kidnapping. Suspect Hugo Gomez Vasquez has been identified as a local leader of the Zetas cartel and a former member of the elite Guatemalan military unit known as the Kaibiles. He claimed he is innocent. Despite this and other arrests, a public prosecutor working on this case and other drug-related crimes was murdered and his dismembered body found in five plastic bags in Coban. A note left with the remains claiming to be from the Zetas warned of further killings. Some travel and tour operators in Belize have stopped sending tourists to Tikal and Flores, but others continue to do so, and some travelers go on their own. (May 18, 2011, updated May 22, 2011 and May 27, 2011)
BELMOPAN BAR OWNER’S HOME RAIDED BY GANG SUPPRESSION UNIT A team from the Gang Suppression Unit carried out a surprise raid early on the morning of May 20 at the house of Mike Menjivar, the owner of the popular La Cabana Bar in Belmopan, reportedly looking for illegal items. A firefight ensued between GSU officers and residents of the house in Las Flores near Belmopan. Menjivar, his wife and three children were at home when the raid occurred. There is a dispute over who fired first. The gun battle continued for several hours. Menjivar, who had the previous day returned to Belize following surgery in Guatemala, was injured. He was arrested and charges are pending. Members of Menjivar’s family say Menjivar did not know the raid was by the GSU and in fact called Belmopan police to report an attack. (May 20, 2011)
BELIZE GUIDEBOOK UPDATE Travel writer Lan Sluder will be updating and revising Fodor's Belize beginning in early June. Published by Random House, most of the 300 Fodor's guidebooks including the 360-page Belize edition are revised, fact-checked and updated regularly, usually every year or every other year. The current Belize edition was published in 2010. Sluder, author of 10 books and eBooks on Belize, along with several other books on other destinations, has been doing the Fodor's Belize guidebook (formerly Fodor's Belize and Guatemala) for more than 12 years and has been reporting on Belize for 20 years. He will be revisiting all areas of Belize to re-evaluate hotels, restaurants and tourist sights and to report on new properties and attractions for the new 2011-2012 edition, set for publication in February 2012. Material in the guide also will be used on the Fodor's web site, http://www.fodors.com, which receives 2.1 million unique visits a month, and in partner publications including USAToday.com and AARP. Rose Lambert-Sluder will provide editorial and photographic assistance for the research. There is no charge or obligation to properties and sights included in the guide. For an interview on Tim Leffel’s Travel Writing 2.0 web site with Lan Sluder about his Belize travel writing, see http://travelwriting2.com/an-interview-with-lan-sluder/ (April 15, 2011, updated May 20, 2011)
DR RACHEL GRAHAM RECEIVES PRESTIGIOUS WHITLEY AWARD FOR WORK IN SHARK CONSERVATION Dr. Rachel Graham, a marine biologist in Punta Gorda, has received the Whitley Gold Award for her work in saving endangered sharks, including the whale shark. The award, supported by Sir David Attenborough and the World Wildlife Fund, was presented in London by Her Royal Highness Princess Anne. The award includes a 60,000 pound (near US$100,000) honorarium for further work in shark conservation. Dr. Graham and her husband also operate the Blue Belize Guest House in PG. (May 12, 2011)
NEW TRAVEL GUIDE TO BELIZE PUBLISHED Belize, A Great Destination by Kate Joynes-Burgess has been published by Countryman Press, Woodstock, Vermont (368 pp., US$19.95). The up-to-date and easy-to-use guidebook has many photos and maps. (May 9, 2011)
DRY SEASON FIRES IN BELIZE, GUATEMALA AND THE YUCATAN CREATE SMOKE AND HAZE Fires in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Maya Mountains and Yalbac Hills have blanketed San Ignacio and other areas of Belize with smoke and haze. Dry season fires also are burning in the Yucatán and in parts of Guatemala. (April 20, 2011)
BROTHER OF ‘GEORGE WASHINGTON OF BELIZE’ BRUTALLY MURDERED Samuel Price, 85, the younger brother of the Rt. Hon. George Cadle Price, former People’s United Party prime minister and the elder statesman considered by many as the “founder of modern Belize,” was found April 16 brutally beaten to death at his home off the Northern Highway in the Tarpon Cove area about 6 miles from Belize City. As yet police have no motive for the killing. Sam Price is survived by his older brother and two sisters, Jane Usher, president of the Holy Redeemer Credit Union, and Meg Craig, an artist and historian, and by several children and grandchildren and other family members. This is at least the third recent high-profile attack on an individual associated with senior political figures in Belize. Rodwell Williams, the long-time law partner and friend of current United Democratic Party Prime Minister Dean Barrow, was shot and seriously wounded in May 2010 leaving his law offices on Albert Street West in Belize City. In September 2010 former PUP Secretary General of Carlos Espat was found dead in his apartment in Belize City, a victim of blunt trauma to the chest. There is no indication that the incidents are politically motivated but may instead be part of the general crime wave in the Belize City area that so far this year has taken 37 lives in the Belize City area. Reportedly Sam Price previously was a victim of more than a dozen burglaries and break-ins at his home and eight years ago shot and killed an intruder in his home. (April 17, 2011; updated April 19, 2011)
NOVEL SET IN BELIZE PUBLISHED In the Trees, a new novel for young adults by British writer Pauline Fisk, has been published by Faber & Faber. The novel tells the story of a young London boy of Belizean descent who returns to his homeland to find his family but finds instead a group of young gap year do-gooder volunteers instead, just the sort of people he'd never expect to like. He and they are thrown together to face challenges and adventures that provide them with a rite of passage into adult life. (April 16, 2011)
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH BTB’S WEBSITES? Would-be travelers to Belize are finding that when they search for tourism and hotel information from Belize Tourism Board websites that the websites or down or are “under construction.” Online experts say that even a temporary loss of the websites could result in lower rankings for Belize’s tourism sites and potentially hurt all tourism businesses in Belize, including hotels and tour operations. The Belize Tourism Board, in some turmoil after abruptly firing Deputy Chairman Santi Castillo in February, no longer works with Belize by Naturalight in Dangriga, the BTB’s online partner for 15 years. (April 6, 2011)
CHINESE MERCHANTS CLOSE SHOPS COUNTRYWIDE TO PROTEST KILLINGS AND HIGH CRIME Following the recent shooting deaths of two Chinese women in Belize City, the Belize Chinese Association organized demonstrations in Belize City and asked that Chinese-owned stores around the country close for two days. (April 6, 2011)
PM BARROW AGAIN CALLS FOR PREVENTIVE DETENTION In an effort to combat Belize’s crime problem, Prime Minister Dean Barrow at a press conference April 4 said he will again bring up for the approval of the Cabinet legislation allowing for preventive detention of suspected criminals. Preventive detention was proposed in 2008 but rejected then. The PM also stated he would find the money to upgrade law enforcement in Belize and floated the idea of eliminating jury trials in murder cases, and he suggested steps to prevent jury and witness intimidation. Belize City alone has had at least 21 murders since the first of the year, most of them drug- and gang-related. (April 5, 2011)
CENSUS: BELIZE POPULATION SMALLER THAN ESTIMATED Preliminary results released from the 2010 Belize Census by the Statistical Institute of Belize show that Belize’s population is 312,971, about 20,000 fewer than estimated in 2009. (Population estimates are mathematical projections and may differ from actual population counts.) Belize’s population increased by almost 73,000 people since the last Census in 2000, an increase of over 30% during the decade. San Pedro is the fastest growing town in the country, with the population more than doubling in the past 10 years to 11,510, and increasing nearly 10-fold since 1980. Belize District is the district with the largest population, followed by Orange Walk. (April 4, 2011)
TOURIST DIES IN CAYO CAVE CANOEING ACCIDENT Another tourist has died in an accident in Belize, the third tourist death since the beginning of the year. This one reportedly was an 83-year-old Canadian women who was canoeing with a 25-person tour group in the Barton Creek caves, when the canoe capsized and she drowned. According to media reports, she was not wearing a life vest. The woman was staying in San Ignacio with a senior citizen tour group from Canada. In early January a Puerto Rican man fell or jumped to his death from a Royal Caribbean cruise ship, and in early February a 59-year-old American woman on a Holland America cruise ship who was snorkeling near Goff's Caye died after being hit by the propellers of a tour boat. (February 18, 2011)
CHALLENGE TO BELIZE’S ANTI-GAY LAW Section 53 of the Belize Criminal Code reads “Every person who has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any person or animal shall be liable to imprisonment for ten years.” That has been interpreted to include consensual sex between people of the same gender. Now a civil rights and gay support group, United Belize Advocacy Movement (UNIBAM), has filed a court action challenging that law on the basis of several sections of the Belize Constitution that protect fundamental rights and freedoms. (February 5, 2011)
U.S. EMBASSY WARNS ON BUS TRAVEL BETWEEN FLORES/TIKAL AND BELIZE The U.S. Embassy in Belize is warning against taking public buses between the Belize border and Flores and Tikal. There were at least four buses stopped and robbed in January. From the February 3, 2011 U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, Belize, Warden's Message:The U.S. Embassy in Belmopan alerts U.S. citizens to recent armed robberies of buses traveling in the area between Flores, Guatemala, and the land border with Belize. In January, passengers on four public buses en route from Flores, Guatemala to Belize were robbed by armed gunmen. The robberies occurred in Guatemala near the border with Belize, and involved buses frequented by tourists. There is no current information available to suggest that the alleged perpetrators were attempting to target individuals or tourists of any specific nationality, and the victims appear to have been targets of opportunity. We strongly advise Embassy personnel and private U.S. citizens to avoid using public bus transportation for travel in the Flores - Tikal - Melchor area of Guatemala, U.S. citizens in Belize should continue to monitor events in the area and to contact the Consular Section for updates. (February 3, 2011)
INN AT ROBERT’S GROVE CHANGES HANDS: It's official – the Inn at Robert's Grove in Seine Bight, one of the top beach resorts in Belize, has been sold. The new owners are Jean-Marc Tasse and Michael Kramer, who took over the Singing Sands Inn, also on the Placencia peninsula. Purchase price and terms were not disclosed.
Bob and Risa Frackman opened Robert's Grove in 1997. At the time, it was one of only a small handful of upscale beach resorts in Belize and is credited with helping start the trend to luxury resorts on the coast of southern Belize. Bob Frackman, 84, was formerly a real estate developer in New York. He supervised the construction of Robert's Grove. The Frackmans have been in discussion to sell the 52-unit Robert's Grove for some time. They also owned Robert's Caye, a tiny island off Placencia with several cabins, and under a lease also had a small resort operation at Ranguana Caye. The Robert's Grove property includes two restaurants, dive shop and a small marina. The resort has three swimming pools and tennis courts. Jean-Marc Tasse is a Canadian, and Michael Kramer, manager of Singing Sands, has a property management business on the peninsula.
Robert's Grove is widely considered one of the top beach resorts in Belize. In 2008, it won the Belize Tourist Board's Hotel of the Year award. It also has been named a Fodor's Choice hotel for several years and has won other awards. (February 3, 2011)
RUMOUR: MAYA ISLAND AIR WILL BEGIN U.S. SERVICE According to a report in Ambergris Daily online newspaper, Maya Island Air Regional will lease a Boeing 737 and this spring or early summer intends to begin flights between Belize International and New Orleans and Ft. Lauderdale. (February 3, 2011)
U.S.CRUISE PASSENGER DIES AS RESULT OF SNORKELING ACCIDENT A 60-year-old Holland America Line cruise passenger, a U.S. citizen, died Feb. 2 as a result of an accident while snorkeling near Goff's Caye when she was struck by the propeller of a catamaran. (February 2, 2011)
CARNIVAL CANCELS BELIZE STOPS OVER DISPUTE ABOUT TENDERS Carnival Cruise Lines has cancelled at least four cruise ship stops in Belize in a dispute over tenders, the boats that transfer passengers between the ship and the port facilities in Belize City. The cruise line wants larger tenders carrying at least 150 passengers and also wants a reduction in per-passenger fees paid to the tender boat owners. (January 25, 2011)
FORMER BELIZE DEVELOPER ANDRIS PUKKE LIKELY HEADED BACK TO JAIL Andris Pukke, who was the primary original owner of Sanctuary Bay development near Placencia (now called Sanctuary Belize) has pled guilty to obstruction of justice and concealing assets, including property assets in Belize. The plea agreement, signed in November 2010, has only recently been made public. Pukke is scheduled to be sentenced on May 16. He could face up to 10 years in prison. Pukke agreed in a U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreement in 2006 to turn over assets for a restitution fund for his debt counseling company, AmeriDebt, which is alleged to have bilked consumers of up to US$172 million. but court documents say he concealed assets worth up to US$40 million. Pukke served a short time in prison in 2007 for civil contempt. Sanctuary Belize officials say they no longer have any connection with Pukke. (January 24, 2011)
TRIPADVISOR 2011 TRAVELERS' CHOICE AWARDS ANOUNCED
Belize winners of TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice 2011 Awards, based on feedback by posters on the TripAdvisor website, are:
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort, Hopkins: #10 in Top 10 Best Hotels for Service in the WORLD
Hamanasi Adventure & Dive Resort, Hopkins: #2 in Top 10 Best Hotels for Service in Central & South America
The Phoenix Resort, San Pedro: #2 in Top 10 Relaxation/Spa Hotels in Central & South America
The Phoenix Resort, San Pedro: #7 in Top 10 Hotels for Service in Central & South America
Coco Plum Island Resort (private caye off Hopkins): #4 in Top 10 Best Hotels for Romance in Central & South America
Hickatee Cottages, Punta Gorda: #7 in Top 10 Best Inns & B&Bs in Central & South America
Las Terrazas, North Ambergris: #7 in Top 10 Luxury Hotels in Central & South America
Victoria House, San Pedro: #8 in Top 10 Best Hotels for Romance in Central & South America
Xanadu Island Resort, San Pedro: #10 in Top 10 Best Hotels for Service in Central & South America
(January 22, 2011)
TENNESSEE WOMAN DETAINED IN BELIZE FOR WEEKS AFTER TRAFFIC ACCIDENT Chattanooga businesswoman and artist Suzan Boutz, 60, said she is being detained in Belize after a traffic accident in southern Belize that was not her fault. Boutz was involved in a traffic accident at the junction of the Placencia Road and the Southern Highway on December 20 and has been required to stay in Belize ever since. Her son, Elliott Benzle of Hilliard, Ohio, said:
"My family is extremely concerned about her welfare and safety.She stopped at an intersection to yield to oncoming traffic before making a left hand turn and was struck by a motorcycle that crashed into the front of her rental car. His head hit the windshield of her rental car. The motorcycle driver was transported by locals to a local emergency facility. Several witnesses stepped up to tell her not to worry, that she was clearly stopped and that the motorcycle driver swerved across the center line and hit her car. Two hours later, a police officer arrived on the scene. At approximately 11 p.m. she was directed to the Independence police station by another police officer who identified himself as the investigating officer. There she was detained for 18 hours without any information and without an opportunity to engage an attorney. She was not read her rights. The police repeatedly told her that she did not need an attorney and would be free to go shortly...At 4:45 p.m. on Dec. 21 she was finally released, only after numerous calls to the embassy, other police officials, attorneys and multiple residents. She was charged with two counts: 'Negligent Grievous Harm' and 'Drove without due care and attention.' As directed, she appeared at a magistrate’s hearing held on Dec. 23 at Dangriga Town Magistrate Court where she plead 'not guilty' to both charges and asked for a timely trial date so that she could return to the USA with her 86-year-old mother as planned. Despite the magistrate’s attempt with the prosecutor to move the date up, the hearing was scheduled for more than one month later, and she was forced to post a $3,000 surety bond and to turn over her passport…Clearly the police force in Belize is guilty of misconduct, incompetence and harassment of a tourist.” (January 11, 2011)
VISITOR FALLS TO DEATH FROM CRUISE SHIP NEAR TURNEFFE Twenty-one-year-old José Miguel Pietri Tello from Puerto Rico early the morning of January 5 either fell or jumped to his death from the 12th deck of the Royal Caribbean Cruise Line’s Liberty of the Seas. The ship was near Turneffe atoll. A security camera on board showed the man falling or jumping more than 100 feet into the sea at 3:25 a.m. Belize authorities are searching the area but as yet have not found the man. (January 6, 2011)
BELIZE MAY GET OIL REFINERY At a press conference in Belize City, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said Belize may get its own oil refinery. If so, Belize would process the 5,000 barrels daily production of sweet light it currently exports, PM Barrow said. A group of Mexican investors has indicated an interest in building a refinery, and Belize Natural Energy, whose wells produce most of Belize’s crude, is also said to be interested in developing the refinery. The price of gasoline in Belize has soared recently to over US$5 a gallon. (January 5, 2011)
BELIZE SETS RECORD FOR HOMICIDES According to police and media reports, Belize had at 132 murders in 2010, a record. Of these, 86 were in Belize City and elsewhere in Belize District; 20 were in Cayo District; 13 in Orange Walk; 12 in Stann Creek; 3 in Corozal; and just 1 in Toledo. Based on an estimated population of 340,000, Belize’s homicide rate per 100,000 is about 39, almost seven times higher than the homicide rate in the U.S. (January 1, 2011)
THE YEAR IN REVIEW:
TOP 10 BELIZE NEWS STORIES OF 2010
10. CHINESE PROTEST CRIME Virtually all of the many Chinese stores and shops across Belize closed August 19 to mark the funeral of Hellen Yu, 14, who the previous week was shot dead in the robbery of her parents' store in the Collet Division of Belize City. Her father, Ziren Yu, was also shot in the robbery but recovered. Chinese merchants frequently have been the targets of crime, especially in Belize City.
9. BRITISH ARMY PULLING OUT OF BELIZE Nearly all the remaining British Army forces in Belize will be pulled out of the country, and the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) base near Belize City will be effectively closed, leaving only a skeleton staff, according to an announcement by the British government in December. The move is part of a British cost-cutting effort. As many as 3,000 British troops per year have been undergoing jungle training in Belize. The closure of BATSUB could mean the loss of up to 160 local jobs.
8. BELIZE’S PROFILE AS RETIREMENT DESTINATION RAISED A series of articles in large-circulation U.S. magazines and on the Yahoo internet main page raised Belize's profile as a possible retirement destination. An article in U.S. News & World Report touted Belize as one of the 10 best retirement options outside the U.S., and the article was picked up by Yahoo and given prominent space on the site's web page. Another article in AARP Magazine profiled Corozal Town as an expat haven.
7. TOURISM INDUSTRY STRUGGLES TO GET TRACTION After suffering a more than 5% decline in tourism arrivals in 2009, Belize’s tourism industry struggled to gain traction in a soft world market for travel. While many tourism businesses in San Pedro and other tourism centers saw increasing numbers of visitors in 2010, several large hotels closed, including Bela Maya on the Placencia peninsula and SueĖo del Mar and Belize Legacy Resort on Ambergris Caye.
6. LEADING BELIZE BUSINESSES SUFFER IN DOWNTURN In a tough economic environment, with the GST raised to 12.5%, several prominent Belize businesses closed or showed signs of trouble. In December, the license of National Transport Ltd., formerly Novelo's, and its subsidiary Bel-Bus were pulled by the Ministry of Transport. First Caribbean International Bank placed the Mena group of companies in July into receivership. Fresh Catch Limited Belize, the tilapia farm which opened in 2002, defaulted on loan payments. Another Mena company, Wood Depot, also ran into financial troubles. An official of the Belize Central Bank said in August that about 28% of Belize’s Bank’s loan portfolio was non-performing. Although some observers claimed that the disclosure of Belize Bank’s problems was a political move by elements of the UDP against the PUP, which has been closely allied to Belize Bank’s ownership, Prime Minister Dean Barrow went on the record saying he thought Belize Bank, Belize’s largest local bank, could resolve the problems.
5. HURRICANE RICHARD STRIKES CENTRAL BELIZE After dodging the bullet on Tropical Storm Matthew in September, Central Belize including Belize City and Belmopan took the brunt of Cat 1 Hurricane Richard that came ashore October 24. Two fisherman died, an American expat was killed by a jaguar that escaped during the storm and the Belize Zoo, Guanacaste National Park and a number of homes in Belmopan and Belize City were damaged by the storm.
4. NO ONE SAFE: PROMINENT BELIZE CITY RESIDENTS SHOT AND STABBED Rodwell Williams, Prime Minister Dean Barrow's long-time law partner and friend, was shot down in cold blood on May 31 around 8 pm leaving his law offices on Albert Street West in Belize City. The perpetrators, two alleged members of a South Side gang, were arrested for the shooting but later released on nominal bail. Williams suffered severe injuries but is recovering. In September former Secretary General of the People’s United Party and educator Carlos Espat was found dead in his apartment in Belize City, a victim of blunt trauma to the chest. Richard Stuart, a prominent attorney, and his wife, Maria Stuart, an accountant and former teacher, were brutally stabbed to death at their home in the upscale West Landivar area of Belize City the night of October 16.
3. TOLEDO VIGILANTES BURN CROC SANCTUARY The American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) facility near Punta Gorda, operated as a volunteer reptile rescue and rehab center by a young American couple, Vince Rose and wife Cherie Renee Chenot-Rose, was burned to the ground September 5. A group of about 100 villagers from San Marcos village, armed with rifles and machetes, came to the ACES property looking for two missing children they believed were at the ACES facility. The villagers shot some of the crocodiles and the property was set ablaze, burning down the owners’ home, laboratory and two guest cabanas. Two young Maya children, Benjamin and Onelia Rash, 9 and 11, from San Marcos village, had gone missing earlier in the week, after being in Punta Gorda selling craboo and limes. A local fortuneteller allegedly had claimed that the missing children had been fed to the crocodiles at ACES. Police had been to the crocodile facility but had found nothing linking it to the children’s disappearance. The incident raised anti-foreigner sentiment among some Belizeans. The missing children have never been found. The American couple moved their crocodile operation to Ambergris Caye.
2. SIR BARRY BOWEN DIES IN PLANE CRASH Sir Barry Bowen, 64, a seventh-generation Belizean, the country's most prominent entrepreneur and one of Belize's wealthiest men, and a former Senator and financier of the People's United Party, died February 26 in the crash near San Pedro of a private airplane he was piloting. Four other people in the Cessna 206 also died in the crash.
1. RECORD 132 MURDERS RIP BELIZE Belize had at least 132 murders in 2010, a record. Of these, 86 were in Belize City and elsewhere in Belize District; 20 were in Cayo District; 13 in Orange Walk; 12 in Stann Creek; 3 in Corozal; and just 1 in Toledo. Based on an estimated population of 340,000, Belize’s homicide rate per 100,000 is about 39, almost seven times higher than the homicide rate in the U.S., and among the highest homicide rates in the world.
EIGHT BELIZEANS RECEIVE BRITISH HONOURS The following Belizeans have been honoured by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth:
Order of the British Empire (Civil Division) - CBE
Rene Villanueva M.B.E., J.P. For services to the community and
Ralph Gregory Feinstein. For services to business and economic
Norman Gilbert Simplis. For services to the Belize Police Force.
Linda Lewis-Brown For services to sport and medicine.
Raymond A. Gongora. For services to cultural development.
Donald Gilbert Hernandez. For services to sport and athletics.
The Hon. Arthur W. Roches. For public services, politics and sport.
Timothy Glegge Thompson. For services to trade unionism and social
(December 31, 2010)
STATE OF SEIGE DECLARED IN GUATEMALAN PROVINCE The Guatemalan government declared a state of siege December 19 in a province it said has become overrun by a Mexican drug-trafficking group. The operation targets the north-central province of Alta Verapaz, which officials described as a safe haven for Mexico's Los Zetas cartel. Alta Verapaz shares a border with Mexico and Guatemala's El Petén jungles and has long been a transit point for drugs, arms and people. (December 20, 2010)
TROUBLED NATIONAL TRANSPORT BUS LINE OFFLINE The licenses of troubled National Transport Ltd., formerly Novelo's, and its subsidiary Bel-Bus have been pulled by the Ministry of Transport. The company's routes in northern and western Belize have in some cases been taken over by smaller companies. (December 18, 2010; updated December 23, 2010)
BRITISH ARMY PULLING OUT OF BELIZE Nearly all the remaining British Army forces in Belize will be pulled out of the country, and the British Army Training Support Unit Belize (BATSUB) base near Belize City will be effectively closed, leaving only a skeleton staff. The move is part of a British cost-cutting effort. As many as 3,000 British troops peer year have been undergoing jungle training in Belize. Already, the British Army has withdrawn Belize's main emergency air evacuation by stopping its helicopters responding as an air ambulance for the local population. The closure of BATSUB could mean the loss of up to 160 local jobs. (December 18, 2010)
BELIZE ZOO REOPENS Thanks to the hard work of staff and volunteers, the Belize Zoo has reopened following repairs from damages during Hurricane Richard in October. (December 1, 2010)
HURRICANE SEASON ENDS The 2010 hurricane season officially has ended. Central Belize suffered some damage when Hurricane Richard came ashore October 24, and the storm also cost the lives of two fishermen, but otherwise Belize escaped serious harm from tropical storms this year. (December 1, 2010)
OWNERS MAY BE OUT IN THE COLD AFTER FRACTIONAL OWNERSHIP RESORT ON AMBERGRIS CAYE SHUTTERED Some 140 owners at SueĖo del Mar resort on North Ambergris Caye have been denied access to their condo units, after the "fractional ownership" resort was put into receivership and closed by its lender, British Caribbean Bank (formerly Belize Bank International). The matter is in litigation, in part over whether owners are protected under the Timeshares Act of 2009. Belize Legacy Resort on North Ambergris, a condo development, previously closed. (November 28, 2010)
AIRLINES ADD NEW FLIGHTS TO MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA European and other airlines are adding flights to Mexico and Central America. In mid-November, British Air began flying twice weekly non-stop from Gatwick London to Cancun, and in October Iberia Airlines started direct service four times a week from Madrid to Guatemala City and San Salvador. Virgin Airlines is launching service from Los Angeles to Cancun, partially replacing service lost when Mexicana shut down. TACA is adding more service to Central America as well. To date, however, no new service has been announced for Belize. (November 21, 2010)
DRUG PLANE LANDS ON SOUTHERN HIGHWAY, POLICE CONFISCATE 2 TONS OF COCAINE A twin-engine airplane that landed on the Southern Highway November 13 and then abandoned was discovered to be carrying more than 2 tons of cocaine with a street value of around US$70 million. Five Belize policemen and a customs officer have been arrested in connection with the case. The cocaine has been transported to Belize City. (November 18, 2010)
MISSING FLIGHT ATTENDANT FOUND DEAD NEAR SAN PEDRO The half-nude and badly bruised body of missing Maya Island Regional Air and Swift Air flight attendant Maria Antonio Plaza Gomez was found south of San Pedro November 2 near the Belize Yacht Club. Police say they believe the Spanish national was killed sometime the afternoon of Sunday, October 1. A post mortem has been performed. The 37-year-old woman had spent the weekend on Ambergris Caye and was supposed to return to Belize City on Sunday to work a Maya Regional flight to Guatemala City. Police have detained several people in connection with the murder but then released them, and they seem to have made little progress on the case. (November 3, 2010; updated November 20, 2010)
ALLEGED SHOOTERS OF RODWELL WILLIAMS FREED ON LOW BAIL Ricky Valencia and Akeem Thurton, charged by Belize police with attempted murder for shooting and seriously wounding Rodwell Williams, the law partner of Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow, have been freed on BZ$8,000 bail each. They were released from prison by Chief Magistrate Margaret McKenzie and will be permitted to enjoy the Christmas holidays in freedom, returning to court on December 29. Attorney Williams was shot on the street in front of his law office on May 31 and spent many weeks in intensive care in hospitals but is recovering. Later in the week, the same Chief Magistrate denied bail to a Belize computer technician who was found to be wearing a bullet-proof vest. The computer person said he had been robbed four times this year and was wearing the vest for self-protection. Denied bail, he will spend Christmas in prison and will also return to court December 29. The bail of Ricky Valencia was revoked after he was charged in the theft of a bicycle. (November 3, 2010; updated November 17, 2010)
SCOTIABANK INTERNATIONAL SHUTTING DOWN OPERATIONS IN BELIZE The international banking operation of ScotiaBank in Belize has announced it will be discontinuing operations. The regular commercial bank division will continue to operate. (November 2, 2010)
CHARLIE SHEEN PARTIES IN PLACENCIA The hard-partying movie star Charlie Sheen was seen boozing it up in Placencia in early October at the Cozy Corner bar and at Turtle Inn, according to the Huffington Post. Later in October, Sheen was removed from the Plaza Hotel in New York after doing US$7,000 damage to the hotel room. He admitted to using cocaine and having been drinking. (November 3, 2010)
JAGUAR THAT KILLED AMERICAN IS CAPTURED AND EUTHANIZED Max, the jaguar that escaped from captivity during Hurricane Richard and mauled a U.S. national to death, was captured October 26 and euthanized, authorities say. The 4-year-old jaguar was under the care of wildlife photographers Richard and Carol Foster, long-time Belize residents who were associated with the start-up of the Belize Zoo in the 1980s. During the hurricane a tree fell on the cage where the jaguar, which formerly belonged to a tourism operation, was being kept, and it escaped. The jaguar attacked and killed Bruce Cullerton, an American neighbor of the Fosters who also held Belizean citizenship. Jaguar experts say it is rare for a jaguar to attack a human, but that jaguars that have been in captivity may lose their fear of humans. (October 28, 2010)
BELIZE CITY TAKES BRUNT OF CAT 1 HURRICANE RICHARD; TWO FISHERMAN KILLED; ELSEWHERE IMPACT LIGHT Hurricane Richard came ashore Sunday, October 24, the eye making landfall about 20 miles south of Belize City near Gales Point as a Category 1 storm with sustained winds of about 90 mph. Two fishermen caught in the eye of the storm at sea died by drowning. About 200 homes, mainly in Belize City and just to the west of the city, were damaged by water and wind, many trees were blown down and power was out in many areas of the country. In Cayo and Stann Creek districts about US$16 million in damage was sustained in the citrus industry. Outside the Belize City area and the area immediately to the west, the impact of the storm was light. Northern Belize received moderate rain and almost no wind. From Placencia south reports say that despite some rain the storm created no problems. Ambergris Caye had little damage. Caye Caulker had some mild beach erosion. St. Herman's Blue Hole and Guanacaste national parks have been closed temporarily due to storm damage, and Caves Branch Adventure Camp lodge also sustained considerable damage. The Belize Zoo was also temporarily closed due to damage. (October 25, 2010; updated October 28, 2010)
NEW ANTI-SMOKING RULES EXPECTED TO GO INTO EFFECT SOON The Belize Ministry of Health has announced that new anti-tobacco rules will go into effect soon in Belize. These will include:
-- Prohibition of smoking within government buildings;
-- Prohibition of smoking in private business where the public accesses services -- for example: lobbies of banks, hotels;
-- Restaurants must indicate "smoking" and "no smoking” areas;
-- Prohibition of smoking in all primary, secondary and tertiary learning institutions, whether public, church, state- or privately-managed;
-- Prohibition of smoking in public transportation, including all terminals;
-- Public display of "no smoking” signs in areas where smoking is prohibited;
-- Public awareness and education activities to promote this initiative. (October 20, 2010)
AMERICAN FUGITIVE ARRESTED IN SAN PEDRO U.S. national Richard Caveras, an alleged fugitive, was arrested in San Pedro on October 18. He is said to be wanted in the U.S. for parole violation, security fraud and other matters. Prior to coming to San Pedro, reportedly Caveras lived in Panama and Costa Rica under different aliases. Caveras has been in Belize for a year. He worked for Coldwell Banker real estate on Ambergris Caye. (October 19, 2010)
PROMINENT BELIZE CITY ATTORNEY AND WIFE BRUTALLY STABBED TO DEATH IN THEIR HOME Richard Stuart, a prominent attorney, and his wife, Maria Stuart, an accountant and former teacher, were brutally stabbed to death at their home in the upscale West Landivar area of Belize City the night of Saturday, October 16, as they returned home from a dinner honoring the retiring Supreme Court Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh. Their four children and a housekeeper were at home at the time of the murders. Police say they are still investigating but have arrested a Guatemalan national, an employee or former employee, who was found driving the couple's Toyota Scion. The Guatemalan reportedly has confessed. Richard Stuart received his legal training in Guyana and had served as vice president of the Belize Bar Association. Belize now has recorded 105 murders in 2010, 3 more than the record of 103 set for the entire year of 2008. (October 19, 2010)
WHEW! HURRICANE PAULA VEERS AWAY FROM BELIZE Paula decided not to visit Belize, veering away from the coast of Belize and Mexico and heading back into the Caribbean toward Cuba. (October 14, 2010)
THREE FLIGHTS FROM HAITI CARRYING “JAPANESE” TOURISTS RAISE SUSPICIONS ABOUT HIGH-LEVEL IMMIGRATION SCAM Three recent flights from Haiti to the international airport near Belize City carrying what were listed on some documents as “Japanese” tourists have raised suspicions that high-level Belize government officials may be involved in an illegal immigration or human trafficking plot. The facts are still being investigated, but it appears that the charter flights originated in earthquake-ravaged Port-au-Prince, Haiti, an odd origin for tourists from Japan, who are, in any event, rare in Belize. These flights are believed to be the only ones from Haiti this year. Some observers suggest that the passengers on the flights were actually Chinese illegally headed for the U.S. and that for them to be permitted into Belize could involve high-level collusion among officials in several government departments. The U.S. Embassy in Belize issued a statement that said in part, “We encourage the Government of Belize to remain steadfast in their commitment to identifying and sanctioning corruption at all levels and implementing measures that eliminate the illegal entry of people and goods into Belize.” (October 8, 2010)
LARGE GROUP OF ARMED DRUGGERS IN ARMORED SUVs ATTACK SECURITY POST NEAR TIKAL About 80 armed men in a dozen SUVs, some armored, attacked a Guatemala security outpost between Flores and Tikal Park the night of October 5. The battle ended with four of the attackers, who are believed to be associated with drug dealers who operate in the Petén, dead in the jungle. Police also captured two of the attackers and seized a half dozen SUVs, along with some weapons. (October 7, 2010)
SHUTDOWN OF MEXICANA HITS CANCUN Hotels in Cancun reportedly are losing almost US$5 million a day due to the shutdown of Mexicana airline in August. Mexicana had 16 flights a day to Cancun. To save money, some travelers to Belize fly through Cancun, busing to Chetumal. Other airlines are moving to make up some of the lost Cancun service. Virgin America is adding a daily LA-Cancun flight, and Funjet, a charter airline based in Chicago, is increasing service to Cancun. Interjet, based in Mexico City, is also adding flights to the Yucatán. (October 6, 2010)
BELIZE DODGES BULLET ON TROPICAL STORM MATTHEW Belize lucked out again, as a tropical storm that for a time looked like it could be another Hurricane Mitch, veered south and spared Belize. Tropical Storm Matthew came ashore Saturday, September 25, in Southern Belize, bearing only 35 to 40 mph winds. While it drenched much of the southern part of the country with up to 6 to 8 inches of rain, causing several bridge closings, isolated flooding and some beach erosion on Caye Caulker, Ambergris Caye, Placencia and elsewhere, no deaths or serious damage were reported. (September 26, 2010)
MURDER TOTAL FOR YEAR TOPS 100 Murders in Independence, Ladyville and Orange Walk last week brought the total for the year to 102. With three months of the year remaining, the grim statistic means that Belize doubtless will set a new annual record for homicides, and Belize likely will be near the top in the world for murder rates per 100,000 population. (September 27, 2010)
CROCODILE SANCTUARY BURNED IN TOLEDO ALLEGEDLY BY ‘MAYA MOB’ INCITED BY LOCAL FORTUNETELLER AFTER DISAPPEARANCE OF TWO CHILDREN The American Crocodile Education Sanctuary (ACES) facility near Punta Gorda, operated as a volunteer reptile rescue and rehab center by a young American couple, Vince Rose and wife Cherie Renee Chenot-Rose, was burned to the ground Sunday, September 5. From news reports, a group of about 100 villagers from San Marcos village, armed with rifles and machetes, came to the ACES property on Water Hole Road in the Forest Home area when the couple was away, looking for two missing children they believed were at the ACES facility. It is unclear whether there was a caretaker at the property when the villagers arrived.
The villagers reportedly shot some of the crocodiles and the property was set ablaze, burning down the owners’ home, laboratory and two guest cabaĖas. The buildings, reportedly valued at BZ$1 million, were totally destroyed. They were not insured.
Two young Maya children, Benjamin and Onelia Rash, 9 and 11, from San Marcos village, had gone missing earlier in the week, after being in Punta Gorda selling craboo and limes. A local fortuneteller, oracle or “psychic” allegedly had claimed that the missing children had been fed to the crocodiles at ACES. Police had been to the crocodile facility but had found nothing linking it to the children’s disappearance.
Cherie Chenot-Rose posted this to her Facebook page on September 5: “ACES no longer exists. While Vince and I were on Ambergris Caye rescuing three problematic crocodiles for the Belize Forest Department, two children went missing from a village near Punta Gorda. The local Maya villagers believed that Vince and I fed the missing children to the crocs. We were not even there, as I stated, but were on Ambergris Caye. As a lynch mob, the villagers burnt ACES / American Crocodile Education Sanctuary to the ground. The status of the crocodiles is unknown because the fire is so hot the Belize Defense Forces cannot get to the property. No one has been arrested. Vince and Cherie are now homeless and do not have anything to [our] name. Everything was lost. Our lives have been threatened if we return to Punta Gorda. We do not even know if our dogs survived.”
Since the incident, the media, online forums and the jungle telegraph have been alive with charges back and forth. From one perspective it has been viewed as a version of the Frankenstein story, with villagers marching on the doctor's house with pitchforks. From another perspective it has been viewed as the unfortunate legacy of decades and centuries of racism and ill treatment of the indigenous people of the region. And from another perspective it has been treated as gringos not fitting in with the local culture. There are other views as well, ranging from the burning being simply an accident caused by the heat wave to the welfare of dangerous reptiles being put ahead of the welfare of children.
Cherie Renee Chenot-Rose and Vince Rose measure a crocodile
(Photo from the ACES web site.)
In response to a television reporter’s question soon after the fire, Vince Rose said: “It's just unacceptable that a pre-meditated group of savages - and they are not human beings, they are savages - they should not even be out on the streets. They should all be in prison because they are not human beings.”
Police and the Punta Gorda Fire Service are investigating the fire as possible arson. Vince Rose has said publicly he plans to bring legal action against individuals involved for attempted murder, arson and trespassing. An article in the San Pedro Sun newspaper claims that some of the same people in the ACES mob allegedly may have been involved in burnings of other homes in Toledo.
The two children who went missing August 30 near Punta Gorda have so far not been found, despite a massive hunt by as many as 100 Belize police in Toledo and Stann Creek districts. On August 31, the Belize police reported the following: “The whereabouts of two minors from San Marcos Village, Toledo is unknown at this time and Police are seeking the public’s assistance in locating them. On the 31/8/10 Pedro Rash, a 38 year old farmer of San Marcos Village Toledo District, reported that at about 6:30am on the 30/8/10, he and his two children; Benjamin Rash, 11 yrs and Onelia Rash, 9 yrs both students of San Marcos Village; left towards the San Marcos Junction along with his father. On the way they were met by their uncle Domingo Rash where their father left them in his uncle care as he was heading towards Punta Gorda Town. However, up to the time of making the report none of the children have arrived home as yet. The description of the children are as follows: Benjamin is about 5ft in height, weighs about 65 lbs, slim built, narrow face, Brown complexion and was last seen wearing a blue T. Shirt with red sleeve and a black short pants with a pair of green slippers while his sister; Onelia Rash is about 3 ft 6 inches in height, weighs about 55 lbs, broad face, straight black shoulder length hair, brown complexion and was last seen wearing a white and red blouse, black skirt, and had no slippers. Both children are of Maya Descent, and were last seen by their uncle Domingo Rash at Hope Ville area in Punta Gorda.”
In Guatemala, attacks by groups of Maya on foreigners and local people who are believed to be responsible for kidnapping children or stealing them for adoption or for harvesting organs long have been fairly common. In one incident in 2007, a mob of 500 near Chicaman, Quiche, seized two foreigners including one American, along with a local person, who they believed to be involved in child abductions, but later released them without harm. Also in 2007, in Sayaxche, Petén, rumors escalated into mob action against a Guatemalan couple believed to be involved in child stealing. The husband was beaten and burned to death, and the wife threatened but released. The U.S. State Department warns travelers in rural areas of Guatemala to avoid close contact with local children and not to photograph them without permission.
ACES was located on 36 acres on the Rio Grande River. Rose and Chenot-Rose came to Belize about six years ago and had built the facility themselves from scratch. The not-for-profit organization was involved in researching and protecting the estimated 10,000 to 20,000 wild American Saltwater Crocodiles still remaining worldwide. ACES helped fund the work by offering two eco-tourism cabaĖas, powered by solar and wind. The organization’s future now is unclear, though there has been discussion of it relocating to Ambergris Caye.
The missing children still have not been found.
(September 6, 2010; updated September 7, 2010; updated September 27, 2010)
FORMER PUP SECRETARY GENERAL MURDERED Police are now treating the death of the former Secretary General of the People’s United Party and educator Carlos Espat, 47, as a homicide. On September 4, police responded to a report and went to an apartment building at the corner of King and Albert streets, Belize City. Upon entering a bathroom inside an apartment in the building the body of Carlos Espat was seen lying face up inside the bathroom tub, apparently dead. Initial investigations revealed that two brothers of the deceased, Mark Espat and Phillip Espat, had arrived at the apartment earlier and discovered the body. Police initially treated the death as an accident but are now investigating it as a murder. A post mortem found that death resulted from head and chest injuries from blunt object trauma. Carlos Espat, known as a low-key but effective PUP political strategist, was the brother of Jorge Espat, former Minister of Defense, Phillip Espat and Mark Espat, the deputy party leader of the PUP and former Minister of Tourism. (September 5, 2010)
BRITISH HONDURAS COLONIAL MEMOIRIST RICHARD CONROY DIES AT 82 Richard T. Conroy, who served in the U.S. diplomatic corps in Belize at the time of Hurricane Hattie and published in 1997 a classic memoir of his time in Belize, Our Man in Belize, has died of heart disease in the Washington area at age 82. In 1961, as an obscure diplomat, Conroy was posted to what was then the backwater of British Honduras. Soon he had to go through Hurricane Hattie, which killed several hundred Belizeans. Of that experience he wrote that he and other survivors were reduced to living on the only provisions they could salvage: liquor and baby food. After his stint with the State Department, he went to work for the Smithsonian Institution. He also was the author of another diplomatic memoir and of three mystery novels set at the Smithsonian. (September 5, 2010)
BENNY'S OPENS MEGASTORE ON NORTHERN HIGHWAY Benny's has opened a six-story megastore at Mile 2 1/2 of the Northern Highway. Some have compared it to a cross between Home Depot and Best Buy. It has the first escalaters in Belize, and plenty of secured parking. Benny's, established in 1947, is owned by Ralph Feinstein and family. Sean Feinstein is the managing director. (September 2, 2010)
UNDER NEW LAW, BELIZE GOVERNMENT WILL CONTROL WATER RIGHTS EVEN FOR PRIVATE WELLS
Under a new bill about to be signed into law, the Belize government will own, control and license all
water rights in Belize except rainwater in cisterns for personal use. Even if landowners are drilling on their own land, they will have to get a license for a well. A new authority, the National Integrated Water Resources
Authority, would be the agency to issue licenses to any person or company wanting to dig wells to extract water. A separate body, the Public Utilities Commission, regulates the charges for water. At present, wells for home or farm use where the usage is under 5,000 gallons a week would not pay any fee, but it is possible this could change in the future. The changes are being implemented under the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment. (August 31, 2010)
CHINESE STORES ACROSS BELIZE CLOSE FOR A DAY TO MARK MURDER OF YOUNG CHINESE GIRL Virtually all of the many Chinese stores and shops across Belize closed August 19 to mark the funeral of Hellen Yu, 14, who the previous week was shot dead in the robbery of her parents' store on Iguana Street Extension in the Collet Division of Belize City. Her father, Ziren Yu, was also shot in the robbery but is recovering. A young Creole man, Jermaine Matura, has been arrested and charged in the robbery and murder. Matura, 18, is the nephew of two brothers who were killed earlier in the year in gang warfare in the city. (August 21, 2010, update August 31, 2010)
MURDERS BY THE DOZEN: SHOOTINGS AND MURDERS CONTINUE TO PLAGUE SOUTHSIDE OF BELIZE CITY Three more Belize City residents were gunned down this weekend. More than 100 shootings and 30 murders have taken place on the Southside of Belize City this year. Most of the shootings and murders have taken place in the area bounded by Regent Street West, Albert Street, Euphrates and King Street. Police efforts to control gang activity and violence in this predominantly Creole area have not been successful. (August 17, 2010)
SERIES OF ARTICLES RAISES BELIZE'S PROFILE AS A RETIREMENT DESTINATION A series of articles in large-circulation U.S. magazines and on the Yahoo internet main page has raised Belize's profile as a possible retirement destination. An article in AARP Magazine by Barry Golson profiled Corozal Town as an expat haven. Another article by former International Living Editor and Publisher Kathleen Peddicord in U.S. News & World Report touted Belize as one of the 10 best retirement options outside the U.S., and the article was picked up by Yahoo and given prominent space on the site's web page. Observers noted that the Peddicord article had some questionable information and cost figures on Belize, but the country nonetheless benefited from the publicity. Belize-oriented web sites have seen a jump in visits since the articles appeared. BELIZE FIRST Editor Lan Sluder contributed to the AARP article. Sluder has written four books, three eBooks and a number of articles on retirement in Belize, including the recent paperback and Kindle books Easy Belize and Island Living in Belize, available on Amazon.com and elsewhere. (August 16, 2010)
NEW JAGUAR SANCTUARY DESIGNATED About 7,000 acres of jaguar habitat between Belize City and Belmopan has been designated as a sanctuary for the big cat, Panthera onca, the conservation organization Panthera announced. Panthera said the Labouring Creek Jaguar Corridor Wildlife Sanctuary was designated by Belize officials as a protected area and adds one more stretch of safe passageway to the range of the jaguar. However, there is still a large swath of land that is a part of the jaguar corridor that is not yet protected. This land is roughly bounded by Gracie Rock, La Democracia, St. John's Bank and the Labouring Creek Jaguar Sanctuary.
Jaguars still exist in 18 countries in Latin America, but their numbers have been reduced due to land development, farming and hunting. As many as 600 to 850 jaguars are believed to be in the wild in Belize. Each jaguar requires a range of 2,000 to 3,000 acres. There are about 1.7 million acres of “wild lands” remaining in Belize. The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary in Southern Belize is the only jaguar preserve in the world. Panthera is based in New York and London. (August 10, 2010)
FUEL PRICES ON THE RISE AGAIN After a brief drop in late May, fuel prices in Belize are on the rise again. The new prices for gasoline and diesel:
Premium: BZ$9.75 per U.S. gallon
Regular: BZ$9.44 per U.S. gallon
Diesel: BZ$8.51 per U.S. gallon
Prices vary slightly around the country, with San Pedro and the Deep South usually having the highest prices. (August 9, 2010)
CENTRAL BANK OFFICIAL SAYS BELIZE BANK HAS SUBSTANTIAL AMOUNT OF NON-PERFORMING LOANS An official of the Belize Central Bank said in a court affadavit that about 28% of Belize’s Bank’s loan portfolio were non-performing – that is, that payments on the loans were not being made or were delinquent. Although some observers claimed that the disclosure of Belize Bank’s problems was a political move by elements of the UDP against the PUP, which has been closely allied to Belize Bank’s ownership, Prime Minister Dean Barrow went on the record saying he thought Belize Bank, Belize’s largest local bank, could resolve the problems, working with the Central Bank. Belize does not a deposit insurance program to protect the savings and deposits of customers in case of a bank failure. (August 7, 2010)
MENA COMPANIES FORCED INTO RECEIVERSHIP The Mena group of companies has been placed into receivership by First Caribbean International Bank. Fresh Catch Limited Belize, the tilapia farm which opened in 2002, was defaulting in loan payments. Another Mena company, Wood Depot, also ran into financial troubles despite efforts to save it from the creditors. If the businesses are permanently closed, several hundred employees will be out of work. (July 31, 2010)
BTIA AND PUBLISHER OF DESTINATION BELIZE MAGAZINE FALL OUT; ANNUAL MAGAZINE NOT DELIVERED The Belize Tourism Industry Association says it has had "significant challenges" with getting this year's Destination Belize magazine published, claiming that publisher of the four-color tourism annual magazine, Ulrich Communications in Miami, has not met deadlines and hasn't responded to emails, among other failings. Ulrich has been working with BTIA for 17 years. Destination Belize and BETEX, a trade show in Belize City, are the two major marketing programs of BTIA. In a letter to members dated July 2, BTIA President Dionne Miranda wrote, "The BTIA is currently in the process of finalizing its selection for a new publisher for a new travel magazine, multimedia package for the 2011 to 2013 period and we have received proposals from both local and international companies. Ulrich Communications will not be the publisher." Some observers note that the problems with the magazine could be related, at least in part, to the general problems print publications are facing in competition with online media. Also, over the years, some small hotels and other tourism operators have complained about the high cost of advertising in Destination Belize. (July 2, 2010)
NO SIGNICANT DAMAGE FROM TROPICAL STORM ALEX Tropical Storm Alex swept through Central and Northern Belize June 26 but caused little damage, except for blowing off several roofs, mainly in Orange Walk, and slowing down the Lobster Fest celebrations in Placencia and Caye Caulker. The Cauker Lobster Fest has been rescheduled for July 11-12. The Dia de San Pedro activities in San Pedro also were canceled due to the storm. (June 27, 2010)
SERIES OF THEFTS AND BREAK-INS PLAGUE NORTHERN BELIZE A series of home and business break-ins is worrying residents of the Corozal Town and Consejo village areas of Northern Belize. According to local reports, a series of break-ins has taken place in Consejo village and in the Consejo Shores development. Within the last few weeks, at least four thefts and break-ins have occurred in Consejo Shores, residents say, including thefts of outboard engines from developer Bill Wildman and a break-in at the Don Quixote Hotel. Xaibe residents also have been plagued by thefts. One resident complained of multiple thefts totaling some US$37,500 in the past year alone. Crack addicts are blamed for some of the incidents. Many of the thefts appear not to be reported to police, because residents say reporting to police can make the victims targets of "pay back" actions by thieves and also because the police rarely solve the crimes. (June 23, 2010)
HOTEL MOPAN CO-OWNER JAILED ON CHARGES OF POSSESSION OF GUNS WITH EXPIRED LICENSES
Tomy Shaw, co-owner of the famed Hotel Mopan in Belize City, and son of tourism pioneer Jean Shaw, has been charged and jailed for alleged possession of unlicensed guns, a 12-gauge shotgun and a 22 pistol, plus ammunition. Police found the guns in a search of his home in Belama phase 2. According to news reports, the guns had been licensed but the licenses expired in September 2009. Shaw was denied bail and was remanded to prison until July 21, but he can appeal to the Belize Supreme Court to be granted bail. Separately, Channel 5 News reported that Shaw was being questioned in connection with the death of recent Pallotti graduate Neisa Pipersburgh, that she had been at his house at a party in the days before her murder, but Shaw hasn't been charged in that matter. (June 21, 2010)
SUSPICIOUS FIRES HIT THREE RESTAURANTS IN PLACENCIA VILLAGE A series of fires the night of June 19 destroyed two restaurants in Placencia village, Serenade and Sunrise, and damaged another, De Tatch. All buildings had thatch roofs. Arson is suspected. (June 20, 2010)
WINNERS OF BTB AWARDS ANNOUNCED The following hotels and tourism operators were winners in the 2009 BTB Tourism Awards announced in June 2010:
Celi McCorkle, San Pedro Holiday Hotel, San Pedro, Lifetime Achievement Award
Brian Young Sr., Seahorse Dive Shop, Placencia, Minister's Award
Hopkins, Destination of the Year
Jaguar Reef Lodge, Hopkins, Hotel of the Year
International Center for Responsible Tourism, Environmental Award of the Year
Blue Water Grill, San Pedro, Restaurant of the Year
Lodge at Big Falls, Big Falls, Toledo, Small Hotel of the Year
Caves Branch Adventure Camp, Hummingbird Highway, Tour Operator of the Year
Tutti Frutti Gelateria, Placencvia, Small Vendor of the Year
Eloy Quevas, Monkey River Retreat, Tour Guide of the Year
Benjamin Awe, Lodge at Chaa Creek, Cayo, Frontline Person of the Year
Museum of Belize, Belize City, Receptive Service of the Year
Three Kings of Belize, Cultural Award of the Year
Chaa Creek in Cayo, Xanadu Resort in San Pedro and Hamanasi in Hopkins also were recognized as Green Globe Certifed Hotels, and Rudolph Thompson, a tour guide, was recognized for using CPR to save a life.
(June 20, 2010)
PM BARROW’S LAW PARTNER SHOT IN COLD BLOOD IN BELIZE CITY, TWO MEN ARRESTED Rodwell Williams, Prime Minister Dean Barrow's long-time law partner and friend, was shot Monday, May 31, around 8 pm leaving his law offices on Albert Street West in Belize City. He was leaving his office after working late and was accompanied by an unarmed security guard. Reports are that the assailants were two men who arrived on a bicycle. According to Prime Minister Barrow, two men stopped Williams and the security guard, searched the guard to be sure he wasn’t armed, and then shot Williams in the stomach with a single shotgun blast. Williams underwent surgery Monday night at Belize Healthcare Partners Hospital, a private hospital in Belize City, and later was transported by air ambulance to a hospital in Miami. He reportedly is in critical but stable condition and has improved slightly since admission.
Two young men, reportedly associated with a Southside gang, have been arrested and charged with attempted murder and other crimes.
“Anybody who knows Rodwell will know what absolute wonderful human being he is. I am sure that I do not ask in vain when I ask that you all pray for him,” Prime Minister Barrow said. The PM traveled to Miami to visit Williams in the hospital.
The motive behind the shooting is as yet unknown. Speculation is that it is connected with Williams' law practice, and that the shooters were paid hitmen.
In mid-April there were reports that shots were fired into the Barrow & Williams law offices, but it is unclear whether that incident is related to the shooting. Two men reportedly have been taken into police custody in connection with the shooting, but to date no one has been charged.
Williams, 54, was born in Belize City and received his legal training at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and at Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica. He has practiced in Belize since 1985, in recent years primarily in the civil rather than criminal area.
In possibly related developments, in a cabinet shake up June 1, Prime Minister Barrow split the Ministry of National Security into two parts, a Ministry of Police and Public Security, head by Douglas Singh, and a Ministry of Defence headed by Carlos Perdomo. Despite police statistics that show serious crime to be declining, many Belizeans say they believe crime has reached epidemic proportions, especially in Belize City, where the homicide rate is among the highest of any city in the Americas. (June 1, 2010; updated June 8, 2010)
GASOLINE PRICES BACK OVER US$5 Gasoline prices are back over US$5 or BZ$10 a gallon. Belize has the highest gasoline prices in Central America. (May 9, 2010)
DANGRIGA NAMED "NUMBER 2 EMERGING DESTINATION IN WORLD" BY TRIPADVISOR
Dangriga, in what some have termed a surprise due to the town's relative lack of hotels, restaurants and other tourism facilties, has been named the No. 2 “Emerging Destination in the World” by TripAdvisor.com in its Travelers’ Choice 2010 Awards. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, was named the world’s No. 1 emerging destination. About Dangriga TripAdvisor says: “Love culture, not crowds? Leave the bustle of Belize City for quieter Dangriga, at the end of the Hummingbird Highway. The town is a suitable base for exploring the Stann Creek district: visit the Maya Center and the world's first jaguar preserve, explore the beach and try snorkeling at the reef a few miles out.”
San Ignacio was named the No. 10 Outdoor & Adventure Destination in Central and South America. TripAdvisor says: “It’s true: parts of Belize are getting touristy. But San Ignacio remains rustic, making it a great base for budget-friendly tropical adventure travel. Canoe on the Macal River, or walk to Mayan ruins at Cahal Pech (just be warned: it's uphill).”
Ambergris Caye was named the No. 2 Relaxation & Spa Destination in Central and South America. TripAdvisor says: “Why visit Ambergris Caye? If you’re a diver, it’s a perfect departure point for a trip to the Blue Hole, a reef like no other on earth. It’s a perfect circle of limestone—400 feet deep with 200-foot visibility. If reef-diving’s not your cup of tea, find a spot on any of the local beaches and enjoy a laid-back tropical vibe.” Ambergris Caye also was named No. 21 in the Top 25 Destinations in Central and South America and also the No. 10 Beach & Sun Destination in Central and South America.
Tikal in Guatemala, a short distance from Belize’s western border, was named the No. 10 Culture & Sightseeing Destination in Central and South America. (May 8, 2010)
WATER TAXI BUSINESS CONSOLIDATING A consolidation of the water transportation business in Belize is under way. On Ambergris Caye, the long-established Island Ferry has just closed down, and John McAfee's Coastal Xpress ferry service has purchased most of Island's Ferry's boats. Now it appears that consolidation could also be in order for scheduled water taxi service between Belize City and San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Reportedly there are no longer any Caye Caulker residents involved in the Caye Caulker Water Taxi Association and that in effect a merger with the San Pedro Belize Express water taxi company is taking place. Rates already have been increased between Belize City and San Pedro and Caulker, and rates are likely to go up ferry trips up and down Ambergris Caye. (April 26, 2010)
CRIME DOWN IN BELIZE, POLICE SAY; ‘YOU’RE CRAZY,’ BELIZEANS RESPOND Police Commissioner Crispen Jeffries says the latest statistics show crime is down in Belize. Through the three months ending March 31, murder was down by about 14%, according to police department figures; robbery fell by 21%; burglary is off by 30%, and theft is down by 35%. All figures are compared with the same three months of the first quarter of 2009. Some local residents, however, say they doubt the official figures and say they feel less safe. They note that in the first two weeks of April alone, there were seven murders in Belize, six in Belize City and one in Belmopan. An online poll by Channel 5 News found that 89% of the more than 600 respondents said they had more concern about their personal safety. A study by BELIZE FIRST found that in 2008 there were more homicides in the country of Belize than in Manhattan, even though Manhattan has a population four times larger than that of Belize. (April 18, 2010)
BELIZE TOURISM OFF 5.2% IN 2009 According to statistics released recently by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, international overnight arrivals to Belize were off by 5.2% in 2009, dropping to 232,373, but Belize fared better than some other Caribbean Basin destinations. Winter high-season tourist arrivals in Belize were down 7.1%, while summer arrivals were down only 3.8%. Belize’s biggest drop in arrivals was in tourism from Europe, which were down almost 14%. Only four Caribbean Basin destinations saw an increase in arrivals in 2009: Guyana, Jamaica, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Twelve Caribbean destinations saw double-digit declines in tourism arrivals. Anguilla and Montserrat had the biggest declines, at over 22% and 17% respectively. (April 5, 2010)
ROBBERS WAITING TO JACK TOURISTS KILLED BY HUNTERS ON NORTH AMBERGRIS Two thugs set up a road block on North Ambergris Caye, apparently planning to rob tourists in golf carts or on foot. Their plans were thwarted, however, when two local hunters came upon the roadblock. When the would-be robbers pulled a pistol, the hunters opened fire, and one of the robbers, a 21-year-old unemployed man from the San Pedrito area of the island, was hit. He died later. (April 13, 2010)
SAN PEDRO PROPERTY TAXES JUMP Some property owners on Ambergris Caye got a shock when they got their latest property tax bill: Increases of up to 2000%. The San Pedro Town Council said some of the bills had mistakes, and the Council is looking into it. (April 10, 2010)
GAS PRICES INCREASE AGAIN Gasoline prices have increased again. The cost of premium is now BZ$9.89. Regular is BZ$9.57, and diesel is BZ$8.33. Prices vary slightly around the country. (April 1, 2010)
GST RAISED TO 12.5% To help plug a budget deficit, the government has announced that the GST, basically a Valued Added Tax, will rise by one-fourth, going from 10% to 12.5%. Observers note that the GST is a regressive tax, hitting low and middle income Belizeans harder than a progressive tax such as the income tax, which provides for higher rates of taxes for higher income people. Fewer than 15% of Belizeans pay any income tax. (March 20, 2010)
NEW TOURISM BOARD DIRECTOR NAMED Seleni Matus has been named the new director of the Belize Tourism Board. Lindsay Garbutt has been appointed chairman of the BTB board of directors. Matus, a native Belizean, returns from the U.S. to run the BTB. She has held a variety of posts with NGOs and at one time headed Programme for Belize. She replaces Tracy Panton, who served as director for 12 years. The Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr. is minister of tourism. (March 20, 2010)
SIR BARRY BOWEN KILLED IN AIR CRASH IN SAN PEDRO
Sir Barry Bowen, 64, a seventh-generation Belizean, the country's most prominent entrepreneur and one of Belize's wealthiest men, a former Senator and financier of the People's United Party, died Friday, February 26, 2010, in the crash of a private airplane he was piloting. The accident occurred about 5:30 p.m. on approach to the 3000-foot airstrip at San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, the resort island off the coast of Belize where Sir Barry had a home.
Four other people in the modified Cessna 206 with turbine Rolls-Royce engine also died in the crash: Michael Casey and Jill Casey, both teachers at Gallon Jug Community School on the Gallon Jug Estate, the Bowen property in northwestern Belize, and their two young children, 2 1/2-year-old Makayla and 5-month-old Bryce. The Caseys, from Albany, NY, had been teachers at Gallon Jug for nine years.
The cause of the crash is as yet unknown, although observers noted that there had been unusually high winds during the day. One witness on the scene said that the aircraft appeared to be coming in low and to the east of the usual approach to the airstrip. The fixed landing gear of the Cessna is believed to have clipped something, perhaps a pole on a barge, and then lost a wing and came to rest in a swampy area on the back side of the island.
Sir Barry had been a licensed pilot for 43 years and almost daily flew his plane from Belize City, where his companies were based, to San Pedro. He formerly was a director of Belize's first national airline, Belize Airways Limited, established in 1976.
The Bowen business interests in Belize are extensive. They include Bowen and Bowen, Ltd., founded by Barry Bowen's father, Eric Bowen, which became the exclusive Belize bottler for Coca-Cola soft drinks and Crystal bottled water; Belize Brewing Company, which brews Belikin, Lighthouse and Belikin Supreme lager beers, Belikin stout and, under license, Guinness stout, and almost completely dominates the beer market in Belize; Belize Aquaculture Ltd., a large shrimp farm near Placencia in Stann Creek District; Gallon Jug Estate, a 130,000-acre tract in Orange Walk District that includes Chan Chich Lodge, a world-renowned jungle lodge, and Gallon Jug Agro-Industries, a 3,000-acre experimental farm that produces organic coffees (the only commercial coffee production in Belize), cacao and cattle; and Belize Estate Co., the Ford auto and truck dealership in Belize City.
Sir Barry, who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 2008 and was Honorary General Consul to Belize for the Kingdom of Norway, is survived by his wife, Dixie Summerscales Bowen, five children, several grandchildren and other family members.
(February 27, 2010)
MURDER DAZE IN BELIZE CITY Another round of murderous violence is taking place in Belize City, this one centered in the South Side. Between January 29 and February 2, 13 people were shot in Belize City. Three died and a fourth is currently on life support. As many as a dozen of the shootings took place on the South Side in the Faber’s Road area and in the Euphrates Avenue-Orange Street-West Street triangle. It is thought that at least seven of the shootings are gang-related, while most of the other appear to be random shootings. Police seem unable to do anything about the violence in Belize City, instead concentrating on arresting people for marijuana possession and other minor crimes. (February 3, 2010)
BELLA MAYA CONDOTEL CLOSES; DEVELOPER SAYS IT WILL RE-OPEN Bella Maya, the condotel at the north end of the Placencia peninsula, closed January 11. The developer, however, says the project has received an investment and will reopen, but no date has been set. In an email to BELIZE FIRST, Bella Maya's Paul Willcox said, "We took the decision to close in January because we were feeling the effects of a poor 2009 (in terms of revenue rather than occupancy). Our January and February bookings were also not fantastic, so we took the opportunity to close to focus on getting an investor involved in Bella Maya, and to complete some of the units on the lagoon side of the property. My business partner and I have been exploring the idea of bringing in another partner since midway through last year, and I’m pleased to inform you that we have now secured this investment, and therefore secured the future of Bella Maya. We are yet to set a reopening date. The investors are keen to get as much work done as possible, and even make upgrades to the current product as well as proceeding with a widespread sales and marketing strategy. (January 13, 2010, updated February 3, 2010)
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