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<h3><b>Roundup of News and Opinion about Belize and the Caribbean Coast</b></h3>
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<h3><b><font face="Times New Roman, Times, serif">LATE
NEWS OF BELIZE AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST<br>
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A Round-Up of News and Opinion from 2002-2003

<br>
<br>
By Lan Sluder<br>
BELIZE FIRST<br>


CRUISE TOURISM: HOW WILL IT WORK OUT? </b>The bright spot for Belize tourism this year appears to be cruise
ships calling on Belize City, but the jury is still out on how
successful this will be in the long term. The Belize Tourist Board
has said about 200 ships will stop in Belize City this year. Among
the ships set to call on Belize City this year are <i>Norwegian Sea, Norwegian Sun</i> and <i>Norwegian Dream</i> (Norwegian Cruise Line), <i>Galaxy</i> (Celebrity Cruise Line), <i>Volendam</i> (Holland America Line), <i>Carnival Spirit, Carnival Legend</i> and <i>Carnival Pride </i>(Carnival Cruise Lines), <i>Nordic Empress, Rhapsody of the Seas</i> and <i>Splendor of the Seas </i>(Royal Caribbean International). Typically, these ships are on
a seven-day Western Caribbean itinerary, beginning in Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., Miami or New Orleans. Other stops may include Key West,
Fla., Grand Cayman, Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and Cozumel or Playa del
Carmen, Mexico. Celebrity's <i>Galaxy</i> is unusual in that it has a 10-day itinerary leaving from Baltimore.
Cruise lines are adding &quot;exotic&quot; new ports of call, such as Belize
City, to appeal to experienced cruisers who have visited the standard
Caribbean ports several times. In addition, the small (100-passenger)
ships of American Canadian Caribbean Line makes stops in Belize
during the winter.<b><br>
<br>
</b>Because the Belize City harbor is too shallow to allow large cruise
ships to dock, ship passengers are brought in on tenders. Passengers
line up to get on the tenders and disembark at the new Point George
Tourist Village. Typically ships arrive in Belize City in the
early morning and leave around 6 p.m. Many passengers appear intrigued
by Belize, but others say they find little to do in Belize City.
The cruise director for Celebrity's <i>Galaxy</i> said that passengers on the 1,850-passenger <i>Galaxy</i> who sign up for organized tours -- cave tubing at Jaguar Paw
being the most popular -- are usually very satisfied with their
Belize experience, but that those who just walk around Belize
City are often not enthusiastic about Belize. They report little
to do or see, and some passengers, having heard stories about
Belize City crime, are reluctant to walk even as far as the new
Museum of Belize in the Central Bank Building, just a few blocks
from the Tourist Village. The bulk of the cruise ship tours are
handled by a few large tour operators, such as Belize City-based
Cruise Solutions.<br>
<br>
Tourism experts say cruise ships are a mixed blessing for a tourist
destination. While they deliver a large number of visitors, and
generate income for local governments in the form of port fees,
many passengers spend little money locally. Cruise ships rarely
buy supplies from ports where they stop. Most of the income from
cruise operations goes to a handful of well-connected tour operators.
In areas such as Cozumel, where as many as eight to ten ships,
each with around 2,000 passengers, call on the port each day,
the atmosphere of the local community can be dramatically changed
by hordes of day-tripping tourists, and local hotels may actually
suffer from the area's reputation as a cruise ship port. Belize
City is far from reaching this point, however.<b><br>
</b><br>
<b>WHAT'S NEW IN BELIZE?</b> A whirlwind country tour by BELIZE FIRST Editor Lan Sluder in
mid-June found hotel and tourism operators cautiously optimistic
about the balance of the year and next year's high season. Since
Easter, however, business at many resorts has been slower than
expected. Operators see a pickup starting in late June. Resort
development has slowed in Belize, with only a few places opening
or expanding. Many hotels remain up for sale.<br>
<br>
Around the country, business owners are complaining about BTL
and the new seven-digit telephone dialing system. Some businesses
claim the new BTL 2002 telephone directory contains a lot of errors.
&quot;The new directory is a fiasco,&quot; says Bill Wildman, a real estate
developer and surveyor based in Corozal. &quot;Every telephone and
fax number of ours is incorrect both white and yellow, no e-mails
even. Other people have also got similar problems. BTL does it
again and nothing we can do about it but suffer the year.&quot; Other
businesses are giving up on BTL's Internet access and going with
Starband or another high-speed satellite Internet system, which
provides DSL-speed downloads even in remote areas. Technically,
these systems are still not permitted in Belize, and a U.S.-address
must be given for billing.<br>
<br>
Until the torrential rains in late June, which caused severe flooding
in several areas, temporarily closing parts of the Western, Southern
and Coast highways, the rainy season had been off to slow start
in Belize, with only sporadic rains in most areas. Due to rains
earlier in the year, however, mosquitoes were worse than usual
in a number of regions.<b><br>
<br>
&#149; Belize City: </b>Despite its serious crime problems, Belize City continues to grow
and to become a more livable small city. Several new restaurants
have opened in the Fort George area, including the Village Steakhouse
in the Fort Point Tourist Village, the Wet Lizard and Harbor Light.
Jam-Bel Jerk, which has a location in San Pedro, reportedly is
opening in the old Three Amigos spot. Hotels remain fairly busy,
thanks to regional business and meeting business and overnight
stopovers by tourists. The owners of Colton House are thinking
of selling their beautiful guesthouse across from the Radisson,
with the price around US$500,000 outfitted as a guesthouse and
US$400,000 for the house and lot only, we're told. The attractive
and modern department store, Mirab, remains an asset for the city
centre. The Feinstein-developed Fort Point Tourist Village (see
above) is a well-executed project, but its long-term viability
may depend on its ability to attract local residents as well as
tourists, while keeping a damper on crime, observers say. The
new Museum of Belize, on the grounds of the Belize Central Bank
building in what was the former national prison, is a jewel. Currently
on the first level is a historical exhibition on Belize City.
The exhibition was organized by Yasser Musa, son of the Prime
Minister. Upstairs on permanent exhibit are Maya artifacts from
the Belize National Collection. Among the items displayed are
stunning jade pieces and pottery in amazingly perfect condition.
If you're in the city, the Museum is a must-see (admission US$5).<b><br>
<br>
&#149; Corozal Town: </b>Corozal remains as laid-back as ever. More expats are discovering
the area as a retirement or relocation destination, thanks to
its low real estate prices and proximity to Mexico, but real estate
prices in expat areas such as Consejo have had little appreciation
over the past decade. A real estate/retirement tour planned by
Bill and Claire Gray for mid-year was canceled. Thanks to medical
mission business and other group business, established hotels
in Corozal Town (but not in outlying areas) are enjoying healthy
occupancies this summer. On the night we came through, Tony's
Inn was full except for one non-A/C room. Overall, however, Corozal
isn't even on the radar screen of most tourists visiting Belize.
Sadly also, crime is increasing in Corozal, though it remains
one of the friendliest and safest places in Belize. Even the Hok'ol
K'in Guesthouse was held up at gunpoint earlier this year. The
blue sky plans for a casino, hotel and shopping area near the
Corozal Free Zone have been deconstructed and now only a casino
may get built, sources say. Reportedly the old Don Quixote hotel
site in Consejo is under contract and may become a fertility center.
Top restaurants in town include the French-Caribbean Caf&eacute; Kela,
which is supposed to get a liquor license in August, and which
has some of the best pizza in Central America, and Cactus Plaza,
home of tasty bargain-priced Mexican food.<b><br>
<br>
Placencia: </b>Visitors to Placencia these days are split into two camps: those
who rave about the good time they had there and urge everyone
to visit despite the lingering impact of Hurricane Iris, and those,
mainly budget travelers, who are put off by the state of Placencia
and Seine Bight villages and, while sympathizing with the plight
of the villagers, aren't pleased with the lower peninsula as a
vacation destination and, in some cases, actually leave early
for other budget areas such as Tobacco Caye or Caye Caulker. Has
the peninsula recovered from last October? Yes and no. In Maya
Beach and other areas north of around Seine Bight village, things
are about back to normal. All the major resorts are fully operational,
and some are doing good business. But dozens of wood homes in
Seine Bight village were destroyed and have still not been rebuilt.
Parts of Placencia village look quite different from pre-hurricane
days, and there is still debris which has not been removed. With
a few exceptions, such as Inn at Robert's Grove, where occupancies
have held up reasonably well and the hotel continues to expand
with a new restaurant, dive shop and small marina on the lagoon
side, hotel and tourism business is down sharply for many. Luba
Hati, for example, closed in late May for the summer, and except
for Tradewinds and a few other places in Placencia village, there
is only limited budget-level tourist activity this summer. Another
exception is The Moorings, a yacht charter business in Placencia
Harbor which opened right after the hurricane and by all accounts
is doing a booming business. It is expanding part of its operation
to Robert's Grove marina, where it will base six captained boats.
Real estate continues to be a driving force of the local economy,
and several large upscale homes are being built at The Plantation
and in other developments. Robert's Grove has sold four condos
in what is the mainland's first &quot;condominium zone.&quot; Owners Robert
and Risa Frackman plan to build other condos on the lagoon side,
but only when sold and not on spec. The Southern Highway is now
paved past the cut-off to Placencia, but the 25-mile road to Placencia
village remains a potential hazard after heavy rains. We're happy
to see, however, that one of southern Belize's prime watering
holes, Sugar Reef (formerly Lagoon Saloon), stays busy, especially
during happy hour. In other miscellaneous Placencia news, beginning
June 1 non-Belizeans visiting Laughing Bird Caye must pay a US$4
fee. A terminal building at the airstrip is nearing completion.
Despite indications that lobsters will be in less than abundant
supply this year, the Placencia Lobsterfest in late June attracts
visitors from all over the country. Construction and rebuilding
of Turtle Inn, which will be the name of Francis Ford Coppola's
beach place (instead of Blancaneaux's Turtle Inn) is well underway.
Grand opening is tentatively set for mid-December. Quite a few
of the lodges and hotels on the peninsula reportedly are for sale,
including Soulshine, Kitty's, Nautical Inn, Luba Hati, Barracuda
and Jaguar Inn, and others.<b><br>
<br>
Hopkins Area: </b>The Hopkins area has benefitted somewhat from post-Iris troubles
farther south. There are now more than two dozen hotels, guesthouses
and resorts in the Hopkins/Sittee Point area. A few, such as Jaguar
Reef, Pleasure Cove and Hamanasi are larger properties owned by
Americans or Canadians, but most are small guest houses, in many
cases operated by local families. Most visitors have nothing but
good things to say about the friendliness of Hopkins residents.
There are now not one but two Web sites focused on Hopkins: www.hopkinsbelize.com
and www.hopkinsvillage.com. Between Placencia and Hopkins is Belize's
newest all-inclusive, Kanantik, built and operated by Roberto
Fabbri, a former yacht salesman who was born in Italy but lived
for many years in San Francisco, and his partner. Kanantik opened
a couple of months ago, after seven years of planning and construction.
It has 25 thatch cabanas with air-conditioning, a 1,200-ft. stretch
of beach and a beautiful pool. Everything is included for one
price here -- food, prepared by a chef from Guatemala, deluxe
lodging, air transfers from Belize City, tours, local drinks,
diving and, for the time being at least, fishing. The one price
isn't cheap, US$300 per person double occupancy, and we feel it's
still too early to say whether this business model will work in
Belize, but we wish Roberto well.<br>
<b><br>
Ambergris Caye: </b>The hyper-development of Ambergris Caye has slowed a bit, although
two large new bank buildings, one for Belize Bank and the other
for Alliance Bank, are under construction on Front Street and
numerous other commercial and residential buildings are going
up. Seferino Paz is building some beautiful and pricey (like US$450,000)
condos south of Banyan Bay. Tim Jeffers has added 31 units to
his popular Banana Beach resort. The units range from regular
hotel rooms to four-bedroom suites; a few may be rented on a monthly
basis, starting at US$900 a month for a one-bedroom suite with
the tenant paying utilities. A second pool is open here, and a
new air-conditioned restaurant and gift shop are on the way. The
island real estate market remains active, though the apartment
rental market has softened significantly with the departure of
many of the nearly 200 students at St. Matthews offshore med school,
which moved in late spring to Grand Cayman. Two other schools,
Medical School of the Americas, now in temporary space at the
Belize Yacht Club, and St. Luke's downtown, may take up some of
the slack as they add students. More hotels are for sale on the
island than we've seen in a while. Among them: Hotel Del Rio,
for US$580,000; Hideaway Sports Lodge, asking just under a million
US; Coconuts, US$850,000 with some owner financing now possible,
we understand (if we had the money, this is the place we'd probably
buy); Mayas Katut, $275,000; and Caribbean Villas, US$1,875,000.
The rumor mill has it that several other resort properties south
of town are in play, with the potential buyer being a group associated
with a well-connected island businessman.<b><br>
<br>
El Cayo and Mountain Pine Ridge: </b>In the Mountain Pine Ridge, there are plans to set out millions
of Mountain Pines to replace those killed by the Southern Pine
Beetle. A nursery near Blancaneaux is growing the seedlings. Speaking
of Blancaneaux, this lodge looks better than ever despite the
death of many pines on the grounds. An American crew was brought
in to remove the dead trees, and landscaping highlights the remaining
trees and shrubs. Although there's no denying the impact of the
blighted pines, near the four lodges in the Pine Ridge are large
areas of broadleaf forest unaffected by the beetles. Hidden Valley
Inn has been purchased by the family that operates Belize Biltmore
Plaza in Belize City and SunBreeze in San Pedro. The lodge will
reopen soon, with a new pool and other improvements. Eventually,
a dozen more cottages may be added. Some of the lodges and hotels
in San Ignacio have suffered from the slowdown in tourism, and
several are for sale. The nearly new Mayaland Villas near San
Ignacio is being sold at public auction.<b><br>
</b></p>
<p>....</p>
<p><b>SETTLEMENT MAY BE NEAR ON GUATEMALA-BELIZE TERRITORY DISPUTE </b>Reports are that a final agreement may be reached soon in the
old dispute between Guatemala and Belize regarding Guatemalan
territorial claims. The settlement could involve a land swap and
a national referendum in each country. Details are still secret
pending a final agreement.</p>
<p><b>UPDATE ON CARJACKING AND ROBBERY AT EL PILAR <br>
</b>Based on eyewitness reports, here's an update on the carjackings
and robbery of tourists at El Pilar Maya site near Bullet Tree
village in Cayo. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 19, two groups
of tourists and a local farmer were stopped and robbed by a masked
gang as they approached El Pilar ruins in their vehicles. At least
one visitor was slightly injured, and several women had their
slacks and, in at least one case, underwear, pulled down by the
robbers, believed to be young Guatemalan men, who groped them
as they looked for hidden money or other valuables. Initially,
four tourists en route to El Pilar in a rental car were stopped
by six masked men, who tied them up and robbed them. About a half
hour later, another group of tourists, all staying at Mopan River
Resort in Benque Viejo, which offers tours as part of its all-inclusive
packages, came along the road in a van. The van was stopped by
the masked gang, as was a local farmer just behind them in a pick-up.
At gun point, the gang forced the tourists, the guide and the
farmer to lay face-down on the ground. Their hands and feet were
bound. <br>
<br>
&quot;It's horrifying to consider what might have happened, and we
feel very lucky to be alive and intact,&quot; said Linda Carlson-Blankenship
of Los Angeles, Calif., one of the people in the van. In an e-mail,
Carlson-Blankenship said her husband, Tom Blankenship, was &quot;was
kicked in the ribs aggravating already torn rib cartilage, and
he was also jabbed four times -- in the face, hand and legs --
with the machete one of the gang members was carrying.&quot; Blankenship
has now recovered from his injuries, his wife said. Carlson-Blankenship
said she was &quot;just shoved and stepped on.&quot; She said she believes
local tour guides should be given training on how to respond to
attempted car jackings. <br>
<br>
After the gang left, the victims were able to untie themselves.
The farmer recovered his cell phone, which a gang member had thrown
into the bush after the farmer, thinking quickly, had said the
phone didn't work, and the police were called. Reportedly about
US$6,000 in cash, jewelry and cameras was taken, along with other
items including hiking boots. Belize police are investigating,
working with authorities in Guatemala. El Pilar, thought to be
the largest Maya site in the Belize River Valley, is close to
the Guatemala border. <br>
<br>
The latest robbery is one of several recent incidents in Cayo
involving attacks on tourists by groups believed to be from Guatemala.
In August 2001, shots were fired at three Americans and their
Belizean driver in a taxi en route from San Antonio village to
San Ignacio. A man described as Hispanic attempted to stop the
taxi. When the driver refused to stop, the bandit fired two shots,
hitting the driver and Bob Perez, from San Jose, Calif. Neither
was seriously injured. Earlier in the year, Costa Rican tourists
in a van belonging to the Lodge at Chaa Creek were stopped and
robbed by a band of masked bandits, also believed to be Guatemalans,
on the Chial Road west of San Ignacio. In December 2001, the manager,
an expat American, and the Guatemalan assistant manager of Black
Rodge Lodge were murdered, and a half dozen American guests were
terrorized, and one raped, in what reportedly was the result of
a dispute between the lodge manager and a Guatemalan family.</p>
<p>Despite these incidents, most visitors to Cayo say they feel safe,
noting that crime can happen anywhere.</p>
<p><b>TOURIST SHOT IN BELIZE CITY </b>In mid-May, two Texans staying at a Belize City guesthouse were
approached on Eve Street at around 2 in the morning by a young
man on a bicycle who demanded money. When the Texans refused,
the bicyclist pulled a handgun and fired at the ground. The shot
ricocheted and hit one of visitors, identified as Scott Williams,
21, in the head. Williams was taken to Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital,
where he was treated and released the next day.<b><br>
<br>
NEW PHONE BOOK PUBLISHED </b>The 2002 Belize telephone book, delayed so that new seven-digit
numbers introduced May 1 could be included, has now been published
by Belize Telecommunications Ltd. A new feature is a section of
e-mail addresses. </p>
<p><b>SANDY BEACH LODGE NEARLY DESTROYED BY FIRE </b>Sandy Beach Lodge in Hopkins was severely damaged by a fire in
mid-May. Damage to the thach caba&ntilde;as was estimated at US$40,000.
The lodge is operated by a women's cooperative in Hopkins<b>.</b></p>
<p><b>SOME WATER TAXIS TO CAYES NOW LEAVE FROM TOURIST VILLAGE </b>Travelers to San Pedro and Caye Caulker now have two options for
water taxis. Several operators previously leaving from a variety
of points in Belize City have banded together as the Tourism Village
Water Taxi Association, with their boats leaving from the Fort
Point Tourist Village in the Fort George area where cruise ship
passengers are brought in on tenders. The Caye Caulker Water Taxi
Association boats to San Pedro and Caye Caulker still leave from
the Marine Terminal near the Swing Bridge.</p>
<p><b>BENQUE BUS FARE PROTESTERS SHOT BY POLICE </b>In April more than a hundred Benque Viejo residents protesting
a hike in Novelo&#146;s bus fares were fired on by police. In the ensuing
&#147;riot&#148; at least two protestors were hit by gunfire and more than
two dozen police were injured. Two Belizeans were hospitalized
with gun wounds. Bus fares were raised -- the new fare from Belize
City to Benque is US$4 -- allegedly due to hikes in the price
of gas and diesel fuel. Unleaded gas in Belize is now about US$3.40
a gallon and diesel is around US$2.25.</p>
<p><b><br>
NOTED ANGLER AND HOTELIER LOGAN GENTRY DIES IN BOATING ACCIDENT
</b>Logan Gentry, who with his sister, Ali Gentry, revitalized El
Pescador fishing lodge on North Ambergris Caye and who also helped
develop a new fishing lodge in Toledo district, died May 9 in
a boating accident. Returning to the lodge late at night, Gentry's
boat hit a dredge, which reportedly was unlit. BELIZE FIRST extends
all sympathies on this tragic loss.</p>
<p><b>TWO CORO MEN KILLED IN THEIR SKIFF NEAR SAN PEDRO</b> Jos&eacute; Majil and his brother in law, Alejandro Arevalo, both of
Corozal, were murdered May 7 in Majil&#146;s water taxi near the southern
tip of Ambergris Caye. Police report a stocky Hispanic man chartered
the boat for a trip to San Pedro. Majil was shot in the stomach
and Arevalo in the head, in an apparent &#147;gangland&#148; style killing.
Their bodies were discovered in the water near the skiff. Authorities
reportedly suspect the murders have a drug connection. </p>
<p><b>TOURISM BEGINS TO BOUNCE BACK IN MARCH </b>Tourist arrivals at the Philip Goldson International Airport inched
up 0.8% in March, compared to the year-ago period, according to
the Immigration Department. A total of 16,347 visitors arrived
at the International Airport, where about 80% of Belize's total
tourists come in to the country. The first two months of the year
experienced decreases in arrivals of less than 10%. In another
positive sign, American Airlines announced that this summer it
would add a second daily flight to Belize from Miami. International
arrivals by air to Belize increased 1.6% in 2001 over 2000, to
133,774 according to the Belize Tourist Board. September arrivals,
following the terrorist attacks in the United States, were down
22% and December arrivals were down about 8% from the previous
year. November was flat and October actually saw an increase,
but statistics for these months are misleading because Hurricane
Keith cut travel to Belize dramatically last October and part
of November. Belize eked out the year-to-year gain despite the
impact of Hurricane Iris and the recession in its major market,
the U.S., which contributes more than three-fourths of air visitors
to Belize.</p>
<p><b><br>
USAIR TO BEGIN CHARLOTTE-BELIZE SERVICE </b>USAir, a troubled carrier now in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, has announced
plans to fly from its hub in Charlotte, N.C., to Belize City twice
weekly, starting in early November 2002. Separately, American
Airlines has added a second daily flight from Miami to Belize.
The AA flight, whose late afternoon departure will allow those
flying from Europe to make connections to Belize the same day,
rather than overnighting in Miami, will operate only during the
summer.<br>
</p>
<p><b><br>
CRUISE TOURISM BOOMING </b>A total of almost 60,000 cruise ship passengers visited Belize
in the first quarter of 2002. This represents an increase of 185%
compared to the same period last year. The new Fort Point Tourist
Village, designed primarily to serve cruise passengers, has more
than 35 shops, stores and services. The cruise ship business in
Belize is no longer seasonal. Cruise ships are docking at Belize's
City year round with more than 200 expected to call on Belize
during 2002.</p>
<p><b><br>
&#145;CURRENCY CRISIS&#146; DRAGS ON: </b>Belize's currency crisis appears to be here for awhile. The demand
for U.S. dollars in Belize exceeds the supply, resulting in a
weakening Belize dollar and concern among business owners that
they will not be able to get U.S. currency to pay for imported
items or for freight costs. There is renewed talk of devaluation
of the Belize dollar which has been pegged to the U.S. dollar
at 2 to 1 for many years.<br>
On the gray market in Belize and border areas, currency traders
are giving up to 2.40 Belize dollars for 1 U.S. dollar. Unconfirmed
reports are that wealthier Belizeans who cannot convert their
Belize dollars to hard currency are buying real estate, believing
that the value of Belize property will track the value of the
U.S. dollar, regardless of any declines in the value of the Belize
dollar.<br>
The Belize government has announced only that it has licensed
12 cambios around the country to control the currency flows. These
cambios use the 2 to 1 rate but a service fee brings the rate
up to 2.15 to 1, an effective 7 1/2% devaluation. <br>
The government also has asked hotel operators, a major source
of hard currency receipts in Belize, to report monthly on foreign
currency income. <br>
So far, the currency exchange problem has not affected tourists
directly. Hotels, tour operators and others in the tourist industry
continue to do business at the 2 to 1 rate. Thanks to imported
products already in the pipeline, the shelves at most retail shops
are well-stocked. Most visitors to Belize are unaware of the crisis.</p>
<p><br>
<b>ALL TELEPHONE NUMBERS IN BELIZE CHANGED MAY 1: </b>Effective May 1, 2002, Belize went to seven-digit dialing nationwide,
with all telephone numbers being changed. Now, when dialing Belize
from outside the country is is necessary to dial the international
access code (011 from the U.S.), country code (501) and the new
seven-digit number.<br>
Formerly when dialing locally it was usually only necessary to
dial the last four or five digits of a number. <br>
Most local area codes have changed. In some cases, the new numbering
system results in the entire telephone number changing, and in
others, the last five digits remain the same with only the first
two digits changing. <br>
The changeover caused some problems, as some numbers could not
be dialed using either the old or new numbers. BTL&#146;s Web site,
www.btl.net, provides an on-line database which provides the new
number when you input the old number. </p>
<p><b><br>
BRITAIN&#146;S PRINCE ANDREW VISITS BELIZE </b>Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, spent four days in Belize in
early March, as part of tour of Central America. Among other activities,
he went to Monkey River to visit with victims of Hurricane Iris,
dedicated a newly paved section of the Southern Highway, the 25-mile
stretch from Bladen Bridge to Big Creek Port, and opened a new
youth hostel and library at Gracie Rock. </p>
<p><b><br>
SAN PEDRO AND BELMOPAN GET NEW OFFSHORE MED SCHOOLS BUT ST. MATTHEWS
LEAVING FOR CAYMANS </b>It&#146;s getting so you can&#146;t tell the offshore med schools in Belize
without a program. Two small offshore schools have opened, but
Belize&#146;s largest med school, St. Matthews University, is packing
up and moving to the Cayman Islands. The school, which has about
180 students in San Pedro, graduated its first class last year.
The Medical University of the Americas began operation in mid-January
with 35 students in residence on it temporary campus in San Pedro
at the Belize Yacht Club. If students in clinical rotation are
included, the school has 75 students. Some of the faculty are
former St. Matthews University staff. Grace University School
of Medicine, formerly of St. Kitts/Nevis, has moved to Belmopan.
A fourth school, Belize Medical School, remains in Belize City.</p>
<p><b><br>
NEW AND DIFFERENT: <br>
</b>&#149; The Fountain Blue Hotel in San Pedro, which just opened late
last summer, has closed. The suites hotel was controversial when
it was being built by a local businessman, San Pedro Hardware
owner Simon Harmouch. Originally set for four stories, which would
have made it a story higher than any other building on the island,
a permit for the top story was denied by the town council. The
hotel opened to mostly positive reviews for its attractive, though
not overly large suites, pool and convenient setting. Then, just
six months later, it closed, reportedly in foreclosure, and more
controversy swirls around its financing and the use of associated
tax concessions. <br>
&#149; Ambergris and Caulker water taxis may be moving to the new Fort
Point Tourist Village from the Marine Terminal, according to sources
in Belize City. The Tourist Village, developed by the well-connected
Michael Feinstein group, which also operates Black Bird Caye Resort,
Royal Mayan Spa and other businesses, has about 45 stores and
shops. It targets cruise ship passengers but has been closed at
times when there are no ships in port.<br>
&#149; A new budget hotel, Chateau Giselle, opened March 1 in Caye
Caulker.</p>
<p><b><br>
YOU CAN&#146;T WORK WITHOUT NEW BELIZE SOCIAL SECURITY CARD </b>As of April 1, 2002, it is illegal to hire or employ anyone without
a valid new Social Security card. Non-citizens will not be able
to get a Social Security card unless they have proof of legal
status, such as a permanent residency card, temporary work permit
or naturalization certificate.</p>
<p><b><br>
TWO KILLED AT CAYO LODGE; SIX GUESTS TERRORIZED, ONE RAPED </b>In late December, a gang believed to from Guatemala killed John
Luce, the American manager of Black Rock Lodge on the Macal River
near San Ignacio, and assistant manager Mario Cocom. They then
attacked six guests who were staying the lodge and raped one woman,
an American. According to Caesar Sherard, owner of Black Rock
and also Caesar's Place on the Western Highway east of San Ignacio,
the killings were the result of an unresolved argument between
the Luce and a Guatemalan family. A police investigation continues.
Black Rock Lodge is located only about 3 miles from the Guatemala
border. In the wake of this and several other incidents involving
tourists in western Belize, several lodges in Cayo have beefed
up security, hiring guards or taking other measures to assure
the safety of their guests. Most visitors to Cayo say they feel
completely safe. </p>
<p><b><br>
SALE OF PASSPORTS DISCONTINUED </b>After years of controversy under both the PUP and UDP administrations,
the economic citizenship, AKA buy-a-passport, program has been
halted as of January 15. Applications still in the pipeline will
be processed, but no new applications are being accepted. The
Qualified Retired Persons Incentive Act program, designed to attract
retirees aged 45 and over to live in Belize, continues and is
not affected by the discontinuation of the economic citizenship
plan.</p>
<p><b><br>
GOVERNMENT TO PRIVATIZE 'FOUR Ps' -- PORTS, PRISON, PRINTING AND
POST OFFICE </b>Belize ports, prisons, printing department and post office soon
will be in private hands, if plans announced by the government
materialize. Already, electricity, water and telephone services
have been privatized.</p>
<p><b><br>
PLACENCIA RECOVERY ON TRACK </b>Most of the debris from Hurricane Iris has been removed, and the
peninsula has water and electricity again. Nearly all the hotels
and restaurants north of Placencia village have reopened, as have
some in Placencia village. Still, with many businesses having
little or no insurance to pay for rebuilding, full recovery is
likely to take many more months. Placencia village and Seine Bight
villages are still badly beaten up. Few tourists are venturing
to the peninsula. </p>
<p><b>Here's a status report on Placencia, as of December, provided
courtesy of Mary Toy of Kevin Modera Guides.</b></p>
<p><b>UPDATE ON PLACENCIA PENINSULA AS OF LATE DECEMBER 2001<br>
COURTESY OF MARY TOY, KEVIN MODERA GUIDE SERVICES<br>
http://www.kevinmodera.com<br>
</b><br>
<br>
Locations/Communities<br>
<br>
Other than the lives lost in the Wave Dancer tragedy, no lives<br>
were taken by Hurricane Iris. However, structural damage was significant,<br>
and the following describes damage and rebuilding efforts in the
communities of Placencia Village, Seine Bight Village, Maya Beach
and Monkey River Town.<br>
<br>
--Placencia Village: Because of the Village's location at the
southern tip<br>
of the Placencia Peninsula, Hurricane Iris hit Placencia Village
almost dead<br>
center, crossing land at Lat. 16.55 and Long. 88.48 -- Placencia
Village is<br>
at Lat. 16.5167 Long. 88.3667. Estimates are that 75%-85% of the
structures<br>
in the Village were destroyed or damaged by the storm.<br>
<br>
However, many home owners and businesses in Placencia Village
started<br>
rebuilding almost immediately after Iris. Olga's Grocery and Professional<br>
Building Supplies re-opened quickly to provide needed food and
building<br>
supplies to local residents. BJ's Restaurant operated as the command
center<br>
for local distribution of donated food and water, while The Galley<br>
Restaurant fed relief and rescue workers, with Serenity Resort,
Kitty's<br>
Place and Robert's Grove providing housing for insurance adjusters
and<br>
utility crews.<br>
<br>
Most businesses in Placencia Village plan to rebuild (and probably
80% were<br>
at least partially insured). Jake's Internet Caf&eacute; opened on Thanksgiving
Day<br>
offering breakfast and lunch service, along with BJ's, Merlene's,
The Galley<br>
and J-Byrd's. Tradewinds plans to have 3 cabanas operational by
December<br>
15, with 3 more completed in January. Sea Spray Hotel, Serenade
Hotel,<br>
Manatee Inn, Harry's Cabanas, Carol's Cabanas and Blue Lagoon
Apartments<br>
have already re-opened. <br>
<br>
--Monkey River Town: Only 2 buildings remained standing in Monkey
River<br>
after Iris struck and the roof blew off the hurricane shelter
at the height<br>
of Iris. However, Monkey River has benefited greatly from private
and<br>
governmental assistance with the rebuilding of homes at low interest
rates<br>
and most people there now have new homes (albeit small ones).
Residents of<br>
Monkey River Town are very anxious to again welcome anglers and
visitors to<br>
the Monkey River jungle.<br>
<br>
--Seine Bight Village: Located north of Placencia Village, Seine
Bight was<br>
not as hard hit by the actual storm as Placencia Village or Monkey
River<br>
Town. However, almost as many structures in Seine Bight succumbed
to the<br>
storm surge due to the age and condition of the structures there.
Some<br>
rebuilding is occurring in Seine Bight, but few people were insured,
and few<br>
have the financial resources to rebuild. Government and private
aid have<br>
not yet produced any significant recovery in Seine Bight.<br>
<br>
--Maya Beach: Because of its location at the northern end of the
Peninsula,<br>
most structures in Maya Beach were not heavily damaged by winds,
although<br>
water damage to first floors was significant. Most homeowners
and<br>
businesses were insured.<br>
<br>
--Cayes: Ranguana Caye escaped with the loss of only the easternmost
cabana (and the Caye is actually a little larger than before Iris).<br>
<br>
David Alvarez, the new owner of Ranguana, has appointed Kitty's
Place as its<br>
new manager, and work has already begun to rebuild the destroyed
cabana, as well as upgrading the existing cabanas. A new food
service area is planned, in addition to new private baths in each
cabana. (Tent camping is no longer available on Ranguana.) Frank's
Caye in the Sapodilla Caye Range is<br>
undamaged.<br>
<br>
Other cayes did not fare as well as Ranguana Caye. Little Water
Caye lost<br>
all of its structures as did Morris Caye, George's Caye and Whipparey
Caye.<br>
Pompion Caye and Moho Caye were also heavily damaged. Cary Caye
lost its<br>
sand and mangroves were uprooted on cayes closest to the Peninsula.
No<br>
trees remain on Round Caye.<br>
<br>
However, as mentioned in the activities section of this newsletter
(in Part<br>
II), over 50 cayes are in the waters off the Peninsula, and most
of those<br>
cayes did not suffer significant damage other than the stripping
of leaves<br>
from trees and bushes - much of which is quickly recovering. (We've
watched the vegetation come back day by day on Placencia Caye
just off the dock area in Placencia Village.)<br>
<br>
--Placencia Lagoon: The Lagoon does not appear to have suffered
much damage other than the loss of leaves on some mangrove trees
and the destruction of some structures built close to the water's
edge. Vegetation is regrowing rapidly.<br>
<br>
--Toledo District: Most Mayan communities within 75 miles of the
coast in<br>
the Toledo District were completely destroyed. Help was slow in
reaching<br>
these communities, many of which had no phones or other communication
with the outside world.<br>
<br>
However, the Red Cross, the Belize Emergency Hurricane Net, NEMO,
the<br>
University of Belize and other local and international organizations
are now<br>
responding with assistance, including the building of homes, children's<br>
disaster counseling and donations of seeds for crop replanting.<br>
<br>
But, all banana plantations in the Toledo District were severely
damaged or<br>
destroyed, taking away the primary incomes of most people in these
areas.<br>
Plus, all milpa crops were destroyed, taking away the secondary
source of<br>
income and subsistence in the District. Conditions in the Toledo
District<br>
are still grim, although much improved since October.<br>
<br>
--General Peninsula: BEL (Belize Electric Limited) did an amazing
job in<br>
installing new electric service along the entire length of the
Peninsula in<br>
less than a six weeks.<br>
<br>
Restoration of water service has been much slower due to the total<br>
destruction of the water line running under the Placencia Lagoon.
However,<br>
that line has now been replaced and installation of water lines
to<br>
individual homes and businesses in Placencia Village should soon
be<br>
complete. </p>
<p><br>
Unfortunately, BTL (Belize Telephone Limited) has not shown the
perseverance and dedication of BEL or the local water service
company. A few temporary phones have been installed in local businesses,
but full phone service is not expected on the Peninsula until
possibly July, 2002. (So please be patient with responses to email
inquiries.)<br>
<br>
Regular garbage pickup has also resumed post-Iris.<br>
<br>
NEMO (the Belize National Emergency Management Organization) has
done a very good job in coordinating emergency services in the
Stann Creek and Toledo<br>
Districts. Jim Manmohammed, a business owner from San Pedro appointed
by<br>
the government as the local coordinator, has done a herculean
job in the<br>
face of huge obstacles.<br>
<br>
--Village Planning. The Placencia Village Council is now working
on a<br>
Master Plan for the entire Village which will include building
codes, sewage<br>
disposal, setbacks, police and fire protection, rights of way,
ability of<br>
the Village Council to condemn properties, etc. New 12-foot vehicular<br>
rights of way will run from the road to the sidewalk. (Parts II
and III<br>
follow.)<br>
<br>
Activities<br>
<br>
--Fishing: The beautiful Caribbean Sea is still at our doorstep,
with<br>
better beaches than ever post-Iris. (The storm widened the beaches
with<br>
additional soft, white sand.)<br>
<br>
The water is clear, visibility is great, the grouper came in early,
the<br>
snook and juvenile tarpon have shown up in Monkey River right
on time, and<br>
we're seeing lots of bones and permit on the flats.<br>
<br>
(Our most recent client (12/8-12/11) caught two permit - one on
the flats<br>
off the Peninsula coast and one down at Punta Ycacos -- also landed
three<br>
tarpon and reports that bonefish were plentiful and easily caught.)<br>
<br>
Winter in Placencia always means good fishing for Black Grouper
(Gag).<br>
However, Hurricane Iris may make this an even better year than
ever.<br>
(Anglers in Florida have consistently reported that large numbers
of Black<br>
Grouper are seen after a strong hurricane. For example, &quot;phenomenal<br>
catches&quot; were reported after Hurricane Elena in 1985.)<br>
<br>
This year, the grouper showed up off the Placencia shores about
two weeks<br>
early (mid-November instead of early December). Bottom fishing
for<br>
Strawberry Groupers (and occasionally Nassau Grouper and big yellowtail<br>
snapper) should also be good in January and February.<br>
<br>
Monkey River remains THE place for snook and juvenile tarpon in
the winter<br>
months - and Monkey River residents are eager to see anglers again.<br>
<br>
Snook and tarpon are also a possibility during the winter months
by fishing<br>
from shore at high tide at the point just north of the Placencia
Village<br>
dock. (Did you know that snook are protandric hermaphrodites,
which means,<br>
like groupers, male snooks can become females snook if there are
too few<br>
females around.)<br>
<br>
The truly adventurous can also try for big tarpon (80# plus) at
Deep River<br>
during December and January - but tent camping is required. Anglers
this<br>
week are also catching mid-sized tarpon at the cayes (20-40# range).<br>
<br>
Other good bets this winter are bonefish (flats), permit (Punta
Ycacos<br>
Lagoon and flats), King Mackerel and Barracuda.<br>
<br>
--Diving/Snorkeling: Iris did not muddy the waters for more than
a few<br>
weeks, and water visibility is now very good.<br>
<br>
Some areas of coral were damaged by Iris, most notably around
the cayes<br>
closer to the Peninsula (based on early reports from divers and
snorkelers).<br>
<br>
However, the MesoAmerican Barrier Reef does not seem to have been
heavily damaged which means that snorkeling and diving around
cayes such asRanguana, the Silks and Little Water should remain
good. Also, snorkelers<br>
in November reported larger than usual numbers of tropical fish
around some cayes such as the Silk Cayes and Moho Caye.<br>
<br>
Iris should also have no effect on whale shark migration in April
and May.<br>
Best times for whale shark interaction trips are 3 few days before
and after the full moons on April 27 and May 26, 2002. <br>
<br>
-Ruins, Jungle and Caves: The Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve
and the<br>
Mayflower Archeological Reserve escaped unscathed by Hurricane
Iris.<br>
<br>
Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Reserve (a/k/a Jaguar Jungle) is home
to the<br>
world's largest number of studied jaguars, tropical birds and
birds, rivers<br>
and waterfalls. (Jungle river tubing is a popular part of many
Cockscomb<br>
tours).<br>
<br>
The Mayflower Archeological Reserve includes several waterfalls
and two main<br>
Mayan sites, the Maintzunun (Small Hummingbird) and T'au Witz
(The Place of<br>
the Local God of the Hill). Maintzunun was first occupied during
the Late<br>
Classic period (600 AD) and abandoned during the Terminal Classic
period<br>
(900 AD).<br>
<br>
The jungle around Monkey River and Monkey River Town was heavily
damaged by Hurricane Iris, and lost much of its canopy. However,
the jungle grows<br>
quickly and much of the vegetation is returning. We were concerned
about<br>
the fate of the Howler Monkeys in the area because of the loss
of the<br>
foliage - their primary food. Fortunately, vegetation began returning<br>
quickly enough to save most of the monkeys and other jungle birds
and<br>
animals. The jungle isn't as lush as it was pre-Iris, but birders
and<br>
wildlife lovers will find a benefit in the new ease of spotting
jungle<br>
creatures at Monkey River.<br>
<br>
Tours to Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit/Blue Creek Cave have been
temporarily<br>
suspended. Large amounts of post-Iris debris block access to Blue
Creek<br>
Cave and large rocks and boulders are covering portions of the
ruins at<br>
Lubaantun and Nim Li Punit. <br>
<br>
The caves at Caves Branch were unaffected by Iris - and several
of us took<br>
refuge at Ian Anderson's Caves Branch Jungle Resort during the
storm. All<br>
Caves Branch caving and caving/tubing trips remain available.<br>
<br>
Currently Open for Business:<br>
<br>
(Note: we believe the following information on hotels and restaurants
is<br>
complete and correct. However, without telephone service, information
is a<br>
little difficult to obtain, so we apologize in advance for any
errors or<br>
omissions.)<br>
<br>
--Resorts/Hotels: Kitty's Place, Inn at Robert's Grove, Barnacle
Bill's<br>
Beach Cabanas, Green Parrot Guesthouses, Luba Hati Resort, Maya
Breeze Inn,<br>
Nautical Inn, Rum Point Inn, Serenity Resort, Manatee Inn, Sea
Spray Hotel,<br>
Serenade Hotel, Harry's Cabanas, Blue Lagoon Apartments, Carol's
Cabanas,<br>
Lydia's Rooms, Toucan Lulu's, Myrtle's Rental House, Blue Crab
Resort<br>
<br>
--Restaurants/Bars: Jake's Purple Space Monkey Internet Caf&eacute; (also
has<br>
Internet service available), Merlene's Restaurant, BJ's Restaurant,
The<br>
Galley Restaurant, Kitty's Place restaurant, Robert's Grove restaurant,
Luba<br>
Hati restaurant, Nautical Inn restaurant, Serenity Resort restaurant,
Green<br>
Parrot restaurant, J-Byrd's Bar, Pickled Parrot Bar, Night Moves
Bar.<br>
<br>
Rebuilding: Soulshine Resort (and restaurant), Mariposa Beach
Suites,<br>
Tradewinds Hotel, Ranguana Lodge, Julia and Lawrence's Guesthouse,
Cunche's<br>
Villa, Easy Living Apartments, Sun and Sea Cabanas, Turtle Inn
(and<br>
restaurant), Daisy's Restaurant, Omar's Restaurant, Bella Beach
Restaurant,<br>
Dockside Bar, Tentacle's Restaurant, Westwind Hotel, Wamasa Beyabu,<br>
Angelfish Inn, Miller's Landing Hotel, Maya Playa Guesthouse,
Lee's Secret<br>
Garden Rental House, Cozy Corners (restaurant and hotel)<br>
<br>
--Tours: Most local tour operators and guides are back in full
operation.<br>
See the Activities section in Part II of this newsletter for more<br>
information on specific activities.<br>
<br>
<br>
<br>
Organizations<br>
<br>
--Schools: St. John's Memorial School in Placencia Village re-opened
on<br>
Monday, November 12. St. Alphonsus Roman Catholic School in Seine
Bight<br>
Village opened two weeks earlier.<br>
<br>
Both schools are short on supplies, furniture and teaching aids,
all of<br>
which were swept away by Iris (a number of children in Placencia
Village do<br>
not have desks or chairs and must stand or sit on the floor during
class).<br>
<br>
Classes in Placencia are severely overcrowded, primarily due to
the<br>
destruction of two small annexes constructed within the last year
to<br>
alleviate overcrowding<br>
<br>
Marilyn Beckstead, a retired Canadian educator who now makes her
home in<br>
Placencia has formed a registered Canadian charitable foundation
to raise<br>
funds and supplies for southern Belize schools. The Iris Foundation
for<br>
Education (http://www.theirisfoundation.com) will offer ongoing
funding and<br>
training assistance to area schools, beginning with the Placencia,
Seine<br>
Bight and Independence schools, and eventually expanding into
the Toledo<br>
District. (Earlier this year, Marilyn participated in a teacher
training<br>
program for local teachers in Big Falls in the Toledo District.
The new<br>
school there built largely by volunteer community labor was destroyed
by<br>
Hurricane Iris.)<br>
<br>
For more information about The Iris Foundation or to make a donation,
visit<br>
the Website at http://www.theirisfoundation.com or contact Marilyn
Beckstead<br>
at nskry@btl.net.<br>
<br>
--Village Councils: With the help of NEMO, the Placencia and Seine
Bight<br>
Village Councils have been coordinating local relief efforts including<br>
distribution of food, water, clothing, building materials and
other<br>
supplies. The Placencia Village Council Office on the second floor
of the<br>
building next to the Placencia Cooperative at the dock is again
open from<br>
8:30 a.m. to noon, and 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Fixed cell phone
service<br>
should soon be available to the Placencia Village Council office.<br>
<br>
Placencia Humane Society: Three emergency clinics were held on
October 20,<br>
November 19 and December 8 and 9, 2001. Veterinary care was provided
to 149<br>
pets and homeless animals. Cost of all treatments was paid by
the Placencia<br>
Humane Society unless the owner voluntarily paid or made a donation
- cost<br>
to the Humane Society for emergency veterinary care is currently
over $2,000<br>
BZD.<br>
<br>
Dr. Michael DeShield who provides veterinary care at monthly veterinary<br>
clinics, and the SAGA Society of San Pedro donated dog and cat
food for<br>
local pet owners.<br>
<br>
For more information about the Placencia Humane Society or to
make a<br>
donation, contact Marcia Fox at foxbuddy@btl.net, Marilyn Beckstead
at<br>
nskry@btl.net or Mary Toy at mtoy@kevinmodera.com.<br>
<br>
Transportation<br>
<br>
--Airlines: Both Maya Island Air and Tropic Air are in full operation
with<br>
five flights each day between Placencia and Punta Gorda/Dangriga
and Belize<br>
City. Flights are operating on regular schedules.<br>
<br>
Roads: Iris pretty much sounded the death knell for what little
paving<br>
remained of what was a very poor paving job to begin with. In
other words,<br>
roads are back to normal on the Peninsula - potholes and all.
Not too<br>
muddy, though. However, the Southern Highway work is moving right
along,<br>
with only small sections remaining unpaved.<br>
<br>
Buses: Southern Transport is providing regular service to and
from the<br>
Peninsula, Punta Gorda, Dangriga, San Ignacio, Belmopan and Belize
City -<br>
and all points in between.<br>
<br>
Ferries The Hokey Pokey water taxi service to Independence is
running<br>
Monday - Friday at 10 a.m., returning at 2:30 p.m.<br>
<br>
Services<br>
<br>
Bank: Atlantic Bank at the Placencia Village dock is open regular
hours<br>
from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday.<br>
<br>
Tourist Center: The Placencia Tourist Center at the Placencia
dock is open<br>
from 8:30 a.m. to Noon and 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Center has
a phone<br>
and can be reached at placencia@btl.net.<br>
<br>
Grocery Stores: Olga's Grocery and Wallen's Grocery are both open
in<br>
Placencia Village with regular hours. Dave's Grocery in Seine
Bight is open<br>
with regular hours. Placencia Grocery in Placencia Village is
also open,<br>
but with irregular hours. Jim and Sarah have resumed their weekly
sales of<br>
fresh produce at the Placencia Village Dock on Saturdays from
9 a.m. until<br>
everything is gone (which doesn't take long these days).<br>
<br>
Health Clinics: The Placencia Village Health Clinic and the Seine
Bight<br>
Village Health Clinic are both open.<br>
<br>
Placencia Fish Cooperative: The Co-op is open at the Placencia
Village dock<br>
and is again selling fresh lobster, fish and cubed ice.<br>
<b><br>
<br>
GREENBACK SHORTAGE CONTINUES </b>It's not a currency crisis, according to government officials,
but the shortage of U.S. dollars continues to be a problem for
Belizean businesses. Many businesses must pay for imported products
and shipping in U.S. dollars, as the Belize dollar can't easily
be converted outside of Belize. Being unable to get sufficient
American currency through legal channels, business owners are
in many cases buying dollars on the grey market, paying Belize
2.20 to 2.40 for 1 U.S. dollar, 10 to 20% higher than the 2 to
1 peg. Other businesses are requiring payment from customers in
U.S. dollars. Rumors continue regarding an official devaluation
of the Belize dollar. Such rumors have occurred regularly over
the years, but no devaluation has taken place. As Belize imports
far more than it exports, a devaluation could be devastating for
the country, according to conventional economic wisdom. A weak
Belize dollar would drive up the cost of many products, creating
inflation. A devaluation would probably not boost tourism to Belize,
as most hotel and tour prices in Belize are denominated in U.S.
dollars. The government has moved to crack down on grey market
money changers, claiming that only the Belize Central Bank can
designate who can legally hold American dollars. The Belize Chamber
of Commerce and Industry has gone on record supporting the concept
that all Belize adults and businesses should have free access
to U.S. currency.<br>
<br>
<br>
<b>POLL: 70% OF BELIZE HOTELS REPORT BOOKINGS DOWN</b><br>
<br>
A late November survey of more than 30 Belize hotel operators
around the country by BELIZE FIRST Editor Lan Sluder found that
about seven in 10 of the hotels report bookings for the 2002 high
season are down, compared with the same period last year.</p>
<p>If there's good news, it is that Christmas bookings are holding
up fairly well, with few cancellations reported by hotel operators.
(Editor's note: December saw only an 8% decline from the same
month a year ago, a smaller decline than in many other destinations.)</p>
<p>Some hotels, especially on Ambergris Caye, are fully booked for
the holidays.<br>
Of hotels surveyed in November, about 70% report that bookings
for the first four months of 2002, Belize's high tourist season,
are down from the same period last year. The percentage decline
ranges from a very little to &quot;big time,&quot; as one lodge operator
in Cayo put it. Another hotel manager in northern Belize reports
a decline in bookings of more than 90%. Only one hotel, on Caye
Caulker, predicted an up year, while about 22% felt that future
reservations were flat or about the same as last year.</p>
<p><br>
Airlines flying into Belize and Central America say international
travel has declined by 25% or more since the September 11 terrorist
attacks in the U.S. American, which serves Belize City from Dallas-Fort
Worth and Miami, reported a 32.9% decline in international seat
miles for November, though figures for the Belize routes weren't
available. A seat mile is one passenger flown one mile.</p>
<p><br>
Most Belize hotels, however, say that bookings for the Christmas-New
Year period are strong, with few cancellations. U.S. airlines
also report that holiday air travel levels will be close to that
of last year, despite the slowing economy and the aftermath of
the terrorist attacks. &quot;The events of September 11th gave us a
bad October and November, but the future doesn't look as bad as
I originally thought -- presently we seem to be getting more Europeans
than usual for this time of the year which is making up for the
reduced amount of Americans traveling,&quot; says one Belize City hotel
operator.</p>
<p><br>
The exception for Belize is the Placencia peninsula and nearby
areas, where Hurricane Iris cleanup and rebuilding continues in
Placencia and Seine Bight villages, and where some parts of the
peninsula still do not have pipe water or land telephones. While
most of the resorts north of Placencia village, including well-known
places such as Inn at Robert's Grove and Kitty's Place, have reopened,
the lack of e-mail and telephone access since the October 8 storm
and reluctance by tourists to book into an area devastated by
a hurricane means that holiday tourism levels will be very low
compared with the last few years. This is true also in Toledo
district, but that area gets relatively few visitors even in an
ordinary year.</p>
<p><br>
Overall, unless conditions change significantly in early 2002,
next year could see a one-fifth drop in international arrivals
in Belize. This would be the biggest year-to-year drop in tourism
ever recorded. A large upswing in cruise ship arrivals will partly
offset this drop in air and land arrivals, but the positive impact
will be felt mostly in Belize City and among the small group of
tour operators serving the cruise market. </p>
<p><br>
&quot;Things have slowed down big time, but I anticipate a lot of last
minute bookings getting into the season, even more so now that
everyone is offering specials,&quot; says a Cayo lodge operator.</p>
<p><br>
Interviews with Belize hotel operators and responses to the poll
also show these trends:<br>
-- Travelers are waiting later than usual to book and are making
more last-minute bookings.<br>
-- While Americans still dominate the Belize tourist market, representing
about 75% of Belize arrivals, hotel operators are seeing more
European visitors than before. European travelers to Belize are
mostly at the budget level, though they tend to stay longer than
Americans.<br>
-- Hotels in Belize are holding down price increases, typically
keeping 2002 rates at the same level as 2001.<br>
-- More hotels are running specials, promoting discounts in the
high season, a practice rarely seen before.<br>
-- Hotels in popular resort areas, especially Ambergris Caye and
Caye Caulker, appear to be doing better than those in other areas,
including Belize City, Cayo and Corozal.</p>
<p><br>
Says one knowledgeable tour operator in Belize: &quot;I noticed the
slow down last April. Things went dead September 11. They've started
picking up, but it's still up and down, not up. I've called lodges
and hotel owners to see how they are doing -- they say fine and
then I get there and it doesn't look so fine to me. Thanksgiving
was good. It always is. Christmas is (almost) sold out. It always
is. But Osama bin Laden could have sold out his hotel in Belize
during Christmas, if he had one.&quot;<br>
</p>
<p><b>HOTEL, RESTAURANT AND VISITOR FACILITIES DAMAGE REPORT: </b>What hotels, restaurants and other visitor facilities in Belize
were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Iris in October? Which
ones are open now? Here&#146;s a list BELIZE FIRST has compiled, based
on first-person reports in Belize and information straight from
the hotels and other facilities. We&#146;ve tried to cover as much
ground as we can, but we know we&#146;ve missed some hotels, as communications
with remote areas are still difficult. It&#146;s also likely that some
of this information could change, as hotels rebuild and recover
from the storm. The information contained in this report is believed
to be accurate but is not guaranteed. If you&#146;re planning to stay
at a specific hotel in an area that received significant damage,
such as Placencia, the best advice is to try to reach that hotel
directly, to ask about the status of repairs and the reopening
date.<br>
<br>
If you have additional information, updates or corrections, please
contact BELIZE FIRST.<br>
<br>
The GOOD NEWS is that with exceptions of Placencia village, Monkey
River and a few other areas, hotels and visitor facilities in
Belize are open and operating as usual. Come on down!<br>
<br>
<b>Ambergris Caye:</b> No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Caye Caulker: </b>No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Belize City:</b> No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>San Ignacio Area, Cayo District:</b> No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Belmopan Area: </b>No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Mountain Pine Ridge:</b> No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Corozal District: </b>No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Orange Walk District: </b>No damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Dangriga: </b>Very little damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Punta Gorda Town:</b> Very limited damage -- all hotels operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Hopkins/Sittee Point: </b>Only limited damage from high waves. Some debris on beaches. Swinging
Armadillo restaurant and Over the Waves restaurants destroyed.
Swinging Armadillo is rebuilding. Dock at Hamanasi destroyed but
hotel and pool are undamaged and are operating normally. Jaguar
Reef undamaged and operating normally. No other reports of significant
damage in the area and hotels are operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Placencia Peninsula:</b> The center of the hurricane came ashore near the south end of
the peninsula, causing severe damage to wooden structures in Placencia
and Seine Bight villages. Maya Beach had less damage. Electricity,
water, telephone (except cell) and Internet service is still out
in most areas. These services may be operating again by late November,
but in some areas this could take longer. Larger hotels are trucking
in water and some properties have their own generators.<br>
<br>
<b>Maya Beach (Placencia Peninsula):</b><br>
<br>
Barnacle Bill&#146;s: Some damage to one cottage. Expected to be ready
for guests in November.<br>
<br>
Mango&#146;s Restaurant: Roof blown off but being replaced.<br>
<br>
Green Parrot: Moderate damage.<br>
<br>
Maya Playa: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Maya Beach Hotel: One building heavily damaged.<br>
<br>
Maya Breeze Inn: Status unknown.<br>
<br>
Singing Sands: Cabins damaged. Pool destroyed.<br>
<br>
Ocean&#146;s Edge: Little damage. Both cottages okay.<br>
<br>
<br>
<b>Seine Bight Village Area (Placencia Peninsula):</b><br>
<br>
Inn at Robert&#146;s Grove: Little serious damage. Ready to accept
guests by November 1. At least one pool open.<br>
<br>
Miller&#146;s Landing: Some damage. Expected to be ready for guests
by Christmas. Pool damaged and will not be open by then.<br>
<br>
Luba Hati: Main hotel building and cabins appear okay. Status
unknown.<br>
<br>
Nautical Inn: Some damage but buildings still standing. May reopen
in November.<br>
<br>
Blue Crab: Significant damage, including restaurant and some cabins.
Rebuilding and could be open in November or December.<br>
<br>
Angelfish Inn: Heavily damaged.<br>
<br>
Bahia Laguna: This vacant hotel is still standing but was damaged.<br>
<br>
</p>
<p><b>Placencia Village Area:</b><br>
<br>
Kitty&#146;s Place: Little damage. Restaurant open and most units including
beachfront cottages ready for guests.<br>
<br>
Mariposa: Some damage. Will not reopen until mid-January 2002.<br>
<br>
Blancaneaux&#146;s Turtle Inn: Mostly destroyed. Work has begun on
rebuilding. Reopening date not announced.<br>
<br>
Mother Ocean: All but two cabins destroyed and these are in poor
condition.<br>
<br>
Serenity: Main buildings okay.<br>
<br>
Rum Point Inn: Some damage. Newer quad units only minor damage.
Expected to be ready for guests by Thanksgiving. Pool damaged
and will not be ready by then.<br>
<br>
Seaspray: Older buildings damaged and condemned. Newer building
expected to be ready for guests in December.<br>
<br>
De Tatch Restaurant: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Omar&#146;s Restaurant: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Sea Horse Dive Shop: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Tentacles and Dockside: Destroyed. Expected to rebuild.<br>
<br>
Sonny&#146;s: Destroyed.</p>
<p>Seren ade Guest House: Moderate damage, juice bar destroyed. May
reopen in November.<br>
<br>
Purple Space Monkey Cybercafe: Lost roof but now reopened (still
without Internet access, however.)<br>
<br>
Westwind: Heavily damaged but still standing.<br>
<br>
Village Inn: Seriously damaged.<br>
<br>
Sun and Sea Cabanas: Seriously damaged. <br>
<br>
Ranguana Cottages: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Coconut Cottages: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Barracuda &amp; Jaguar Inn: Damaged, including roofs blown off, but
being repaired.<br>
<br>
Sunrider: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
Julia&#146;s and Lawrence&#146;s Guesthouse: Destroyed<br>
<br>
Manatee Inn: Some damage but may be ready for guests in late November.<br>
<br>
Atlantic Bank: Office has reopened for business.<br>
<br>
Placencia Grocery: Open.<br>
<br>
Olga&#146;s Grocery: Open.<br>
<br>
Cozy Corners: Destroyed<br>
<br>
Tradewinds: Two cabins destroyed. Other cabins damaged but can
be repaired. Main house lost roof but can be repaired.<br>
<br>
Soulshine Resort: Seriously damaged. May reopen by Christmas.<br>
<br>
<br>
<b>Monkey River:</b> This village was almost completely destroyed.<br>
<br>
Bob&#146;s Paradise: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
The Monkey House: Destroyed.<br>
<br>
<br>
<b>Rural Toledo District:</b> Although the town of PG escaped serious damage, many rural areas
of Toledo were heavily damaged, mostly by high winds. Thousands
of people are temporarily homeless (rebuilding of thatch houses
and other houses has begun.) In some areas, up to 90% of the rainforest
was blown down.<br>
<br>
IZE&#146;s Blue Creek Lodge: Some cabins damaged, rainforest canopy
walk destroyed, many trees down.<br>
<br>
<b>Ranguana Caye:</b> Most cabanas at Ranguana Lodge heavily damaged.<br>
<br>
<b>Tobacco Caye:</b> Gaviota and Reef&#146;s End lodges seriously damaged. Other hotels
expected to reopen in November.<br>
<br>
<b>Long Caye at Glover&#146;s Reef:</b> Slick Rock&#146;s facility received some damage -- three cabins were
knocked down but probably can be repaired. Expects to be ready
for first guests of season in late November.<br>
<br>
<b>Southwater Caye: </b>Some damage from storm surge. IZE Leslie&#146;s cabins damaged, expected
to be ready for guests in late November. Some damage to Pelican
Beach properties.<br>
<br>
<b>Turneffe:</b> No significant damage -- lodges operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>Lighthouse Reef: </b>No significant damage -- Lighthouse Reef Resort operating normally.<br>
<br>
<b>St. George&#146;s Caye:</b> No significant damage -- hotels operating normally.<br>
<b><br>
Southwest Caye:</b> Manta Resort reportedly received significant damage -- reopening
date unknown.<br>
<br>
<b>Frank&#146;s Caye in the Sapodillas:</b> No significant damage to Serenade Island Resort.<br>
<br>
<b>Whipray Caye: </b>Cabins and facilities virtually destroyed.</p>
<p><b>PRIME MINISTER MUSA GIVES ASSESSMENT OF STORM DAMAGE </b>Hurricane Iris caused more than US$150 million in damage in Belize,
leaving 12,000 to 13,000 temporarily homeless, destroyed 3,179
homes and damaged about 40 villages in Toledo and Stann Creek
districts, according to an assessment by Prime Minister Said Musa.
The storm destroyed 5,500 acres of bananas, 3,581 aces of rice,
5,570 acres of corn, 730 acres of cacao, 35 acres of hot peppers,
203 acres of plantains, 700 acres of mango, some citrus and all
the root crops and vegetables in affected areas in southern Belize,
according to the PM. Iris destroyed 90% of all tourism accommodations
on the Placencia peninsula. The storm damaged 82 registered hotels
( a fifth of all the hotels in the country) causing 570 hotel
rooms to need rebuilding or repair, he said.<b><br>
<br>
HURRICANE IRIS SLAMS PLACENCIA AND SOUTHERN BELIZE: <br>
<i>19 Killed in Dive Boat Near Big Creek; Thousands of Homes and
Businesses Destroyed; Monkey River, Placencia, Seine Bight Villages
Virtually Wiped Out by 140 MPH Wind</i></b><br>
</p>
<p>Hurricane Iris, a compact but powerful storm with winds of 140
mph, has roared through the southern coast of Belize on the evening
of October 8, creating a storm surge as high as 15 feet. Efforts
to assess the damage are only beginning, but the storm is believed
to have caused many deaths, including 17 Americans, on a dive
boat, and to have virtually destroyed a number of towns and villages,
including Monkey River, Seine Bight and Placencia villages. As
many as 13,000 people in southern Belize are homeless.</p>
<p><br>
Iris made landfall around 7:30 p.m. Belize time (9:30 p.m. EDT)
Monday, packing winds of 140 mph and higher. The center of the
eye of the Category 4 hurricane appears to have been on the southern
end of the Placencia peninsula, one of Belize&#146;s most important
tourism centers. </p>
<p><br>
A live-aboard dive boat, the <i>M/V Wave Dancer </i>operated by Peter Hughes Diving in Coral Gables, Fla., sank near
Big Creek, a deep water port to the west of Placencia. At least
19 people -- 17 American divers and 2 Belizean crew -- died after
the 120-foot boat, moored at Big Creek in 12 feet of water, capsized.
A spokesperson for Peter Hughes said that 28 people were aboard,
mostly divers from the Richmond, Va., area. Another dive boat,
the <i>Belize Aggressor,</i> also with members of a Richmond dive club aboard, was moored
nearby but safely road out the storm. Reportedly a local resident
repeatedly asked the dive boat occupants to come ashore but most
declined to do so. </p>
<p><br>
Other deaths from high water or wind are reported. The total death
toll is as yet unknown, but one source put it at 30 or more. No
deaths have been reported in Placencia.</p>
<p><br>
Many homes and businesses in Placencia, a Creole village at the
south end of the peninsula, and in Seine Bight, a Garifuna village
a few miles north, reportedly have been damaged or destroyed.
Among the well-known businesses believed destroyed in Placencia
village are Ranguana Lodge, Sonny&#146;s, Sea Horse Dive Shop and De
Tatch restaurant. Many of the hotels and resorts on the peninsula
are thought to have been damaged or destroyed by the high winds
and sea surge. At one point, most of the peninsula was under several
feet of water. The Inn at Robert&#146;s Grove, Luba Hati, Rum Point
Inn, Nautical Inn, Kitty&#146;s and Serenity, while water-damaged,
are still standing. Co-owner Risa Frackman said Robert&#146;s Grove
would reopen in a &#147;couple of weeks.&#148; Amazingly, in post-storm
aerial photos taken by Tony Rath, many palm trees are shown still
standing along the beaches. Rath's still photos can be seen at
http://www.belizenet.com/iris_fnl/ </p>
<p><br>
Monkey River, a Creole village of about 2,500 people south of
Placencia, is believed to have been almost completely destroyed,
according to a Belize government information officer quoted by
Reuters. Most homes and all the hotels in the village were destroyed.
Other nearby villages, including Silver Creek, Independence and
Mango Creek, also have reported massive damage. Several schools
and other buildings used as hurricane shelters had their roofs
blown away. </p>
<p><br>
Farther south, some homes in Punta Gorda Town and in rural Toledo
district, an area with many traditional Maya villages with simple
thatch houses, have been reported destroyed. The hurricane&#146;s main
swath of damage appears to have started around Seine Bight village
and extended south through Monkey River and into rural Toledo.
Areas to the north, including Dangriga Town and Hopkins village,
received relatively little damage. Fortunately many residents
and tourists on the coast were evacuated before the storm hit.
The Placencia peninsula has a population of more than 2,000, with
another 5,000 or more living in the Independence area. September
and October being the slowest months of the year for tourism in
Belize, the number of visitors on the Placencia peninsula is thought
to have been relatively low.</p>
<p><br>
According to initial reports, much of Belize&#146;s banana industry,
which is centered in southern Belize, was destroyed by the storm.
Significant damage also was done to the citrus and shrimp farming
industries. <br>
</p>
<p>Hopkins/Sittee Point, Dangriga, Belize City, Belmopan, Cayo District,
and northern Belize, including Corozal and Orange Walk and the
popular resort islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, escaped
with little or no damage. Hotels and resorts are operating normally.
The international airport and all local airports are operating.
Belize's tourism industry has expressed hope that tourists would
continue to travel to Belize.</p>
<p><br>
Donations for the relief effort can be made to the American Red
Cross International Response Fund, P.O. Box 37243, Washington,
DC. 20013 or AmbergrisCaye.com (www.ambergriscaye.com), which
is sending money straight to Belize, with no overhead or administration
costs.<br>
<br>
----<br>
<br>
<i>news summary provided by Lan Sluder, Belize First Magazine, http://www.belizefirst.com/</i><b><br>
<br>
</b></p>
<p><b>BELIZE HOTEL SURVEY FINDS MODERATE SLOWDOWN IN AFTERMATH OF TERRORIST
ATTACKS </b>-- <i>Christmas Bookings Remain Strong But 2002 Looks Iffy</i> -- In the aftermath of the tragic terrorist attacks in the United
States, at BELIZE FIRST we wanted to assess the impact of the
attacks and the worldwide travel slowdown on tourism in Belize.
Tourism, with agriculture, is a top driver of the Belize economy.
During the first week in October, we surveyed about two dozen
hotel owners and managers in all areas of Belize, including Ambergris
Caye, Caye Caulker, Belize City, Cayo, Placencia and Corozal,
asking them about current bookings and future trends. Here are
the results.<br>
<br>
KEY FINDINGS<br>
1. Most properties in Belize have experienced cancellations for
September and October, some ranging up to 30%. However, due to
the time of year -- September and October are routinely the slowest
months of the year for tourism in the Western Caribbean -- the
actual economic impact in Belize has been modest so far. <br>
<br>
2. Bookings remain strong for the prime Christmas holiday season,
and hotels so far report few cancellations for this period. However,
since stiff cancellation penalties don&#146;t usually kick in until
30 or 60 days before arrival, more guests may cancel as these
deadlines approach. <br>
<br>
3. In the aftermath of the attacks, future bookings for 2002 slowed
significantly, but hotel operators are seeing some bounce now.<br>
<br>
4. Hotel operators are unsure about how the terrorist attacks
and an anticipated U.S. and global slowdown will impact Belize
tourism for the next year. The consensus appears to be that tourism
in Belize next year at best will be flat, with no growth from
this year. A few operators are still holding out hopes for a strong
2002, while the more pessimistic believe that if the global economy
sours and military action heats up, next year could turn out to
be the worst for Belize tourism since at least the Gulf War in
1991.<br>
<br>
DETAILED FINDINGS<br>
Here&#146;s what hotel owners and GMs are saying about tourism in Belize.
Keep in mind that this is not a scientific sampling of the more
than 400 hotels in Belize. However, it does represent the views
and experiences of the operators of many of the largest and most
successful hotels, lodges and beach resorts in Belize.<br>
<br>
* Nearly all hotels surveyed in Belize have experienced cancellations
or no-shows for September and October. In most cases the number
of cancellations has been small, from &#147;a few&#148; to around 30%. With
flights into Belize canceled for almost a week following the attacks,
a few hotels saw business after September 11 drop 40% or more.
However, because September and October are routinely the slowest
months of the year for tourism in Belize, and some hotels and
lodges were already scheduled to be closed for part of this period,
the impact of the cancellations so far has been relatively modest.
One island resort operator says: &#147;Our business is probably down
about 25-30% for September and October. I would guess November
will be down some but not as much. Activity on our web site was
way down but now has returned to normal levels. Hopefully that's
a sign that people are considering traveling to Belize.&#148; <br>
<br>
* Hotels are handling cancellations in various ways. Some are
offering credits for future stays, some are applying their standard
cancellation fees, and a few are providing full deposit refunds
and waiving penalties.<br>
<br>
* Hotels and lodges that traditionally have gotten a lot of business
from New York and the Northeastern U.S. are feeling the impact
more than hotels that generally draw from other areas. Although
the survey sample is not large enough to state this with confidence,
it appears that the more upscale properties catering to older,
more affluent guests are seeing greater weakness in bookings than
budget properties catering to younger travelers, especially those
from Europe. <br>
<br>
* Almost all hotels surveyed say bookings for the prime Christmas
and New Years period are strong. A number of the caye and coast
resorts are fully booked for the period this year, as they were
in previous years. Hotels report virtually no cancellations yet
for Christmas. However, since at many properties stiff cancellation
fees don&#146;t kick in until 30 or 60 days before arrival, more guests
may cancel as these deadlines approach. Says a Belize City-based
operator: &#147;It&#146;s hard to find a room for Christmas and New Years,
but we&#146;re not over the hump yet. Most hotels only have deposits
now. They&#146;ll know more when they request the balances, usually
30 days prior to arrival.&#148; <br>
<br>
* Overall, bookings for early 2002 appear to be significantly
lighter than last year and below operator expectations. A beach
hotel operator says: &#147;Christmas is mostly booked as usual but
early 2002 still looks weak. Many people seem to taking a wait
and see attitude at this time.&#148; A lodge operator reports: &#147;As
of the first week in September, we were well on our way to having
a banner season ... It was dead quiet from the 11th for at least
two weeks. But now, I'm getting several inquiries a week, and
deposits for next year are coming in.&#148; Another mainland operator
says: &#147;Bookings stalled for the first few weeks ... and have now
returned to just plain slow, but I should be seeing lots more
requests at this time for future bookings.&#148;<br>
<br>
* Due mostly to economic softening in the U.S., which is the source
of about three-fourths of Belize tourist arrivals, Belize hotel
owners are holding the line on price increases. In most cases,
rates for 2002-2003 are being kept the same as for this year,
and in at least one case a hotel rolled back a planned service
charge. So far, hotel operators haven&#146;t announced plans to discount
to attract new business.<br>
<br>
* Looking ahead to 2002, most hotel operators are cautiously optimistic.
The consensus is that tourism in Belize won&#146;t see the growth previously
projected but will remain at about 2001 levels, flat but not down.
A lodge operator says: &#147;I think it will result in this season
going from a great year to a fair year but probably not as bad
as the year of Desert Storm.&#148;<br>
<br>
* Tourism in Belize won&#146;t collapse, operators say, because much
of their business -- especially on Ambergris Caye -- is repeat
business from visitors who know Belize and won&#146;t hesitate to come
back. Also, Belize may get more business from Europe and more
from Americans who may decide to vacation closer to home rather
than to travel to Europe or elsewhere. A lodge operator says:
&#147;It is conceivable that we may even do better due to redirection
of travel from Europe, Middle East and Asia. Wholesalers and agents
will be hustling for safe close-to-home product or they will go
out of business - I think Belize fits the bill.&#148;<br>
<br>
* Hotel operators say they think things will slowly return to
about normal, assuming there is no major war. Overall, operators
are more concerned about a U.S. recession than about the fallout
from military action against terrorists or countries that harbor
terrorists. A San Pedro hotel operator says: &#147;The economy is an
even greater worry since we have been enjoying the benefits of
Americans with lots of disposal income. In San Pedro, we have
the same guests returning several times in one year because they
could afford it. That will cease.&#148; <br>
<br>
* Hotel operators say it is still to early to assess the full
impact of the attacks and the potential global recession. Much
depends on what happens militarily and how the economic slowdown,
especially in the U.S., plays out. &#147;This ain&#146;t over by a long
shot. This is a brave new world, and no one knows what it will
turn into,&#148; says one knowledgeable tourism operator.<br>
<br>
* Should the slowdown continue for a long time, or should the
global economy go through a severe downturn, Belize tourism operators,
who are mostly small, lightly capitalized businesses, could have
a hard time coping. Despite two years of record or near-record
hotel occupancies, many hotels in Belize are barely staying afloat.
Says one operator: &#147;Many hotels in San Pedro are still recovering
from both Keith and Mitch, bank loans are at high interest, costs
are very high, everything we buy costs us and arm and a leg. Most
people live close to the bone, and not a lot of skin covering.
I&#146;m not pessimistic, but I&#146;m being realistic.&#148;</p>
<p><b>BELIZE TOURIST BOARD: TOURISM OFF 25% IN SEPTEMBER </b>Tourism in Belize in September is down about 25%, says the Belize
Tourist Board. Although not many cancellations have yet been received,
there are few reservations being made through the rest of the
year, according to the BTB. The BTB says it's hard to predict
what will happen for the immediate future. Many Belize hotel operators
are still optimistic, however. Most flights to Belize in mid and
late September have not been full, but September is traditionally
the slowest month of the year for tourism in the Western Caribbean.
<br>
<br>
<b>GALERIA MAYA JUST A PIPE DREAM? </b>Galeria Maya, the casino and hotel project headed by Glenn Godfrey,
may be going nowhere after all. Channel 5 TV in Belize City says
activity, such as it was -- nothing much was ever really done
other than to hold a groundbreaking ceremony and put up a billboard
-- at the site has stopped. As BELIZE FIRST reported from Corozal
Town in July, many in the hospitality industry there had doubts
that the project would ever get off the ground. The grandiose
plans to bring in cruise ships through Chetumal Bay and the Four
Mile Lagoon sounded far-fetched to some local observers.<br>
</p>
<p><b>ALEX KING DEAD IN AUTO ACCIDENT </b>Alex King, 32, died as a result of an auto accident September
18 on the Western Highway. King, who was involved in a number
of media projects in Belize, reportedly was returning to Belize
City from Belmopan early in the morning when his Isuzu Rodeo overturned
near Rockville. King recently had joined the University of Belize
as a public relations officer. He was the son of Emory and Elisa
King and is also survived by his wife, two young children and
a brother. Emory King is Belize&#146;s best-known American expat and
the author of numerous books on Belize. BELIZE FIRST joins with
others in Belize and around the world in expressing sympathy to
the King family.<b><br>
<br>
GUAT GANG FOILED NEAR BELMOPAN </b>In more evidence that lawlessness in the Pet&eacute;n region of northern
Guatemala is spilling over into Belize, Belize police stopped
a gang of heavily armed men September 16 at a road block on the
Western Highway near Roaring Creek. One man, Zacarias Copo Jr.
of Orangewalk Town, a Belizean, was arrested, but five or six
men believed to be Guatemalans escaped. Police found assault weapons,
ammunition and a face mask in a vehicle left behind. Authorities
say they think the Guatemalans entered the country illegally and
were met by Copo. Masked gangs believed to be from Guatemala have
been involved in several recent holdups in Cayo.</p>
<p><b>FLIGHTS RESUME TO AND FROM BELIZE </b>American, Continental and TACA flights between the U.S. and Belize
City have resumed. Increased security measures at the International
airport require that passengers check in three hours in advance
of international flights. International mail service between Belize
and the U.S., discontinued after the September 11 terrorist attacks,
also has resumed. <b><br>
<br>
TERRORIST ATTACK ON AMERICA COULD HAVE SEVERE REPERCUSSIONS ON
BELIZE ECONOMY </b>Despite an upbeat message delivered by Belize Prime Minister Said
Musa, the September 11 terrorist attacks, using hijacked passenger
planes, on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon
in Washington, D.C., which shocked America and brought much of
its transportation and commercial infrastructure to a standstill,
may also have a serious impact on Belize. Observers believe tourism,
with agriculture the top driver of the Belize economy and a leading
source of foreign exchange earnings, is likely to be hit hard.
Even before the attack, the economic slowdown in the U.S., where
almost three-fourths of tourism to Belize originates, was being
reflected in slower bookings for the upcoming Belize high tourist
season. Now, with the U.S. economy expected to slide into recession
and with U.S. domestic and international airline traffic predicted
to decline by as much as 25% or more, Belize tourism could be
in for its worst period in many years. The anticipated slowdown
comes at a particularly bad time. Belize operators, coming off
two records yeaars for tourism, have added new capacity. More
than 400 new hotel rooms are under construction or have been recently
completed on Ambergris Caye alone. This expansion is taking place
just as world economies appear to be headed into the first truly
global recession since the early 1970s.<br>
<br>
An e-mail survey of hotel operators in San Pedro by Lan Sluder,
BELIZE FIRST editor and publisher, conducted, by coincidence,
just after the terrorist attack, found that most operators still
believed that 2002 would be better than 2001. Unfortunately, if
patterns in international air travel follow those of the period
after the Gulf War in early 1991, the Pan Am bombing in 1998 and
a spate of terrorist attacks in the Middle East in the 1980s,
when air traffic dropped from 5 to 20% for a time, that optimism
could be misplaced. The period following the Gulf War was especially
traumatic for the travel industry, according to an article in
USA Today, and the U.S. slipped into a nine-month recession. Travel
and tourism rebounded in 1992 and 1993, however. <br>
<br>
Travel agents in the U.S. report cancellation rates of 20 to 40%
for upcoming trips, especially for travel over the next few weeks
to Europe. Many airline flights are running at less than 50% capacity.
How consumer fears may impact travel to Belize is as still unclear,
but traffic and postings on many Belize and other travel Web sites
has been off dramatically since the attacks September 11. The
stringent security measures being implemented for U.S. airports
to combat terrorism are expected to further reduce air travel.
<br>
<br>
Should the U.S. launch an attack against terrorist enclaves or
entire countries thought to harbor terrorists, air travel and
tourism likely would drop even more precipitously. American defense
officials have said the U.S. will launch &#147;sustained military strikes&#148;
against those behind the terrorist attacks and said the administration
was considering options that included the use of air, sea and
land forces over a lengthy period.<br>
<br>
However, a few observers believe that destinations such as Belize,
away from urban centers which may be targets of future terrorist
attacks, might actually benefit, as tourists may feel safer in
Belize than in some other areas. Also, some think that Belize
could get additional interest as a safe harbor for retirement
or relocation. Laid back Belize is hardly a high-profile target
for international terrorism.<br>
<br>
Airline industry watchers say the terrorist attacks will have
a massive negative impact on airlines worldwide. Worldwide airlines
are expected to post losses of US$10 billion just as an immediate
fallout from the terrorist attacks. American, Continental, Delta,
USAir and other major American flag carriers have announced service
cut-backs averaging 20%, and several carriers in the U.S. and
elsewhere, including Continental, American , Delta, British Air,
Air Canada and USAir, have announced major layoffs, with the total
involving more than 125,000 employees.<br>
<br>
Other industries in Belize, including agriculture, may suffer
less from an economic slowdown in the U.S. and worldwide. However,
demand for citrus, sugar and seafood products, all important to
the Belize economy, is in great part tied to the state of the
U.S. and European economies. The U.S. is Belize&#146;s leading trade
partner. A contracting American and global economy will cut into
agricultural and seafood exports from Belize. Even before the
September attacks, consumer confidence in the U.S. and elsewhere
had been in decline. A widely watched University of Michigan consumer
sentiment index for the month ending September 10, the day before
the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, had plunged to 83.6
-- the lowest level of the year -- from 91.5 in August.<br>
<br>
<b>NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BELIZE PRESENTS CREDENTIALS </b>The new United States Ambassador to Belize, Russell Freeman, in
September presented his credentials to the Governor General, Sir
Colville Young, at the Belize House in Belmopan. Ambassador Freeman
called Belize &#147;the jewel of the Caribbean.&#148; He noted that there
are close ties between the two countries, with some 80,000 Belizeans
living in the U.S. and 3,000 Americans living in Belize. Ambassador
Freeman was a lawyer in Fargo, North Dakota. &nbsp;He served as a judge
advocate in the United States Army and is a graduate of Grinnell
College in Iowa and Northwestern University Law School. The Belize
ambassadorship is considered a political appointment. The attorney
was George W. Bush&#146;s leading fund raiser in North Dakota, and
his brother, Brad Freeman, an investor in Los Angeles, was a big
fund raiser for and contributor to the Bush presidential campaign.</p>
<p><b>BELIZE EXPRESSES SYMPATHY TO AMERICA; FOUR BELIZEANS FEARED KILLED
IN WORLD TRADE CENTER ATTACK</b> Belize Prime Minister Said Musa on September 11 asked new U.S.
Ambassador to Belize Russell Freeman &#147;to convey the condolences
of the government and people of Belize to the people of the United
States for the tremendous loss of human life, property and grave
injury caused by the horrific actions committed against government
and commercial installations in major United States cities.&#148; Prime
Minister Musa described the acts as callous and cowardly. At least
two and perhaps as many as four Belizeans were among the more
than 6,000 innocent people killed in the Islamic terrorist attack
against the World Trade Center towers in New York. They worked
in offices in the WTC twin towers.<br>
<br>
<b>BELIZE TELECOMMUNICATIONS MONOPOLY WILL NOT BE RENEWED</b> At a meeting September 4, Belize&#146;s Cabinet decided not to renew
the exclusive license to provide all telecommunciations and Internet
services of Belize Telecommunications Ltd. after it expires at
the end of December 2002. They agreed to notify BTL in writing
before the legal deadline in December 2001. &#147;This decision was
taken to address concerns from the general public regarding the
high cost of telecommunications services,&#148; according to a Belize
government press release. Many Belize consumers and business people
rejoiced.<br>
<br>
<b>BELIZE CLAMPS DOWN ON U.S. DOLLAR AND MEXICAN PESO HOLDERS</b> In late August, the Belize government began a crackdown on money
changers and others holding large amounts of U.S. dollars and
Mexican pesos in Belize, citing a law that requires transactions
for all significant currency exchanges to go through Belize banks.
The crackdown apparently is directed in part to companies doing
business in the Corozal Free Zone. The Belize Central Bank position
is that the Belize dollar is the only legal tender in Belize,
but that the U.S. dollar is the only legal tender for business
transactions in the Free Zone. Business people in the CFZ can
buy U.S. dollars from the Belize Bank office in the Free Zone,
but they are expected also to deposit their U.S. earnings with
the bank. The immediate reaction was a shortage of both U.S. dollars
and pesos in Belize and a decline in the value of the Belize dollar
as set by grey market money changers in Belize, Mexico and the
U.S.<br>
<br>
<b>&#147;LARGEST HOTEL&#148; IN BELIZE BREAKS GROUND </b>The former Casa Caribe, now owned by a timeshare developer with
projects in Cancun, will be expanded to 242 units, it was announced
at a ground breaking for Avalon Resorts in early September on
North Ambergris. Currently the largest hotel in Belize is the
Princess Hotel and Casino in Belize City, with 119 rooms and plans
for 66 more. Reportedly the construction of the Avalon project
will employ as many as 1,000 people. A dredging permit for land
and beach reclamation on the east side of the island near Mexico
Rocks reportedly has been approved by the government&#146;s Geology
Department. Belize conservation organizations have lobbied the
government to designate this area as a marine reserve or as a
part of the nearby Bacalar Chico National Park and Marine Reserve.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;Rumors
in San Pedro are that the hotel eventually wants to cut a channel
through the island, but that has not verified. Avalon Resorts
is headed by Mike Kelly. <br>
<b><br>
MEDICAL SCHOOL BROUHAHA CONTINUES</b> Just after the graduation of its first class this summer, several
of the top administrators at St. Matthews Medical School, a privately
owned and operated offshore med school in San Pedro which opened
in 1997, were removed and a new administration installed. The
new regime was headed by first by B.D. Owens, Ph.D., a medical
consultant, and then by Henry M. Haire, M.D. Some members of the
former administration, including St. Matthews founder and former
CEO Jeffrey Sersland, M.D., supported by several former St. Matthew
staff members and some Sanpedrano business people, reportedly
are attempting to set up another school, a branch of the Medical
University of the Americas, another offshore med school which
has operations on the Caribbean islands of Nevis and Saba. At
one point, St. Matthews was given an eviction notice from its
temporary location next to Villas at Banyan Bay but it is now
back there, at least for the time being. <br>
<br>
<b>BRIT NAVY HELPS IN BIG COCAINE BUST</b> Following a three-hour helicopter and boat chase near Hick Caye
off Belize City, in early September Belize police and the British
Royal Navy nabbed more than 2,000 pounds of cocaine with a street
value of US$56 million. The drug traffickers escaped, and no one
was arrested.<b><br>
<br>
CHANTAL CAUSES FLOODING IN THE NORTH OF BELIZE BUT LITTLE DAMAGE
AND NO LOSS OF LIFE </b>Tropical storm Chantal, briefly nearing hurricane strength, caused
flooding in northern Belize and a little beach erosion on the
cayes, but otherwise did little damage as it swept across Belize
into the Yucat&aacute;n in mid-August. Some roads were closed for a short
time due to flooding. There was no loss of life. As a precaution,
as the storm approached tourists on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker
were evacuated to the mainland. The evacuation went without incident,
although a few hotel owners and visitors complained that tourists
arriving at the international airport, with their onward flights
to the cayes canceled, were not given any information about where
to go or what to do.<br>
<br>
<b>FORMER PLACENCIA RESORT OWNER KIDNAPPED AND KILLED IN HONDURAS</b> Tom Giblin, the former owner and operator of Serenity Resort
in Placencia, in August was kidnapped and killed near Puerto Cortes,
Honduras, where he was constructing a seafront home. Giblin had
moved to Puerto Cortes earlier this year, after selling his interest
in his Placencia properties. Honduras police have arrested five
Hondurans, four of them reportedly employees of Giblin, in connection
with the murder. Friends of Giblin in Placencia, where he had
lived for about 12 years since moving to Belize from Connecticut,
expressed regret and sadness. A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Honduras
called Honduras &#147;a high-risk country in which to live or invest.&#148;
The spokesperson said that on average a U.S. citizen is killed
in the country every two months, adding that the killings of at
least 11 U.S. citizens over the past three years are unresolved.
Six U.S. citizens were killed in Honduras last year. About 12,000
Americans are thought to live in the country.<br>
<br>
<b>MIAMI PHYSICIAN DIES IN BLUE HOLE DIVING ACCIDENT</b> Dr. Reuben Delgado, a 43-year-old Miami cardiologist, was believed
drowned in a diving accident at the Blue Hole at Lighthouse Reef
August 5. The physician was separated from the rest of the diving
party as the divers surfaced from about 130 feet. Despite searches
by a mini-submarine, the body has not been recovered. Dr. Delgado
is believed to be the fifth diver to have perished in the famed
Blue Hole over the past 25 years.<br>
<br>
<b>CROC KILLS BOY IN BELIZE CITY CANAL</b> Jamaal Swift, 13, was killed August 7 by a crocodile which attacked
the youth while he was swimming in a canal off Haulover Creek.
The boy was bitten and pulled underwater by an 8 or 9-foot American
Saltwater crocodile.<br>
<br>
<b>TOLEDO MAN DIES FROM FER-DE-LANCE BITE </b>A 50-year-old farmer, Monico Cho, died August 5 as a result of
a bite from a fer-de-lance or Yellow Jawed Tommy Goff as the deadly
snakes are known in Belize. The man was bitten as he walked to
his farm near Mafredi village and died before reaching the Punta
Gorda hospital.<br>
<br>
<b>MACLEAN'S RUNS CRITICAL ARTICLE ON CHALILLO DAM </b>Maclean&#146;s, one of Canada&#146;s leading magazines, ran a lengthy and
critical article on the Chilillo, the controversial dam that is
set to be built on the Macal River. The article, by writer Tavia
Grant, begins this way: &#147;The dense jungle of the Macal River Valley
in western Belize is among the most ecologically diverse on the
planet. It is home to the tapir, the floppy-nosed ancient relative
of the horse, and the rare scarlet macaw, one of the largest and
noisiest members of the parrot family. The Macal River also sustains
the 800 villagers of Cristo Rey, who fish and drink its waters.
But now, they fear the river is about to be destroyed -- and they
blame a Canadian company, which, with Ottawa's help, is planning
to dam the Macal, a project that would submerge two ancient Mayan
settlements -- and a way of life. &#145;It's just a pity,&#146; says Robert
Bateman, the renowned Canadian artist and naturalist who has twice
visited the region. &#145;To think that a Canadian company would be
involved in this dam.&#146; Bateman is not alone. Other international
celebrities, including actor Harrison Ford, are also lending their
voices to the growing opposition to the $50-million dam, which
will stand 35 m high and stretch nearly 350 m in length. Proponents
of the project, including St. John's, Nfld.-based Fortis Inc.,
which in 1999 bought Belize's electrical utility and plans to
finance and build the dam, say the power it would generate could
help alleviate poverty, attract foreign investment and reduce
the country's dependence on imported oil from neighbouring Mexico.
But Bateman dismisses those arguments, claiming dams are no longer
a panacea for economic growth.&#148;<br>
<br>
<b>FIRST COMPREHENSIVE GUIDE TO RETIRING, LIVING AND INVESTING IN
BELIZE PUBLISHED </b><i>Adapter Kit: Belize</i>, a comprehensive guide for those considering buying property,
working, retiring or living in Belize, has been published by Avalon
Travel, the California company which also publishes the Moon Handbook
travel guides. The author is Lan Sluder, editor and publisher
of BELIZE FIRST MAGAZINE and the author or co-author of four other
books on Belize. Subtitled &#147;A Traveler&#146;s Tools for Living Like
a Local,&#148; the new book is also for those who just want to experience
the authentic Belize rather than to have a purely tourist experience.
Sluder says he interviewed more than 100 people, mostly expat
residents in Belize, for the book. At 262 pages, with many maps
and photographs, <i>Adapter Kit: Belize</i> is available from Amazon.com and Borders.com and in bookstores
worldwide for US$17.95 or less. Sluder&#146;s book is one in a new
series for Avalon. Other Adapter Kit titles focus on France, Mexico,
Ireland and other population retirement and relocation destinations
around the world.<br>
<br>
<b>WATER OUT FOR NEARLY FOUR DAYS ON AMBERGRIS CAYE </b>The municipal water supply was out for nearly four days on Ambergris
Caye in early August, due to a problem at the Belize Water Services
pumping plant. Residents say the water &#147;smelled like diesel fuel&#148;
before it was turned off. Businesses, hotels and residents with
wells or cisterns reconnected their old lines to provide a temporary
source of water. Belize Water Services is a private company that
provides water on the island.<br>
<br>
<b>BELIZE TOURIST BOARD PUBLISHES TOURISM STATISTICS BOOKLET</b> The BTB has published a booklet, Belize Travel and Tourism Statistics,
which presents data on Belize tourism for the year 2000. The stat
book includes information on hotel occupancy rates, attendance
at selected attractions, tourist arrivals and other information.
It costs US$7.50 and is available from the BTB.<br>
<br>
<b>ANOTHER TOURIST INCIDENT IN CAYO</b> In early August, shots were fired at three Americans and their
Belizean driver in a taxi en route from San Antonio village to
San Ignacio. A man described as Hispanic attempted to stop the
taxi. When the driver refused to stop, the bandit fired two shots,
hitting the driver and Bob Perez, 50, from San Jose, California.
Neither were seriously injured. Police say the crime is similar
to others committed in Cayo District by Guatemalans who routinely
move back and forth across the border. Earlier this summer, tourists
in a Lodge at Chaa Creek van were stopped and robbed by a band
of masked bandits west of San Ignacio. Local lodge and hotel operators
say they aren&#146;t worried about the spillover of crime from Guatemala,
but observers say the situation poses a threat to tourism in western
Belize.<br>
<br>
<b>CHAA CREEK WINS ECO AWARD</b> The Lodge at Chaa Creek has won the Islands Magazine-Caribbean
Tourism Organization Sustainable Tourism Award. The resort was
honored for its focus on the environment, commitment to local
culture and products, a recycling program and educational outreach.
<br>
<br>
<b>STUDY SUGGESTS CATNIP BEATS DEET FOR MOZZIES</b> Ever seen a Belize mosquito bite a cat? Could be because skeeters
hate catnip, according to scientists at Iowa State University.
Preliminary research suggests that oil of catnip is up to 10 times
more effective than DEET in keeping mosquitoes at bay. But tests
on human subjects are needed before scientists can be sure that
catnip actually works.<b><br>
<br>
BELIZE CITY CRIME IMPACTS TAXI DRIVERS, GROCERS, EVEN NEWSPAPER
EDITORS</b> Police continue to claim that crime is down in Belize City and
across the country, but the media appear to report otherwise.
In a single day in June, three taxi drivers -- two in Belize City
and one in Belmopan -- were jacked. Robberies of groceries and
other businesses are near daily occurrences in Belize City. Gang
shootings occur many times a month, and murders are almost too
routine to report. Even Harry Lawrence, the 68-year-old editor
of <i>The Reporter </i>newspaper, which reports extensively on crime in Belize City,
isn&#146;t exempt from criminal attack. In late June, Lawrence was
hit on the head with a gun in a robbery of the newspaper&#146;s offices.
Lawrence was treated at Karl Heusner hospital and released. Increasingly,
Belize City residents are fighting back. Sydney Sikaffy in mid-July
shot two gang members who robbed his Belize City store. Both thugs
ended up in Karl Heuser hospital, one in serious condition. Sikaffy
reportedly received dozens of calls from neighbors congratulating
him on doing what the police seem unable to do -- stop criminals
in their tracks. Outside of Belize City, crime is much less of
a problem.<br>
<br>
<b>IF YOU THINK CRIME IS BAD IN BELIZE, CHECK OUT GUATEMALA </b>The crime wave in Guatemala makes Belize&#146;s look like a summer
vacation. In late June, nine people, including two Mennonites
from Belize, were shot to death in a &#147;kill squad&#148; attack in the
Pet&eacute;n, and another seven people were wounded. Drugs were thought
to be involved, although responsible sources say the Belizean
Mennonites were just there looking at farms to buy and were simply
in the wrong place at the wrong time. At the Tikal park, at least
one tourist guide was killed and several tourists have been attacked
and raped in recent months, in a series of organized attacks by
three ski-masked gangs. In the month of June alone, in Guatemala
City, a gang with assault rifles killed six people, and two businessman,
one German and one Guatemalan, were kidnapped and murdered. In
May, an American nun was car jacked and killed. There have been
14 bank hold-ups and armored car robberies this year, resulting
in at least two deaths. Kidnappings and extortion attempts in
Guatemala have doubled in the last year. Robberies and burglaries
occur routinely throughout the country, and police rarely solve
any crime. Citizens have taken to vigilante actions to try to
stop crime. Observers rank Guatemala along with Honduras as the
highest risk countries for crime in Central America. Nicaragua
and El Salvador are considered moderate risk. Costa Rica and Panama
are viewed as low risk. <br>
<br>
<b>TASTES LIKE CHICKEN DEPARTMENT</b> In June, a San Ignacio Chinese restaurant chef was accused by
Fisheries Department inspectors of skinning and frying a cat.
The cook at the restaurant said he was preparing gibnut, a rat
sometimes eaten by Belizeans. Patrons said they believe the restaurant
was going to serve the cat as fried chicken. Charges against the
restaurant owner, Li Chun Hua, were later dropped, as there was
insufficient evidence the restaurant owner himself was involved.<br>
<br>
<b>BELLEVUE HOTEL DARK </b>The venerable Bellevue Hotel on the Southern Foreshore of Belize
City has closed. Operated by the Dinger family, the hotel has
struggle to remain open and of late had gotten good reviews by
guests. The Belize Supreme Court, however, closed the hotel for
non-payment of debts and returned the hotel to the Social Security
Board, which earlier had rescued the hotel f