News and Opinion Blog about Belize and the Caribbean Coast

LATE NEWS OF BELIZE AND THE CARIBBEAN COAST

By Lan Sluder
BELIZE FIRST

BELIZE NEWS ARCHIVES 2004-2009

 

PM’S SON, RAPPER SHYNE, RETURNS TO BELIZE. Rapper Shyne, the son of Belize PM Dean Barrow, has returned to Belize, having been deported from the U.S. after being released from prison. Shyne was released from prison in New York after serving more than eight years for his role in a 1999 New York night club shooting involving mentor Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and actress Jennifer Lopez.  The rapper remained in custody while U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decided whether to deport him back to Belize.  Shyne, whose real name is Jamal Barrow, was born in Belize.  While serving time, he released an album and converted to Judaism. He legally changed his name to Moses Michael Leviy. In a press conference in Belize, Shyne said he plans to continue to make music. (October 6, 2009, updated November 3, 2009))

CAYE CAULKER SHOCKED BY BRUTAL MURDER OF TROPIC AIR  MANAGER   The station manager of Tropic Air in Caye Caulker, Lorleen Young, 51, was murdered in an apparent burglary and home invasion October 1.  Young, the mother of three, was employed at Tropic Air for 15 years and before that was a teacher for 14 years at the Caye Caulker Roman Catholic School. Police say that Caye Caulker had not had a murder for several years, although in recent months there have been high-profile crimes against visitors and residents. The police have detained two men for questioning. A local community watch group has called for the replacement of the Caye Caulker police force, alleging that it is ineffective in preventing and solving crime on the island.  (October 5, 2009)

Hotels, Lodges and Inns for Sale in Belize

By our count, more than 60 hotels, lodges, inns and B&Bs are currently for sale in Belize. Aside from these properties that are actively on the market via media advertising or listings with real estate companies, a number of other hotels are for sale but currently are not being promoted. The largest concentration of hotel properties for sale is in Cayo District, followed by Caye Caulker and Placencia. Despite its ranking as the number one tourism destination in Belize, with the largest number of hotels in the country, Ambergris Caye has relatively few hotels for sale.

Below are hotels and related businesses currently offered or advertised for sale in Belize. Several restaurants are also included, although this is not a complete list. All asking prices are in U.S. dollars.  Prices are those set by the owner and in some cases may bear little relationship to actual market value. Most properties, if they sell at all, do not sell at full asking price.

We attempt to provide current and accurate information, but such information is subject to change, and owners do change their minds. To correct any listing or to add a listing, contact Belize First (www.BelizeFirst.com) or email lansluder@gmail.com.

CAYO DISTRICT

Pook’s Hill Lodge, Belmopan, 11 cabañas on 100 acres, asking US$2,300,000

Gumbo Limbo Village Resort, Mountain Pine Ridge Road, San Ignacio, 4 cottages, restaurant, pool on 40 acres, US$660,000

Falconview Backpackers Adventure Hostel, Santa Elena, asking US$328,000

Roaring River Golf Course, 9-hole golf course on 20 acres with restaurant and five tourist rental cottages, asking US$1,800,000

Aguada Hotel, Santa Elena, 22 rooms, owner’s apartment, restaurant and bar, pool, asking US$850,000

Royal Mayan Resort and Spa, Benque Viejo, 25 rooms on 8 acres with pool and spa, asking US$1,750,000

Ek’Tun Lodge, Macal River, San Ignacio, 2 cabañas on 61.5 acres, asking price not determined

Belmopan Hotel and Convention Center, Belmopan, on 2 acres, asking US$1,200,000

Macaw Bank, Cristo Rey, 5 cabañas/cottages with owner’s house on 50 acres on Macal River, asking US$750,000

Five Sisters Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge, 18 units with restaurant on about 15 acres, asking US$2,200,000

Windy Hill Resort, San Ignacio, 16 cottages and 9 rooms on 97 acres, pool, tour operation, asking US$1,800,000

Belize Jungle Dome, Belmopan, 7 rooms, pool, on 2.88 acres on Belize River, asking US$850,000 (owner’s villa not included but is available at an additional US$275,000)

Belmopan Bed and Breakfast, Belmopan, 3 units plus owner’s residence, pool, asking US$330,000

Casa Maya Eco-Lodge, San Ignacio, 7 cabañas on 30 acres, restaurant and bar, swimming pool, asking US$1,400,000

Mopan River Resort, Benque Viejo, asking US$2,850,000

Eva’s, San Ignacio, restaurant, leased, asking US$150,000

Amore Mio Italian restaurant, San Ignacio, leased, asking US$35,000

Iguana Junction, Bullet Tree, 4 rooms and main house on 1 acre, asking US$315,000

B&B, Succotz, residence and three guest houses, café (leased) in San Ignacio also included, asking US$190,000

Tract near Maya Mountain Lodge, San Ignacio (but not lodge itself), approx. 46 acres, asking US$915,620

Cedar Cabins Resort, Frank’s Eddy Village near Belmopan, camping, restaurant, gift shop, botanical garden and butterfly farm, asking US$1,600,000

duPlooy's Lodge -- seven units offered for sale from US$99,000 to $250,000 (lodge continues to operate)

CAYE CAULKER

Seaside Cabanas, 16 rooms on seafront, asking US$2,299,000

Belize Odyssey Hotel, 22 rooms, asking US$4,000,000

Tropical Paradise Resort, 25 rooms, restaurant and bar, asking US$2,500,000

Popeyes Beach Resort, 20 rooms, restaurant and bar, seafront, asking US$1,800,000

Iguana Reef Inn, 13 rooms plus owner’s suite, pool, asking US$3,000,000

Tropics Hotel, 17 rooms, asking US$1,400,000

Jaguar Morning Star Guest House, 3 units plus owner’s apartment, asking US$499,000

Barefoot Caribe, 14 rooms plus seafront restaurant/bar, asking US$1,900,000

Sunset View Hotel, 25 budget rooms plus bar, lagoon side, asking US$560,000

Tom’s Hotel, seafront, asking US$3,200,000

Casa Rosado B&B, 3 rooms, asking US$250,000

Don Corleone Caribbean Trattoria, leased, asking US$125,000

AMBERGRIS CAYE

Ecologic Divers, dive shop with 3-bedroom tourist rental (included), asking US$699,000

Seven Seas Resort, 1-bedroom units on seafront, pool, RCI timeshare affiliation, asking US$1,950,000

Banana Beach, 66-unit hotel with restaurant on seafront, asking US$8,500,000

Lagniappe Provisioning, asking US$50,000

Casa Picasso Restaurant, asking US$150,000

Ruby’s Guest House (not Ruby’s on Barrier Reef Drive), 11 rooms and 2 casitas, asking US$399,000

Winnie Estelle charter boat, asking US$185,500

Conch Shell, 10 rooms, seafront, asking US$950,000

Jungle Jack’s restaurant and bar, leased, asking US$35,000

Mr. Joe’s Grocery and Grill, includes owner’s living quarters, asking US$500,000

Palapa Bar, leased, with owner’s house, asking US$700,000

REMOTE CAYES & ATOLLS

Slick Rock Adventure Lodge, Long Caye, Glovers Atoll, seafront, asking US$995,000 for leased dive resort only or US$2,195,000 for 5.2 acre island with resort facilities

Blackbird Caye Resort, Turneffe Atoll, 18 cabañas on 44 acres, seafront, asking US$4,000,000

Manta Reef Resort, Glovers Reef Atoll, 15 cabañas plus house and restaurant on 12 acres, seafront, asking US$5,500,000

Unopened fishing/dive resort on Long Caye, Lighthouse Atoll, 27 units, asking US$1,950,000

Gaviota’s Resort, Tobacco Caye, 7 rooms, seafront, asking US$495,000

HOPKINS

Kanantik, all-inclusive seafront resort with 25 cabañas on 300 acres, asking US$8,400,000

River House Lodge, Sittee, 6 units on 2 acres, asking US$890,000

Sir Thomas’ at Toucan Sittee, Sittee, 6 cottages plus owner’s house, restaurant on 1 acre, asking US$950,000

Caribbean Shores Bed & Breakfast, Hopkins, 6 rooms, asking US$445,000

Parrot Cove Lodge, 6 rooms, 2 houses, pool, restaurant and bar, asking US$1,750,000

DANGRIGA

Mama Noots Jungle Resort, Mayflower, 48 acres, asking price US$1,600,000

 

PLACENCIA

Pickled Parrot, 2 cabañas, restaurant, owner’s apartment, asking US$395,000

Manatee Inn, asking US$375,000

Ranguana Lodge, 5 cabañas, seafront, asking US$1,250,000

Seaspray Hotel, 21 rooms, seafront, asking US$1,500,000

La Chapelle Suites, 6 units plus 3-bedroom unit, asking US$1,700,000

South Waters Resort, 4 cabañas, restaurant and bar on 2 acres, asking US$3,000,000

Green Parrot Beach Houses & Resort, 8 units, seafront, asking US$1,495,000

COROZAL TOWN

TJ’s Guesthouse, 10 rooms with manager’s apartment, restaurant and pool, asking US$275,000

Las Palmas, 29 rooms, space for restaurant, asking US$2,900,000

Hok’ol K’in Guesthouse, asking US$598,000

Oasis Bed & Breakfast, 21 rooms, asking US$475,000

PUNTA GORDA

Sea Front Inn, Punta Gorda, 14 rooms and 6 apartments, restaurant, asking US$1,100,000

BELIZE CITY AND BELIZE DISTRICT

Belize River Lodge, 8 rooms on 47 acres, with fishing gear, boats and a live-aboard motor yacht, asking US$2,000,000

El Chiclero Inn, asking US$1,000,000

Maruba Lodge & Spa, Old Northern Highway, 18 units, two villas, 2 pools, spa, 700 acres, asking US$8,000,000

Bakadeer Inn, Belize City, asking US$375,000

Bacab Eco Park, Belize City, asking US$2,600,000

Cheers, near Belize Zoo, 3 cabañas and restaurant and owner’s house, asking US$1,083,000

Altun-Ha Ecotourism Resort and Maskall Golf Course, (formerly Pretty See) Old Northern Highway, lodge building with apartment, 14 cabañas, 9-hole golf course on 1,320 acres, asking US$5,500,000

(September 2, 2009, revised November 7, 2009)

‘ANTI-BELIZE’ BOOK PUBLISHED BY AMERICAN WHO WAS DEPORTED FROM BELIZE  Dean Fortune DeMarks, an American insurance agent and would-be real estate developer in Seine Bight has self-published a novel, The Tourist: Who's Too Dangerous for Belize and available on Amazon.com. The book takes an anti-Belize stance, discussing alleged corruption by politicians, business people and police in Belize. In February 2009, DeMarks was arrested by Belize police for allegedly possessing a 9mm handgun, plastic explosives and other materials.  In March he was deported from Belize back to the U.S.  Since then, DeMarks has posted numerous “tweets” on Twitter alleging that police, government officials, and businessmen are members of corrupt cartels. A recent tweet read, “Dictators of Belize, Barrow & Ashcroft, Vie for Control of Country. Cartels of Criminals include Zabeneh, Espat, Musa, Fonseca. Stay Away!” In the author’s biography section of DeMarks' book on Amazon.com, Garifuna in Belize are described as “uncivilized.”  (August 31, 2009)

 

GOVERNMENT RENATIONALIZES BTL  Acting swiftly, getting legislation through the House and Senate in only a little more than a day, the Belize government has renationalized Belize’s phone company, Belize Telemedia, Ltd. (formerly Belize Telecommunications, Ltd.)  Prime Minister Dean Barrow says the government will move to “immediately” sell the 94% of BTL controlled by Lord Michael Ashcroft, with Belizeans getting first dibs on the stock.  The remaining 6% already is owned by various Belizeans.  It’s unclear how much the phone company is worth.  Estimates range from less than US$100 million to US$300 million.  Belize has long had some of the highest telephone and internet rates in the world. (August 22, 2009)

MACAL RIVER BROWN WITH SEDIMENT RELEASED FROM DAM  Residents and visitors are warned against swimming in the Macal River, or rivers the Macal flows into, including the Mopan and Belize rivers, due to sediment reportedly released from the Chalillo dam.  (August 25, 2009)

23 CASES OF SWINE FLU REPORTED IN BELIZE According to Health Department officials, 23 cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Belize.  Most are in the northern Belize area. (July 31, 2009)

OUTBREAK OF DENGUE FEVER IN CAYO Health authorities in Belize say there has been an outbreak of dengue fever in Cayo District, with 113 confirmed cases through mid-July. All together, 184 confirmed cases have been reported in Belize from May through July to date.  Of these, at least 17 are the dangerous dengue hemorrhagic fever type.  One death was reported, in Santa Elena.  Deputy Director of Health Services Marjorie Parks says that dengue fever is endemic to Belize and as such "it is expected that there will be sudden occurrences on an annual basis."  Dengue is transmitted by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito. (July 20, 2009)

EARTHQUAKE IN HONDURAS CAUSES MOSTLY MINOR DAMAGE IN BELIZE An earthquake off the coast of Honduras in the early morning of May 28 that measured 7.1 on the Richter scale was felt all over Belize. The epicenter was 80 miles northeast of La Ceiba, Honduras. Many Belizeans were awakened as the quake shook their homes. Some buildings, road surfaces and piers were damaged in Placencia, Monkey River, the Hopkins/Sittee River area, Punta Gorda and elsewhere in southern Belize. The water tower in Independence tumbled over. The quake was felt as far north as Corozal Town, but there was little damage in Central and Northern Belize. “This was the biggest one to date that I have experienced in Belize - the 1976 one was scary but this one had me saying a prayer,” Alvaro Rosado said in a posting on a Belize mailing list. The terremoto was also felt all over Honduras and parts of Guatemala; a number of buildings were toppled in Honduras and a few bridges damaged. A tsunami warning was issued for coastal areas of Central America and the Caribbean, but no tidal wave materialized. At least four deaths were reported in Honduras, along with dozens of injuries. No deaths or serious injuries were reported in Belize. (May 28, 2009)

NO SWINE FLU CONFIRMED IN BELIZE No cases of swine flu have been confirmed in Belize. (May 15, 2009)

BLACKOUTS SI Y NO?  Comision Federal de Electricidad or C.F.E. of Mexico has said that due to storm damage to one of its power plants it may have to curtail electric power sales to Belize from May through August. This could result in periodic blackouts in Belize, due to the sizeable amount of power Belize gets from Mexico. However, C.F.E. later said it will supply energy to Belize "with no interruptions.” (May 10, 2009)

BELIZE GUIDEBOOK UPDATE   Travel writer Lan Sluder will be in Belize beginning in early June updating and revising Fodor's Belize for the new 2010 edition.  Published by Random House, most Fodor's guidebooks including the 350-page Belize edition are revised, fact-checked and updated annually.  Sluder, author of more than a half dozen books on Belize and founder of BELIZE FIRST, has been doing the Fodor's Belize guidebook (formerly Fodor's Belize and Guatemala) for more than10 years and has been reporting on Belize for 19 years. He will be revisiting all areas of Belize to re-evaluate hotels, restaurants and sights and to report on new properties and attractions.  Tourism operators, hotel owners and others with new or changed information on their operations that they wish to have considered for the new guide should consider contacting Sluder at lansluder@gmail.com.  There is no charge or obligation involved for those properties and sights included in the guide. (May 8, 2009)

 

TWO HOTEL MANAGERS MURDERED Kelvin Wade, manager of Bannister Caye Resort, was shot to death March12. Robbery apparently was the motive. According to news reports, there were more than 60 people on the island at the time. Bannister Caye, about 9 miles off Belize City, primarily focuses on
the cruise ship market -- it brings people by the hundreds from the cruise ships in for a day of swimming and sunning on the beach.

On March 10, Tsong Ming Liou, owner/manager of the Bachelor Inn in the West Landivar area of Belize City, was murdered. Apparently before he was killed he was severely beaten -- his teeth were knocked out -- and
cut with a knife in an attempt to get him to disclose the whereabouts of more money. His throat was then cut, and he bled to death. Three young South Side men have been arrested and charged.  (March 18, 2009)

WOMAN RAPED ON CAYE CAULKER A 27 year old American woman visiting Caye Caulker reported she was raped and robbed February 26 as she was returning from dinner. (February 28, 2009)

CANE FARMERS’ PROTEST IN ORANGE WALK ENDS IN ONE DEATH, SEVERAL WOUNDED  Protests in the Orange Walk Town area on February 2 by cane farmers objecting to a new payment system ended in the death of at least one and the wounding of several other farmers by Belize police.

Cane farmers in Northern Belize have been upset for weeks over a new system of payment for cane. The system is based partly on sugar content of the cane instead of just tonnage. The new sugar content testing system that has been put in place at the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) plant at Tower Hill. It's called a core sampler. Cane farmers say it results in lower prices for their crop.

In late January some cane farmers went on "strike" and stopped delivering sugar cane to the BSI plant.  On February 2, the farmers took further action, reportedly blocking roads around Orange Walk Town, burning tires and shutting down the sugar factory.  At least one police vehicle was set on fire.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow issued a 4 p.m. (February 2) ultimatum to disband, or he would have the authorities disperse them.  The cane farmers apparently didn't comply. The police reportedly began shooting. At least one man, riding in the back of a truck that went through a police barricade, was shot and killed, and there is an unconfirmed report of another man also killed.  Ten persons received injuries.

After the violence, PM Barrow agreed to suspend the use of the core sampler.  Many have called for investigations of the shootings, in an effort to determine if the government and the police overreacted.

The U.S. Embassy in Belize warned that Americans and other foreign visitors should avoid the Orange Walk Town area for the time being. The Northern Highway was closed to all traffic during the day of February 2 but reopened in the early evening.

(February 3, 2009)

GAS PRICES BOUNCE BACK UP  The drop in Belize fuel prices seems to be over.  As of late January gas and diesel prices are now back up over US$2.50 a gallon, and prices for regular jumped over 20% in one day. New Belize City prices are:

Premium unleaded BZ$5.75 - up 31 cents

Regular unleaded BZ$5.48 - up 93 cents

Diesel BZ$5.33 - up 54 cents

(January 27, 2009)

CANADIAN VISITOR STABBED ON CAYE CAULKER  A visitor to Caye Caulker from Canada was stabbed in the neck by a mugger, as she and a friend, an expat living on the island, were returning home after dinner.  The friend received only a minor cut. The incident took place the evening of January 26.  The victim, Sofia Stefaniw, a nurse, was transported by helicopter to Belize Health Care Partners in Belize City, where she recovered from the wound before returning to Canada.  The alleged perpetrator has been arrested and is being held for trial.  (January 27, 2009)

 

INFLATION 6.4% IN 2008

Inflation in Belize last year hit 6.4%, the biggest jump since 1996,
when the inflation rate also was 6.4%, according to figures just
released by the Statistical Institute of Belize. The inflation rate
in 2007 was 2.3% and 4.2% in 2006.

The increase in 2008 was led by the price of food, which grew 13.3%.
The cost of flour jumped over 50% in 2008, and the price of rice
increased 35%. The impact of sharply declining fuel costs in the
fourth quarter was offset by increases earlier in the year, so motor
fuel costs increased 2.8% for the year.

The higher inflation rate in Belize runs counter to the trends in much
of the rest of the world. Inflation in the U.S. in 2008 was at its
lowest level since 1954, only 0.1% for the 11 months ending November
2008, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics.

Euro zone inflation also was low.

Some observers say they believe Belize inflation will be significantly
lower in 2009, as the impact of declining fuel and food prices spreads
throughout the economy.  (January 23, 2009)

 

BELIZE:  THE YEAR IN REVIEW

POLITICS OF CHANGE IN BELIZE 

The biggest news of 2008, though it now seems like a lifetime ago, was the national election February 7.  The United Democratic Party swept into office with about 57% of the popular vote, to 41% for the People’s United Party, taking 25 of 31 seats in the House of Representatives. The PUP won only four seats in the Belize City area, plus one in Orange Walk District and one in Corozal.  Dean Barrow took the oath of office as Prime Minister on February 8.  A lawyer by profession, educated in Jamaica and Miami, Barrow is the first black to hold the top office in Belize. For former Prime Minister Said Musa, it was his first defeat since taking over as head of the PUP in 1996.  Although the former PUP PM managed to hold onto his seat, even the powerful Ralph Fonseca lost to UDP political novice Michael Hutchinson in Belize Rural Central.  The election was peaceful, and the turnout was moderately high, with over 74% of registered voters casting ballots.

Prime Minister Barrow’s cabinet and other senior officials were viewed as being a combination of fresh new faces, including the first Mennonite and Maya ministers, and political veterans.  The ministerial mix, which includes Creoles and Mestizos, reflects the ethnic and cultural diversity of Belize.  However, the original roster of UDP ministers was all male.

In its first year in office, the new UDP government generally took a low-key approach to governing.  It followed a reform-oriented agenda.  PM Barrow often took a pragmatic course when for example he backed down on a constitutional amendment to allow preventative detention, after widespread public opposition to the amendment. In December PM Barrow also took a moderate position on the planned referendum on the agreement between Guatemala and Belize, settling longstanding border and territory issues. One oft-heard criticism of the government is that it has so far failed to put together a program to combat an economic slump in Belize due to the world financial and economic crisis.

As the year progressed, the badly defeated PUP broke into factions, the old and the new.  The old guard generally is associated with former PM Musa and Francis Fonseca and other former party leaders.  The new group is associated with John Briceño, who in late March narrowly defeated Fonseca in a party election for PUP party leader, and Mark Espat, who also ran for party leader.

In December, former PM Said Musa was criminally charged with theft in connection with a US$10 million grant from Venezuela to settle a debt by the government for Universal Health Services.  Former “Minister of Everything” Ralph Fonseca also was charged.

MURDERS MOST FOUL 

Crime continued to plague Belize in 2008.  By year’s end, the unofficial total of murders in the country reached a record 95, up from 77 in 2007. The year’s grim statistics were capped by four murders over the long Christmas weekend. This puts the homicide rate in Belize at about 30 per 100,000 population, one of the highest rates in the Caribbean Basin and Central America.  It is some six times higher than the national homicide rate in the United States.  In a single bad week in February, the country saw a record nine murders. The Southside of Belize City is the epicenter of homicide.  About 40% of all murders in Belize take place in this poor, predominantly Creole area of Belize City.

Two of the most notorious murders of the year took place in Cayo in early July.  An expat couple in the San Ignacio area was brutally murdered, allegedly by local teenagers.  Americans Mike and Donna Hill, who had been in Belize since the early 1990s, were found dead near their Macal River home, shot execution-style. The Hills were involved in a real estate development project near Cristo Rey village, and Donna Hill sold real estate. Police arrested two young Belizean boys and charged them with the crimes. The suspects include a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy, both from Santa Elena.

Burglaries and thefts are by far the most common crimes committed in Belize, with well over 1,000 cases of each reported each year. One accounting firm on Central American Boulevard in Belize City reported that it experienced five burglary attempts in a single month. Through mid-year, however, Belize police say that crime rates in Belize fell.  Major crimes (murders, robberies, burglaries, thefts, rapes and carnal knowledge) were down 9% in the first six months of 2008, compared with the year earlier.  Observers respond that many crimes are not reported, and that Belize police spend too much time on victimless crimes, such as possession of marijuana, rather than working to reduce street crime.

A British documentary on Belize City gangs by Ross Kemp was shown on television worldwide, bringing Belize unwanted negative publicity.

An unfortunate up-and-coming trend in crime in Belize is home invasions.  Several home invasions were reported in the Belize City area, including in the suburban Belama Phase Two area, and others took place in Gales Point, Spanish Lookout, Corozal Town and elsewhere.

THE ELEVATOR ECONOMY

There was good and bad news on the economic front in 2008.  Gross Domestic Product figures released by the Statistical Institute of Belize in October revealed the economy grew by 5.3% during the first nine months of the year, the fastest rate since 2003. It grew even faster, by 8.2%, in the third quarter.

However, on the negative side the Consumer Price Index in the first half of the year registered a large increase – a 6.9% increase in prices of goods and services when compared to prices in the same period last year. The cost of daily staples shot up. Flour prices at retail rose 51%, rice increased 21% and chicken 13%.  Early in the year, Belize experienced a shortage of flour, but supplies have since returned to normal.

Prices continued to rise until around September, but then dropped.  Gasoline, which had peaked at around US$6 a gallon in mid-year, fell significantly in the fourth quarter, and by year end premium gas was under US$2.50 a gallon, a level not seen in 10 years.  Food prices also began to decline.

The global collapse of oil prices, from near US$150 a barrel down to the $30s, also had another impact on Belize in 2008, as Belize Natural Energy, the company that discovered commercial quantities of oil in Spanish Lookout, cut royalty payments to the Belize government.  However, only a tiny fraction of Belize government revenues come from oil royalties. 

Real estate in Belize appears to be suffering, at least to a limited degree, from the global financial and economic malaise.  While housing prices haven’t dropped in Belize to the extent that they have in the U.S., Britain, Spain and elsewhere, realty sales slowed in 2008, and price cuts on the asking prices of condos, land and homes have been reported.

In June Channel 5 TV and its parent company, Great Belize Productions, were sold to Belize Telemedia Ltd. Under Stewart Krohn, Channel 5 TV produced one of the most respected news programs in Belize and Central America.

In November, Newcastle disease struck chickens in Spanish Lookout, and the virulent disease spread to other poultry farms in Cayo and Stann Creek districts. Almost all birds of the affected flock die within 72 hours. 

TOURISM STARTS STRONG, THEN DROPS

The tourism industry in Belize, the largest sector of the economy with revenues of almost US$300 million, and the sector targeted as a top priority by the new UDP government, was buffeted in 2008 by the global financial and economic crisis.  The year started with reasonably good numbers, but by April the arrival numbers had slumped.  The months of April, September and October all saw declines of 10% or more in international tourist arrivals.  November was essentially flat, but unofficial reports suggest that December was weak, and that bookings for 2009 also are slow. Layoffs of hotel workers were reported in Placencia and elsewhere. Cruise tourism to Belize was also down in 2008.

Many Americans, who represent about 70% of visitors to Belize, are traveling less due to the poor economy. The surprising strength of the U.S. dollar, to which the Belize dollar is pegged, means that European, British, Canadian and Mexican tourists are now paying 25 to 40% more to vacation in Belize.

Despite the weak tourism environment, the Placencia peninsula continues to pick up momentum as Belize’s next major visitor and vacation home destination. Peninsula development is expected to get a boost from the paving of the main road from the Southern Highway.  A contract with Cisco Construction to pave the road was signed by the government in July, and site preparation is underway. Almost 600 new condos and houses have been recently built on the Placencia peninsula.  Another 900 or more units have received approval but are not yet constructed, for a total of 1,500 new or planned units.  This does not include the controversial Ara Macao development, whose status appears in limbo. Several major projects, including a development on False Caye off Maya Beach, a large hotel near Seine Bight, and a casino at the site of the former Calico Jack’s resort have been announced, but in some cases actual implementation has been delayed by the global financial crisis.

Tourism and real estate development also continues apace on Ambergris Caye, Belize’s leading visitor destination.  More than two dozen development projects are underway on the caye. In December, the first phase of South Beach Belize on the southern end of the island was approved by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee.  Though downsized from original plans, the project is still one of the largest ever conceived for Belize, with 590 lots and a two-year development timeline.  The developer is Jeff Pierce.

Several foreign tourists died in 2008 of water-related accidents, including an American woman who drowned while cave tubing in Caves Branch River, a British tourist tubing on the Mopan (CPR procedures allegedly may have contributed to the death), and one who died in diving accident off San Pedro.

In November, Belize tourism got a boost when several segments of the NBC Today Show were aired live from Belize.

Although the runway extension at Goldson International Airport was completed in early 2008, the anticipated new airline service, including service from Europe, hasn’t materialized.  Indeed, existing airlines serving Belize including Delta and US Air have cut back on service.  Fares to Belize remain some of the highest to any destination in the region.

TREACHEROUS WEATHER

Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed off the coast of Belize on May 31 and quickly moved ashore, dumped up to 15 inches of rain on the country in early June. Seven Belizeans were reported dead in Stann Creek District.  The Kendal Bridge over the Sittee River at Mile 13.7 of the Southern Highway between Hopkins and Maya Centre was destroyed, temporarily cutting off road access to points south, including Placencia and Punta Gorda.  A dirt, gravel and culvert causeway was built over the river, allowing cars, trucks and buses to pass, and later the U.S. military provided a temporary replacement bridge.   A permanent replacement bridge will not be completed until the end of 2009 or later.  A part of the rice crop in Blue Creek in Orange Walk District was destroyed. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker had some moderate flooding, and several dozen small boats were reported sunk. Prime Minister Dean Barrow declared a national emergency. The financial cost of the storm ran into the tens of millions of U.S. dollars. Fortunately, Belize's number one foreign exchange earner, tourism, escaped virtually unscathed.  Hotels and resorts remained open or quickly reopened after the storm. 

Later in the year, September and October rains caused more extensive flooding. Sections of the Western Highway, Burrell Boom Road and Southern Highway, among other important arteries, were closed due to deep water over the roadways.  Flooding also occurred in Belize City, Blue Creek and elsewhere. The Mopan, Macal and Belize rivers rose rapidly to high levels. Three people from Arenal village, on the Belize-Guatemala border in western Belize, died trying to get to Melchor in Guatemala.  Damage from the October and November flooding was put at more than US$10 million.

Happily, no hurricanes hit Belize in 2008.

PEOPLE AND PLACES

Andy Palacio, Belize’s best known musician on the global stage, died January 19 in Belize City at the age of 47 after he suffered a heart attack and stroke.  He received the equivalent of a state funeral January 26 in his home village of Barranco in Toledo District.  Thousands journeyed to the small, remote Garifuna village to pay their tribute to the iconic world music man. During the 1980s, Palacio used Garifuna rhythms in punta rock. He was named director of culture at the Belize Arts Council in 2003. His 2007 album Wátina became one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year, and the global interest in his music helped spur a revival in Garifuna culture. 

Sir Barry!  Barry Bowen, Belize's Belikin beer baron who also has extensive landholdings and business interests, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth.

April the tapir at the Belize Zoo celebrated her 25th birthday – in April of course.

Belizean-American Olympic star Marion Jones, having admitted she lied to federal officials in connection with a steroids investigation and a check-fraud case, reported to a federal prison in Fort Worth, Texas, in March and was released in September.  She gave up all her Olympic medals.

A fire in downtown Belize City in late March destroyed an entire city block of commercial buildings, including Ro-Mac’s, Odette’s and the Thrift Centre. The fire rivals that in June 1997 as one of the worst in the city’s history.

Traveller’s celebrated 55 years in the rum business this year, and in December they opened the Traveller’s Heritage Center, a rum museum, at the Traveller’s factory on the Northern Highway.

TOP 10 NEWS EVENTS OF THE YEAR IN BELIZE

1.  UDP Sweeps General Elections and Dean Barrow Becomes PM

2.  Tourism Slumps Due to Global Recession

3.  Oil Prices Crash, Gas Becomes Affordable Again

4.  Belize Begins to Feel Impact of Global Economic Slowdown

5.  Worst Flooding in 30 Years Causes Millions in Damages

6.  Crime Becomes a Fact of Life … and Death

7.  Said Musa and Ralph Fonseca Criminally Charged

8.  Local Economy Staggers But Keeps Swinging

9.  Placencia Road Improvement and Paving Underway

10.  Andy Palacio Passes

(December 31, 2008)

GAS DROPS AGAIN, TO UNDER US$2.50  Premium unleaded gas in Belize is now around BZ$4.85 a gallon, or about US$2.43. It's been 10 years since gas was this low in Belize. Diesel is around US$3 a gallon. (December 30, 2008)

SAID AND RALPHIE CHARGED IN THEFT Former Prime Minister Said Musa and former Minister of Finance, Budget Management, Public Utilities, Police and Housing Ralph Fonseca were arrested and have been charged criminally with theft in connection with a payment of US$10 million by Venezuela to the PUP government of Belize last December.  Both made bail and are free pending trial.  The two leading PUP figures both deny they are guilty of any crime and say the charges are politically motivated. The funds involved have since been transferred back to Belize government coffers by Belize Bank, which had received it to settle a debt with GOB involving Universal Health Service. (December 6, 2008)

BELIZE ECONOMY EXPANDED STRONGLY IN THIRD QUARTER  GDP figures released by the Statistical Institute of Belize reveal that the Belizean economy grew by 8.2% in the third quarter of 2008. The economy grew by 5.3% during the first nine months of the year, the fastest rate since 2003. (December 4, 2008)

GAS PRICES DROP SHARPLY Finally, there's some relief at the pump in Belize. Gas prices have been cut significantly, falling to around BZ$3 a gallon.  Regular unleaded is now around BZ$7.05 a gallon, or a little over US$3.52 a gallon, while diesel is now under BZ$7 a gallon.   (November 10, 2008)

DAMAGING FLOODS HIT BELIZE  Severe flooding caused by persistent heavy rains over the past week has caused the death of at least three people, closed roads all over Belize, and caused millions of dollars in damage.  Sections of the Western Highway, Burrell Boom Road and Southern Highway, among other important arteries, were closed due to deep water over the road.  Flooding has also occurred in Belize City, Blue Creek, and elsewhere. The Mopan, Macal and Belize rivers rose rapidly to high levels. Three people from Arenal village, which is on the Belize-Guatemala border in western Belize, died trying to get to Melchor in Guatemala.  (October 27, 2008)

STRONG U.S. DOLLAR HELPS, HURTS BELIZE

With emerging market countries like India and China now buying, rather
than selling, U.S. dollars, the greenback has hit two-year highs
against the euro and British pound. It traded at around 1.25 euros
this morning. The pound fell to 1.56 to the dollar. Several non-euro
European countries, including Denmark, are moving to support their
currencies, fearing a massive slide against the dollar. In five
months, the Norwegian kroner has lost about 40% against the dollar and
is now at 7 kroners to the dollar. Iceland's krona has fallen 50%. The
Canadian dollar has fallen to 79 cents to the dollar. The dollar is
also making big gains against Latin American currencies. It's now at
13.5 Mexican pesos. The Argentinian peso, now at 3 to the dollar, has
lost nearly two-thirds of its value in dollar terms. Some Asian
currencies also have fallen sharply against the dollar. The South
Korean won is off about 40% since July, and India's rupee is off about
25% from its peak this summer, but the Thai baht is only down 10%.

The Belize dollar, tied to the U.S. dollar, has thus also
strengthened. It doesn't affect U.S. dollar tourists, but European,
British and Canadian tourists are now paying 25 to 40% more to visit
Belize. The exception to the up dollar trend is the yen, which hit a 13-high
against the dollar, due to carry trade action that has now reversed,
driving the yen much higher.  (Octobeer 27, 2008)

 

MEXICAN PESO SLUMPS AGAINST U.S. AND BELIZE DOLLARS, BUT REBOUNDS  The Mexican peso plunged to 14 to the U.S. dollar before rebounding due to Mexico Central Bank intervention to prop up the Mexican currency.  As recently as a few weeks ago, one U.S. dollar bought only around 10 pesos.  As of October 26, the peso traded at 13.4 to 1. (October 18, 2008)

GLOBAL FINANCIAL MELTDOWN HITS REAL ESTATE, TOURISM IN BELIZE  The international banking and financial crisis has had an impact on Belize, too.  Real estate agents report that sales activity has slowed, especially for condos.  Prices seem to be softening, and a number of property owners have cut prices on residential property and also on commercial and resort property.  For example, Iguana Reef Inn recently reduced the asking price of its property from US$3,750,000 to US$3,000,000.  The property has been on the market for about a year. The Belize Tourism Board Tourism said that overnight tourist arrivals fell 0.6% from January through August, while cruise ship passengers dropped by over 6%. However, tourist arrivals appear to have fallen off more in September and October, due to the worldwide financial crisis. Tourism is reportedly off 5 to 10% in most areas, with larger declines reported at some properties.  A bright spot is a series of airfare sales to Belize. American, Continental and other airlines have cut prices to Belize by 50% or more, and some fares were being offered for under US$200 roundtrip. Belize banks so far don’t appear to have been badly impacted by world financial problems, although banks in Belize do not offer any government deposit insurance.  (October 12, 2008, updated October 28, 2008))

“HIDEOUS” STINK IN PLACENCIA  The decomposing body of an American who died October 7 of natural causes in his rented apartment in Placencia has been causing what neighbors call a “hideous” stink.  Police delayed removing the body until an examination was conducted. (October 11, 2008)

 

ROUGH GUIDE AUTHOR PETER ELTRINGHAM LOSES BATTLE WITH CANCER  Peter Eltringham, who first came to Belize with the British Army and returned to write many travel guidebooks to the region, including the acclaimed Rough Guide to Belize, died August 28, 2008. He had suffered from throat cancer for several years.  Against doctor's orders, he had returned to visit Belize one last time. (September 2, 2008)

SINGING SANDS IN PLACENCIA SOLD, MAMA NOOTS PUT ON MARKET Singing Sands, a small beach resort in Maya Beach on the Placencia peninsula, has sold.  It has been on the market for several years.  The selling price was undisclosed, but the asking price had been around US$800,000.  Separately, Mama Noots Backabush Lodge, one of two private properties in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park near Dangriga, has been put on the market by its owner, Nan Bemer, for US$3.2 million.  Miller's Landing in Placenica, for sale for over a year for US$1.5 million, has been taken off the market. (August 7, 2008, September 4, 2008)

PIONEERING NATURAL HISTORY AUTHOR PASSES  R.L. "Richie" Woods, co-author of Field Guide to Ambergris Caye, has died in San Pedro. His book, published in 1988 and now out of print, was a pioneering work on the natural history of the island. (July 20, 2008)

GOVERNMENT SIGNS CONTRACT WITH CISCO TO PAVE PLACENCIA ROAD After literally years of waiting, it appears the Placencia road will actually be paved.  The GOB on July 11, in ceremonies at the Inn at Robert's Grove, signed a contract wtih Cisco Constructon of Belize City to pave the road. Completion is expected in 2009.  (July 11, 2009)

SERIES OF MURDERS STUNS CAYO  An expat couple in the San Ignacio area and two Belizean men from Calla Creek have been brutally murdered.   Americans Mike and Donna Hill, who have been in Belize since the early 1990s, were found dead near their Macal River home, shot execution-style. The murders apparently took place Saturday, July 5.  The Hills were involved in a real estate development project near Cristo Rey village, and Donna Hill sold real estate. Formerly, the couple ran a catamaran sailing business in San Pedro. In the Hill murders, police are holding two suspects. The suspects, who are Belizeans, include a 15-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy, both from Santa Elena.

In the early morning of July 3, Angel Xis and his sons Marco Tulio Xis and William Arnoldo Xis, driving in a pickup truck,  were stopped by five masked men on the Calla Creek Road about a mile from Bullet Tree village.  According to reports, the men demanded money and then began shooting with shotguns and an M-16 assault weapon. Angel Xis and Marco Tulio Xis were killed, but 12—year-old William Arnold Xis escaped with non-life threatening injuries. About the same time, another Belizean driving on the Calla Creek Road was wounded by gunfire from three masked me. The bandits may have been Guatemalans, Belizeans or possibly both, according to police reports.  The M-16 used in the attack may have been the one stolen from a BDF soldier at Xunantunich in May.  The latest killings put the total of homicides in Belize this year at over 55.   Although tourists were not involved in these incidents, lodge operators in Cayo are beefing up security and reportedly considering reinstating the security task force that was established during the series of bandit attacks in the area in  2005-2006.  Several other incidents have taken place in Cayo recently, including a nighttime robbery of the Hotel San Ignacio and a robbery of Black Rock Lodge staff on the road to the lodge.  Two other murders have taken place in Cayo recently. (July 7, 2008, updated July 9 and 11, 2008)

ZOMBIES IN SAN PEDRO?  6 CADAVERS FOUND AT DEFUNCT MED SCHOOL  Six cadavers have been found at the site of a former offshore med school in San Pedro, Medical University of the Americas.  The school operated on Ambergris Caye from 2002 to 2006.  Apparently the cadavers were brought to the school for education purposes.  (July 5, 2008)

TROPIC TO RESUME FLIGHTS TO FLORES  Tropic Air has announced that it will resume flights to Flores, Guatemala.  The flights were supposed to have restarted on July 1 but it now appears they won't resume until mid-July..  The airline will fly two daily roundtrips between Belize International and the Flores-Santa Elena airport.  Flight #401 BZE to FRS departs at 8:30 a.m. and arrives at 9:15. Flight #402 FRS to BZE departs at 9:30 a.m. and arrives at 10:15.  Flight #403 BZE to FRS departs at 3:00 p.m. and arrives at 3:45. Flight #404 FRS to BZE departs at 4:00 p.m. and arrives at 4:45.  Basic fare before exit tax and other fees is US$114 one-way.  Tropic also will resume it s overnight and day tours of Tikal. There is no word yet on whether Maya Island also will fly to Flores.  Flights from Belize to Guatemala had been cancelled since November 2007. (June 21, 2008, updated July 4, 2008)

CHANNEL 5 TV SOLD TO BTL Channel 5 TV and its parent company, Great Belize Productions, have been sold to Belize Telemedia Ltd.  Amalia Mai has been named the new CEO.  Stewart Krohn will remain as a consultant to the station but will devote his time to developing the Cocoplum real estate project on the Placencia peninsula.  Under Krohn, Channel 5 TV produced one of the most respected news programs in Belize and Central America.  Reportedly Krohn had been trying to sell the station for some time.  (June 18, 2008)

BELIZE HIT BY WORST FLOODING IN 30+ YEARS;  7 DEAD BUT TOURISM SPARED Tropical Storm Arthur, which formed off the coast of Belize on May 31 and quickly moved ashore, dumped up to 15 inches of rain on the country, from the far north to far south, mainly on Sunday night (June 1) and Monday morning (June 2).  Seven Belizeans have been reported dead in Stann Creek District.  The Kendall Bridge over the Sittee River at Mile 13.7 of the Southern Highway between Hopkins and Maya Centre was destroyed, temporarily cutting off road access to points south, including Placencia and Punta Gorda.  A dirt, gravel and culvert causeway has been built over the river, allowing cars, trucks and buses to pass.  A permeanent replacement bridge could take a year or longer to construct.   A small section of the Hummingbird Highway near Middlesex was also washed away but has now been repaired.   Several villages, including Gales Point in Belize District and Sittee in Stann Creek District, were inundated with flood waters. Areas of along the Northern Highway also received flooding. A large part of the rice crop in Blue Creek in Orange Walk District is said to be destroyed. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker had some moderate flooding, and several dozen small boats were reported sunk.  Prime Minister Dean Barrow declared a national emergency.  There is as yet no final estimate of the financial cost of the storm, but it likely will run into the tens of millions of U.S. dollars. Fortunately, Belize's number one foreign exchange earner, tourism, escaped virtually unscathed.  Hotels and resorts remained opened or quickly reopened after the storm. All hotels and tourism operations are now functioning normally. (June 3, 2008, Updated June 15, 2008)

PM PULLS PREVENTATIVE DETENTION EFFORT Prime Minister Dean Barrow has decided to drop the preventative detention measure, citing almost universal opposition by Belizeans.  (May 25, 2008)

UDP GOVERNMENT SEEKS  'PREVENTATIVE DETENTION' AS ANTI-CRIME MEASURE  In the face of soaring murder and other crime rates, Prime Minister Barrow has announced his government will seek new powers of arrest , so-called preventative detention.  The government also wants to expand wire-tapping. (April 11, 2008)

JOHNNY BRICENO NEW PUP LEADER  Johnny Briceño upset Francis Fonseca for the position of People's United Party leader, in a toughly fought six-week battle.  The Orange Walk Central representative has been sworn in as opposition leader. (April 4, 2008)

BELIZE TOURISM ARRIVALS EEKED OUT SMALL GAIN IN 2007, CRUISE SHIP TOURISM CONTINUES DECLINE  Overnight tourist arrivals totaled 251,655 in 2007, up less than 2% from 2006, according to figures from the Belize Immigration Department.  Cruise arrivals declined again, to 624,128, down about 5% from 2006.  This continues a decline in cruise ship arrivals, since the peak of more than 851,000 in 2004.  This represents a decline of about 27% since the peak.  The number of cruise ships calling on Belize City also declined, from 406 in 2004 to 278 in 2007.

Visitors from the U.S. continue to make up the majority of Belize overnight visitors, 152,569 of the 251,655 visitors in 2007, or about 61% of total tourist visitation.  Europeans constitute about 14% of overnight visitors, a percentage that has actually declined slightly since 2003, when it was 15%.  Canadian visitors represent about 6.6% of overnight tourists, up from 4.4% in 2003.  Guatemalans make up about 5.6% of tourist visitors, while Belizeans living abroad represent about 3.6%.

Hotel occupancy and revenue figures for 2007 aren’t yet available.  Belize Tourism Board figures from 2006 show that there were 561 hotels in Belize, with 5,789 rooms and 9,651 beds.  Annual hotel occupancy in 2006 was 42.9% nationwide (hotel occupancy was around 66% in the U.S. in 2007), and hotel revenues totaled US$56.4 million.  Hotel revenue per room, a widely used industry statistic, was US$9,743. Actual Revenue Per Available Room (RevPar) per night, another yardstick, was US$26.69.  The average RevPar in Central and South America in 2007 was US$75. 

The statistically average hotel in Belize has 10 rooms and grosses around US$100,000 annually, or revenue of about US$10,000 per room.  (April 1, 2008)

ALTUN HA MOST POPULAR VISITOR DESTINATION IN BELIZE  Altun Ha Maya site in rural Belize District, Hol Chan Marine Reserve off Ambergris Caye and the Mountain Pine Ridge in Cayo were the three most popular visitor destinations, among parks, reserves and archeological sites, in Belize in 2007, according to figures provided by the Archeology Department, the Belize Audubon Society, the Forestry Department and the Belize Tourism Board.

The top 15 archeological, park and reserve destinations in 2007:

1.  Altun Ha                                                             73,369 visitors

2.  Hol Chan Marine Reserve                                  56,671

3.  Mountain Pine Ridge                                          56,027

4.  Xunantunich                                                        52,251

5.  Lamanai                                                               29,301

6.  Cahal Pech                                                           15,926

7.  Caracol                                                                 14,018

8.  Community Baboon Sanctuary                            10,153*

9.  Half Moon Caye National Monument                    9,405

10. Actun Tunichil Muknal                                         9,433

11. Inland Blue Hole                                                   9,156

12. Barton Creek Cave                                                5,699

13. Nim Li Punit                                                          4,708

14. Lubaantun                                                              4,384

15.  Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary                         1,510

* Figures for 2007 for the Community Baboon Sanctuary not available; rank based on 2006 figures. Figures for Caves Branch Cave not available -- if available visitors to this site likely would be in the top three.

(April 1, 2008)

BELIZE JUNGLE LODGE IN BELMOPAN LATEST TO BE PUT UP FOR SALE Belize Jungle Lodge,  near Belmopan, has been put up for sales by the owners, who are moving to a Caribbean island.   The lodge has seven rooms and suites and a swimming pool, on 2.88 acres.  Asking price is US$1,400,000. 

Some tourism operations for reportedly for sale in Belize:

CAYO

Belize Jungle Lodge, Belmopan,  US$1,400,000

Mopan River Resort, Benque Viejo, US$2,850,000
Casa Maya, San Ignacio, US$1,400,000
Parrot's Nest, Bullet Tree, US$460,000

Royal Mayan Resort, Benque Viejo, US$1,750,000

Warrie Head Ranch & Lodge, near Georgeville, US$1,500,000

PLACENCIA
Manatee Inn, Placencia Village, US$375,000
Green Parrot, Maya Beach, US$1,395,000
Nautical Inn, Seine Bight, US$1,700,000

COROZAL
Hok’ol K’in Guesthouse, Corozal Town, US$598,000
Las Palmas, Corozal Town, US$2,900,000
TJ's/International Cozy Corners, US$399,000

CAYE CAULKER
Iguana Reef Inn, US$3,000,000
Seaside Cabanas, US$2,500,000
Bel-Isle Condos (unfinished), US$600,000

TOLEDO
Sea Front Inn, Punta Gorda, US$1,200,000

DANGRIGA/HOPKINS AREA
Hummingbird Inn, US$425,000

Kanantik  US$10,000,000

Jaguar Reef Lodge, US$4,705,000

BELIZE CITY AREA
Global Village Hotel

El Chiclero Inn, Burrell Boom, US$1 million

Howler Monkey Lodge, Bermudian Landing, US$250,000

AMBERGRIS CAYE
Coconuts Hotel, US$3,600,000 with financing
Beach'n Kitchen (currently a restaurant) US$149,000

Pasta La Vista (restaurant)
Banana Beach, US$8,900,000
Corona del Mar, San Pedro, US$2,700,000
Lili’s, San Pedro, US$1,200,000
Seven Seas Resort/Timeshare, US$1,950,000
Tranquility Bay
Rubie's II, US$375,000

OFFSHORE CAYES

Slickrock Adventures camp, Long Caye, Glover’s Atoll, US$1,400,000 (doesn’t include island real estate)
Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel, US$75 million

Isla Marisol, Southwest Caye, Glovers Reef, US$5,000,000

(April 1, 2008)

PROFILE OF THE NEW PRIME MINISTER  Dean Oliver Barrow, the new prime minister of Belize, was born March 2, 1951, in Belize City.  He grew up in Belize City and attended St. Michael’s College there.  He is an attorney, specializing in litigation, at Barrow & Williams, Albert Street, Belize City, having been admitted to the Belize bar in 1975.  Among his clients is Lord Michael Ashcroft.  He received an LL.B. degree in 1973 from the University of the West Indies in Barbados, a Certificate of Legal Education at Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica in 1975, an LL.M. degree from the University of Miami School of Law and a master’s degree in international law from the University of Miami, both in 1981.  Prime Minister Barrow was first elected to the Belize House in the general elections of 1984 and has served there ever since.  Under a previous UDP administration, he served as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Security and Foreign Affairs.  Considered the first black  to hold Belize’s top office, he speaks Spanish and English, as well as Creole.  Dean Barrow has four children, the oldest of whom is rapper Jamal "Shyne" Barrow,  also known as Moses Michael Leviy,  currently serving a 10-year prison sentence on an attempted murder charge in the U.S. (February 11, 2008)

PRIME MINISTER BARROW NAMES CABINET AND OFFICERS  Prime Minister Dean Barrow has announced his selections for senior officers and cabinet ministers in the new government:

Rt. Hon. Manuel  Esquivel         Senior Advisor to Government with Ministerial Rank

Doug Singh                 Senator & Leader of Government Business

James Murphy            Cabinet Secretary

Dr. Carla Barnett        Consultant to the Ministry of Finance

CABINET [16 Ministers]

Dean Barrow              Prime Minister & Minister of Finance

Gaspar Vega               Deputy Prime Minister & Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment

Erwin Contreras         Minister of Economic Development, Commerce, Industry and Consumer Protection

Patrick Faber              Minister of Education

Carlos Perdomo          Minister of National Security

Michael Finnegan        Minister of Housing & Urban Development

Wilfred ‘Sedi’  Elrington    Attorney General & Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade

Anthony “Boots” Martinez      Minister of Works

Manuel Heredia Jr.     Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation

Pablo Marin                 Minister of Health

Gabriel Martinez         Minister of Labor, Local Government & Rural Development

John Saldivar              Minister of Public Service, Governance Improvement and Elections and Boundaries

Rene Montero             Minister of Agriculture & Fisheries

Melvin Hulse               Minister of Public Utilities, Natural Energy Management, Transport and Communications

Eden Martinez             Minister of Human Development & Social Transformation

Marcel Cardona          Minister of Youth, Sports & Culture

MINISTERS OF STATE

Michael Hutchinson    in the Ministry Labor, Local Government & Rural Development

Elvin Penner               in the Ministry of the Deputy Prime Minister

Edmund Castro           in the Ministry of Works

Arthur Roches             in the Ministry of Health

Juan Coy                     in the Ministry of Human Development & Social Transformation

Note: Only Ministers can be members of Cabinet, although the Ministers of State will have a standing invitation to participate. Backbenchers will be Chairs of Committees.

CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICERS

Joe Waight                  Financial Secretary

David Gibson              Ministry of Natural Resources and the Environment

Charles Gibson           Ministry of Public Service

Marion McNab           Ministry of Labor, Local Government & Rural Development

Dr. Peter Allan            Ministry of Health

Cadet Henderson        Ministry of Works

David Leacock            Ministry of Education

SENATORS

Speaker of the House   Emil Arguelles

President [Orange Walk]

Juliet Timbrell [Belize City]

Debbie McMillan [Cayo]

Pulcharia Teul [Toledo]

(February 11, 2008)

GANG SHOOTOUTS IN BELIZE CITY LEAVE 13 INJURED, 2 DEAD  Gang-related violence has reached into the “tourist zone” of Belize City, where 2 were killed and 13 injured in shootouts early the morning of Saturday, February 9.  One person was killed and at least nine wounded by gunfire at the Putt Putt bar and nightclub, across from the Princess Hotel & Casino, often frequented by tourists and cruise ship visitors.  Another person died in a drive-by shooting near the Belcan Bridge.  Police said gangs were involved in the shootings.  Some tourism operators say they fear such violence could result in another U.S. State Department warning about safety in Belize.  (February 10, 2009)

FINAL ELECTION NUMBERS  Final results of the February 7 general election, as certified by the Elections & Boundaries Department, are as follows.  The information below includes the winning candidate, the division and the percentage of votes gained by the winner.  Listings are by party, ranked by order of percentage of winning votes.

UDP

Michael Finnegan (Mesopotamia)  76.9%

Dean Barrow (Queen’s Square)  76.10%

Anthony “Boots” Martinez (Port Loyola)  73.52%

Carlos Perdoma (Caribbean Shores) 66.90%

Edmund George “Clear the Land” Castro (Belize Rural North) 63.99%

Salvador Fernandez (Cayo North)  63.10%

Manuel Heredia Jr. (Belize Rural South) 61.51%

Rene Montero (Cayo Central)  61.38%

Erwin Rafael Contreras (Cayo West) 61.20%

Pablo Saul Marin (Corozal Bay)  59.36%

Juan Coy (Toledo West)  59.31%

Gabriel Alberto Martinez (Corozal South West)  57.97%

Patrick Jason Faber (Collett)  57.60%

Gaspar “Gapi” Vega  (Orange Walk North)  56.93%

Arthur William “Turo” Roches (Dangriga)  56.60%

Melvin Hulse (Stann Creek West)  56.60%

Elvin Penner (Cayo North East)  56.51%

Wilfred Peter Elrington (Pickstock)  56.30%

John Salvidar (Belmopan)  55.83%

Nemencio Acosta (Corozal North) 54.70%

Peter Eden Martinez (Toledo East) 54.50%

Marcel Porfirio Cardona (Orange Walk East) 54.11%

Ramon Witz (Cayo South)  52.42%

Michael “Hutchy” Hutchinson (Belize Rural Central) 51.19%

Marco Pech (Orange Walk South)  50.78%

PUP

Mark Espat (Albert)  62.90%

Said Musa (Fort George)  57.64%

Cordell Hyde (Lake Independence) 53.7%

Johnny Briceño (Orange Walk Central) 52.16%

Florencio Julian Marin Jr. (Corozal South East)  50.07%

Francis Fonseca  (Freetown)  49.58%

(February 11, 2008)

UDP OUSTS PUP IN NEAR SWEEP  In peaceful national elections on February 7, the United Democratic Party candidates took 25 of 31 seats in the House, taking almost 57% of the popular vote to 41% for the Peoples United Party.  A total of 116,943 votes were cast.  Almost three-fourths (74.5%) of registered voters turned out for the election.  For the PUP, only Cordel Hyde (Lake Independence), Francis Fonseca (Freetown), Mark Espat (Albert), Florencio Julian Marin Jr. (Corozal South East), Johnny Briceño (Orange Walk Central) and standard bearer Said Musa (Fort George) were able to win their divisions.  Even PUP moneyman Ralph Fonseca lost his “safe” seat in Belize Rural Central.  Third parties fared poorly, together winning only about 2% of the votes.  About 61% of voters said yes to an elected Senate, but it’s unclear how the proposed change in the Senate will actually be implemented. On Friday, February 8, Dean Barrow was sworn in as the new prime minister.  (February 8, 2008)

ANDY PALACIO REMEMBERED AS NATIONAL HERO  Andy Palacio, who died January 19 in Belize City at the age of 47 after he suffered a heart attack and stroke, received the equivalent of a state funeral January 26 in his home village of Barranco in Toledo District.  Thousands journeyed to the small, remote Garifuna village to pay their tribute to the iconic world music man.  On the global stage, Palacio was Belize’s best-known musician.  During the 1980s, Mr. Palacio used Garifuna rhythms in punta rock, a popular Caribbean dance music. In the mid-1990s, working with the Belizean producer Ivan Duran, Palacio made albums with musicians from Belize and Cuba, and in 1999 he appeared with older Garifuna musicians on the album Paranda.  He was named director of culture at the Belize Arts Council in 2003.  He made his home in San Ignacio.  His 2007 album Wátina became one of the most critically acclaimed recordings of the year, and the global interest in his music has helped spur a revival in Garifuna culture.  (January 30, 2009)

 

CARNIVAL OVER?  NATIONAL ELECTIONS SET FOR FEBRUARY 7   Said Musa and members of his Cabinet met January 6 at the Princess Hotel and Casino with members of the clergy for a breakfast meeting. During the meeting, the Prime Minister announced that he will advise the Governor-General to dissolve the National Assembly today and set Thursday, February 7, 2008 as Election Day. The Prime Minister also announced that on that same day, Belizean voters will participate in a referendum which will be on a separate ballot on the question of whether Belize should have an elected senate. It was reported that the Rt. Hon. Musa wanted to hold the election on Ash Wednesday, February 6. The PUP has held elections several times on Ash Wednesday. However, reportedly members of the clergy urged him to not hold the election on that religious day, and he agreed to move it back one day, to two days after Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras.   (January 6, 2008)

CRIME DOWN IN 2007, POLICE SAY:   The number of serious crimes reported in Belize in 2007 fell about 17% from 2006, according to police statistics. Reports of murders, rapes, burglaries, robberies, carnal knowledge and theft fell from 3,853 in 2006 to 3,204 in 2007.  Only murders showed an increase, from 92 in 2006 to 97 in 2007, an increase of about 5%.  Almost two-thirds of murder cases were solved.  Burglaries decreased 17%, robberies 2% and rapes 14%. More than one-half of the murders occurred in Belize Disrict, with 39 of the 97 in Belize City.  Cayo District has the second-largest number of murders, and Toledo had the lowest.  Still, Belize's murder rate of about 30.8 per 100,000 population is about five times higher than the rate in the U.S., and almost 15 times higher than the homicide rate in Canada.  (January 3, 2008)

SIR BARRY!   Barry Bowen, Belize's Belikin beer baron who also has extensive landholdings and business interests in Belize, has been designated for knighthood by Queen Elizabeth.  Also on the New Year's Lists announced in the London Gazette are other honors for Belizeans:  Dr. Kenrick Leslie will be honored as Commander, Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his dedication to meteorology and science. Gerald Westby and Lloyd Gillett will get an OBE, and Yolanda Murray, Crispin Jeffries and Arlie Petters will get MBEs. (January 3, 2008, revised January 18, 2007)

BELIZE GUIDEBOOK UPDATE UNDERWAY  Travel writer Lan Sluder is currently updating Fodor's Belize 2008 for the new 2009 edition.  Published by Random House, most Fodor's guidebooks including the 349-page Belize edition are revised, fact-checked and updated annually.  Sluder, author of more than a half dozen books on Belize and founder of BELIZE FIRST, has been doing the Fodor's guide (formerly Fodor's Belize and Guatemala) for almost 10 years.  In January, February and March, he will be revisiting all areas of Belize to re-evaluate hotels, restaurants and sights and to report on new properties and attractions.  Tourism operators, hotel owners and others with new information on their operations that they wish to have considered for the new guide should consider contacting Sluder at lansluder[at]gmail.com (replace [at] with @).  There is of course no charge or obligation involved for those properties and sights included in the guide. (January 2, 2008)

FLIGHTS TO TIKAL CANCELLED  All Maya Island Air and Tropic Air flights from Belize International to Flores, Guatemala, have been cancelled.  The Guatemalan government says that the airlines are not complying with certain international provisions now required by Guatemala.  A  bill in the Belize House is under consideration that would provide the necessary paperwork to allow the airlines to resume flights, and negotiations with Guatemala are underway, but it is unclear when the issue will be resolved and flights resumed.  Tikal Jets, a Guatemalan airline that for a short time flew the route, went out of business in 2006, so currently there is no air service from Belize to Flores.  Travelers wishing to see Tikal can go by tourist bus on Linea Dorada or San Juan Travel buses from Belize City, go on day or overnight tours from San Ignacio or Belize City, or cross the border and go independently via bus, van or taxi. (November 24, 2007)

SEVEN BELIZE CITY MEN MISSING AT SEA;  ONE BODY RECOVERED Seven well-known Belize City business and professional people went missing November 4 while on a fishing trip near St. George's Caye.  On November 10, reportedly one body was recovered by searchers; no other details are available at this time. A Norther, or El Norte, was affecting weather patterns when the men went missing, with cool temperatures and winds of more than 20 knots. Their skiff was found at Gallows Point near Drowned Caye, about 8 miles east of Belize City, sunk and with its engine and part of its canopy gone. However, wallets and cell phones belonging to the men were found in plastic bags in the boat. The seven men, all longtime friends, include Richard Swift, an attorney and magistrate; Ismael Quiroz and Darrington Escobar, owners of the Avis car rental agency in Belize City;  Quiroz's adult son, Abner, who also works at Avis; Nick Nicholson, an accountant at the Radisson Fort George; and Gustave Briceño and Eamon Reyes. Police say they have not ruled out foul play, but that the boat may have capsized, hit a reef or coral head or run into other trouble due to the prevailing sea and weather conditions.  Winds at the time could have created waves of 8 feet or more.  Searches continue. (November 7, 2007, updated November 8 and 11, 2007)

LARGE TIMESHARE AND HOTEL RESORT PROPOSED FOR PLACENCIA'S FALSE CAYE False Caye, a 61-acre mangrove island about one-half mile east of Maya Beach on the Placencia peninsula, is known for its good snorkeling and fishing.  If developers – which include one of the best-connected businessmen in Belize and a Louisville-based real estate company -- get their way, however, it may be known as one of Southern Belize's largest tourism and timeshare developments, complete with two hotels with a total of 106 rooms, timeshare villas and over-the-water cabañas all together accommodating more than 800 tourists, plus six piers, a manmade beach, roads, restaurants, swimming pools, a heliport and spa. To get to that point, the developers, Maya Island Resort Properties, Ltd., indicate in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that they would have to dredge over 336,000 cubic meters of fill from the seafloor immediately east of the island.

At a community meeting in Seine Bight November 8, it was learned that a U.S. firm based in Louisville, Ky., Poe Companies, plans to partner with Maya Island Resort Properties, headed by Belize businessman Eugene Zabaneh, to develop the island.  Poe has previously developed hotel (mainly Marriott flags), office and residential properties in Louisville, Austin, Tex., Fort Lauderdale, Fla. and elsewhere.  The investment in the False Caye project could come to as much as US$125 million, including dredging and filling, all construction and the development of water, energy and waste systems. The project could eventually employ more than 75 people, including about 35 full-timers, according to the EIA.

Eugene and Ana Zabaneh are directors of Maya Island Resort Properties, and attorney Kareem D. Musa witnessed the incorporation papers for the limited liability company formed in March 2006. Eugene Zabaneh is the largest citrus grower in Belize, is or has been a major stockholder in Maya Island Air, one of two Belize airlines, Z-Line bus line, Alliance Bank and Intelco, and he has many other business interests. He has connections, through family, marriage or politics, to most of the best-known names in the Belize power structure. The EIA, prepared by Tunich-Nah Consultants & Engineering, hundreds of page long, is available for viewing at www.doe.gov.bz/EIAs.html.  Tunich-Nah previously did the EIAs for Ara Macao in Placencia, Spanish Lookout Resort on Spanish Lookout Caye and Castaways Resort on Calabash Caye.

False Caye is a “moat island” with over-wash mangrove forest, which means that this nursery for sea life is regularly inundated with seawater. False Caye is not currently occupied, except by American crocodiles and brown pelicans, laughing gulls, cormorants, golden-fronted woodpeckers, melodious blackbirds, white-crowned pigeons and other birds. 

The proposed False Caye development is just one of several large

projects recently announced for the peninsula, where a total of some 1,500 new condo or other housing units recently have been built, are under construction or have been approved for construction. This does not include the highly controversial Ara Macao project, whose developers claim they will eventually build some 2,000 units. Environmentalists and other critics say that the peninsula, with a current population of only around 2,000, does not have the infrastructure to support the new development. There still is no paved road to and through the peninsula. (October 10, 2007, updated November 9, 2007)

IGUANA REEF INN FOR SALE One of Caye Caulker's most upscale hotel properties is now being offered for sale by the owners.  Iguana Reef Inn, a fixture on Caye Caulker since 1998, is on the market for US$3 million.  Another of Caulker's upscale resorts, Seaside Cabañas, has been for sale for some time, with an asking price of US$2.4 million. Reportedly, Seaside Cabañas is now under contract. (October 21, 2007)

FOUR SEASONS RESORT REPORTEDLY SET FOR DICAPRIO'S ISLAND It's reported that Four Seasons will build a resort on the 104-acre island, called Blackadore Caye or Cayo Negro, that movie star Leonardo DiCaprio bought on the back side of Ambergris Caye. Construction supposedly will start in 2008. The hotel will incorporate "green" technologies. Development costs could run to more than US$30 million.  DiCaprio is believed to have paid about US$1.75 million for the island  in 2005.  If it comes to fruition, the resort would be the first internationally flagged beach resort in Belize, as other resorts are independent and without an international brand.  There are Radisson and Best Western hotels in Belize City.  (October 9, 2007)

MARION JONES ADMITS DOPING, FACES POSSIBLE JAIL TIME; BELIZEANS DISAPPOINTED IN NATIONAL HERO  After adamantly denying it for years, track star and Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones has admitted that she took performance-enhancing drugs.  Jones, who was born in Los Angeles of a Belizean parent and an African-American parent and who has been treated by Belizeans as a national hero, has forfeited the three gold and two bronze medals she won the in the 2000 Olympics. Jones also faces possible prison time, not for doping but for lying to investigators about drugs. She may also have to repay millions in appearance fees and endorsements. Belizeans appear disappointed in Jones. There is no word on any possible renaming of the Marion Jones Stadium in Belize City.  (October 5, 2007, updated October 10, 2007)

SANCTUARY BAY DEVELOPMENT -- A BIG, FAT MESS With the former principals of the Sanctuary Bay real estate development having been jailed and the court-appointed receiver, Robb Evans Associates, and Sanctuary Bay owners and various development entities associated with Sanctuary Bay in legal disputes in both the U.S. and Belize, the whole situation at the development, which is located between Hopkins and the Placencia peninsula, is in chaos.

Observers say that Sanctuary Bay is an example of what can happen in Belize when real estate buyers don't check the background of developers and essentially invest big sums based on a web site and developer promises.

To follow the reaction of Sanctuary Bay lot owners to this big, fat mess, check these owners' forums: http://www.eyeonworldwide.com/offplan-property-sanctuary-bay-S177.aspx and http://sanctuarybayforums.jconserv.net/login.php

According to reports on these forums, and from other sources, it appears development at Sanctuary Bay has been halted. It is now unclear who actually owns or controls the development. Buyers who financed lots are unsure to whom they should send their payments. One group of property owners has retained an attorney in Belize to try to protect their rights.

Without a developer in place and with various legal proceedings underway, the buyers' properties reportedly are worth less than they paid. Plus, they are involved in a potentially lengthy and unpleasant (not to mention expensive) series of legal actions, for which some of the property owners are having to cough up money. Suprisingly, the Sanctuary Bay web site is still up, with all the claims for the development still being actively made.

Sanctuary Bay, which borders the Sittee River and Sapodilla Lagoon, had been offering 135 one- to five-acre lots for US$50,000 to $200,000 each.   Property buyers also were supposed to have an interest in an 11,000-acre nature preserve.  The Sanctuary Bay developers promised many amenities including a marina.

In early May, two Americans involved in Sanctuary Bay were jailed in the U.S. Andris Pukke, founder of a U.S. credit counseling company accused of cheating 300,000 debtors out of millions of dollars and allegedly the original owner/developer of Sanctuary Bay near Hopkins, and Peter Baker, a long-time Pukke friend and associate who was a principal in Sanctuary Bay, were jailed by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland. Pukke was held in contempt of court for failing to turn over assets to a fund set up, in a U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreement, to repay the debtors. Robb Evans Associates was appointed by the court to attempt to collect monies from Pukke and his associates. The Robb Evans firm moved to gain control of certain real estate assets at Sanctuary Bay and its related entities. Pukke maintains he has no direct control over the assets.

Peter Baker, the son of Joan Medhurst, whose firm in the 1990s had the international public relations contract for the Belize Tourism Board, was jailed because the judge concluded Baker and Pukke colluded to shield assets both in Belize and in California. (September 27, 2007)

BUS AND TRUCK COLLIDE ON WESTERN HIGHWAY, WITH FATAL RESULTS A National Transport bus and a cargo truck collided September 20 at about Mile 35 of the Western Highway.   Six were killed and 18 injured.  (September 20, 2007, update September 24, 2007)

FEINSTEIN STILL WANTS TO BUILD A 5-MILE CAUSEWAY OFF BELIZE CITY  Developer Michael Feinstein says he is proceeding with plans to build a 5-mile, US$35 million causeway from Belize City to Stake Bank, a 20-acre caye that he will develop, in partnership with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, complete with cruise ship terminal, a tourism village, restaurants, swimming pool and other facilities for cruise ship passengers.  Despite concern by environmental organizations about the impact on birds and marine life and fear that the causeway could not stand up to a hurricane, Feinstein says he has all his environmental clearances and wants to proceed. However, Luke Espat's Port of Belize has secured an injunction from the Belize Supreme Court against Feinstein's project, at least until October 8, 2007. Espat is promoting an alternative cruise terminal in the Port Royal area, in conjunction with Carnival Cruise Lines. Meanwhile, cruise ship passenger arrivals have declined over the past two years, and Carnival recently has pulled one of its ships out of Belize.  (September 20, 2007)

NEW AIR CONNECTIONS TO SOUTHERN BELIZE  Travelers to and from Southern Belize – Dangriga, Hopkins, Placencia, Punta Gorda and other areas of the South – now have another option for air travel.  Spirit Air (www.spiritair.com), a low-cost discount carrier, now goes from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.  The equipment is late-model Airbus A319s.  Fares vary but can be as low as US$60 one-way.  With taxes and fees, fares typically run around US$90 one-way or US$180 round-trip.  Currently, Spirit flights depart Ft. Lauderdale at 11 p.m. and with the time change arrive at 11:25 p.m. on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.  Returning flights depart SPS at 2 a.m. and arrive Ft. Lauderdale at 5:20 a.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.  (Schedules subject to change.)  Spirit also has connecting service from Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Chicago and elsewhere to Ft. Lauderdale and then on to Honduras.   Once in San Pedro Sula, travelers can overnight in San Pedro Sula and fly Maya Island Air’s new service (www.mayaairways.com) from SPS to Savannah (across the lagoon from Placencia) Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 3:15 p.m., arriving Savannah at 4 p.m. Fare is US$125 one-way or US$250 round-trip.  Connections are possible to other Maya Island destinations in Belize.  Honduras-based Atlantic Air (www.atlanticairlinesint.com/index.php , Spanish only Belize number 501-225-2163) has a flight to Belize City on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from San Pedro Sula, at around US$145 one-way, or US$290 return.

If you don’t want to pay Maya Island’s or Atlantic Air's rates – twice the fare from Florida to Honduras – you can go by bus and water taxi to Punta Gorda and then fly or bus to Placencia or other destinations in Southern Belize.  Here’s the recent experience of one Placencia resident, Ken Keys:

“I made the trip as an adventure, and here are my costs.  It takes a bit of effort, but it was a senic and fun trip, once I got over the anxiety of the actual travel - since there is so much written about the dangers of travelling in Honduras and Guatemala.  I did not experience any problems myself, but, I have an advantage - I have a large physical size  6' 6", and weigh over 240 lbs - maybe this is why I am seldom approached at all even in cities like Detroit.  I also speak Spanish, just a bit more than enough to get by.

 

Here is how it went, and the prices:  Spirit from Ft.Lauderdale to San Pedro Sula - US$86 one way. Great price, and I actually got a lower price for my trip in October - US$75.  Only problem is the flight leaves Ft. Lauderdale at 11 p.m., and arrives at around 11:25 p.m.  This time, a friend of a friend met me at the airport, and drove me to Omoa.  In october I will take a taxi to the Holiday Inn in SPS for the night.

The next morning I caught the (chicken) bus from Omoa to the Guatemala border (US$3).  It stopped quite a lot, but it got me there cheap, seemed safe, and the scenery was really nice.   Walked across the border (easy and no hassles), and caught a van to Puerto Barrios in time for the 10 a.m. ferry to Punta Gorda.  Van driver was good, stopped at passport control, and I did not even have to leave the vehicle!  He drove me to the ferry ticket office, conveniently located next to the passport check office to exit Guatemala - fee to exit is about US$12, I think (can't remember exactly).  Easy again.  US$18 for the ferry to PG.  Nice ride in a twin Yamaha engine oversized panga.  On board with me - about 10 Belize locals,  5 Guatemalans, 3 Dutch girls on holiday with backpacks, 3 Brits on holiday with backpacks and me.

 

Customs (non-existant) and immigration in PG is a breeze, and therefore I was standing at the airport (BZ$6 taxi ride to Tropic Air desk) and on the 11:20 a.m. flight to Placencia (16-minute ride), US$41.    I was at lunch at the new Purple Space Monkey in Placencia at 11:55 a.m.

 

Whole trip one way cost me about US$150 without hotel (in Omoa, the hotel was US$18 for a cabina w/ A/C) and I had a nice adventure. The roads were very good between SPS, Omoa and in Guatemala, quite excellent).  Others would spend about US$195.

 

I left Belize through Corozal, and that took a REALLY long time on the bus from Chetumal (nice bus, though, for US$20 to Playa del Carmen)  but that is another story.  Spirit goes there too, and nearly as cheap, but the Mexican taxes on the ticket are high.  Do not recommend this way as an alternative to Southern Belize, but it could be OK for a trip to San Pedro.

 

I could have easily caught a bus from SPS the next morning instead of had a friend pick me up or I am sure I could get a ride in a taxi direct to the border 42 miles away -- pretty cheap from SPS if I did not want to take the bus the next day."

(September 17, 2007, update September 20, 2007)

 

BLAME TOURISM SLOWDOWN ON HURRICANE IMPACT?  Some tourism operators are saying September was one of the slowest months in years, and they don't see October getting any better.  They lay the blame partly on Hurricanes Dean and Felix. Even though Dean only sideswiped Northern Belize and Felix missed Belize completely, apparently would-be visitors, hearing the news about storms, are temporarily holding off on travel to the region.  Other observers lay the blame on the housing slowdown and mortgage melt-down in the U.S., where consumers, worried about a possible recession, may be reluctant to spend on discretionary items such as international travel. September and October traditionally are the two slowest months for tourism in Belize anyway, but this year appears worse than usual. Even San Pedro, usually hopping with tourists even in the slower fall and late summer months, has seen a slowdown.  (September 14, 2007)

FIRE HITS COROZAL FREE ZONE  A fire in the Commercial Free Zone at the Mexican border in Corozal destroyed or badly damaged 21 stores. Some of these stores had just completed repairs from damage sustained from Hurricane Dean in August.  Reportedly firefighters had difficulty putting out the fire because there are no fire hydrants in the Free Zone, and a Corozal Town fire truck itself caught fire after getting water from the river.  (September 11, 2007)

FRONTIER AIRLINES CONSIDERING FLIGHTS TO BELIZE Frontier Airlines reportedly is considering seasonal, non-daily service from Denver to Belize City. A Frontier executive said the airline already has spent some time looking at the Belize market. The lowfare major carrier currently has service from Denver to San Jose, Costa Rica, and to several cities in Mexico, and is looking to further expand internationally. Frontier, which was founded in 1994, currently flies to more than 50 cities in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Costa Rica, with about 90% of its flights originating or terminating in Denver. (September 7, 2007)

BELIZE DODGES ANOTHER ONE Just days after Hurricane Dean sideswiped Northern Belize, another Category 5 storm, Hurricane Felix, took direct aim at Belize ... but missed. Felix jogged southward, striking Nicaragua and Honduras instead of Belize.   Southern and Central Belize received only some moderate rainfall, with tropical force winds that did virtually no damage. (September 6, 2007)

CAYO ECO-LODGE FOUNDER AUTHORS NOVEL  The founder of a well-known eco-lodge and horseback tour company in Cayo has written and published a novel partially set in Belize. Belize Survivor: Darker Side of Paradise by Nancy R. (Holtzman) Koerner is a story of the 1960s and 1970s counter-culture, adventure in Belize and, on the darker side, domestic abuse. Koerner, who came to Belize in the mid-1970s, co-founded Mountain Equestrian Trails jungle lodge with her then-husband Larry Holtzman. The self-published autobiographical novel ("based on a true story ... but a work of fiction") is available from Amazon.com and other on-line booksellers, and also from the author's web site, www.belizesurvivor.com. (August 25, 2007, updated September 6, 2007)

BELIZE NOT BENEFITTING FROM CLOSURE OF COSTA MAYA CRUISE PORT One of Hurricane Dean's victims was the Port Costa Maya cruise ship terminal near the village of Mahahual, Mexico. The cruise ship docking pier was at least 50% destroyed, and the village of 300 people, established just to serve the cruise ships, was wiped out, although thanks to a required evacuation there was no loss of life.    It was expected that some cruise ship operators would replace Costa Maya with stops in Belize City, but that has not proven to the be the case. Ships appear to be choosing ports other than Belize City, or extending stays in Cozumel or elsewhere. In fact, a Carnival ship has cancelled its planned stops in Belize. Some 300 ships docked at Costa Maya in 2006, with about 600,000 passengers from around a dozen cruise ship lines, including Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn and others. It is the Mexican Caribbean's second-busiest cruise port, after Cozumel. It is expected to take at least six months to rebuild the cruise terminal.   The number of cruise ships and passengers visiting Belize has been declining since its peak in 2004 of around 850,000; cruise ship passengers at Belize City totalled 656,000 in 2006, although the first few months of 2007 saw an increase over the same period in 2006. (August 24, 2007, update September 13, 2007)  

AGRICULTURE IN NORTHERN BELIZE TOOK BRUNT OF HURRICANE DEAN As reports filter in from Corozal and Orange Walk districts, it's clear that the main impact of the hurricane is on Belize's agricultural sector.  Up to 80% of Northern Belize's mature papaya plantings were flattened by winds (even tropical force winds can knock down papaya).  One of northern Belize's major employers, Fruta Bomba, lost most of its papaya crop.  Anywhere from 10% to 60% of the sugar cane crop was damaged -- preliminary estimates vary wildly. There also was some damage to corn, soybeans, avocado and other crops.  The rice industry was not affected.   The total dollar damage is as yet unknown, but it could be in the tens of millions of US dollars. (August 23, 2007)

HOTELS REPORT LITTLE IF ANY DAMAGE, NEARLY ALL ARE OPEN  Based on emails we've received and from reports on www.BelizeEmergency.net, nearly all hotels in Belize, even those in Corozal District in Northern Belize, escaped Dean without serious damage. The vast majority of hotels, except those that are closed for routine seasonal maintenance, are open. A few hotels in Corozal Town and on Ambergris Caye say they will reopen later this week or early next.   Hotel Maya in Corozal Town and a couple of small Corozal guesthouses report they suffered some structural damage and haven't decided when they'll reopen.  Reporting hotels in Orange Walk District say they suffered no significant damage and are open (unless already closed for seasonal maintenance).  Most hotels on Ambergris Caye report that they suffered no damage. A few had minor damage, downed trees and some limited beach erosion. Most will reopen on Thursday, after grounds cleanup. Victoria House, Costa Maya Resort, Belize Legacy Resort and a few others are closed for a short time for cleanup.   Hotels on Caye Caulker uniformly report no damage, and most have stayed open, though a few will reopen later this week or early next, after cleanup.  Properties in Belize, Cayo, Stann Creek and Toledo districts uniformly report no damage and are open for business, except for those already closed for routine seasonal maintenance.  The bottom line is that the tourism industry in Belize suffered very little damage and that except possibly for some short-term cancellations during the next few weeks -- Belize's slowest tourism period anyway -- the tourism industry should not see any significant impact from Hurricane Dean.  (August 22, 2007, updated August 23, 2007)

HURRICANE DEAN SPARES MOST OF BELIZE Hurricane Dean, with winds of 165 mph, a Category 5 storm, came ashore early in the morning of Tuesday, August 21, about 40 miles northeast of Chetumal, Mexico, near the cruise ship port of Costa Maya, but it spared most of Belize, including San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Belize City, Belmopan, Cayo and all of southern Belize.  As of mid-day Tuesday, August 21, no storm-related deaths had been reported in Belize.  Many trees were reported down in the Corozal Town area and elsewhere in Corozal District, and some buildings were damaged, but overall the impact appeared relatively light.  The Commercial Free Zone at the Mexican border in Corozal had some wind and water damage, but most of it was superficial, and the Free Zone is expected to reopen by August 27.  Several dozen residents of Chan Chen, the northernmost village in Belize, were left homeless after their simple houses were destroyed.  The major employer in the village and one of the largest employers in Belize, Fruta Bomba, lost much of its papaya plantations. Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker reported only Category 1 winds, with little damage except that some piers were destroyed and several homes had moderate water damage. In Belize City, Belmopan, San Ignacio, Dangriga, Placencia and Punta Gorda, residents reported only moderate rain and light, cooling breezes, with virtually no damage. Power was out in Corozal and parts of Orange Walk districts, and in some areas may not be restored until early September, but most of the rest of Belize had power and both cellular and landline phones as of Tuesday.  In most areas, internet service was never disrupted.  International and domestic flights, except for TACA's, were cancelled on Tuesday but resumed Wednesday. Belize authorities lifted the curfew on Tuesday morning. Stores, banks and other businesses in Central and Southern Belize reopened Tuesday or Wednesday.  Preliminary reports from the Mexican resorts of Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen suggest that damage in those areas also was minimal.  Reports from Tulum and Xcalak are sketchy at this time.  Fortunately, the eye of the storm came ashore in a lightly populated and less developed area of the Mexican Riviera, and the Mexican government has only reported two deaths due to the storm. (August 20, 2007, updated August 21 and 23, 2007)

AMBERGRISCAYE.COM DELIVERED BEST HURRICANE NEWS   Marty Casado's Ambergriscaye.com web site provided the best and most up-to-date news on Hurricane Dean and its impact on Belize.   More than 100,000 users visited the web site on August 20, ten times the normal number, and more than 1,000 messages were posted. (August 21, 2007)

BELIZE GOVERNMENT DECLINES NEW OSTEOPATHIC MED SCHOOL  Officials of a proposed osteopathic medical school who had hoped to open the school in Belize are now looking to locate in another country, after being told by the Belize government that their application for the offshore school likely would not be viewed favorably. “The Ministry of Education has replied to our initial request by stating that after consultation with the Minister of Health they do not believe they would look favorably on our application,” said Terry Fowler, DO, PhD, one of the organizers of the med school.  “My group had back-up contingencies in two other Caribbean countries and have now initiated contact with them,” he said.  Dr. Fowler added that he was “somewhat surprised at the Ministry's lack of international knowledge on osteopathic medical education and on the fact that as an accredited university our projected operating budget was US$5,000,000 per year,  and this did not include capitalization expenses, facility acquisition and development nor revenues generated from the students who would have attended our school.”  The proposed osteopathic medical school was first reported by BELIZE FIRST on May 16-17, 2007. Doctors of osteopathy receive a DO degree rather than an MD degree, though both are physicians and generally receive the same professional rights, at least in the U.S. The organizers were seeking formal commitment from the Belizean government to welcome the school and a statement from the government that it supports the concept of an osteopathic school and also grants DOs full rights and privileges within the country.  (August 21, 2007)

 

EMORY KING DEAD  Emory King, author, columnist, historian, successful businessman, civic leader and one of Belize's great characters, died August 14 at age 76.  Shipwrecked in Belize in 1953, King, an American from Jacksonville, Fla., stayed on to become Belize's best-known resident expatriate and a loyal Belizean citizen, building sizeable businesses in insurance, publishing, broadcasting and other industries. He was a pioneer in adventure tourism and in real estate development. Along the way, he wrote hundreds of newspaper columns for the Belize Times and other newspapers, published a magazine and a road guide to Belize, helped found Great Belize Productions, which evolved into Channel 5 TV. He authored numerous books, including a multipart history of Belize.  Among his most popular books were Hey, Dad, This Is Belize and I Spent It All in Belize.  He played a role in bringing the Mennonites to Belize in the 1950s and 1960s and also brought a number of movie productions to Belize.  He had small roles in nearly all the movies filmed in Belize, including The Dogs of War and The Mosquito Coast.  He was the film commissioner for the Government of Belize and a director of the Belize Bank.  His friends, in high places and low, were legion. In recent years, King had suffered several tragedies, including the death of a son in an auto accident and of his beloved Belizean wife;  he also had a series of health problems, forcing him to give up cigars, which, with his straw hat, were his longtime trademarks.   He is survived by a son and several grandchildren. Following funeral services in Belize City, interment will be at Tropical Park, a subdivision King developed where he also made his home.  Late Monday afternoon, Dean's track seemed to be jogging slightly north, which would be good news for Belize. (August 15, 2007)

ENTRANCE FEE TO TIKAL TRIPLED The entrance fee for visitors to Tikal Park in Guatemala has been increased from 50 to 150 quetzales.  The new fee is about US$20.  Tikal is a popular day or overnight trip from Belize.  (August 3, 2007)

MAYA ISLAND AIR BEGINS SERVICE TO SAN PEDRO SULA Maya Island Air will serve San Pedro Sula, Honduras, daily from Savannah/Big Creek airstrip near Independence beginning August 3.  Initially, the fare for the 45-minute flight will be US$125 one-way, US$250 round-trip, and for US$25 one-way you can fly to Savannah from any airport in the country for US$25, to connect with the SPS flight. Flights leave Savannah/Big Creek at 2 p.m. The daily return flight from San Pedro Sula is at 4 p.m.  (August 1, 2007)

1500 NEW CONDOS AND HOUSES AVAILABLE OR PLANNED FOR PLACENCIA PENINSULA  Almost 600 new condos and houses have been recently built on the Placencia peninsula, according to an informal study done by a local resident.  Another 900 or more units have received aproval but are not yet constructed, for a total of 1,500 new or planned units.  This does not include the 2,000 that Ara Macao developers claim they will build.  The status of Ara Macao remains unclear.  Many local residents say the infrastructure on the peninsula -- including electric, water, sewerage and transportation -- cannot possibly handle this many structures.  Observers also say they doubt that this large number of units can be sold.  Foreigners reportedly constitute 98% of the buyers on the peninsula. (August 1, 2007)

ROE COMPANIES IN NEW HEADQUARTERS BUILDING The Roe Group of Companies has opened a new six-story, 30,000 sq. ft. headquarters building on Coney Drive. The building houses RF&G Insurance and offices for other Roe operations, and it also has three floors of space that is or will be rented to other businesses. It is called Gordon House, after Gordon Roe who came with the British Royal Air Force in 1944 to what was then British Honduras. The Roe family now has interests in tobacco, tourism, automobiles and other businesses, in addition to insurance. (August 1, 2007)

INDEPENDENCE MAN DIES WHEN OIL RIG CAPSIZES;  ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES RAISED  Nine men went into the sea about a mile from Big Creek in Stann Creek District when a seagoing oil rig capsized July 16, as it was being towed to Big Creek by the towboat Miss Gayle.  One man, Allen Bonnell of Independence,  died, apparently of drowning. The rig, fabricated in Shipyard,  is owned by a company called Island Oil  Belize, Ltd.  After a dry hole off Monkey River and another failed attempt near East Snake Caye, the rig was being moved back to port at Big Creek until after the hurricane season is over. Island Oil is one of a half dozen companies that has rights to explore for oil in Belize.  It has rights to drill for oil on about 490,000 acres just off Placencia and Monkey River.  Some observers say they are concerned that drilling near the barrier reef could adversely affect the environment.  (July 21, 2007)

DENGUE FEVER CASES REPORTED IN BELIZE  At least 47 cases of suspected dengue fever have been reported in Belize, according to the Health Ministry. Of these, 17 were confirmed positive for classical dengue in Corozal District, all in May, and 10 in Belize District, in June and July.  Cases also have been reported in Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras.  Through mid-July, Honduras reported 6,038 cases of classical dengue and 397 cases of the more serious dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF); a total of 11 people have died in Honduras.  Panama has recorded 1,252 cases of classical dengue this year; Guatemala has reported 1,402 and one death; Costa Rica has reported 8,300 cases of classical dengue;  and Nicaragua has reported about 5,500 cases of confirmed or suspected classical dengue and 245 cases of suspected and confirmed DHF, with a total of 5 deaths.  The dengue virus is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Symptoms of dengue fever include sudden onset of high fever with body temperature of up to 105 F, chills, headache, joint and muscle pain and swollen lymph nodes. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, eye pain, rash and general weakness.  (July 21, 2007)

AMERICAN CITIZEN MURDERED IN TEAKETTLE VILLAGE A U.S. citizen, Peter Phillips, 43, was murdered July 16 in Teakettle village.  The Belmopan teacher was found outside a house in Teakettle that he was taking care of in the absence of the owner, another American.  Phillips had injuries to his head.  He had been housesitting for a few days at the home of Joe Yeager in Teakettle.  Yeager and his family recently returned to the U.S., after Yeager was attacked, following a dispute with a Belizean involving a family matter.   Police reportedly think that Phillips may have been the victim of mistaken identity. A police spokesman indicated that police have "strong evidence" against a local villager and have charged him.  Phillips was a teacher who had taught for about a year at Belize Christian Academy in Belmopan and also recently had been teaching history at Galen University in San Ignacio. Teakettle is a village on the Western Highway about 6 miles west of Belmopan.  (July 17, 2007)

MARKET FOR WATERFRONT PROPERTY IN PLACENCIA BOILS UP Several beach resorts and other waterfront properties that have languished on the market, sometimes for years, have reportedly been sold.  Among these are hotels Mariposa, Maya Breeze Inn, Lubi Hati, Rum Point Inn and Serenity.  Observers say they think the new activity in Placencia stems from developers interested in building condos or other residential developments on the peninsula. Several new condo projects are underway or planned including Grand Reef, a six-story upscale project with 33 planned units, and condos at Coco Plum and the former Saks, among others.   According to local sources, Port of Belize owner Luke Espat in association with Lord Michael Ashcroft has purchased the Rum Point property, and some locals say they've heard a Sandals-type development is planned here.   Mango's of Maya Beach is back on the market, and Sugar Reef has been sold -- supposedly this bar will move to the sea side.  Some international hotel chains reportedly also have expressed an interest in Placencia, as well as in Ambergris Caye.  (June 16, 2007, updated July 17, 2007)

HOTELS AND RESORTS ON THE MARKET

Among the hotels and lodges and other tourism operations reportedly for sale, or recently sold, in Belize are the following, with reported asking prices. Additions, deletions and corrections invited.

CAYO
Mopan River Resort, Benque Viejo, US$2,850,000

Parrot's Nest Lodge, Bullet Tree, US$460,000
Roaring River Lodge, US$250,000  (SOLD)
Inn at Xunantunich, Succotz, US$375,000 (with terms)
Casa Maya, San Ignacio, US$1,400,000
Black Rock Lodge, US$1,100,000 (SOLD)
Parrot's Nest, Bullet Tree, US$550,000
Royal Mayan Resort, Benque Viejo, US$1,750,000
Warrie Head Ranch & Lodge, near Georgeville, US$1,500,000
Windy Hills Lodge, US$2,500,000
Touch of Class, Santa Elena, US$250,000

PLACENCIA
Manatee Inn, Placencia Village, US$375,000
Mango's of Maya Beach
Serenity Resort, Placencia, US$2,000,000 (SOLD)
Luba Hati, Seine Bight, US$3,095,000 (SOLD)
Green Parrot, Maya Beach
Nautical Inn, Seine Bight, US$1,700,000
Sugar Reef (SOLD)
Macovy Blues Hotel & Restaurant, reduced to US$399,000 (with terms)
Mariposa Beach Suites, Placencia (SOLD)
Maya Breeze Inn, US$1,100,000 (SOLD)
Rum Point Inn (SOLD)
Soulshine US$550,000 (SOLD)

HOPKINS AREA
Kanantik US$10,000,000
Toucan Sittee (SOLD)
Jaguar Reef Lodge, US$4,705,000

BELIZE CITY AREA

Global Village Hotel, Belize City
El Chiclero Inn, Burrell Boom, US$1 million
JB's Restaurant and Cabanas, Western Highway, US$300,000
Howler Monkey Lodge, Bermudian Landing, US$250,000

AMBERGRIS CAYE
Rubie's II (not original Rubie's), San Pedro, US$399,000
Corona del Mar, San Pedro, US$2,700,000
Lili's, San Pedro, US$1,500,000
Royal Palm, US$6,000,000
Seven Seas Resort/Timeshare, US$1,950,000
Copacabana, US$375,000

COROZAL
Hokíol Kíin Guesthouse, Corozal Town, US$598,000
Las Palmas, Corozal Town, US$2,900,000
TJ's/International Cozy Corners, US$399,000

CAYE CAULKER

Iguana Reef Inn, US$3,500,000
Seaside Cabañas, US$2,400,000
Belize Odyssey Resort, Caye Caulker, US$3,500,000
Tropics Hotel, Caye Caulker, US$995,000
Barefoot Caribe (formerly Sobre Las Olas), Caye Caulker, US$1,800,000
Loraine's Guest House, US$450,000
Bel-Isle Condos (unfinished), US$600,000

TOLEDO
Sea Front Inn, Punta Gorda, US$1,200,000

OFFSHORE CAYES
Slickrock Adventures camp, Long Caye, Glovers Atoll, US$1,400,000 (doesn't include island real estate)
Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel, somewhere north of US$50 million
Isla Marisol, Southwest Caye, Glovers Atoll, US$5,000,000

(July 22, 2007, updated February 12, 2008)

 

NEW BOOK ON BELIZE'S BEST LODGING AND DINING SPOTS PUBLISHED A new guidebook, Belize's Best Hotels & Restaurants, has been published as an eBook. The author is veteran travel writer Lan Sluder, who has written a number of travel and retirement guides to Belize. "Although I've done a number of general guides to Belize, including Fodor's Belize 2007, I wanted to focus this guide specifically on hotels and restaurants, so that Belize travelers could book hotels and choose restaurants with confidence," Sluder said.  It was published as an eBook in .pdf format, so that it can be updated regularly. The book sells for US$15, but for a limited time it will be downloadable from this and other web sites at no charge.  The guidebook can be viewed on either Mac or Windows systems. (June 16, 2007)

NEW HOTELS OPEN IN CAYO  Ka'ana, an upscale boutique hotel, Casa del Caballo Blanco, a small lodge focused on birding and birders, and Macaw Bank Jungle Lodge, off the Cristo Rey Road, have recently opened in Cayo. Ka'ana, on the Western Highway near Mile 69, has 14 units, a spa and restaurant.  The ownership is associated with Belize Natural Energy.  Casa del Caballo Blanco, in Bullet Tree, operated by a couple from California, has six cabañas.  Macaw Bank, operated by a couple from the U.S., has a restaurant, bar and four cabañas with two more under construction.  Also, Black Rock River Lodge, on the market for several years, recently has sold and is now under new management by people who have operated a hotel in Mexico.  (June 15, 2007)

PUP STALWARTS DEFECT; PM SHUFFLES CABINET AGAIN  In the continuing political crisis for PUP PM Said Musa, Deputy Prime Minister John Briceño has left the government, and in another of a long series of shuffles the PM has removed Mark Espat and Cordel Hyde from the Cabinet.  National elections must be held by March 2008 at the latest, and observers say that the PUP is likely to lose big.  (June 7, 2007)

DEMONSTRATIONS IN BELMOPAN PEACEFUL  A crowd of several thousand demonstrators, mostly UDP supporters, showed up Friday (May 25) in Belmopan to celebrate "victory" in the Universal Health Services dispute.  The demonstrations were peaceful.  (May 26, 2007)

"I AM NOT A MONSTER"  In an interview May 24 with Channel 5 TV, Prime Minister Said Musa had these words for the Belizean people:  "My message to our people is, I am not a monster. I am not trying to do something to destroy their lives, to hurt anyone. The government is here to try and serve the people. Serve the people: that has been our motto. And I would ask our people to give us a chance to work this thing through, let’s not resort to extreme measures, there is no need for this. There is no need for violence; there is no need for disorder."  (May 25, 2007)

POLITICAL CRISIS IN BELIZE HEATS UP; PM BLINKS Demonstrators are set to return to Belmopan Friday, May 25, protesting Prime Minister Said Musa's plan to use BZ$33 million in public funds to bail out investors in United Health Services, a private hospital in Belize City. Police had initially denied the permit for the demonstrators, citing the potential for violence, but the Belize Supreme Court ruled that the police could not refuse the permit. Meanwhile, PM Musa is struggling to keep his PUP cadres in line.  He fired two cabinet ministers, Cordel Hyde and Mark Espat, but at least four other PUP honchos have indicated they cannot support the UHS loan.  With a 21 to 8 PUP majority in the House, the PM can afford only 7 defections.  A vote against the loan approval would be considered a no confidence vote, requiring immediate national elections.  Some advisors recommended delaying the UHS vote, and late Thursday the PM appeared to do so, pulling the loan motion, cancelling the Friday session and announcing that the hospital would be sold to private buyers. It's unclear whether the demonstrations set for Friday will be held, or not. (May 24, 2007)

FIVE BELIZE HOTELS MAKE ZAGAT LIST OF TOP HOTELS  Five Belize lodges and resorts made the 2007/2008 Zagat World's Top Hotels, Resorts & Spas guidebook: Blancaneaux Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge, Turtle Inn in Placencia, Chaa Creek near San Ignacio, Kanantik near Dangriga and Cayo Espanto off Ambergris Caye.  Of these, Blancaneaux had the highest ratings in Belize for rooms (28 of a possible 30) and service (27), while Chaa Creek scored highest on facilities (25), and Chaa Creek and Blancaneaux tied (23) for dining. Cayo Espanto and Kanantik were newcomers or write-ins and were not scored. All Zagat survey guidebooks are based on the composite scores of consumers who have visited the hotel or restaurant.   A total of 1,287 hotels worldwide were included in the new Zagat guide. (May 21, 2007)

GIANT RED CLOUD OF DUST TO COVER BELIZE? A cloud of dust from the Sahara desert in Africa is expected to spread over Belize and much of Central America over the next three days. People with asthma and other breathing difficulties are potentially at risk.  Media in Belize so far have not reported on the giant cloud, but those in other parts of Central America have. La Prensa Libre in Guatemala City reported: "Una nube gigante de polvo, procedente de África, estará llegando hoy a Guatemala y el resto de Centroamérica, por lo que autoridades pidieron precaución a las personas con problemas respiratorios y alérgicos, pues ese fenómeno permanecerá en el ambiente por unos tres días." (May 19, 2007)

COST OF FUEL RISES The prices of gas and diesel in Belize have increased again.  Current prices in the Belmopan area (courtesy of Trevor Vernon) are: 

Premium Gas  BZ$9.96
Regular Gas    BZ$9.75
Diesel              BZ$7.15

(May 19, 2007)

POLICE USE TEAR GAS AND RUBBER BULLETS TO BREAK UP BELMOPAN PROTESTORS  Belize police fired rubber bullets and tear gas cannisters to disperse a crowd of several thousand protestors May 18 in Belmopan, according to media reports.   Protestors reportedly smashed some windows in government buildings and vandalized some vehicles. The demonstrators were protesting the government's BZ$33 million bailout of Universal Health Services.  (May 19, 2007)

TROUBLE STILL BREWING OVER UNIVERSAL HEALTH SERVICES BAILOUT Prime Minister Said Musa is hanging tough on his BZ$33 million bailout of Universal Health Services despite overwhelming public opposition to spending public money on the failed private hospital in Belize City.  Within the governing PUP, several PUP representatives and even Cabinet members appear opposed to the government paying the U.H.S. loan. The government's Financial Secretary, Dr. Carla Barnett, has tendered her resignation. The PM did not inform her about the loan guarantee.  With a 21 to 8 PUP majority in the House, the PM can afford only 7 defections.  A vote against the loan approval in the House would be considered a no confidence vote, requiring immediate national elections.  Several demonstrations are planned in Belmopan May 18, both for and against the bailout. (May 17, 2007)

ARTISTS FEATURED ON NEW BELIZE STAMPS For the first time, a group of Belizean artists are featured on a series of postage stamps.  Artists honoured are Manuel Viamor, George Gabb, Reuben Miguel, Penn Cayetano, Benjamin Nicholas and Louis Belisle. Nicholas, born in Barranco, lives in Dangriga. Viamor, originally from Corozal, now lives in Chetumal. Cayetano, from Dangriga, makes his home now in Germany. Gabb, Belisle and Miguel are deceased.  (May 17, 2007)

BELIZE TO GET OSTEOPATHIC MED SCHOOL?  A U.S. group is exploring the idea of opening a new offshore medical school in Belize, this one devoted to training osteopathic physicians, according to reports received by BELIZE FIRST.  Doctors of osteopathy receive a DO degree rather than an MD degree, though both are physicians and generally receive the same professional rights, at least in the U.S. The group is seeking formal commitment from the Belizean government to welcome the school and a statement from the government that it supports the concept of an osteopathic school and also grants DOs full rights and privileges within the country.  However, the osteopathic group also has been in contact with Doug Singh, a prominent UDP politician.  Members of the group plan to come to Belize in September or October to look for a location, according to an email from Terry Fowler, DO, PhD, a member of the advisory committee considering opening the school.  Dr. Fowler, originally from Canada, formerly managed a group of hospitals in Southern California and, after going to osteopathic medical school at Western University of Health Sciences, is now an osteopathic physician in California. Doctors of osteopathy practice a whole-person or holistic approach to medicine. A key part of osteopathic medicine is a technique called OMT, or osteopathic manipulative treatment. OMT allows physicians to use their hands as a primary tool to diagnose and treat illness and injury. 

When the UDP was last in office in the late 1990s, one of its initiatives was to attract offshore, for-profit med schools to Belize, and the PUP to some degree followed up on the initiative. The track record of these schools, however, has been mixed.  Most have but few students and faculty and very limited equipment, disagreements among faculty and administration have taken place at several, and some of the schools have opened and then quickly closed.  One of the first schools, St. Matthews in San Pedro, pulled up and moved to the Caymans. Its successor, Medical University of the Americas, reportedly has not enjoyed great success in Belize and has opened a branch in London. St. Luke's in Belmopan has closed.  Hope University School of Medicine, a "Christian medical school," is open in Belmopan.  American Global University School of Medicine, another small, unaccredited school, also is open in Belmopan, on the third floor of a three-story building. InterAmerican School of Medical Science in Corozal was opened in 2005 by the Pavlic' family.  Only Central America Health Sciences University near Belize City, which opened in 1996, seems to have been fairly stable and able to generate an on-going base of students.  Successful offshore med schools, which typically charge US$10,000 to $25,000 per student per year for tuition and fees, can be quite profitable for their owners, according to several business analysts.   Most attract students, often from developing countries, who are unable to get into regular med schools in the U.S., Canada, the U.K. or elsewhere.  Offshore medical schools wishing to open in Belize must pay BZ$100,000 to the Belize government, then pay an administration and "accreditation" fee of BZ$50,000, plus an annual BZ$20,000 license fee.  The schools are approved and regulated by the Belize Medical Schools Accreditation Committee, a six-person committee under the Ministry of Health.  (May 16, 2007, updated May 17, 2007)

FIRES BURN IN MOUNTAIN PINE RIDGE   As the dry season continues, several fires are burning in the Mountain Pine Ridge, according to local reports. This is a photograph of one of the fires, by Katie Valk of Belize City and Placencia.  Wild fires also have been burning around Belmopan City. (May 16, 2007)

FIRST ENDURANCE HORSE RACE HELD IN CAYO Kim Chanona on Sunrise from Hershey on May 12 won Belize's first modern endurance horse race, followed by Cesar Xi on a horse from Banana Bank.  Nineteen horses were entered in the race. The winner finished the 18-mile course in just over one hour, 35 minutes. The race concluded at San Lorenzo Farm near Xunantunich.  It was hosted by Hanna's Stables, and sponsors included Hanna's, Chabil Mar Villas, NICH, Citrus Products of Belize Ltd.,  BNE and Banana Bank.  The first-place finisher took home BZ$1,000, and the runner-up BZ$500.   Race coordinator was R. Juan. (May 15, 2007)

FIRST QUARTER TOURISM NUMBERS UP AND DOWN Tourism arrivals at the international airport were down in January and February, a surprising result in the peak tourism season, but then March saw a more than a 10% jump from the previous year, to a record 25,000+ arrivals by air.  Altogether, arrivals by air at Phillip Goldson International totalled 59,261 during the January-March 2007 period, or an average of about 658 tourists a day.  Overall, overnight tourism by air, sea and land rose 2.4% in the first quarter, to 77,757, somewhat behind world and regional averages for tourism growth.  The Belize Tourism Board saw the figures as "steady." Cruise ship tourism also rebounded, to almost 277,000 for the first three months of 2007, up over 10% from 2006 following two years of declines. Neighboring Mexico had 3.6 million international tourism arrivals during the January-March period, representing an increase of 8.3 % compared with first quarter 2006 results.   Results from the Caribbean are still coming in:  Some countries, such as Barbados, are reporting declines in tourism, while others, including the Dominican Republic and Bermuda (technically in the Atlantic) are seeing double digit increases in tourism in the first quarter.  (May 15, 2007)

SAN PEDRO CHAMBER OPPOSES NEW AMBERGRIS PORT  The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce has decided to send a letter to several governmental entities, including the Belize Port Authority, the Department of the Environment and the Geology Department, objecting to a new, privately owned port and marina on the south end of the island.   The Chamber and local businesses and home owners say that the port will create new heavy truck and container traffic on Coconut Drive.  (May 15, 2007)

TOURISTS ROBBED AT XUNANTUNICH   Nine tourists in two groups and a tour guide at the Xunantunich Maya site west of San Ignacio were held up by a man wielding a shotgun and three men with machetes.  The tourists and a Belizean tour guide, lost money, cameras and jewelry. The incident occurred around 9:30 on the morning of Monday, May 7, according to information from a police spokesman. An individual who was among those robbed said the two groups were among the first to enter the site in the morning. One group was from Chaa Creek and the other was from Hopkins.  Among the tourists were three from Texas, two from North Carolina, one from Illinois and two from the United Kingdom. Xunantunich is regularly patrolled by Belize Defence Forces troops. It is as yet unclear how the robbery took place with BDF soldiers in the area. The robbers were believed to be Guatemalans, and they spoke only Spanish. A series of bandit incidents in Cayo in late 2005 and early 2006 impacted tourism there, until the Guatemalan gang leaders were captured.   (May 7, 2007, revised May 8 and May 11, 2007)

SANCTUARY BAY PROMOTERS JAILED Two Americans involved in a major land development in Stann Creek District have been jailed in the U.S. Andris Pukke, founder of a credit counseling company accused of cheating 300,000 debtors out of millions of dollars and allegedly the original owner/developer of Sanctuary Bay near Hopkins, and Peter Baker, a long-time Pukke friend and associate who was a principal in Sanctuary Bay, were jailed by U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte in Maryland. Pukke was held in contempt of court for failing to turn over assets to a fund set up, in a U.S. Federal Trade Commission agreement, to repay the debtors.  He will be held until he produces assets worth millions of dollars.  Pukke maintains he has no direct control over the assets.  Baker, the son of Joan Medhurst, whose firm in the 1990s had the international public relations contract for the Belize Tourism Board, was jailed because the judge concluded Baker and Pukke colluded to shield assets both in Belize and in California.  It is unclear what if any impact this may have on Sanctuary Bay or on the dozens of buyers of lots in the development. Sanctuary Bay, which borders the Sittee River and Sapodilla Lagoon, has been has been offering 135 one- to five-acre lots for US$50,000 to $200,000 each. (May 7, 2007)

LIVE LIKE AN AMBASSADOR The former home of the U.S. ambassador to Belize in Belize City is for sale.  The five-bedroom, five-bath residence in the upscale King's Park area is being offered for US$700,000.   We wonder if a subprime mortage may be available?  The ambassador and embassy staff have relocated to the US$50 million Amereican embassy compound in Belmopan. (May 1, 2007)

REPORT SPOTLIGHTS HIGH HOMICIDE RATE IN CENTRAL AMERICA  A recent report by non government organizations in Central America puts the murder rate for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador several times higher than that in the U.S. and Canada:

El Salvador has 55.5 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants
Honduras 40.6
Guatemala 37.5

Canada has a homicide rate of under 2 per 100,000, and the U.S. rate in recent years has been around 6 per 100,000. There were around 80 murders in Belize last year, so Belize's homicide rate is estimated at about 27 per 100,000.  The so-called North Triangle area of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala is believed to have more than 60,000 youth gang members.  These gangs are responsible for many of the murders.  (April 28, 2007)

POT AND KETTLE DEPARTMENT: U.S. OFFICIAL RESIGNS OVER HUMAN TRAFFICKING  According to media reports, Randall Tobias, head of the Bush administration's foreign aid programs, abruptly resigned Friday after his name surfaced in an investigation into a high-priced call-girl ring. Ironically, less than a year ago the U.S. railed at "human trafficking" in several countries around the world, including Belize.  Tobias submitted his resignation a day after he was interviewed by ABC News for an upcoming program about an alleged prostitution service run by the so-called D.C. Madam. ABC reported on its Web site late Friday that Tobias, who is 65 and married, confirmed that he had called the Pamela Martin and Associates escort service to have women come to his condo and give him massages. Tobias told the network, he has been using a service with Central American women. Last yea,r the U.S. put Belize near the top of a list of countries involved in human trafficking. In June 2006, the U.S. put Belize and five other countries at the top of its list of countries failing to meet minimum standards to prevent trafficking in persons, such as allowing women to be brought into the country for purposes of prostitution. At the time, some observers said they believed the U.S. action was undeserved and perhaps a political move to punish Belize for its support of Venezuela for a seat on the U.N. Security Council. After only three months, the U.S. removed Belize from its list of "Tier 3 Human Trafficking" countries. (April 28, 2007)

CACAO FESTIVAL PLANNED FOR TOLEDO  A new festival, Toledo Cacao-Fest, is set for 18-20 May 2007 in Toledo District.  The festival opens Friday, May 18, with a wine and chocolate evening at the PG Sports Bar in Punta Gorda, with Govenor General Sir Colville Young in attendance. Saturday brings "Taste of Toledo," celebrating Toledo cooking and crafts, followed by "Harmony in Culture," with live music at local restaurants. On Sunday, the 20th, participants will have the opportunity to tour the "Cacao Trail,"  visiting organic cacao farms and Maya village, followed by a music and fireworks finale held at Father Ring Parish Hall.  Details are available at www.ToledoChocolate.com.  (April 9, 2007)

BELIZE TV STATIONS NOW OFFER STREAMING VIDEO OF NEWSCASTS  Channel 7 and Channel 5 TV have begun offering streaming video of their weekday evening news broadcasts on their web sites at www.7newsbelize.com and www.channel5belize.com. The stations also continue to present transcripts of the new programs. (April 9, 2007)

SANCTUARY BAY DEVELOPER ORDERED TO TURN OVER US$40 MILLION  A U.S. federal court judge in Maryland has ruled that Andris Pukke, a controversial U.S. finance, internet gambling and real estate entrepreneur who has been associated with Sanctuary Bay, an upscale real estate development in Stann Creek District between Hopkins and Placencia, is in contempt of court and must turn over US$40 million in alleged hidden funds and disputed holdings, including proceeds associated with real estate development in Belize.  Pukke earlier had agreed to pay a restitution fund up to US$35 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the Federal Trade Commission, which claimed he and his firm, AmeriDebt, used hidden upfront fees to unfairly collect US$172 million from about 300,000 American debtors.  Despite the agreement, Pukke has so far only paid about US$10 million.  The judge said he would consider putting Pukke in jail if he continues to shield his assets.  The court-appointed receiver, in a motion filed in October 2006, requested that Pukke's longtime friend, Peter Baker, also be held in contempt for his activities. The judge agreed, ordering Baker to turn over a California mansion to the receiver.  Baker, who has been Pukke's friend since school days, and who is the son of Joan Medhurst, whose firm in the 1990s had the international public relations contract for the Belize Tourism Board, has been in charge of Sanctuary Bay. Joan Medhurst and her husband, Colin Medhurst, also have been involved with the development, according to court records filed by the receiver.  However, according to a statement emailed by Joan Medhurst, "Colin and Joan Medhurst resigned from Dolphin Development Company and Sittee River Wildlife Reserve in 2005 when Andris Pukke's receivership came to our attention. The Sanctuary Bay company was formed after our resignations, and we have had not been associated with Sanctuary Bay or any of the other companies associated with Mr. Pukke since 2005." Sanctuary Bay is selling some 220 lots in Stann Creek District and also claims to be developing a marina.   (March 15, 2007, update April 29, 2007)

BELIZE BANK TEAM WINS RUTA MAYA RACE Belize Bank won the 10th annual Mountains to the Sea canoe race, a grueling four-day event traditionally held over the Baron Bliss weekend holiday.  A team from Belize Natural Energy came in second.  Local wags suggested that sometimes events like this are metaphors for what's happening in society at large. (March 14, 2007)

REAL ESTATE ACTION HEATS UP IN PLACENCIA  Several Placencia beach resorts that have been on the market for years suddenly have sold.  Rum Point Inn, Luba Hati, Serentity and Maya Breeze Inn reportedly have sold in recent weeks, after having been on the market for from three to over five years.  In most cases, it appears the buyers plan to convert the properties to condos. Saks, formerly Kitty's Place, which sold in 2005, also is closing as a hotel resort and will be replaced by condominiums.  Most of the condos on the peninsula are, or will be, rented as hotel accommodations by management companies acting for owners.  Hotel occupancy rates on the peninsula, already low compared with other beach areas such as San Pedro and Caye Caulker, are likely to fall farther. (March 12, 2007)

DELTA TO LAUNCH WEEKLY SERVICE FROM LOS ANGELES Delta Airlines announced it will begin weekly service from Los Angeles to Belize City as of June 9. This is the first non-stop air service from the West Coast to Belize.  Between Los Angeles and Belize City, Delta will have one flight per week in each direction. Flight 197 will take off from California at 11:59 pm on Saturday night, landing in Central America at 5:24 am the following morning. Each Sunday, as of June 10, Delta Flight 196 will take passengers back to Los Angeles at 7:30 am, touching down at 11:15 am Pacific time. Introductory fares of $229 for apply to one-way travel through September 11, provided you book by March 21.  Delta currently provides daily service from Atlanta to Belize City during the high season, with reduced service off-season.  (March 11, 2007)

POLICE COLLECT, DESTROY 611 GUNS  Belize has strict gun control laws on the books, but the laws don't seem to do much to prevent guns from getting into the hands of bad guys.  Over the past three years, police have collected or confiscated 611 guns, including 268 hand guns, 12 machine guns and one rocket launcher. This week, they publicly destroyed the weapons in a ceremony at the appropriately named Battlefield Park.  The remains were then dumped at sea. (March 8, 2007)

HOTELS AND RESORTS ON THE MARKET

Among the hotels and lodges and other tourism operations reportedly for sale, or recently sold, in Belize are the following, with reported asking prices. Additions, deletions and corrections invited.

CAYO
Parrot's Nest Lodge, Bullet Tree, US$460,000
Mopan River Resort, Benque Viejo, US$2,850,000
Roaring River Lodge, US$250,000
Inn at Xunantunich, Succotz, US$375,000 (with terms)
Casa Maya, San Ignacio, US$1,400,000
Black Rock Lodge, US$1,100,000 (SOLD)
Royal Mayan Resort, Benque Viejo, US$1,750,000
Warrie Head Ranch & Lodge, near Georgeville, US$1,500,000
Windy Hills Lodge, US$2,500,000
Touch of Class, Santa Elena, US$250,000

PLACENCIA
Miller's Landing, US$1,500,000
Manatee Inn, Placencia Village, US$375,000
Mango's of Maya Beach
Serenity Resort, Placencia, US$2,000,000 (SOLD)
Luba Hati, Seine Bight, US$3,095,000 (SOLD)
Green Parrot, Maya Beach
Nautical Inn, Seine Bight, US$1,700,000
Sugar Reef (SOLD)
Macovy Blues Hotel & Restaurant, reduced to US$399,000 (with terms)
Mariposa Beach Suites, Placencia (SOLD)
Maya Breeze Inn, US$1,100,000 (SOLD)
Rum Point Inn (SOLD)
Soulshine US$550,000 (SOLD)

HOPKINS AREA
Kanantik US$10,000,000
Toucan Sittee (SOLD)
Jaguar Reef Lodge, US$4,705,000

BELIZE CITY AREA

Global Village Hotel, Belize City/Ladyville
El Chiclero Inn, Burrell Boom, US$1,000,000
JB's Restaurant and Cabanas, Western Highway, US$300,000
Howler Monkey Lodge, Bermudian Landing, US$250,000

AMBERGRIS CAYE
Rubie's II (not original Rubie's), San Pedro, US$399,000
Corona del Mar, San Pedro, US$2,700,000
Lili's, San Pedro, US$1,500,000
Royal Palm, US$6,000,000
Seven Seas Resort/Timeshare, US$1,950,000
Copacabana, US$375,000

COROZAL
Hokíol Kíin Guesthouse, Corozal Town, US$598,000
Las Palmas, Corozal Town, US$2,900,000
TJ's/International Cozy Corners, US$399,000

CAYE CAULKER
Seaside Cabanas, US$2,400,000
Belize Odyssey Resort, Caye Caulker, US$3,500,000
Tropics Hotel, Caye Caulker, US$995,000
Barefoot Caribe (formerly Sobre Las Olas), Caye Caulker, US$1,800,000
Loraine's Guest House, US$450,000
Bel-Isle Condos (unfinished), US$600,000

Iguana Reef Inn, US$3,500,000

TOLEDO
Sea Front Inn, Punta Gorda, US$1,200,000

OFFSHORE CAYES
Slickrock Adventures camp, Long Caye, Gloverís Atoll, US$1,400,000 (doesnít include island real estate)
Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel, somewhere north of US$50 million
Isla Marisol, Southwest Caye, Glovers Reef, US$5,000,000

(March 4, 2007, updated July 22, 2007, updated February 12, 2008)

TWO GIANT DEVELOPMENTS SAID PLANNED FOR NORTH AMBERGRIS  Reportedly two very large new developments are being planned for North Ambergris Caye.  One is tentatively called Ambergris Caye Resort Development, on a site between Bacalar Chico Marine Reserve and the Bacalar National Park.  Another development is south of the northern airstrip, on land being acquired by Michael Ashcroft. Stayed tuned. (March 2, 2007)

SAN PEDRO SEES 75% INCREASE IN TOURIST ROOMS  A report by Wil Lala, DDS, shows that hotel growth on Ambergris Caye is accelerating, with almost 700 new rooms at hotels and condos under development.   The increase in available rooms is outpacing the growth in tourism on the island.  If the trends continue, it will mean a continued decrease in average occupancy rate for Belize's leading visitor destination.  In 2004, the last time an occupancy study was done, annual hotel occupancy on the island was almost 47%, the highest level in Belize.  Dr. Lala summed up the study that he conducted for the Ambergris Caye Chamber of Commerce: "My last survey was in January 2005 at which time there were 1,232 rooms.  In the last two years approximately 300 rooms have been added. This means we have had a nearly 25% increase in rooms in the last two years.  During this same time there has been only an 18% increase in passengers flown to San Pedro from Goldson International Airport.  This would indicate a decrease in occupancy that many of the hotels are reporting. There are an additional 680 rooms under construction to open within the next 18 months.  This would then total to be a 75% increase over 2005. By Christmas 2008 there will be over 2200 rooms on Ambergris Caye.  Most of this new upscale construction is north of the river where 17 new resorts have opened or will soon open.  Nearly three-fourths of Ambergris Caye’s one hundred plus properties are owned by Americans and about 15% by Belizeans.  The rest are owned by people from Canadian, the UK, Guatemala, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Mexico.  Most all of the management and staff are Belizeans." (February 10, 2007)  

SAN PEDRO GETTING MORE PAVED STREETS   The once sandy streets of San Pedro are giving way to concrete paving blocks. The town council has announced it will pave Front Street (Barrier Reef Drive) and the cross streets back to Middle Street or Pescador Drive with concrete cobble stones.  Pescador Drive and part of Coconut Street south of town already have been paved.  The BZ$1.7 million cost will be funded through fees collected by the town and through the sale of town-owned property.  The mayor, Elsa Paz, also announced plans to pave the main road south of town through a BZ$3.8 million loan from the Belize government.  Local residents appear to strongly favor paving of Ambergris streets, as heavy rains create muddy conditions on the streets. Some visitors, however, say they long for the days when the town had only sand streets and few cars.  Now, cars and trucks jam the streets, sometimes creating real dangers for pedestrians and users of golf carts and bicycles.   The population of Ambergris Caye has grown to as many as 20,000 people, making it the second-largest population center in Belize. (February 7, 2007)

TOURISM ENJOYS 4.5% GROWTH IN 2006  Overnight tourist arrivals in Belize increased by 4.5% in 2006 over the previous year, rising to 247,000.  This mirrors the average growth in tourism arrivals worldwide, also at 4.5%.  Also, some observers question the validity of the international tourism figure, as they include arrivals by land from the Mexico and Guatemala borders, where many visitors come just for a short time on business.  About one-fourth of visitors arrive by land. Cruise ship arrivals dropped by 18%, to 656,000, continuing a major decline from the peak of over 850,000 in 2004. The U.S. remains the most important source of visitors for Belize, with 61% of overnight arrivals and nearly all of the cruise ship arrivals.  In 2006, Canada was the fastest-growing market for Belize tourism, seeing an increase of 14.5% over 2005.   This is believed to be due to the stronger Canadian dollar, which makes prices in Belize more affordable. Hotel revenues in Belize reached US$66 million in 2006, growing more than 9%. Employment in Belize's hotel sector is 4,347. Hotel revenue per employee is low, at a little over US$15,000 per employee, compared with around US$50,000 per employee in the U.S.;  the average hotel in Belize grossed only around US$150,000, compared with US$1.7 million for the average U.S. property.  Hotel occupancy rates in Belize, on an annual basis, are considerably lower than in other parts of the Caribbean.  The Belize Tourism Board has put them at around 40%, but a 2006 study by the Belize Hotel Association found nationwide occupancy to be around 29%.(February 5, 2007)

BEACHFRONT PRICES STILL RISING IN SAN PEDRO  Condo sales may be stalling, but beachfront land prices are still rising on Ambergris Caye.  According to informed sources, beachfront parcels large enough for a small resort or condo cluster are going for US$1 million and up.  Barry Bowen reportedly turned down an offer of US$5 million for the 3-acre property with 465 feeet of beachfront where Island Academy is located and is seeking US$10 million for it.   Asking prices for beachfront in and around San Pedro town are now north of US$10,000 a front foot, though much lower on North Ambergris.  San Pedro land prices are now similar to beachfront land in smaller beach markets in Florida, such as Ormond Beach.  By contrast, asking prices for beachfront on the Placencia peninsula are generally under US$3,000 to $4,000 a front foot.  (February 2, 2007)

RAELIANS SEEK LAND IN BELIZE  A self-appointed representative from the Raelian movement has visited Belize, seeking land on which to build an "embassy."  The Raelian cult was founded by a French race car driver and racing magazine owner, named Rael, who claimed to have had an encounter with a human from another planet in 1973. The extra-terrestrial gave him a new explanation of human origins and information on how to organize our future, as recorded in the book: Intelligent Design. The Raelians, who have made unsupported claims that they have cloned a human being, are asking the Belizean government to provide free land for the embassy. They say that visitors from space could land at the embassy.  (February 1, 2007)

GOVERNMENT CLAIMS DEBT REFINANCING A SUCCESS  The Government of Belize says that about holders of about 98% of rescheduled debt have agreed to debt exchange terms offered by the government.  In July 2006, Belize said it was unable to service its international debt of almost US$1 billion.  The new bonds in the debt swap to be issued by Belize will amortise in equal semi-annual installments starting in 2019, with final maturity due 2029. The new bonds will carry a coupon of 4.25% for the first three years, 6.00% for years four and five, rising to 8.50% in year seven through to maturity.  (January 31, 2007)

PLACENCIA AIRSTRIP BEING RESURFACED  The Placencia airstrip will be closed for almost two weeks beginning February 5, except for weekends when it will temporarily be open.  During the week, flights normally scheduled for Placencia will be diverted to the Savannah airstrip in Independence, and passengers will be ferried across the lagoon to Placencia by boat, and in some cases may be transferred by road.  (January 31, 2007)

TOURISM BOARD ANNOUNCES WINNERS Winners of the 7th annual tourism awards were announced January 29 at ceremonies at the Biltmore Plaza in Belize City.  Among the winners:

Hotel of the Year:  Cayo Espanto, Northern Cayes

Small Hotel of the Year: Beya Suites, Punta Gorda

Small Vendor of the Year:  King Cassava, Hopkins

Tour Operator of the Year:  Bak-a-Bush Adventures

Tour Guide of the Year:  Philip Burns

Receptive Service of the Year:  Caribbean Shipping

Lifetime Achievement Award:  Alice Bowman, Pelican Beach, Dangriga

Minister's Award:  Everista Chun

Environmental Organization of the Year:  Spanish Creek Wildlife Sanctuary

Cultural Award of the Year:  Paul Nabor

Educational Organization of the Year:  Tumil Kin Learning Center, Punta Gorda

Front Line Person of the Year:  Steve Evans, Philip Goldson International Airport

Special Recognition:  Suzette Gibson

Corporate Organization of the Year:  Travellers Liquors

(January 29, 2007)

FARMING RUNOFF DAMAGING BARRIER REEF Agricultural runoff including fertizilers, pesticides and sediment are damaging the Meso-American Barrier Reef along the coast of Belize as well as parts of the coasts of Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras, according to a report from the World Resources Institute.  The runoff comes mostly from banana, sugarcane, pineapple and citrus plantations. Silt cuts light to the coral reef, pesticides can kill the small organizations that create the reef, and nutrients from fertilizer spur algae growth, which in turn reduces the amount of sunlight reaching the reef. More than 80% of the sediment and more than 50% of the nutrients that damage the reef come from Honduras, according to the report, but the runoff from Honduras can damage the entire 600-mile length of the reef. (December 12, 2006)

TWO NEWSPAPERS DEBUT Belize has not one but two new weekly newspapers.  The Independent Reformer is backed by Meb Cutlack, an Australian with longtime tourism and other business interests in Belize who has contributed to many publications in the country; Trevor Vernon, general manager, formerly with the Belize Embassy in Washington; and Karla Heusner Vernon, a veteran journalist who has worked for the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize (BCB), the Associated Press, The Reporter and Channel 5, among other media, who is the newspaper's editor. The Independent is long on political opinion and purposely short on hard news   In the early issues, many of the ads are from hotels and other tourism interests.  Pdf versions of the newspaper have been downloaded several thousand times from www.ambergriscaye.com and www.belizenorth.com, and the paperis available by subscription and by street sales in Belize. Noticias, a Spanish language newspaper published by Harry Lawrence, who also publishes The Reporter, also hit the streets in early December.  Although Noticias and The Reporter are sister papers, they will have separate staffs and will be independent of each other, according to Lawrence.  Omar Silva is general manager, and Orlando Portillo is news editor. Noticias is an effort to tap the growing Hispanic market in Belize. A majority of Belizeans now speak Spanish as a first or second language. Like the Independent Reformer, Noticias is based in Belmopan.  (December 10, 2006)

GOVERNMENT WILL TAKE OVER UNIVERSAL HEALTH SERVICES The Government of Belize announced it will take a two-thirds interest in Universal Health Services, a financially troubled private hospital in Belize City, and will merge it into Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.  (December 9, 2006)

TOURISM OPERATORS SINGING THE BLUES

"September and October are always bad, but it's been a long time since it was this bad."

 "We had a record June, but then things went south in July - it wasn't this bad after the hurricanes."

 "Everything looked great ... until July and August."

"August, September and October were really slow. November hasn't picked up much."

Those are just some of the comments heard from hotel, lodge and resort owners around Cayo, Placencia, Corozal, Belize City and San Pedro.   Almost everyone said the same thing: The first half of the year was excellent, but in the early summer the bottom fell out.

Tourism operators have various explanations: 

The bandit incidents in Cayo of course had a major impact there, but they spilled over into other areas, including Placencia.  First-timers to Belize don't really have a good grasp of Belize geography, so if they hear of crime in one area they may decide to cancel or postpone a trip to anywhere in the country.  One lodge owner said they lost US$150,000 in cancellations, so they were ready and willing to contribute to the fund to get the Guatemalans responsible out of Guate and into a Belizean jail.

The U.S. Department of State travel advisory that remains in effect clearly is hurting business.  You can see the advisory, posted July 18, at http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1055.html. A meeting set up with the U.S. embassy in Belize to discuss this reportedly didn't come off because representatives from the Belize Tourism Board didn't show up.

Others thought that the election in the U.S. might have kept some Americans at home.  Some ascribed the problem to lack of European tourists -- Europeans hate to have to go through the U.S. to get to their final destination.  Still others think the residual fear of terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Britain has an impact on international travel.  Some think that rate increases at hotels and the general increase in prices in Belize, in part due to the GST, play a role.  A few said they thought the increase in the number of condos in Placencia and on Ambergris Caye was hurting hotel and restaurant business, as owners now stay in their condos and prepare meals there. Probably it's a combination of reasons.

To fight the problem, the Belize Tourism Industry Association organized a "Free Rooms" promotion for early December.  Travelers to Belize can get a free room at selected hotels.  They pay for meals, tours and other costs. The program has received some publicity in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The good news:  Bookings for the Christmas season seem excellent everywhere.  Most hotels report good, though not record, bookings for the rest of the high season.

As always, some hotels are doing well even as others struggle.  In Placencia in mid-November, Turtle Inn was 100% booked and the larger Robert's Grove was about 75% full.  Victoria House in San Pedro was bustling with guests, especially in the new villas section, and places like Banana Beach in San Pedro also were doing a good business.  At the more modest end of the scale, Martha's Guesthouse in San Ignacio said its new annex was already 100% booked for January through April.  (November 25, 2006)

IS CONDO BUBBLE ABOUT TO BURST? Anyone who returns to Placencia or San Pedro after being away for a year or so will be amazed by the number of condominiums going up.  More than 500 condo units are currently under construction on North Ambergris Caye alone.  Reef Village, Las Terrazas, The Phoenix. Pelican Reef, Grand Caribe, Mirador, Belize Legacy and Blue Reef are just a few among the many projects currently under way on the island.  The Placencia peninsula has some 1,500 units either under construction or planned.  All of the Placencia condos likely will notg actually get built, but from the talk you hear San Pedro is going to get dozens of more projects in the next year or two.  Hopkins is also getting a wave of new condos.  Even Caye Caulker is getting a couple.   Developers are doing business plans and projections on the backs of envelopes, and the excavators and dump trucks are running full out.

To some, it looks like a classic bubble that's about to burst.  Already, word is out about condo projects that are hitting up their owners for extra bucks, special assessments and higher monthly maintenance fees just to keep things afloat.  Many of the condos will sell, and some have been pre-sold, but not many owners plan to live in Belize full time.  Most will use the units just a few weeks a year.  The owners are buying on the expectations of getting cash from the management company for their share of rental fees from the rental pool.  But unless Belize gets a lot more tourist boots on the beach, these condos are going stay empty much of the time, and the owners can take the rental income projections with a grain of salt.

You also hear about some serious softening in prices.  Units that were going to sell for six hundred grand are now available for US$395,000, and when you look at the listings in the windows of real estate offices you'll see a lot of markdowns.  Yet, some think they're still overpriced on any rational ROI basis, though in the long run the owners may get price appreciation, especially on beachfront property.

New condo buyers are hit with the 10% GST and 5% stamp duty upfront, so a buyer of a US$300,000 condo has to fork up US$45,000 in cash on top of that.  (November 22, 2006)

GET MARRIED QUICK!  The Belize government said it would present to the next sitting of the House of Representatives an amendment to the Marriage Act, which will allow tourists to marry in Belize under a special license without publication of bans. Currently, visitors must be in Belize a minimum of three days before getting married. Tourists would send their applications for marriage licenses to Belize in advance of their arrival and could just step off the cruise ship or airplane and get married. Under the proposed new amendment, such licenses will be solemnized through a special license issued by the Attorney General’s Ministry and performed by a senior Justice of the Peace at any place within Belize.  (November 8, 2006)

MUSA HAS LOW PUBLIC OPINION RATINGS Three-fourths of Belizeans disapprove of the way Prime Minister is leading the country, according to a new poll by the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR).   Only 15% expressed approval, and the rest had no opinion.  (November 6, 2006)

BELIZE GAS PRICES DROP Following falling world crude oil prices, gasoline prices in Belize have dropped by almost 20%.  The government says premium gas prices at the pump have fallen to around US$5 a gallon;  regular is around US$4.60, and diesel is under US$3.50.  Prices vary somewhat from station to station.  (October 3, 2006)

BELIZE REMOVED FROM U.S. HUMAN TRAFFICKING LIST  After only three months, the U.S. has removed Belize from its list of "Tier 3 Human Trafficking" countries.  In June 2006, the U.S. put Belize and five other countries at the top of its list of countries failing to meet minimum standards to prevent trafficking in persons, such as allowing women to be brought into the country for purposes of prostitution.  At the time, some observers said they believed the U.S. action was undeserved and perhaps a political move to punish Belize for its support of Venezuela for a seat on the U.N. Security Council.  Apparently, the U.S. now believes that Belize has made sufficient progress in fighting human trafficking to be removed from the blacklist.  (September 29, 2006)

ALLEGED RINGLEADER OF CAYO BANDITS ARRESTED A Guatemalan national, Jeronimo Cortes Gonzalez, has been arrested and is being held by Belize police, charged with masterminding about a dozen armed robberies of tourists and Belizeans in the Mountain Pine Ridge and elsewhere in Cayo District in 2005 and the first half of 2006.  He was identified by several victims of the robberies.  Another alleged member of the bandit gang, Marco Javier Chiquin-Molinaheld, is also under arrest in Belize and has been charged with several of the robberies.  The two men are being held without bond.  Other alleged members of the gang were arrested in Guatemala, but their status is uncertain.  There have not been any incidents in Cayo since early July. (September 25 and 29, 2006)

BELIZE CELEBRATES 25 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE    Parades, fireworks and speeches by politicians marked Belize's 25th anniversary of independence from Britain September 21.   "Our goal now is to build a fairer, gentler society--a society of social justice, where the fruits of development are spread more equitably with opportunity for all to work and prosper in a secure future," said Prime Minister Said Musa in Belize City.  (September 22, 2006)

ARA MACAO MEGA-DEVELOPMENT GIVEN CONDITIONAL OK  Thanks in part to very public support by PM Said Musa, the controversial Ara Macao development on the Placencia peninsula has been approved -- conditionally -- by the National Environment Appraisal Committee. A Chicago-based development company says it will build more than 1,000 condos, a marina, casino, hotel, golf course and other facilities at the north end of the peninsula.  Conservationists and many local residents in Placencia say the huge development, if it materializes, will harm the ecology of the peninsula, changing the way beachfront sand accretes south of the development, and that the size of the project does not fit with the existing character of Placencia.  Other observers say they wonder if the project will be successful, given the reportedly limited track record of the developers in major projects. They also note that fewer than 300 condo units have ever been sold in Belize, and that condo sales on the peninsula and elsewhere in Belize have been very slow, partly due to the fact that with the stamp duty of 5% and GST of 10% on new condo sales, buyers have to put up an extra 15% of the sales price in cash at time of sale.  Conditions imposed by NEAC include the developers posting a performance bond, a phased construction plan with the environmental impact being monitored at every stage, and the redesign of the proposed golf course.  The NEAC's approval recommendation now goes to Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment John Briceño.  The developer of the project, Ara Macao Development Ltd., is registered as a Belize corporation, but the project is 100% owned by two foreign entities -- 99% by Ara Macao Holdings, registered in Illinois, and 1% by IoVest Development LLC, also of Illinois.  Marketing will be handled by a company chartered in St. Kitts. (September 20, 2006)

NEW FODOR'S GUIDE TO BELIZE PUBLISHED  Fodor's Belize 2007 by Lan Sluder has just been published by Fodor's Travel Publications, a division of Random House.  The 347-page guide covers all of Belize, plus Tikal and environs in Guatemala.  This is the first Fodor's guidebook exclusively to Belize; previous Fodor's guides have covered Belize and Guatemala together, or all of Central America.  The guidebook is now available in bookstores worldwide and on on-line services such as Amazon.com.  Lan Sluder is the author of more than half a dozen books on Belize and has been reporting on the country since 1991. (September 8, 2006)

TIKAL JETS SHUTS DOWN Tikal Jets, a Guatemalan airline that formerly flew from Guatemala City and Flores to Belize City, and most recently had service between Guatemala City and Flores, ceased operations on August 31.  (September 7, 2006)

NEW FEINSTEIN DEVELOPMENT REQUIRES CAUSEWAY TO CAYES A planned new tourism development on two cayes near Belize City would require the construction of a causeway from the Marine Parade to Drowned Caye and Stake Caye.  Michael Feinstein, a well-connected and controversial figure in Belize, announced the project, which would include two luxury hotels on Drowned Caye and one on Stake Caye.  Also included would be a marine terminal for cruise ships.  Environmentalists say the US$25 million project could have negative impacts on nearby Swallow Caye, a nature reserve, and that increase marine traffic could impact manatees in the area.  Feinstein says that the project depends on approval of the causeway, which at some points could be 30 feet high.  (August 31, 2006)

PERMANENT RESIDENCY CARDS SOLD TO CHINESE   Most would-be expats may have to wait a year or longer before they can even apply for Permanent Residency, and then wait months for approval, but at least 10 Taiwanese with US$15,000 to "invest" in Belize, along with family members, got their cards instantly, and none of them has even set foot in Belize.  The Taiwanese had to deposit the money in the Belize Central Bank.  It's all legal, according to Immigration Department Director Carmen Zetina. Separately, reportedly some of the 200 Belize passports recently stolen from the Immigration office in Belmopan have shown up in Hong Kong.  (August 30, 2006)

PROPERTY TRANSFER TAX ROLLED BACK TO 5%  After weeks of suspense, the long-awaited rollback of the stamp duty on real estate transfers has been passed in the House.  Formerly, those without Belizean or Caricom citizenship had to pay a 15% transfer tax when buying real estate in Belize.  Now, all buyers regardless of citizenship pay 5% of the sales price at time of purchase.  Those buying properties valued at BZ$20,000 or less pay zero transfer tax. The new law awaits Senate approval, generally a formality, and signing by the Prime Minister.   The newly reduced rate should prove a boost to real estate sales, as many deals had been held up to see if the rollback actually would go through.  The GST of 10% still applies to purchases of new or substantially renovated homes and condos and also on lots in a subdivision. (August 29, 2006)

NEW TRAVEL GUIDEBOOK TO AMBERGRIS CAYE AND CAYE CAULKER OFFERED AS FREE eBOOK:  A new travel guidebook to Ambergris Caye has been published, and for a limited time it’s available free as an eBook.

San Pedro Cool is a 193-page guide to the island by Lan Sluder, a veteran travel writer who has authored a half dozen other books on Belize.  The travel guide also covers Caye Caulker and the offshore cayes and atolls.  It has a bonus section on living, retiring or investing in Belize.  It’s available as a free download from several Web sites, including www.ambergriscaye.com and www.belizefirst.com.  Anyone with an Internet connection and Adobe Acrobat Reader can view or print the pdf-format book.

The new guidebook, the only travel guide devoted exclusively to Ambergris Caye, contains no advertising.  It candidly reviews and rates, on a star system, nearly all of the hotels, resorts and restaurants on the cayes.  The guide also covers tours, transportation and other travel information.  The original San Pedro Cool, published in 2002 by Equator Publications, sold thousands of copies at US$14.95.  The new edition is totally revised, updated and greatly expanded.  It has new maps of San Pedro and Ambergris Caye and many photos of the island.

The idea behind making the guide a free download for a limited time is to encourage readers to provide feedback on the book before it is published in a final version, according to the author. “The only ‘catch’ is that we ask readers who use the book to send us corrections, suggestions for improvements, things I’ve left out, or just general feedback,” said Sluder.

Sluder is the author of Living Abroad in Belize, Belize First Guide to Mainland Belize, Fodor’s Belize (set to be published by Random House in Fall 2006) and other books.  He is editor of the on-line magazine, Belize First, and has contributed articles on Belize and other destinations to many newspapers and magazines, including Caribbean Travel & Life, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and Canada’s Globe & Mail. Sluder has been covering Belize as a writer and reporter for more than 15 years and has visited San Pedro many times.  (August 29, 2006)

HOTEL OCCUPANCY RATES LAG IN BELIZE  Hotel occupancy rates in Belize lag those in other countries in the region and the world, studies show. 

Occupancy rates vary significantly by area of the country. Over many years they have been highest in San Pedro (Ambergris Caye) and Belize District, which includes Belize City. They traditionally have been lowest in Toledo and Corozal districts, and remain that way.

Average annual hotel occupancy rates may be as low as 29%, according to one recent study.

Below are the reported occupancy rates for 2004, the latest official rates available. The Belize Tourism Board used to release occupancy stats regularly in news releases, but no longer does so.

Belize District         43.8%
Ambergris Caye      46.8
Caye Caulker          34.1
Cayo                       33.5
Corozal                   25.9
Orange Walk          46.5
Stann Creek            37.8
Placencia                41.2
Toledo                   23.0
Offshore Islands     35.6
Average                 40.7

Some analysts say that the actual occupancy rates in Belize are lower than the reported rates. One reason is that the BTB only samples about one-fourth of hotels in Belize for its statistics and does not monitor unregistered guesthouses and other hotels at all. Overall annual occupancy rate is actually about 27 to 29%, according to a 2006 report prepared for the Inter-American Development Bank. In other words, about three-fourths of hotel rooms are vacant on a given night.  However, other observers say some hotel owners may not report all their guests, to avoid paying taxes, so that occupancy rates in some cases may actually be higher than reported.

Occupancy is less seasonal in some areas than other -- for example, occupancy rates drop significantly in late summer and fall in Stann Creek District, notably Placencia, while they stay higher in Caye Caulker and San Pedro.

To put these statistics in perspective, here are some annual occupancy rates (2005) for other countries and selected cities:

U.S.                      69%
United Kingdom  73%
France                  66%
Spain                    66%
Italy                      64%
Germany               60%
US Virgin Islands 67%
Barbados              73%
Bermuda               55%
Amsterdam           88%
New York City     87%
London                 87%

Summer 2006 occupancy rates in the U.S. are projected at over 74%.

While operating costs vary greatly from hotel to hotel and area to area, in developed countries most hotel experts say that ideally hotels should achieve occupancy rates of 60 to 65% to operate efficiently and profitably.

Belize currently has about 5,500 hotel rooms. Most experts believe that, given that the country gets only a little over 230,000 overnight international visitors annually, the market is overbuilt and becoming more so, especially with the development of condotel projects and the opening of many small, sometimes unregistered hotels and guesthouses.  (August 20, 2006)

PARK EMPLOYEES MURDERED AT TIKAL  Details remain sketchy, but reportedly three Tikal Park employees were killed in early August in a robbery.  The incident reportedly happened when the employees were returning from the park, going toward Flores, and were killed for the Tikal gate receipts they carried, apparently only a small sum. (August 15, 2006)

STATUS OF CARNIVAL CRUISE TERMINAL UNCERTAIN The future of the planned US$50 Carnival Cruise Lines cruise terminal in Belize City is in doubt, as no progress on the terminal, which broke ground in February 2005, has been made in over a year and a half, and Carnival recently announced it will start construction soon on a US$40 million terminal in Santo Tomas de Castilla, on the Caribbean Coast of Guatemala. Santo Tomas de Castilla is near Quirigua National Park, Puerto Barrios and Rio Dulce. It is a gateway to Mayan ruins in Guatemala and Honduras.

PRIME STORM SEASON AROUND THE CORNER:  A hurricane hasn't hit Belize in August in well over 100 years, but the prime storm season arrives in Belize and the Western Caribbean region in September and October.  Of the 20 hurricanes that have made landfall in Belize in the past 117 years, 17 or 85% have arrived in September and October.  Here are some statistics on hurricanes in Belize:

Number of storms making landfall in Belize since 1889
In the past 117 years since weather records in Belize were formally maintained, Belize has seen the following storms make landfall:
20 hurricanes -- average of about 1 hurricane every 6 years
31 tropical storms – average of 1 tropical storm every 3 ¾ years
51 total hurricanes and tropical storms – average of 1 hurricane or tropical storm every 2 ¼ years


Of the 20 hurricanes:
9 or 45% were in September (1 every 13 Septembers)
8 or 40% were in October (1 every 14 2/3 Octobers)

2 or 10% were in July
1 or 5% was in November
0 or 0% in June and August


Of the 51 total hurricanes and tropical storms:
7 or 14% were in June
4 or 8% were in July
4 or 8% were in August
19 or 37% were in September
14 or 27% were in October
3 or 6% were in November


Odds of hurricane:
Odds of a hurricane in Belize in a given year: 17%
Odds of a hurricane in Florida in a given year: 68%
Odds of a hurricane on the U.S. Gulf Coast in a given year: 67%
Odds of a hurricane on the U.S. East Coast in a given year: 47%
Note, however, that the length of the coast in Belize (less than 200 miles) is much smaller than the length of the coasts of Florida, the Gulf Coast and the East Coast – for example the East Coast of the U.S. is 1860 miles in length, so it offers a much greater area for storms to strike


Most powerful storms to hit Belize:
Unnamed hurricane, September 9, 1931, Belize City and Northern Cayes, 110 mph, estimated 2,500-3,000 deaths
Hurricane Janet, September 28, 1955, Northern Belize, 165 mph, 16 deaths in Belize
Hurricane Hattie, October 31, 1961, Belize City, 140 mph, estimated 225-310 deaths in Belize
Hurricane Carmen, September 2, 1974, skirted Northern Belize, 120 mph
Hurricane Mitch, October 27, 1998, skirted Belize to the south, 155 mph
Hurricane Keith, October 1, 2000, Ambergris Caye 120 mph, 2 deaths in Belize
Hurricane Iris, October 9, 2001, Placencia & Southern Belize, 145 mph, 21 deaths in Belize
Source; Belize National Meteorological Service, NOAA and other weather records
(August 10, 2006)

 

BELIZE MAY DEFAULT ON ITS DEBT; DEVALUATION RUMOURS DENIED   Deep in debt that it would soon be unable to pay, the Government of Belize, said Prime Minister Said Musa, will renegotiate or "seek a rearrangement" of close to US$1 billion in debt owed to foreign creditors.  Foreigners holding Belize debt instruments could lose one-fourth to one-half of the nominal value of the bonds.   One international credit reporting agency, Standard & Poor's, said such a rearrangement likely would be considered a sovereign default.  S&P also lowered it rating on Belize's long-term foreign currency sovereign credit rating from CCC- to CC and said that should the debt swap take place the rating would be changed to SD, for Selective Default.  Musa denied that devaluation of the Belize dollar is planned, and most observers say a devaluation is unlikely.  Belize's total public debt is approximately equal to one year's Gross Domestic Product. By contrast, the U.S. public debt is about 65% of current annual GDP, and the only time the U.S. debt reached 100% or more of GDP was during World War II.  Some other countries have a higher ratio of public debt to GDP than Belize. For example, Japan's public debt is 170% of GDP.  The highest public debt ratio in the world is held by Uruguay, at almost 800%.  (August 4, 2006)

AMBERGRIS CAYE DEVELOPMENT HEATS UP  Placencia may be in the news these days, but Ambergris Caye is still by far the #1 tourism destination in Belize. Observers say it is only area in Belize where annual hotel occupancy and average room rates reach levels to provide profitable operations for most resorts and tourism-related businesses.  Now, development is heating up on the island, with developers targeting foreign buyers and would-be expats, along with tourism. The new 10% GST on new condos and homes and other tax concerns could slow sales, however.  Las Tarrazas is one of the latest developments to break ground. Its developers, associated with Journey's End Resort, say it will have 74 condos and two beach houses on almost 5 acres some 4 1/2 miles north of San Pedro Town.  Prices will start at around US$300,000.   Ma'lo Ha is another planned new development that, according to developers, will eventually have 88 units in 22 separate buildings just north of the Boca del Rio.  Ma'lo Ha's architectural renderings show its buildings will have four stories, plus a rooftop deck. In the past island development has been limited to three-story buildings, or the height of a cocopalm, but now four-story buildings are rising or are planned near San Pedro Town and on North Ambergris.  Island residents will just have to grow taller coconut palms. Among new developments that recently have opened or are nearing completion are Grand Colony, a group of condos with 21 suites in three buildings about 2 mile south of town, run by the Villas at Banyan Bay folks, most priced at US$600,000 to $800,000 (about one-half reportedly have sold);  The Phoenix, on the site of the old Paradise Hotel at the north end of San Pedro Town, has 30 units (nearly one-half so far have sold) in the US$350,000 to $500,000 range;  Sueno del Mar is a "membership-style" project on North Ambergris where members buy the use of two, four or six months of a one- or two-bedroom furnished condo each year, with prices starting at around US$50,000, plus annual fees;  Blue Reef Island Resort is another condo development on North Ambergris;  Belizean Shores  is building a new group of condos; Seascape Villas, developed by long-time island builders and real estate agents, Bob and Diane Campbell, has six luxury homes on 4 seafront acres on North Ambergris, with an additional three units, called Pelican, going up at a nearby location (all six original homes are sold). Many of these and other condo and home developments target buyers in the U.S., Canada, and Europe who will live on the island for a few weeks or months of the year, then rent out their units for the rest of the year, splitting income with the management company, usually run by the developer.  Real estate experts say that concerns over the new 10% GST on new residential property is slowing sales.  This tax, combined with the uncertainity over the stamp duty, which, beginning in 2005 hit foreign buyers with a 15% upfront transfer tax, is a problem for developers and real estate agents in San Pedro and elsewhere in Belize.   Under proposed legislation, the stamp duty is supposed to be reduced, but the law is not yet in effect.  (July 17, 2006)

LATEST FUEL PRICES IN BELIZE:  With the latest adjustments, here are fuel prices in Belize City.  Prices will be higher in San Pedro, Punta Gorda and some other areas:

Regular   BZ$10.36

Premium (Unleaded)  BZ$10.76

Diesel BZ$7.47

Thus, to fill up your truck or SUV tank with 20 gallons of unleaded, you'll pay BZ$215.20 or around US$107.60. (July 17, 2006)

ALLEGED CAYO BANDITS DETAINED BY POLICE IN FLORES AND CAYO Several members -- reports disagree on the number, somewhere from five to nine -- of the alleged gang responsible for a number of armed attacks on tourists and locals in the Mountain Pine Ridge and elsewhere in Cayo, Belize, have been detained by police in Flores, Guatemala.  So far Guatemala has not released all the prisoners to Belize, and a Belize government official calls the situation "sensitive."  Separately, in Cayo Belize picked up a suspect they believe in to be one of the bandits, Guatemalan Marcus Chiquin Molina, 36, who, police say, has been positively identified by victims in some of the robberies.  He has been remanded to Hattieville prison. Police also have arrested Henry Gonzalez, 30, a Guatemalan living near Belmopan, charging him with abetting the robbery of Banana Bank Lodge.   Reportedly, the owner of a Cayo hotel that was victimized by the gang has identified at least two of the suspects held in Flores.  Photos of the rest are being circulated to see if additional identifications can be made.  The group was reportedly arrested in Flores because they possessed firearms, a minor infraction in Guatemala.  Tourism groups in Belize had offered a 100,000 quetzales reward for the capture of the gang, which is believed to have robbed at least 80 tourists over the past year.  The Belize Tourism Industry Association is now scrabling to raise the money for the reward. The bandits also shot and wounded two people, a Belizean and an American tourist, and sexually assaulted at least one tourist.  If it turns out this is the gang responsible for the attacks, their capture should prove to be good news for Cayo tourism, which has suffered due to publicity about the incidents.  (July 13, 2006;  updated July 19, 21 and 25, 2006)

COCKSCOMB PRESERVE AND ACTUN TUNICHIL MUKNAL TEMPORARILY CLOSED DUE TO FLOODING; CAUSEWAY TO CROOKED TREE ALSO FLOODING: UPDATE -- THEY'VE NOW REOPENED   Two popular visitor attractions, the Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary near Dangriga and Actun Tunichil Muknal, the famous cave off the Western Highway in Cayo, have been closed temporarily due to heavy rains and flooding.  Both are managed by the Belize Audubon Society. Access by foot into Cockscomb is still possible, but it is a long, muddy walk of up to 7 miles.  The two areas will reopen when weather conditions improve.  Also, it has been reported that the causeway from the Northern Highway to Crooked Tree Wildlife Sanctuary and Crooked Tree village has flooded.  Only vehicles with high road clearance can cross the causeway.  One of the lodges in the sanctuary, Paradise Inn, has been forced to close, and the Belize Audubon Society, which manages the sanctuary, is considering whether to close the sanctuary to visitors. An update as of early August: ATM, Cockscomb and Crooked Tree are now open.   (July 12, 2006, July 20, 2006, August 4, 2006)

CRUISE SHIP ARRIVALS DROP BY 21%  The once red hot cruise ship business in Belize is cooling a bit.  Passenger arrivals by cruise ship from January through May 2006 decreased by 21.5%, to 342,000.  They are expected to continue to run below last year's figures, in part, according to the Belize Tourism Board, because a large cruise ship operated by Carnival has been pulled from service to house Katrina victims. However, this doesn't completely explain the decline, as overall cruise capacity in the Caribbean is up.  It is estimated to expand by 4% in 2006, to 6.7 million passengers, so apparently Belize is losing market share.   Arrivals by air at the international airport increased by almost 5% January-May 06, compared with last year, to about 91,000 arriving passengers, or about 600 a day.  (July 10, 2006)

NEW 10% GOODS AND SERVICES TAX GOES INTO EFFECT JULY 1  Confusion reigned and consumer prices increased as the Belize government implemented a new consumption tax of 10%.  It replaces the current 9% sales tax but has been compared by critics to the old "Killa VAT."  The GST will apply to most goods and services, including some real estate transactions and all hotel and tourism charges.   Exceptions are a small basket of food items, including rice, flour, bread, fresh fruits and vegetables, chicken, and fish.  Also, electricity useage of less than BZ$150 a month won't incur the GST. In theory, the 10% GST is only a modest one percentage point increase over the 9% sales tax, but business people say that in practice there will be an increase in many prices as sales tax has already been paid on some merchandise in stock.  Also, some merchants may use the GST introduction as an excuse to raise prices. Once fully implemented, the GST will be "built into" the price of consumer goods, so a $100 item before the 10% GST will be priced at $110, but the old 9% sale tax will not be added at checkout. The government claims the new tax will be revenue neutral as compared with the sales tax but will be easier to collect, as about two-fifths of the total GST will be collected on imports. Critics, however, say that the tax is regressive and hits the poor the hardest.  The tax may also hit the well off in the pocketbook, as it applies to the sale of new homes, condos and subdivision lots. Anyone, foreigner or Belizean, buying, say, a condo for US$250,000 would pay US$25,000 for the GST, or a new total of US$275,000, plus the stamp duty and transfer tax of up to 15% (legislation has been introduced to reduce the stamp duty on some transactions, but it has not yet been implemented.)  The GST will not apply to the sale of existing (used) homes or to regular land sales, but it apparently will apply to land bought for development, subdivision and sale. (July 1, 2006)

NEW TOLL-FREE NUMBER FOR TOURISM POLICE INTRODUCED  The Belize Tourism Police have set up a toll free hotline for information and assistance. The number is 0-800-878-0000. The line will be manned 24-7 and anyone needing assistance or having information that can assist in the securing of safety for tourists and resorts can call, according to a police spokesperson. (June 28, 2006)

LEGISLATION INTRODUCED TO REDUCE STAMP DUTY  The government has introduced legislation to reduce the onerous 15% "stamp duty" that those who are not Belizean or Caricom citizens must pay when purchasing real estate. Under the proposed regulation, there would be zero stamp duty on purchases of up to US$10,000, 5% on transfers of US$10,000 to $100,000, and 10% on purchases of US$100,000 or more.  Under a different plan, there would be no transfer tax on purchases under US$10,000 and 5% for all other purchases.  All purchasers, regardless of nationality, would pay the same.  Neither proposal has yet been finally passed, so the old rules remain in effect.  Currently, Belizeans and Caricom nationals pay only 5% stamp duty.  Separately, under the new Goods and Services Tax that in effect July 1, the sale of new condominiums, new houses, and lots in subdivisions incur a 10% tax.  This is expected to impact sales of new condos, houses and lots.  (June 16, 2006, updated July 8, 2006)

EL PESCADOR PG CHANGES HANDS, NAME  El Pescador PG, the fishing lodge near Punta Gorda, is now being operated by a U.S. company, Outpost International.  The name has been changed to Machaca Hill Lodge.  Manager Jim Scott will stay on.  The original El Pescador on Ambergris Caye remains with Ali Gentry Flota and her family. Outpost International says it plans to add more activities beyond permit fishing, including sea kayaking, biking and diving, and also will make the lodge more attractive to families and couples.  The company says it also has acquired Nicholas Caye in the Sapodilla Marine Reserve and plans to develop it as a "safari-style" lodge.  (June 16, 2006)

CAYO ESPANTO CHEF TAKES TOP CULINARY HONORS  Patrick Haughton, chef at Cayo Espanto, the tony private island resort off San Pedro, took first place in the fifth annual "Taste of Belize" culinary competition held in early June.  Chris Aycock of Blue Water Grill in San Pedro placed second, and Jason De Ocampo of Global Spice Restaurant at the international airport placed third.  Mariano Coc, bartender at The Placencia on the Placencia peninsula, won "Bartender of the Year" while Enrique Luna of Victoria House, San Pedro, and Trevor Del Valle of Wild Mangos, San Pedro, placed second and third respectively in the bartending contest. Amy Knox of Wild Mangos placed first in the cake decorating contest. Carmen Leticia Vasquez of Journey's End on North Ambergris Caye placed second in the cake decorating contest, and Priscilla Castillo, independent, placed third.  Mitylene Bailey, a teacher at Pallotti High School, was named Amateur Chef of the Year. (June 14, 2006)

BLACK ROCK LODGE HIT Late in the afternoon of June 2, bandits hit Black Rock Lodge, a jungle lodge in a remote area above the Macal River.  Reportedly there were no guests at the lodge, but the bandits, who likely are the same ones responsible for other attacks in Cayo, took valuables from the lodge, including BZ$9000 in cash, a laptop computer and weapons.  According to Belize police spokesman Mike Reid, a pump-action shotgun and 9 mm pistol were taken from the lodge, along with a sizeable amount of ammo.  As in other recent attacks in Cayo, police arrived long after the bandits had fled.  Posters with photos of six alleged bandits have been posted around Cayo and in the Peten, offering a BZ$20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the group.  Reports circulated around Belize on June 2 that several of the culprits had been apprehended turned out to be unsubstantiated rumours.  (June 3, 2006)

BANDITS MOVE ON TO ACTUN TUNICHIL MUKNAL  According to several reports, the Guatemalan armed gang that has terrorized tourists in the Mountain Pine Ridge has moved on to Actun Tunichil Muknal, the popular cave filled with Mayan artifacts.  On the afternoon of June 1, a total of 19 tourists in four different vans were stopped and robbed near Teakettle village.   Reportedly no one was injured, but cash and other valuables were taken from the tourists and guides.  Police or other security forces evidently were not in the area and apparently the guides were unable to notify authorities.  More than 80 tourists have been robbed, a tourist and a guide shot, and two tourists sexually assaulted in more than half a dozen attacks over the past year in the Mountain Pine Ridge and elsewhere in Cayo District.  Belize tourism industry groups have formed a committee to study the attacks. The Belize government claims it is taking steps to increase safety for visitors, but in fact the attacks have escalated of late, with four separate incidents since the Easter weekend. (June 2, 2006)

MURDER RATE ON PACE TO SET RECORD?  By unofficial count, Belize has recorded 38 murders to date in 2006.  With more than seven months remaining in the year, if murders continue at this level, the country would see 91 murders for the full year. That's a rate of more than 30 per 100,000 population, almost six times higher than the murder rate in the U.S., which was 5.5 per 100,000 in 2004.  Of the 38 murders in Belize so far this year, one-half took place in or around Belize City, and the rest in other parts of the country. (May 23, 2006)

TOURISTS ROBBED, ASSAULTED AND SHOT IN ANOTHER ATTACK NEAR CARACOL At least a dozen foreign tourists and three Belizean guides were jacked and robbed May 15 in the Mountain Pine Ridge near Caracol.  Reportedly the assailants were six men of Hispanic descent, thought to be Guatemalans, armed with AK-47s and other weapons.  An American tourist was shot -- he has been evacuated to the U.S. for treatment -- and there was, by some accounts, one sexual assault on a female tourist and an attempted sexual assault on another.  One eyewitness claimed that the bandits shot to kill a Belizean guide, aiming for his head, but that the bullet hit the American tourist in the arm.  This has not been independently confirmed.  Belize Defence Forces were in the area but arrived too late to do anything.  This is at least the fifth incident involving attacks on tourists in the Pine Ridge in the past year, and the third in the past month. Altogether, more than 60 tourists have been victims of robberies and attacks in Cayo District in the past year.  The U.S. Embassy in Belize wardens have issued a statement warning against travel to the Pine Ridge, at least the areas around Caracol and the Rio Frio cave, until the situation is under control.  Reportedly Belize Defence Forces will escort any tourist groups going into the Pine Ridge.  The impact on the four lodges in the Pine Ridge -- Blancaneaux Lodge, Five Sisters Lodge, Hidden Valley Inn, and Pine Ridge Lodge -- is expected to be severe.  Tourism in San Ignacio may also suffer, observers say. (May 16, 2006, updated May 22, 2006)

THREE MURDERED ON MOTHER'S DAY IN BELIZE CITY  The killing continues in Belize City, as the city recorded three murders on Mother's Day, including the shooting murders of two brothers.

FIRE DESTROYS PURPLE SPACE MONKEY IN PLACENCIA  A fire of undetermined origin on the night of May 7 totally destroyed the Purple Space Monkey bar, restaurant and internet cafe in Placencia village, along with two nearby houses. Local citizens attempted to put out the fire with a water bucket brigade, but failed.  (May 9, 2006)

U.S. LISTS BELIZE AMONG 13 NATIONS MOST GUILTY OF VIOLATING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS A U.S. government trade representative report has put Belize on a list of 13 countries most guilty of violating U.S. intellectual property rights.  These violations generally involve ineffective protections for intellectual property rights, counterfeiting of consumer goods and mass duplication of CDs, DVDs and tapes.  Other countries on the blacklist include Argentina, Brazil, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, Russia, Turkey, Ukraine and Venezuela, all much larger than Belize.  The scale of intellectual property rights violation in Belize is believed to be quite small compared, say, to those in China or Russia. (1 May 2006)

SEVERAL TOURIST GROUPS HELD UP BY MACHINE-GUN WIELDING BANDITS AT RIO FRIO CAVE  Over Easter weekend, up to about 20 visitors visiting the Mountain Pine Ridge with several tour companies in San Ignacio were held up and robbed by six men or seven with machine guns, assault rifles, handguns and machetes.  The jackings occurred near the Rio Fri cave. The latest incidents in the Pine Ridge were not widely reported in the Belize media, although knowledge about the robberies was widespread in Cayo, especially among tourism operators, and Channel 5 news reported the incidents April 18.  Individuals who were robbed have come forward.  One visitor from California posted on a bulletin board that she and her husband were robbed, along with locals and tourists in about half a dozen vehicles. "The beauty of the cave is not worth taking a chance. We were traumatized!" she said.   A similar incident occurred at Rio Frio in July 2005, and several other robbery incidents have taken place elsewhere in the Pine Ridge.   The Belize government reportedly has asked that tour operators going into the Mountain Pine Ridge alert authorities of when and where they are going.  (April 28, 2006)

MEXICO'S PLANS TO DECRIMINALIZE POSSESSION OF SMALL AMOUNTS OF POT, COKE AND OTHER DRUGS STALLS   Both Mexico's Senate and Lower House unexpectedly voted to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, cocaine, heroin, LSD, amphetamines, peyote and other drugs, but, under pressure from the U.S., Mexican President Vincente Fox reversed course and decided not so sign the legislation.  Under the proposed law, possession of up to 5 grams of marijuana, 5 grams of opium, 25 milligrams of heroin or 500 milligrams of cocaine for personal use would not have violated Mexican law.  Those caught with larger quantities of drugs would have beeen treated as narcotics dealers and faced increased jail terms under the plan.  (April 28, 2006, updated May 6, 2006)

HIDDEN VALLEY INN WINS PRESTIGIOUS SUSTAINABLE TOURISM AWARD Hidden Valley Inn, a Belizean-owned lodge on 7,200 acres in the Mountain Pine Ridge, has won the 2006 Islands Magazine/Caribbean Tourism Organization Sustainable Tourism Award.  Hidden Valley Inn, operated by the Roe family of Belize City under the umbrella of the Roeson Group, has a staff of 21, of which 20 are Belizeans.  The Roe conglomerate also operates the Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize Ciy, the SunBreeze in San Pedro, and also Caribbean Tobacco, F & G Insurance, Belize Diesel and Equipment and other companies. When the Roeson Group bought the property in 2001 from the Bull Headley family, they renovated the 12 cottages, added a swimming pool and brought in professional hospitality management.  The lodge is known for its myriad waterfalls, which are restricted to guests.  The hotel says its carefully follows sustainable tourism practices.  BELIZE FIRST has named Hidden Valley Inn one of the best jungle lodges in Belize, and Fodor's has singled out the eco-lodge for a special star rating. (April 28, 2006)

TOURISM ARRIVALS AND REVENUE UP IN 2005, BUT CRUISE ARRIVALS DIP Tourist arrivals at the international airport, which represent almost three-fourths of total overnight arrivals to Belize, climbed 7.4%, to almost 175,000, in 2005, compared with 2004. Arrivals by land and sea (except cruise ship arrivals) increased slightly, by 2.5%.  Hotel revenues also increased last year, growing by 11.6% to almost US$52 million. However, after years of explosive growth, cruise ship arrivals dipped by 6%, to around 800,000.  During the year, 370 cruise ships called on Belize, an average of around seven ships a week. The decline in arrivals was attributed in part to the impacdt of Hurricanes Katrina and Emily.  Figures are from the Belize Tourism Board, also known as the Belize Tourist Board. (April 23, 2006)

BEACHFRONT SALES HIT NEW PRICE LEVEL IN SAN PEDRO Beachfront property continues to rise in price in Belize.  Reportedly a 200 x 200 tract of beachfront on Ambergris Caye has sold for US$8,000 a front foot, likely a new high. Could US$10,000 a foot be far off?

CACHE OF ASSAULT WEAPONS FOUND ON DEER CAYE The Belize Coast Guard, working with the Belize Defence Force, have discovered a cache of automatic and semi-automatic weapons on Deer Caye on the back side of Ambergris Caye, according to Belize media reports. Among the 34 guns were AK-47s and M-16s.  No one was apprehended.  The lagoon behind Ambergris Caye is believed to be a transhipment point for cocaine coming from Colombia and headed to Mexico and the U.S.  (April 4, 2006)

MARCH MURDER COUNT LOWEST IN YEARS  The good news:  Only one murder took place in March in Belize, believed to be the lowest number of murders in a month in at least five years.  To date this year, 15 murders have taken place in Belize.  This means the murder rate this year so far is running behind that of 2005, when 78 murders took place.  The latest two recorded were a double murder at Barton Creek in Cayo, where two caretakers on a U.S.-owned ranch were found dead of chop or knife wounds.  Three people have been taken into custody in connection with the crime.  (April 4, 2006)

PROTESTING ANOTHER MURDER, CHINESE BUSINESSES SHUT DOWN ACROSS BELIZE  Chinese businesses shut down all across Belize on Monday, March 20, as a protest against continued violence against Chinese merchants.  In some areas, the protest virtually brought retailing to a halt.  Last week, a Chinese merchant in San Joaquin village, Ji Chen Li, was shot to death while he held his two-year-old son in his arms. Two Corozal men, Edmund Crawford Sanka of Carolina Village and William Wade of Calcutta Village, have been arrested and charged with the murder. In recent years, a number of Chinese business owners, mostly in Belize City, have been killed in robberies and robbery attempts.   (March 21, 2006)

PUP LOSES BIG IN MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS  Said Musa's Peoples United Party lost badly in Belize's nationwide municipal elections held March 1. The PUP held onto only three of 64 contested local positions, two in Punta Gorda and one in Benque Viejo, according to early returns. The United Democratic Party, the main opposition party, called it a major victory. The UDP won strongly even in traditional PUP areas such as Corozal. In Belize City, the UDP candicates for mayor and city council got up to twice as many votes as the PUP candidates. Election observers said that financial scandals, budget deficits, weak economy, charges of government corruption, and new taxes by the PUP have turned many voters against Musa's party, and that even some stalwart PUP members stayed home rather than vote for their party's candidates. Pundits viewed the municipal elections, which normally hinge on local issues but which take place simultaneously in Belize's two cities and seven towns, as a referendum on the PUP. It was the first major PUP election loss in about a decade. Voter turn out was moderate by Belizean standards, ranging from 55% in Belize City to over 75% in Benque.  The party in power, the PUP, is not required to call new national general elections until 2008, although UDP leaders likely will urge an earlier vote. In a press conference, Said Musa accepted blame for the defeat but said he would not announce early general elections. The election, like nearly all elections in democratic Belize, went smoothly, with no incidents or serious charges of fraud. (March 2, 2006)

SNORKELING CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH Another visitor has died while snorkeling off the Northern Cayes. A 65-year-old woman staying at a resort on North Ambergris died February 26 on a snorkeling trip at Hol Chan Marine Reserve.  An autopsy is being performed to determine the cause of death, but foul play is not thought to be involved.  In January, another 65-year-old cruise passenger, experienced trouble while snorkeling near Caye Caulker.  The man was rushed to the village clinic on Caulker but was pronounced dead from an apparent heart attack.   In November 2005, a cruise ship passenger was believed swept through the reef by strong currents and died while snorkeling in what was reportedly rough seas near Caye Caulker.  In October, a young American medical school student, a scuba diver on a dive and snorkel trip off Placencia that went out despite small boat warnings, died after the dive boat she was on experienced engine trouble, and she attempted to swim to safety. Observers note that seas off Belize, even inside the barrier reef, can be choppy and rough at times, and that currents, especially through cuts in the reef, can be strong.  Also, strenuous exercise in unfamiliar conditions can contribute to death or injury from existing health conditions.  (February 28, 2006)

NEW SAN PEDRO BRIDGE OPENS The new bridge over the Boca del Rio, the natural river channel that separates North Ambergris Caye from San Pedro town and the south, opened officially February 25.   The bridge, a triple span bridge 120 feet long and 23 feet wide, is able to handle cars and trucks (going one-way), and is rated for up to 25 tons, plus a 30% safety factor, but supposedly it will be open only, or mostly, for pedestrian, bike, and golf cart traffic.  The bridge, which was first expected to open as long ago as 1994, replaces the hand-pulled ferry, which could only handle two or three golf carts at a time. The new bridge, which reported cost BZ$750,000, was built in only four months by a crew of around 30, with financing arranged by Belikin magnate Barry Bowen. Golf carts will be charged BZ$BZ$5 one way or BZ$10 round-trip (BZ$10 one-way from 8 pm to 8 am).  Funds from the tolls will go to repay the construction loan.  Unlike the old hand-pulled ferry, pedestrians and bicyclists will be allowed free crossing.  The bridge is high enough so that nearly all boats, except barges, will be able to pass under it.   Observers believe that the opening of the bridge will speed development on North Ambergris Caye, which is already seeing large new investments in luxury properties and condominiums, including Sueno del Mar, a fractional ownership property, Seascape Villas, an a collection of upscale homes, and Blue Reef Island Resort. (February 28, 2006)

VOiP SERVICES BLOCKED Reportedly, Vonage, Skype and other Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOiP) services are being blocked by Belize Telecommunications Ltd.  Many businesses and individuals have been using VOiP to get around high long-distance charges levied by BTL.  (February 21, 2006)

ARMED MEN HIT CAYO LODGE  Four armed men with high-powered weapons raided Banana Bank Lodge only about a mile from Belmopan City, the capital of Belize, Friday night, February 17.  Four men armed with AK-47s robbed the lodge of its cash and also took cash, jewelry, and other valuables from some of the 16 guests of the lodge.  The men, who spoke only Spanish, held the lodge owners, John and Carolyn Carr, and their guests hostage for over an hour.  None of the tourists was hurt, but Ernesto Lewis, who accompanied a group of 10 Canadians who arrived at the hotel during the robbery, was shot in the hand and was hospitalized.   About an hour and a half after the incident began, the police appeared but the robbers escaped.  The gunmen did not bother to hide their faces and so are thought by the police to possibly be from Guatemala, although the Guatemala border is some 30 miles away. Police are searching for the gunmen, who are believed to have escaped on bicycles and on foot.  Editor's note:  Initially we decided not to name the lodge involved in the attack, but after media in Belize identified the hotel and the lodge owner appeared on television, we have decided to show the name.  (February 18, 2006, updated February 21)

PRINCESS HOTEL & CASINO ROBBED  For the second time in less than a year, the Princess Hotel & Casino was hit by an armed robber.  This time, it was in broad daylight at 9:30 in the morning, and robber, carrying a shotgun, got away with over US$16,000.  In July, the hotel was robbed of over US$30,000 by two men, also during the early morning. (February 21, 2006)

SKY DIVER DIES NEAR SAN PEDRO  A 46-year-old California man, Chad Zelinski, skydiving off Ambergris Caye with a group of skydivers on their second annual "Boogie in Belize" died February 15 after jumping from an airplane that was at about 13,000 feet. A preliminary autopsy indicated that Zelinski, an experienced sky diver with more than 4,000 jumps, died of traumatic shock after hitting the water outside the reef near San Pedro at a high rate of speed. Observers reported that his parachutes did not open. The reason for that hasn't been established.  After a memorial sky dive, the Boogie in Belize group, organized by Tsunami Divers, continued its program of sky dives.  (February 16, 2006)

HOTELS AND LODGES FOR SALE Among the hotels and lodges reportedly for sale in Belize now are the following, with reported asking prices:

CAYO
Mopan River Resort, Benque Viejo, US$2,850,000
Iguana Junction, Bullet Tree Falls, US$220,000
Parrot Nest, Bullet Tree Falls, Cayo, US$460,000
Roaring River Lodge, US$250,000
duPlooy’s Lodge, Cayo, US$1,300,000
Five Sisters Lodge, Mountain Pine Ridge, US$1,998,000
Windy Hill Resort, US$1,500,000
Casa Maya Eco-Lodge, San Ignacio, US$900,000

Black Rock Lodge
Los Cedros Lodge, Cayo, US$340,000
Touch of Class, Santa Elena, US$750,000

PLACENCIA
Manatee Inn, Placencia Village, US$375,000
Serenity Resort, Placencia, US$2,000,000
Maya Breeze, Maya Beach
Miller’s Landing, Placencia, US$1,500,000
Luba Hati, Seine Bight
Lost Reef, Riversdale
Macovy Blues Hotel & Restaurant, US$475,000
Soulshine Resort, Placencia, US$600,000
Rum Point Inn, Placencia, US$2,900,000
Mariposa Beach Suites, Placencia

Paradise Vacation Hotel, Placencia Village

BELIZE CITY AREA
El Chiclero Inn, Burrell Boom, US$995,000
Sunspree Resort, Belize City, US$475,000
JB’s Restaurant and Cabanas, Western Highway, US$300,000
Maruba Resort, Old Northern Highway, US$6,000,000

AMBERGRIS CAYE
Rubie’s II (not original Rubie’s), San Pedro, US$350,000
Corona del Mar, San Pedro, US$2,700,000
Lili’s, San Pedro, US$1,200,000
Belize Yacht Club, San Pedro (Note: A real estate agent in San Pedro speaking for the BYC states that it is not for sale, but an ad remains posted on Businessesforsale.com web site, with a photo of the hotel)
Playa Blanca Dive & Beach Club, North Ambergris Caye, US$1,650,000
Royal Palm, US$6,000,000

COROZAL
Hok’ol K’in Guesthouse, Corozal Town, US$598,000
Marvitron Guest House, Corozal Town
Fantasy Point, Progresso, US$749,900

CAYE CAULKER
Belize Odyssey Resort, Caye Caulker, US$3,500,000
Tropics Hotel, Caye Caulker, US$995,000

TOLEDO
Sea Front Inn, Punta Gorda, US$1,250,000

OFFSHORE CAYES
Slickrock Adventures camp, Long Caye, Glover’s Atoll, US$1,400,000 (doesn’t include island real estate)

Caye Chapel Island Resort, Caye Chapel, north of US$50,000,000

(February 26, 2006)

DEVELOPMENT TAKES OFF IN PLACENCIA The once-sleepy Placencia peninsula is now the site of a frenzy of development and development dreams. One gated community project , ironically called Ara Macao, the scientific name for the endangered Scarlet Macaw,  at the far north end of the peninsula on part of The Plantation property, has announced plans for more than 400 housing units with a golf course. Whether this will actually come to fruition is a matter of speculation in Placencia. Bella Maya, with 60 luxury apartments, stretches across from the sea to the lagoon. Some units are nearing completion now.  Condo prices at Bella Maya range from around US$250,000 to $450,000, and "fractional ownership" plans are also offered. The Placencia Residences, formerly Zeboz, says it offers "Private Gated Estate Living" with homesites from US$79,000 to $149,000 and home construction plans mostly in US$200s.  Another project, Coco Plum II, in which Channel 5's Stewart Krohn is a partner, has plans for condos, a condo hotel, and private homes on manmade lagoons on a large property near Seine Bight.   Chabil Mar Villas near Placencia village, now completed, and Laru Beya next to the Inn at Robert's Grove are two other recent luxury condo developments on the peninsula.   (February 16, 2006)

PLACENCIA RESIDENTS BITE THE DUST  In early February, some local residents and resort owners in Maya Beach were furious when developers near Seine Bight began running dump trucks full of fill dirt up and down the one peninsula road, raising massive clouds of dust.  A "sprinkle truck" has somewhat alleviated the problem for now, but dust, speeding trucks and other vehicles, and the condition of the peninsula road remains a problem.  The 25-mile road from the Southern Highway to Placencia village is almost entirely unpaved, though some developers, including Coco Plum II and Ara Macao, say they will pave sections of the road at their developments.  Earlier in the year, heavy rains made the road a muddy mess, according to peninsula residents.  On several occasions, the Belize government has announced that the road would be paved, but those plans failed to materialize in the face of large government budget deficits.  (February 16, 2006)

NUMBER OF MURDERS IN BELIZE FALLS SLIGHTLY IN 2005, BUT MURDER RATE STILL HIGHER THAN IN U.S.  There were 78 murders in Belize in 2005, down from 82 in 2004, according to Channel 5 TV's unofficial tracking.  While any improvement is welcome, the murder rate in Belize remains high, around 27 murders per 100,000 population.  That's about five times higher than the U.S. national murder rate of 5.5 per 100,000 population in 2005, but it is lower than the rate in a few U.S. cities, including Washington, DC, Detroit, and Baltimore.  By far the largest proportion of murders in Belize take place in and around Belize City. (February 15, 2006)

NOVELO'S BUS TERMINAL IN BELIZE CITY REOPENS  The Novelo's bus terminal on West Collette Canal in Belize City has reopened.  It now serves as the hub for several independent bus lines serving the northern, western, and southern parts of the country.  Several other former Novelo's terminals will reopen soon, according to the Transportation Authority, a new government entity that is overseeing bus lines in Belize. The government has said it will not authorize another nationwide bus line.  At one time, Novelo's, which shut down in late 2005 following a default on a government loan, operated about one-half of all the bus service in the country.  Now, more than 90 small bus companies are scrambling to serve Belizeans and tourists who use the buses.  While there's service to nearly all areas of the country, schedules in some cases are still changing, and some buses are overcrowded.  (February 14, 2006)

NEW 10% GST WILL HURT HOTELS, TOURISM OFFICIALS SAY The new 10% Goods and Services Tax, which is set to be implemented July 1, 2006, will negatively impact hotels, according to statements by Belize Tourism Industry Association officials and others in the industry. Belize hotels, already considered by many to be the most expensive in Central America, may have to raise rates farther to cover the impact of the value-added-style tax, which will replace the 9% sales and hotel tax.  The BTIA said it did not accept the classification of exempt status under the GST legislation. Exempt status means that while hotel accommodations will not draw the 10% GST, hotel operators must still pay the 10% tax on goods and services they purchase for the building and running of their hotel. The result, according to B.T.I.A. President Lucy Fleming of the Lodge at Cha Creek, is that costs will be driven up, putting the industry at a disadvantage against competing destinations.  (January 30, 2006)

NOVELO'S BUS LINES SHUTS DOWN Novelo's Bus Lines has ceased operations, after one of its creditors, Atlantic Bank, withdrew from the bus line's receivership.  Other, smaller bus lines have stepped into the gap to provide service on Novelo's many routes. (December 22, 2005)

LESTER LANGDON MURDERED Lester Langdon, 71, an American expat and long-time real estate company owner and business consultant in San Pedro and Belize City, was found dead December 18 at his home in San Pedro.  Police have charged two of his employees, a maid and a caretaker, with murder.  They say a third person may have been involved. (December 21, 2005)

MOPAN RIVER RESORT FOR SALE  Mopan River Resort, Belize's first all-inclusive hotel, is being offered for sale by the owners, Jay and Pam Picon.  The 12-cabaña property near Benque Viejo in the late 1990s pioneered the all-inclusive concept in Belize, offering accommodations, meals, tours, drinks, and other services for a flat per-person fee.  Even gratuities and transfers from Belize City are included.  According to sources at the hotel, Mopan River operates at around 80% occupancy during the eight months of the year it is open.  It reportedly nets in the mid-six figures, making it one of the most profitable small resorts in Belize.  The Picons are asking US$2.8 million for the property, which includes some 80 acres of land and a large, custom-built home. (December 12, 2005)

TIKAL JETS RESUMES BELIZE SERVICE WITH MAYA ISLAND DEAL  Tikal Jets has resumed limited service between Belize City and Flores, Guatemala.  In an agreement beginning 30 November 2005, either Tikal Jets or Maya Island will fly between BZE and FRS (Flores) on Mondays and Thursdays, depending on demand. Tikal Jets operates DC-9 jets, and Maya Island operates Cessna Caravans and other small equipment.  On other days, Maya Island will operate the flights in small planes.  The airlines will honor each other's tickets, and Tikal Jets will continue to operate flights between Flores and Guatemala City. (December 5, 2005)

SMALL PLANE EN ROUTE TO BLANCANEAUX LODGE CRASHES, THREE DEAD A small plane with two passengers and a pilot aboard disappeared mid-morning November 18 en route from Belize City to the Blancaneaux Lodge airstrip in the Mountain Pine Ridge.  On November 19, the wreckage of the twin-engined Islander was found in the Mountain Pine Ridge not far from Blancaneaux.  According to a reliable media source, the three people aboard died.  The weather at the time of the crash was rainy, with some fog and limited visibility.  (November 19, 2005)

TROPICAL STORM GAMMA TO BRUSH BELIZE  A late season tropical storm, designated Gamma, is expected to dump up to 10 inches or more of rain on Caribbean coastal and island areas of Honduras and Belize November 19 and 20. (November 18, 2005)

DELTA SERVICE TO BELIZE GOES DAILY IN MID-DECEMBER  Delta Airlines has announced that its non-stop flights to Belize City from Atlanta will go daily December 15, as part of the airline's expansion of service to Latin America and the Caribbean.  The flights will have both coach and business class service. Delta has been flying weekly on Saturdays.

THIRD QUARTER TOURIST ARRIVALS UP SLIGHTLY The number of international tourist arrivals from all entry points in the third quarter, July through September, were up 2.6% from the year-earlier period, to 48,410, according to Belize Tourism Board statistics.   However, arrivals by air at the international airport were down almost 1% in the period.  Cruise ship arrivals also were down by over 28%, in part due to the impact of hurricanes Emily, Dennis, Katrina and Rita.  With the opening of several new hotels and condotels and thus an increase in the number of available hotel rooms, some hotel operators reported lower occupancy rates during the off season.  Belize now has nearly 5,500 hotel rooms, and annual occupancy rates for 2005 are believed to be in the high 30% range. (November 17, 2005)

YOUNG AMERICAN WOMAN MURDERED IN TOLEDO  According to Belize police and other sources, a 20-year-old woman from the U.S., Julia Armstrong Minard, was murdered in Indian Creek village in Toledo District Sunday evening, November 13. The woman, a student at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, had been studying Spanish in Guatemala.  The Brooklyn, N.Y. native arrived in Belize on Thursday, November 10. She went to Toledo on Sunday, had drinks in Indian Creek with local villagers, and was found dead, apparently from strangulation, late Sunday night.  According to news reports, she was found dressed only in her underwear and may have been sexually assaulted. Police say they have arrested a suspect, Agripino Ical, 19.  Indian Creek, a Ketchi village of about 600 people, 25 miles north of Punta Gorda near the Southern Highway, is near Nim Li Punit Mayan site. (November 14, 2005)

GAS PRICES DROP  Unleaded gas is now around US$4.63 in Belize, and diesel is around US$3.50.  (November 9, 2005)

MORE JACKINGS REPORTED IN CAYO In early November, a local bus was stopped on the Georgeville Road, and five armed men took cash and jewelry from the riders, including school children.  Another bus was jacked on the Hummingbird Highway.  Bandits also have been active around the Valley of Peace.  (November 9, 2005)

DIVERS ADRIFT, ONE DEAD  Four divers abandoned their dive boat October 22, after the boat developed engine trouble near the Silk Cayes.  For many hours the divers were lost at sea.  After a Belize Defence Forces sea hunt, three were found alive off Glovers Atoll, but one, a female medical student from the U.S., died.  The divers were part of a group of 10 snorkelers and divers that went out with Advanced Diving, based in Placencia.  Small craft warnings were in effect, and reportedly some dive or tour operations refused to take them out.  Advanced Diving, operated by Vance Cabral, has been the subject of several recent reports on travel/dive forums cautioning on safety issues. Investigations into this incident are underway. An Advanced Diving boat overturned off Placencia in rough seas late last year.  One diver from California who was on the Advanced Diving boat that capsized in December claimed, among other things, that the boat "had no working radio, no flares, no running lights ... no first aid kit, insufficient gas ...." (October 25, 2005)

BELIZE DODGES WILMA Close, but no cigar for Wilma. The most intense hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin narrowly missed Belize on her way to Cancun and Cozumel.  Reports from Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker indicate that while there was some minor flooding and a few docks were damaged from wave action, overall the islands escaped serious damage, and no deaths or injuries were reported.  On the mainland, there was heavy rain and some power outages in Northern Belize, but again the impact was relatively slight. Next in Wilma's sights:  South Florida. (October 21, 2005)

POLL SHOWS LOW APPROVAL RATINGS FOR MUSA  Prime Minister Said Musa's approval ratings are under 20%, according to a nationwide poll by the Society for the Promotion of Education and Research (SPEAR), a prominent political pressure group.  Almost three-fourths of those polled said Musa should call an early election, and about two-thirds said they would vote for the opposition United Democratic Party, while only about a third said they would vote for the re-election of the Peoples United Party, which Musa heads.  The poll, one of the few that has been reported publicly in Belize, was conducted by the Belize Studies Resource Centre at St. John's College, a junior college in Belize City.  Researchers called 388 households in all six districts.  Since only households with telephones were contacted, the results possibly may be skewed to reflect the opinions of the relatively more affluent population that can afford a telephone and may also miss voters in remote villages with limited telephone service.  (October 18, 2005)

UNLEADED GAS HITS US$5 A GALLON The cost of gasoline has reached a new high in Belize City, at more than US$5 for a U.S. gallon of what is called "premium," which is the unleaded variety in Belize.  Costs are slightly higher on Ambergris Caye, Punta Gorda and elsewhere. (October 18, 2005)

TROPICAL STORM WILMA EYES BELIZE  Tropical Storm Wilma, sitting about 500 miles southeast of Belize and growing larger and stronger, is a potential threat to Belize and the Yucatan area of Mexico.  Forecasters say the storm may hit the northern Yucatan, where Cancun and Cozumel are located, before vearing northward into the Gulf of Mexico, possibly striking the West Coast of Florida.  However, it is still too early to predict the exact path of the storm with confidence. Interested parties should be a close eye on weather reports.  (October 17, 2005)

EXPATS VICTIMS OF CRIME IN COROZAL/CONSEJO Over the past weeks, several homes in Consejo and Corozal Town owned by expats have been burglarized, and in one case a retired couple in Consejo Shores suffered a home invasion.  Police say they lack transportation to investigate the crimes, as they only have one vehicle and two scooters.  Several expats have left Corozal in recent months, including two people who ran popular web sites directed to the expat community and would-be expats.  Rick Zahniser, who started www.belizenorth.com, moved to Arkansas in late September, after being a victim of a home burglarly while he slept, and Margaret Briggs, who started www.localgringos.com, sold her home in Corozal Town this past summer and moved to New Mexico. (October 15, 2005)

PACE OF TOURISM GROWTH SLOWS  Tourist arrivals at the international airport increased by 3% from January to August, compared with the previous year, according to Belize Tourist Board figures.  Arrivals in the latest months reported, July and August, were up  only 1.6%.  Tourism numbers in Belize, though touted by tourist officials, lag tourist growth in much of the rest of the Caribbean and Central America. Arrivals by cruise ship were nearly flat for the January-August period, rising only 1.2%.  They actually declined in July and August, due to the impact of hurricanes in the U.S.   Some hotel owners, citing the increasing number of hotels and hotel rooms in Belize and lagging tourist arrivals, say occupancies have been down. Observers note that concerns in Belize about crime, rising costs for hotels and tourist services and higher transportation costs are impacting tourism in Belize. (October 14, 2005)

FUEL PRICES RISE AGAIN  As of September 24, a gallon of unleaded gas in Belize will cost you at least BZ$9.84 (approximately US$4.92). Diesel is BZ$7.10 (US$3.55). Kerosene is BZ$6.25 (US$3.13).  Prices on the cayes and in Punta Gorda may be a little higher. Fuel prices in Belize vary slightly from area to area.  Government taxes constitute about one-half of the cost of gasoline in Belize. (September 25, 2005)

LIVING ABROAD IN BELIZE PUBLISHED  A new book on living, working, retiring and investing in Belize, Living Abroad in Belize by Lan Sluder has been published by Avalon Travel Publishing.  The 367-page book is part of a series on living abroad from Avalon, which is best known for its Moon Handbooks and Rick Steves travel guides.  The Living Abroad series also includes titles on Costa Rica, Japan, Ireland, Mexico, France, Spain and other countries. Living Abroad in Belize should be in bookstores worldwide in October.  Sluder is the author of more than half a dozen other books on Belize and has been reporting on the country for 15 years. Living Abroad in Belize is based on extensive interviews of expats and others in Belize, along with Sluder's experience visiting all areas of the country.  (September 15, 2005)

 

PRIME HURRICANE SEASON ARRIVES:   September and October market the peak period for hurricanes and tropical storms in the Western Caribbean, according to weather statistics. 

Number of storms making landfall in Belize since 1889

In the past 115 years since weather records in Belize were formally maintained, Belize has seen the following storms make landfall:

20 hurricanes  -- average of 1 hurricane every 5 ¾  years

31 tropical storms – average of 1 tropical storm every 3 ¾ years

51 total hurricanes and tropical storms – average of 1 hurricane/storm every  2 ¼ years

Of the 20 hurricanes:

9 or 45% were in September (1 every 12 ¾ Septembers)

8 or 40% were in October

2 or 10% were in July

1 or 5% was in November

0 or 0% in June and August

Of the 51 total hurricanes and tropical storms:

7 or 14% were in June

4 or 8% were in July

4 or 8% were in August

19 or 37% were in September

14 or 27% were in October

3 or 6% were in November

Odds of hurricane:

Odds of a hurricane in Belize in a given year:  17%

Odds of a hurricane in Florida in a given year:  68%

Odds of a hurricane on the U.S. Gulf Coast in a given year:  67%

Odds of a hurricane on the U.S. East Coast in a given year:  47%

Note, however,  that the length of the coast in Belize (less than 200 miles) is much smaller than the length of the coasts of Florida, the Gulf Coast and the East Coast – for example the East Coast of the U.S. is 1860 miles in length, so it offers a much greater area for storms to strike

Most powerful storms to hit Belize:

Unnamed hurricane, September 9, 1931, Belize City and Northern Cayes, 110 mph, estimated 2,500-3,000 deaths

Hurricane Janet, September 28, 1955, Northern Belize, 165 mph, 16 deaths in Belize

Hurricane Hattie, October 31, 1961, Belize City, 140 mph, estimated 225-310 deaths in Belize

Hurricane Carmen, September 2, 1974,  skirted Northern Belize, 120 mph

Hurricane Mitch, October 27, 1998, skirted Belize to the south, 155 mph

Hurricane Keith, October 1, 2000, Ambergris Caye 120 mph, 2 deaths in Belize

Hurricane Iris, October 9, 2001, Placencia & Southern Belize, 145 mph, 21 deaths in Belize

Source;  Belize National Meteorological Service, NOAA and other weather records  (August 25, 2005)

TOUR VAN AND OTHER VEHICLES JACKED NEAR CARACOL  A van with six tourists -- four Americans and two Italians -- plus a Belizean tour guide en route to Caracol was stopped by about seven armed bandits Saturday morning, August 13.   The tour guide and tourists were robbed and held for several hours by the gunmen.  The armed men took digital cameras, jewelry and cash.  According to one tourist from California who was in the van, the men spoke only Spanish and were armed with hand guns, what looked like a machine gun and machetes. The same day at the same place at least two other vehicles going to Caracol, one a Belizean family and the other tourists, were stopped and their passengers robbed.  According to the first-hand report by the California tourist, the robbers had been waiting since the middle of the night, staying in a small hut.   They apparently had planned to stop a large tour bus, but that never materialized.  The incidents took place beyond the Guacamallo bridge over the Macal River.  On returning to San Ignacio, reported the California tourist, "We went to San Ignacio police station, which was really bad -- we seemed to be an annoyance for them.  It took forever to get our reports which they couldn't get right." The American couples decided to leave Cayo early and spent the rest of their vacations on Ambergris Caye.  Another group of tourists were robbed in July near the Rio Frio caves, and reportedly the same gang may have been involved in that robbery.  (August 16 and 23, 2005)

FODOR’S TO PUBLISH NEW GUIDE DEVOTED ENTIRELY TO BELIZE; WRITER LAN SLUDER TAPPED FOR PROJECT  Fodor’s, the world’s largest publisher of English-language travel guides, for the first time will produce a new guidebook devoted entirely to Belize.  Lan Sluder, the author or co-author of nine other books on travel and retirement subjects and editor/publisher of BELIZE FIRST, has been tapped to research and write the new guide. Sluder has been writing and reporting about Belize for 15 years. Previously, Fodor’s published a guide that covers both Belize and Guatemala. Sluder was co-author of Fodor’s Belize & Guatemala 2005 and previous editions of that guide. The new guide, set for publication in 2006, will be titled Fodor’s Belize.  A division of Random House and owned by Bertelsmann AG, Fodor’s Travel Publications publishes more than 230 travel guides with sales of 5.5 million copies annually.  (August 10, 2005)

PERMANENT RESIDENCY APPLICATION FEES JUMP  Costs for foreign nationals to apply for permanent residency status in Belize have increased significantly.  Not including actual living costs (lodging, food, transportation, etc.) the cost just for government fees to apply for permanent residency now comes to around US$5000 to US$6,000 per couple.  The fees involved:

•  After the first month, the tourist card renewal is US$25 for the first three months, then US$50 a month thereafter, per person.

•  New requirement reported by recent applicants: If you are staying more than three months you must apply for a work permit, even if you do not intend to work. The work permit fee is US$1500 annually for professional workers (with a college degree) and US$1000 for technical workers (non-degreed), self-employed workers and most other workers. Immigration rather than the Labour department is now processing work permits.

• After one year in Belize, not leaving for more than 14 days, there is a US$1000 application fee, again per person, to apply for permanent residency.

All together, the cost for a couple to stay a year and then apply for residency would be US$5000 to $6000, plus living costs and any incidental costs related to the application (such as costs for visits to Belmopan). For a family of four, the cost would be significantly higher.

On a per person basis:
Tourist cards renewals for 12 months: US$525
Work permit: US$1000-$1500
Residency permit application: US$1000

Although Qualified Retired Persons status has some disadvantages compared to residency (e.g. you have to deposit US$24,000 a year in a Belize bank, can't work for pay and must pay the regular tourist exit tax when leaving Belize), the QRP application process is much less costly.

Observers say that with the increased costs of apply for permanent residency and the repored delays in getting approval, it may make sense for foreigners to simply renew tourist cards.  (August 15, 2005)

BRITISH SCHOOL GIRLS REPORTEDLY SEXUALLY MOLESTED IN CAYO Three young British schoolgirls on a school trip were sexually molested near San Ignacio, while on a tour, according to reports from area residents and a BBC reporter covering the story.  Belize and UK police have confirmed the incident but have not released details.   The individual responsible is believed to have crossed the border into Guatemala. (August 9, 2005)

COMPANY FINDS OIL IN SPANISH LOOKOUT -- BUT IS IT THERE IN COMMERCIAL QUANTITIES?  Belize Natural Energy Ltd. and its drilling partners say they've struck oil in Cayo, in the Spanish Lookout area.   A test well is producing sweet light crude at the rate of 500 barrels a day.  However, it could take two to six months  to determine whether production is commercially feasible.  Since the mid-1950s, more than 50 wells have been drilled in Belize, but none has yet proved to have commercial quantities.  If Spanish Lookout oil eventually is pumped, income would be shared by the Government of Belize, the individual landowner and the Mennonite community, which reportedly controls some 55,000 acres in the area.  (August 4, 2005)

MORE BRITISH SOLDIERS MAY RETURN TO BELIZE  A British Army exercise involving up to 750 British soldiers that began July 23 could mark the beginning of a larger British military presence in Belize, according to British military authorities.   Britain pulled most of its troops from Belize 13 years ago, although training exercises have continued in Belize, usually with fewer than 100 soldiers.  Currently, the Brits have a small base at Price Barracks in Ladyville.  (August 3, 2005)

KITTY'S PLACE IN PLACENCIA SOLD  Kitty's Place, one of the classic beachside resorts in Belize, has been sold.  The new owners took over August 1. Reportedly the resort will be renamed Saks, after the initials of the names of the children of the buyers.  Kitty's had been on the market for several years.  The long-time operators of the popular hotel, Kitty Fox and Ran Villanueva, are pursuing other interests. (August 2, 2005)

'THIEFING' SAID TO BE ON THE RISE IN PLACENCIA, CAYE CAULKER, SAN PEDRO AND COROZAL  Residents and tourism operators in Placencia village, Caye Caulker and Corozal are reporting increased problems with burglaries and thefts, a trend that mirrors a similar situation taking place in San Pedro.  Especially worrisome are reports of thefts from hotels.  Reportedly the Placencia and Mango Creek/Indpendence area is seeing about one breakin a day, and sometimes two to four.  One tourism operator in Placencia said that of the last five guest parties the operator had booked in Placencia village, all five had been hit with thefts, usually in the daytime.   On Caye Caulker, two hotel owners reported that break-ins at hotels, businesses and homes were occurring almost nightly.  "In Corozal, I conducted an informal survey of expat residents and found ... 84% of those living in Corozal Town had experienced at least major burglaries or worse (including armed home invasions and muggings), some victimized more than once [over the past four years]," noted Margaret Briggs, who operates the www.localgringos.com web site for expats in Corozal, but who in July sold her home in Corozal and moved to New Mexico.  The San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, following a series of high-profile robberies and burglaries that culminated in the murder of a security card at Fido's, has developed a list of 20 steps-- including screening new arrivals to the island coming from the mainland, registering street vendors and strengthening community watch programs -- it recommends to help stop the crime wave.  (August 1, 2005)

TIKAL JETS DROPS BELIZE SERVICE  Less than nine months after Tikal Jets, a Guatemala-based airline, started Belize City-Flores service, with continuing service to Guatemala City, the airline has discontinued flights to Belize.  In October 2004, Tikal Jets initiated weekly service at from Flores at fares significantly less than that charge by Belize airlines Maya Island and Tropic, and then in early 2005 boosted service to three times a week.  The airline also said it was going to begin Belize City-Havana service.  Reportedly the Flores service never attracted sufficient passenger volumes, and TACA cut fares on its Belize City to Guatemala City service via its San Salvador hub, and management at the airline decided to drop the Belize service, at least temporarily.  Service may resume during the high tourist season. (July 31)

NEW STATS ON TOURISM IN BELIZE AND OTHER C.A. COUNTRIES SUGGEST BELIZE IS LAGGING   Here are statistics on annual overnight tourism arrivals to Belize and other Central American countries, as of 2004. These figures do not include cruise tourism. A look at these figures suggests that Belize is not doing as well as it could in tourism development, and the growth rate since 2000 seems to show that Belize is falling farther behind its neighbors.  Belize has the slowest growth rate in tourism arrivals of any country in the region, even though it is growing from a smaller base.

Annual Tourism Arrivals in Central America, 2004

Costa Rica     1,454,000
Guatemala     1,182,000
El Salvador      966,000
Panama            652,000
Nicaragua        615,000
Honduras        611,000
Belize              231,000

For comparison, here are tourism arrivals for selected other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean:
Mexico      20,618,000
Brazil          4,725,000
Dom. Rep.  3,450,000
Argentina    3,353,000
Cuba           2,017,000

Source: World Tourism Organization and Belize Tourist Board for Belize

Total increase in Overnight Tourism, 2000-2004:

Panama        57%
Guatemala    43%
Honduras     43%
Costa Rica   34%
Nicaragua    27%
El Salvador  22%
Belize          18%

Source: Sistema de Integracion Centroamericana (SICA)

(July 31, 2005)

DEALS INKED FOR US$50 MILLION CARNIVAL CRUISE TERMINAL AND US$20 MILLION AIRPORT EXPANSION  In late July, contracts were signed for both a new cruise terminal in Belize City and the expansion and upgrade of the international airport at Ladyville.  Following more than a year of delays, Carnival and the Government of Belize have signed a contract for the construction of a new US$50 cruise terminal.  The GOB will get US$4 a head for every cruise passenger, and there are expected to be about a million of them annually.  Completion, originally scheduled for early 2006, is now set for October 2007.  The Belize Airport Concession Company also says it has signed contracts for a 2,600 foot runway extension to accommodate wide-body jets, an 8,000 sq. ft. expansion of the arrival and departure lounges and other work.  The total cost will be around US$20 million, funded in part by a loan from First Caribbean International Bank.   (July 29, 2005)

DELTA MAY INCREASE SERVICE TO BELIZE;  AIR CANADA SAID ALSO LOOKING  A spokesman for the Belize Airport Concession Company said that Delta has indicated it plans to increase service to Belize from Atlanta from weekly to daily, starting in November.  Air Canada is also considering adding service, possibly from Toronto beginning sometime in early 2006.  (July 29, 2005)

BELMOPAN HAS HIGHEST COST OF LIVING OF ANY CENTRAL AMERICAN CAPITAL CITY  A comparison of costs of livings, using an international salary calculator, suggests that Belmopan has, by a small margin, the highest cost of living of any of the capital cities in Central America.  A base salary of US$25,000 was used here, but any salary figure could be used. Belmopan had a cost of living about 10% higher than the least expensive city, San José, Costa Rica.  The calculations don't take into account the impact of taxes.  Figures for Washington, D.C. and a few other cities in North America are also shown for comparison:

Cost of Living, Central American Capital Cities

Belmopan, Belize  $26,577

Managua, Nicaragua  $25,901

San Salvador, El Salvador   $25,676

Tegucigalpa, Honduras  $25,000

Panama City, Panama      $25,000

Guatemala City, Guatemala  $24,099

San Jose, Costa Rica  $24,099

Washington, DC  $27,095

New York   $44,820

Miami  $23,784

Mexico City  $25,901

Source:  International Salary Calculator

(July 29, 2005)

CAYE CAULKER, AMBERGRIS CAYE SUFFER SPATE OF CRIME -- NIGHT WATCHMAN KILLED IN SAN PEDRO  The normally laid-back and relatively low-crime islands of Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker have been experiencing an epidemic of burglaries, robberies and golf cart jackings.  In late July, this culminated in the death of a night watchman at Fido's, a popular bar and restaurant in San Pedro, apparently as a result of a botched burglarly.  Four local men have been detained in the matter. Over the past several months, break-ins have been reported at a number of island homes and businesses.  Earlier in July, two San Pedro business offices, including that of the San Pedro Town Council, had safes stolen from their premises. Several prominent San Pedro expat residents and business owners, ironically including some who had loudly complained any time journalists and the media -- including this publication -- brought attention to rising crime and other problems in Belize, are now publically calling for action against island crime on the forum of the www.ambergriscaye.com web site. (July 27, 2005)

DENGUE OUTBREAK REPORTED  More than 100 cases of dengue fever have been reported in Belize in recent days, mainly in Cayo and Corozal districts and in Belize City and Belmopan.  Unconfirmed cases have also been reported on Caye Caulker and elsewhere. This is five to six times as many cases as usually occur this time of year.  Dengue is carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito that is normally active during the day and often inside homes in more populated areas.   This year, in Cayo in particular, residents report an extremely high number of mosquitoes. In its usual form, dengue fever causes flu-like symptoms, including body aches and pain behind the eyes, for three to five days.  There is no vaccine to prevent it, and the illness is normally treated with rest and Tylenol or its generic equivalent; aspirin should not be taken, as that can increase internal bleeding associated with dengue.   A more serious variety of dengue, hemorrhagic dengue, is much less common.  Belize health officials are working to reduce breeding areas for mosquitoes, such as standing water in old tires or cans.  Dengue fever is present, especially during the rainy seasons, in all of Central America and Mexico and in most of South America.

HURRICANE EMILY SPARES BELIZE   Hurricane Emily slammed into Cozumel in the Mexican Yucatan early July 18 with winds of up to 135 mph, but Belize escaped most of the storm's wrath.  Unusually strong waves lashed the beaches of Ambergris Caye and some other northern cayes, but no injuries or serious damage were reported.  Rainfall was slight even in Corozal Town in Northern Belize.

MOVIE STAR BUYS ISLAND IN BELIZE  Leo DiCaprio, star of "The Aviator" and "Titantic," has purchased the 104-acre Blackadore Caye on the back side of Ambergris Caye.  Reportedly he will open an eco-resort on the island.  According to media reports, DiCaprio paid US$2.4 million for the island, or around US$23,000 an acre.   Another Hollywood notable, director Francis Ford Coppola, operates Blancaneaux Lodge in the Mountain Pine Ridge and Turtle Inn in Placencia, along with a hotel near Tikal in Guatemala.

REAL ESTATE TRANSFER TAX INCREASED TO 15%  Thinking about buying real estate in Belize? It will now cost you more cash upfront.  The Belize House of Representatives has approved at large new tax increase on foreign buyers of Belizean property, with increases of up to 300%.  The new "stamp duty" rates for real estate purchases are:

15% of selling price for everyone except Belizean citizens and Caricom nationals

5% for Belizeans and Caricom nationals

Taking a big hit are Canadians, Brits and other Commonwealth citizens, who formerly had to pay just 5% transfer tax, but who now pay the same as most other foreigners.  Also, the government moved to eliminate the loophole for Belizean corporations started by foreigners who previously could get the Belizean 5% rate. (Of course, in theory one could start a corporation in a Caribbean country and move it to Belize.)

With the 15% tax, plus attorney's fees and miscellaneous costs, the "surcharge" to buy real estate in Belize for most foreigners is now nearly one-fifth of the purchase price.   On a US$300,000 condo or other real estate purchase, for example, the cost would be US$45,000 plus attorneys fees and other closing costs.  In cash.  Some are also now wondering what lays ahead for gringos in Belize.  Since the government has decided it will severely penalize foreign buyers what else it may have in store for them? Like a new non-citizen property tax rate? Or a capital gain tax for foreigners only?

BUSH PICKS FORMER COLLEGE ROOMMATE AS AMBASSADOR TO BELIZE George W. Bush has picked Rob Dieter, Bush's former roommate at Yale, as the new ambassador to Belize. Dieter is a professor at the University of Colorado law school. He went to law school at the University of Denver and before that roomed for four years with W. as an undergraduate at Yale.   If confirmed, which is believed likely, Dieter will replace Russell Freeman, the U.S. ambassador to Belize since September 2001, who has left the post.   Freeman, formerly a fundraiser for Bush and the Republican Party in North Dakota, and his wife have left Belize and are spending the summer in Minnesota.

 

MISS BELIZE GOING TO BANGKOK FOR MISS UNIVERSE PAGEANT  Andrea Elrington, Miss Belize 2005, will represent Belize at the Miss Universe pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, in May.  Elrington, 22, was born in Belize City -- her father was an attorney and her mother ran a small beauty salon -- and is a dean's list student at Fort Valley State University in Georgia.

NEWS SERVICES COVER BELIZE POLITICS  At the end of April, Reuters and the AP international news services distributed reports on the political turmoil in Belize, including the arrest of a UDP opposition politician, Collett Area representative Patrick Faber, who attempted to attend a meeting at the University of Belize campus in Belmopan.   Faber was charged with two counts of aggravated assault.  The Miami Herald also ran a story on the Belize Telecommunications Ltd. dispute with Jeffrey Prosser.  From Guyana, the CARICOM Heads of State jointly issued a press release deploring the political disputes and unrest in Belize and calling for the issues to be resolved in a peaceful democratic manner.

BELIZE QUIET AFTER STRIKES FIZZLE  A strike called April 26 by leaders of several unions in Belize appeared to fizzle, as most businesses and schools operated normally. Strike leaders appeared to be regrouping and planning their next steps.  Later, a walkout by Belize Water Services union members was called off.  Tourists in Belize reported no major problems, although some said that over the past few days it was difficult to get cash from ATMs or to pay bills with credit cards, due to telephones service being out at times.  Several suggested bringing traveler's checks.  Some visitors reported that hotels and tour operators took a risk by accepting credit cards even without authorization by telephone.  Water, telephone, fax and internet service in Belize has been restored in most areas, although spot electrical outages are still occurring.

TIKAL JETS ADDS EXTRA SERVICE  Tikal Jets will increase service between Belize City and Flores , Guatemala (Tikal) May 4 to three times a week.  Additional service is available to and from Guatemala City.  Tikal Jet's equipment is the DC-9 jet.

PROSSER STEPS UP PR CAMPAIGN  Jeffrey Prosser's Innovative Communications Corporation, which is locked in a battle with the Government of Belize for control of Belize Telecommunications Ltd., on April 27 distributed a press release via PR Newswire with the headline "Belize Government Illegally Takes Over U.S. Held Telecom; Other U.S. Companies At Risk." Some observers in Belize, including the Chamber of Commerce on Ambergris Caye, see this is as potentially bad publicity for Belize and urged the government to reply.

 

DEMONSTRATIONS AND LOOTING ERUPT IN BELIZE CITY Protests by students and union members in Belize City took a dark turn April 20, escalating into sometimes violent confrontations with police, and and looting broke out in the downtown commercial area. Students from the University of Belize's campus in Belize City, along with students from local high schools and others, including some union members, took to the streets protesting People's United Party government actions and alleged corruption. Later in the evening, the protests expanded to the Belcan Bridge area north of the city. The bridge was blocked and a fire was set.

Around 25 to 30 stores and businesses in the downtown area around Albert Street, including Brodies, were broken into and looted, and power was off briefly in parts of Belize City.  Local observers say most of the looting was by gangs and other criminal elements, not by political demonstrators.

The incidents on April 20 followed weeks of work stoppages, strikes and, most recently, the alleged sabotage of Belize's telecommunication system, which knocked out telephone and internet service to most of Belize during five days in mid-April. Internet and telephone service is mostly back on in the country, although some areas remain without service or with limited service. 

The opposition United Democratic Party earlier in a press conference had called for civil disobediance.

Although some airline flights into Belize have been delayed or cancelled -- US Air and American both cancelled flights on
April 21 -- so far the tourist areas of Ambergris Caye, Caye Caulker, Placencia and elsewhere have not been affected, except that due to the telephone outage most businesses have not been able to get credit cards authorized and ATMs have been down, leaving some tourists without travel funds.  Airlines have resumed service, and with telephone service generally restored, tourists now should have access to funds.

No deaths were reported, but more than two dozen people were taken to the Karl Huesner Memorial Hospital with injuries.  About 100 protestors and looters were arrested.

The PUP government issued an appeal for calm. Prime Minister Said Musa spoke to the nation on April 22, essentially blaming the riots on his political opposition. He said that the democratic traditions of Belize would be followed, but that irresponsible violations of the law would not be allowed to continue. Musa's PUP government has been under increasing pressure since late January in the face of large budget defiicts, a dramatically increasing national debt, charges of corruption and fiscal mismanagement, a downgrade of the country's credit rating by Standard & Poor's, and an international dispute over the ownership of Belize Telecommunications, Ltd.  Dean Barrow, the UDP opposition leader, responded by blaming the country's ills on the PUP and claiming that Musa "disrespected" the demonstrators.

The American Embassy in Belize has issued a statement saying there was no need for Americans to defer travel to Belize.

 

AMERICAN RELIGIOUS WORKER SHOT TO DEATH NEAR SAN IGNACIO  A U.S. expat, 63-year-old Donald Kostecki, a deacon with Sacred Heart parish in San Ignaico, was killed by a shotgun blast to the chest March 11 in the Kontiki area near San Ignacio.    Three local men have been arrested and charged with the crime

CARIBE ISLAND RESORT IN SAN PEDRO IN THROES OF ALL-TOO-PUBLIC DISPUTE  Tourists and condo owners are caught in the middle of a dispute at Caribe Island Resort, a hotel on Ambergris Caye.  At least two different ownership groups are slinging mud at each other in public over rights to market and manage the beach resort about 2 miles south of San Pedro.  Even the hotel's web sites are involved in the ugly fray, with two different sites (www.caribeisland.net and www.caribeisland.com) offering competing information, and at least one of the sites contains attacks on the other.  For example, on the www.caribeisland.com site, visitors see this text:  " ****** BEWARE ****** of cheap knockoff at http://caribeisland.NET. A good amount of their web content was STOLEN directly from our website in an attempt to mis-lead people into thinking they are associated with us. They are not and they do not have access to our amenities such as water toys, bicycles, and top notch staff. They even show pictures of our Suites that they do not have access to. ******** " Observers say this kind of public airing of dirty laundry is guaranteed to turn off would-be visitors and guests.

TROPIC AIR CESSNA CARAVAN DITCHES IN SEA EN ROUTE TO THE CAYES  A Tropic Air Cessna  Grand Caravan with 13 passengers aboard crashed around 5:30 pm Wednesday, March 9, just seconds after leaving the municipal airstrip in Belize City, reportedly in a squall.   No one was seriously injured, according to Alvaro Rosado, administrator of Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City.  Six passengers were admitted to the hospital but were ambulatory, said Rosado in an e-mail. He said he was contacted at 5:50 p.m. about the crash.  Tropic Air flight 515 was enroute to Caye Caulker and San Pedro (Ambergris Caye).  The Belize municipal airstrip, used only for domestic flights, is located right on the seashore.  In late December 2002 another Tropic Air Caravan ditched in the sea on approach to San Pedro.  There also were 13 passengers aboard that flight.  Several passengers were injured, but there were no fatalities.  Tropic Air claimed it was an emergency landing.  In March 2004 a four-year-old Tropic Cessna Grand Caravan was ditched near Punta Gorda -- no passengers on board, no fatalities.The airline was founded in 1979 in San Pedro by an American.

NEW SHUTTLE SERVICE FROM YUCATAN TO SAN IGNACIO:  Cahal Pech Village, a hotel in San Ignacio, is now offering shuttle transfers from the Yucatan in Mexico to San Ignacio and elsewhere in Belize.  Due to the lack of air service from the Yucatan to Belize, and the difficulty in renting a car that can be taken into Belize, a shuttle can be a good option for those who don't want to take a bus.  Transfer in an air-conditioned vehicle from Cancun to San Ignacio for 1 to 4 persons is US$275;  from Playa del Carmen, US$225, and from Chetumal, US$150.  Note that these are for up to four persons, not per-person.  By bus (ADO and Novelo's) from Cancun to San Ignacio takes approximately 11-14 hours and costs about US$30 per person, depending on the type of bus.  Separately, the Linea Dorada bus also runs from Chetumal to Flores, Guatemala, via Belize City;  fares per person are about US$35 from Chetumal and US$20 from Belize City.  Reservations for the Cahal Pech service must be made in advance.  For information, call + 501-824-2225 or e-mail Lenny Wragg at cahalpech@btl.net. 

CAYE CAULKER AIRSTRIP REOPENS  The Caye Caulker airstrip reopened February 21.  It had been closed since mid-2004 for repairs and resurfacing.

HOME INVASION IN COROZAL  Dr. Glenda Majors, a prominent dentist in Corozal Town, was brutally beaten in a home invasion February 14 at her home in South End, Corozal Town.  She was left unconscious and was hospitalized in Belize City. Reportedly police have detained three people for questioning.  Several other home invasions have occurred in the Corozal area, including some at the homes of foreign expats.

U.S. BUILDING NEW EMBASSY IN BELMOPAN  The U.S. has broken ground on a new American Embassy building in Belmopan.  Reportedly the new embassy will cost US$50 million to construct.  The present embassy is in a colonial building in Belize City.

TWO LEADING INSURANCE COMPANIES TO MERGE  F&G Insurance and Regent Insurance have announced they will merge their operations as of 1 April 2005.  The new entity will be called RGF Insurance.

BELIZE CITY TO BE RENAMED MURDER CITY?  The killing continues at a record pace in Belize City.  The little port city of only 70,000 people has already recorded at least 15 murders since the first of the year.  In the unlikely event that this rate continues for the full year, the murder rate in the city would be more than 25 times higher than the rate in the U.S. and 10 to 15 times higher than even in inner city areas of the U.S.

BTL SOAP OPERA FIASCO CONTINUES;  GOB RECALLS THE PHONE COMPANY  In the continuing saga of the Belize Telecommunications Ltd., the Belize government has taken back control of the telephone company.  According to a government press release, the PUP government on February 9 took back management control of BTL, installing a new board of directors, following the alleged failure of Jeffrey Prosser's Innovative Communications Company's to pay for its shares in BTL.


MULTIPLE CANOE JACKINGS OF TOURISTS ON MACAL RIVER IN CAYO  An American couple from Washington State were the latest victims of "canoe jackings" on the Macal River near San Ignacio, according to media reports and confirmed by residents of Cayo. Hotels along the river have now ceased unguided tours of the lower Macal, but news of the attacks was not reported in Belize until February 8, when Channel 5 aired a story.  The Belize police's PR department had not included notices of the robberies in material released to the press, and reportedly tourism operators and some lodges in Cayo had worked to hide the news.  Nancy and Dennis Stark from Kennewick, Wash., were stripped naked, robbed and beaten while on a canoe trip on the Macal February 1, according to a report in their hometown newspaper. Four English-speaking men, armed with guns and machetes, jumped out of the bush and grabbed their canoe and the canoe of another couple with them. They forced both couples to take off their clothes, then robbed them of cash, jewelry, passports and traveler's checks. At one point, the Washington couple believed the men were going to kill them, they said. Dennis Stark was struck on the back with the flat side of a machete. According to the couple, they reported the crime to the police in Cayo and to the American Embassy. The U.S. Embassy confirmed that this was at least the fourth such incident to happen to American tourists on the Macal River since Christmas. A lodge owner in Cayo, who had earlier reported incidents on the river, including another case in mid-January where two American women were ordered to strip and were robbed, said that if a hotel or tourism operator allowed "this party go down the river without adequate warning or protection is irresponsible, if not negligent, in my opinion. They should lose their license."   There have been charges that some tourism and real estate operators hushed up the incidents so that tourism and real estate sales will not suffer. At least one Belize travel forum on the internet, on www.ambergriscaye.com, pulled messages discussing the incidents. "The reason I pulled it is that I got like 50 messages from paying clients ... screaming about it," said Marty Casado, owner of the on-line bulletin board.  Tony Rath's Belize Forums site permitted reports of the jackings.  Hotels on the Macal River have now ceased unguided tours of the lower Macal, according to the security chief at the Lodge at Chaa Creek. However, tours of the upper Macal continue.

JAGUARS SLAUGHTERED  An unknown number of jaguars have been killed recently by poachers in Belize.  The Forestry Department admits it has confiscated at least 13 jaguar pelts and has them stored in a freezer.  Jaguar pelts can bring US$5,000 or more on the international market.  On the positive side, the Belize Zoo has started a jaguar rehabilitation program to deal with "problem" jaguars that kill livestock.  The Zoo currently has three jaguars in rehab.  Once rehabilitated, the jaguars will be shipped to zoos in other parts of the world.  The Government of Belize established the world's first jaguar preserve -- Cockscomb Wildlife Preserve in Stann Creek District in Southern Belize.  Jaguars are an endangered species.  The number in the wild in Belize is unknown but is thought to be in the hundreds.

STRIKE AND CIVIL ACTIONS CONTINUE, BUT SCHOOLS REOPEN  Following the country-wide protests January 24-25, Belize has still not returned to business as usual.  Utilities are back on in most areas, though occasional outages occur, and after a two-week closure, most schools have reopened.  Unionized workers are still agitating for a rollback of recent tax increases, financial reform, and for the payment of promised salary increases, and large demonstations have been held in Belize City, Orange Walk Town, Belmopan City and elsewhere..  PUP officials are holding firm, although the government has promised it will review some of the tax increases.  So far, the work stoppages and protests have not seriously affected tourism, but increasingly prospective visitors are asking if the unrest and strikes will cause them delays or other problems. Reportedly several hundred hotel reservations have been cancelled or postponed.  A few expats who have been staying in Belize by renewing their tourist cards have left due to the 400% increase in monthly renewal costs (now US$50 a month, up from US$12.50).  One expat family who recently left Cayo to return to Arkansas said in an e-mail, "The new residency/extension fees are a big issue. We can't afford to pay for [all the family members'] residency at the same time."  The expat said that while recent unrest in Belize wasn't the reason the family left, it was a factor:  "..[T]he recent events in Belize are a huge factor, at least in pushing us to get out sooner. We chose Belize partly because it seemed so safe:  Most other countries in Central America and
the Caribbean are having or did recently have wars, gangs, large amounts of crimes against foreigners, political unrest and coups, and so on. I don't really think that it will escalate ... but I do  think [it] is likely to get more serious and things could happen. We had to go into Belmopan a lot, and it's a little freaky to be so close to everything. ... I do wish the country the best. I hope everything turns out ok."

DESPITE INCREASES, BELIZE'S TOURISM WEAKER THAN ITS NEIGHBORS IN THE CARIBBEAN BASIC

Here are the just-released figures from the Caribbean Tourism Organization (of which Belize is a member) on 2004 overnight and cruise tourism to the region. Most figures are from January to October or November 2004, but some countries report for different periods.

By these numbers, Belize’s tourism levels and growth perhaps aren’t as rosy as the Belize Tourist Board suggests. The only category in which Belize excelled was in cruise ship visitation, where it ranked 8th in the Caribbean and 1st in growth. It ranked 18th in overall overnight tourism in the Caribbean, behind a number of small island nations including Aruba, Barbados, Martinique, St. Maarten, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Lucia, Curacao, and Antigua, and it ranked near the bottom in overnight tourism growth in the past year.

Belize also lags its Central American neighbors in overnight tourism. Numbers from 2003 (which may not be directly comparable to CTO numbers) show Costa Rica had more than 1 million visitors, almost five times as many as Belize. Guatemala got 884,000 visitors and Honduras 611,000, compared to about 221,000 for Belize in the 2003 year.

Except for the northern cayes, tourism in Belize seems to be floundering.  Reports from Placencia and elsewhere in southern Belize suggest that even in the high season this year, many hotels are begging for tourists.

International Tourism Arrivals (Overnight Visitors)
1. Dominican Republic 3,443,000 (Jan-Dec)
2. Cancun 1,972,000 (Jan-Oct)
3. The Bahamas 1,450,000 (Jan-Dec)
4. Jamaica 1,279,000 (Jan-Nov)
5. Cuba 1,134,000 (Jan-Jun)
6. Puerto Rico 1,082,000 Jan-Sep)
7. Aruba 608,000 (Jan-Oct)
8. Barbados 555,000 (Jan-Dec.)
9. U.S. Virgin Islands 550,000 (Jan-Oct)
10. Martinique 407,000 (Jan-Oct)
10. St. Maarten 358,000 (Jan-Sep)
11. Triniidad & Tobago 328,000 (Jan-Sep)
12. St. Lucia 298,000 (Jan-Dec)
13. Bermuda 258,000 (Jan-Nov)
14. Cozumel 244,000 (Jan-Jul)
15. Curacao 223,000 (Jan-Dec)
16. Antigua 222,000 (Jan-Nov)
17. Cayman Islands 214,000 (Jan-Jul)
18. BELIZE 209,000 (Jan-Nov)
19. Turks & Caicos 132,000 (Jan-Sep)
20. Guyana 108,000 (Jan-Nov)
21. Grenada 90,000 (Jan-Jul)
22. Suriname 78,000 (Jan-Jul)
23. St. Vincent & Grenadines 75,000 (Jan-Nov)
24. Bonaire 57,000 (Jan-Nov)
25. Anguilla 48,000 (Jan-Nov)

Overnight Tourism Growth (2003-2004)
1. Guyana 23.4%
2. Cozumel 18.7%
3. Montserrat 18.3%
4. Anguilla 16.5%
5. Cayman Islands 14.5%
5. Aruba 14.5%
7. Cuba 13.4%
8. St. Maarten 14.1%
9. Cancun 11.5%
10. Saba 11.1%
11. St. Vincent & Grenadines 10.9%
12. Antigua 10.3%
13. U.S. Virgin Islands 10.1%
14. Grenada 9.2%
15. Trinidad & Tobaco 8.0%
16. St. Lucia 7.8%
17. St. Eustatius 7.5%
18. Puerto Rico 6.9%
19. Turks & Caicos 6.2%
20 Dominica 5.7%
21. Jamaica 5.5%
22. Dominican Republic 5.4%.
23. Bermuda 5.3%
24. BELIZE 4.6%
25. Barbados 4.5%
26. Martinique 3.9%
27. Bahamas 1.5%
28. Bonaire 1.0%
29. Curacao 0.9%
30. Suriname 0.0%

Cruise Visitation
1. Bahamas 3,360,000 (13.1% growth)
2. U.S. Virgin Islands 1,964,000 (10.7%)
3. Cozumel 1,739,000 (9.0%)
4. Cayman Islands 1,192,000 (12.0%)
5. Puerto Rico 1,065,000 (13.5%)
6. Jamaica 966,000 (-4.6%)
7. St. Maarten 783,000 (19.1%)
8. BELIZE 748,000 (55.1%)
9. Barbados 739,000 (32.2%)
10. St. Lucia 481,000 (22.4%)
11. Aruba 380,000 (1.6%)
12. Antigua 374,000 (28.8%)
13. Dominican Republic 362,000 (n/a)
14. Curacao 219,000 (-21.5)
15. Bermuda 206,000 (-8.8%)


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I’m stuck down in Honduras.
I’m a desperate man.
Send lawyers, guns and money.
The shit has hit the fan.

--Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money”



IS THERE A CRISIS IN BELIZE?

OPINION BY LAN SLUDER

With apologies to the late, great songwriter and singer Warren Zevon, it looks like years of crud and cronyism are about to hit the fan in Belize.

On Thursday and Friday, January 20-21, a good part of Belize may be shut down by action by labor unions and businesses. Schools across the country will be closed. Shops will close. Public unions will hold a work slowdown. Even some public utilities may be shut down. Several banks maybe closed.

On Tuesday, January 18, the Belize Chamber of Commerce held a meeting with more than 125 business people in attendance. The business people say they have a problem with what’s happening in Belize, with increases in taxes amounting to more than US$50 million. At the same time, from the other side of the field, the Public Service Union is planning a go-slow work action. The National Trade Union Congress is also moving into action.

I’ve heard from people at all levels in Belize over the past few days, and the common theme is: “Things are going to have to change.”

What is likely to happen January 20-21 could be only the tip of the iceberg ... er, coral reef.

For those who may not closely follow developments in Belize, the current government in Belize appears to have run out of elbow room. Years of insider dealing, financial irresponsibility, overspending and kowtowing to the interests of the big guys -- like Carnival Cruise Lines and the political and economic elite in Belize -- have created something of a crisis, according to observers in Belize.

The government is running a large budget deficit and is spending much more than it takes in. It has a huge trade deficit. Cronies and insiders have been rewarded with big contracts and sweetheart deals. Small entrepreneurs and conservation interests have been dissed. The big stake holders -- Carnival Cruise Lines and political insiders -- have been rewarded with new, financially lucrative deals. The currency has been under stress. Financial experts have been called in.

Yes, it does sound a lot like the United States under George Bush, doesn’t it? Except on a much smaller scale.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Musa sacked some of his most effective cabinet members, like Mark Espat, the tourism guru.

Over the past year, and particularly in the last month, the government has announced a massive series of tax increases:

The “environmental tax” will increase by 2 percentage points -- that’s like a nationwide tax on consumption. At the same time, the government has approved a dolphins swim-a-rama and have considered privatizing part of Belize’s most precious natural asset, the barrier reef.

Tourists and others staying in Belize and staying longer than 30 days will have to pay US$25 a month to renew their tourist card for the first three months, then US$50 a month for up to a total of 12 months.

Property taxes are being increased significantly, and a speculation tax will hit large property holders.

Business taxes will be increased.

Work permit fees have been increased -- in some cases doubled.  A professional work permit is now US$1,500 a year, and a self-employed permit is US$1,000. 

The new fee schedule:

Professional workers US$1,500 a year

Technical workers US$1,000

General workers (banana, sugar, citrus, etc.) US$100

Self-employed workers US$1,000

Entertainers US$250-$750

Religious & voluntary workers US$100

Import/export traders US$1,000



Wages increases for public workers will be held down, and some cutbacks will be made.

The hotel tax has been increased to 9%.

Taxes on alcohol and tobacco have been raised. Again.

Entry fees to parks, ruins and reserves have been increased, doubled in some cases.

The international exit tax has been increased from US$20 to $35, due to a new airport fee.

Belize, already the most expensive destination to visit in Central America, has become more expensive. Belize, already the most expensive country in the region in which to do business, has become more expensive.

Further, permanent residency applications have been held up for months, so expats wishing to live in Belize have been kept in limbo.

On the non-financial side, the government has moved ahead with a dam that will destroy prime wildlife habitat. It has gotten in bed with the big cruise ship industry, while leaving small hotel owners and tourism operators hanging.

Does this civil action January 20-21 portend future instability?

Will the government be brought down?

Will the Belize dollar peg to the U.S. dollar be dropped?

I don’t know. No one knows. Historically, protests have a way of escalating into revolutions, and revolutions have a way of snowballing.

Prime Minister Musa obviously is worried. In a speech today (January 19), mentioned “civil unrest” and “lawlessness.”

He said: ‘What is at stake here is no less than the peace and
tranquillity we have come to take for granted under our vibrant
democracy.”

But the betting is, and my guess is, that things won’t change very much. This too shall pass.

Indeed, in laid-back Belize, it all may just fizzle out.

But I’m betting the government will have to come back to the table, to renegotiate. The PUP and its pals may have to eat a little crow.

The current government has achieved a lot.  But it has also run risks and made mistakes.

In any case, let’s hope that what happens in Belize won’t worry the small investors, entrepreneurs, tourists and others in the U.S., Canada and Europe who provide most of the hard currency exchange for Belize and who have fueled the engines of growth in Belize for many years.

If these guys see Belize as an unstable place, it would have a major impact on Belize’s future.

--Lan Sluder
www.belizefirst.com

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EMORY KING TO BE SIR EMORY:  Emory King, an American who was shipwrecked in Belize 50 years ago and who became an accomplished businessman and noted author in his adopted country, has been appointed by Her Majesty the Queen as Commander of the Most Distinguished Order of the British Empire.

BARRY BOWEN MARRIES:  Barry Bowen, Belize's famed beer baron, soft drink bottler, shrimp farmer, major league landowner and senator, has married Dixie Summerscales, in a ceremony in San Pedro.

PM BOOTS THREE CABINET MINISTERS INCLUDING TOURISM'S MARK ESPAT:  In a late December move, Prime Minister Said Musa removed Mark Espat, Cordel Hyde and Eamon Courtney from his cabinet. Later, Eamon Courtney also resigned from his Senate seat.  The PM also reduced the cabinet size from 16 to 12 members and reshuffled portfolios.  Mark Espat is the highest-profile minister to get the boot.  He had been widely recognized as helping build tourism in Belize.  During his watch, Belize saw record increases in the number of international tourists and a boom in cruise ship tourism.  The Belize Tourist Industry Association issued a statement supporting Espat. The PM named Godfrey Smith Minister of Foreign Affairs and Tourism and also appointed Rodwell Ferguson to the non-cabinet post of Minister of State for Tourism.

VISITORS ATTACKED ON HUMMINGBIRD  A Virginia couple were attacked in late November as they drove on the Hummingbird Highway near Middlesex village by three men dressed in camoflage clothes and carrying assault weapons. They had slowed for a speed bump when two men with guns jumped out from the bushes and tried to open the driver's side door of the visitor's truck.  Instead, the truck accelerated and sped away, and the two men and a third fired at their vehicle.  The couple managed to drive on a flat tire a mile or two to the village of Middlesex.  They reported that  "one back tire and the spare were completely ruined and there were bullet holes through the metal of the truck. One bullet was lodged in the back seat."  Police investigated and found six shell casings.  The couple, who have visited Belize for many years and own a home on the Placencia peninsula, say they plan to return to Belize but will fly to Placencia next time instead of drive.

FODOR'S PICKS TOP HOTELS, SITES AND RESTAURANTS IN BELIZE:  Fodor's, one of the top guidebook publishers in the world, has made its selection of the top hotels, restaurants, visitor sites and activities in Belize.  Fodor's Choices (top picks/best in the area) and Fodor's Star choices (notable) in the new Fodor's Belize & Guatemala 2005, co-authored and updated by BELIZE FIRST's Lan Sluder.

"Fodor's Choice" selections, representing the "top picks" in Belize:

Lodging
Chan Chich Lodge
Turtle Inn
Blancaneaux Lodge
Caye Chapel Island Resort
Cayo Espanto

The Lodge at Chaa Creek

Restaurants
Capricorn
Cafe Kela
Casa Picasso

Sites
Caracol
Lamanai
Actun Tunichil Muknal
Hol Chan Marine Reserve
Glovers Atoll

Activities
Night dive/snorkel
Sea kayaking

*******

Fodor's Stars ("highly recommended"):

Belize City & Environs:
Radisson Fort George
Great House
Belize Zoo

Ambergris Caye:
Villas at Banyan Bay
Banana Beach
Victoria House
Elvi's
Mata Chica

Caye Caulker:
Treetops

Remote Cayes:
Turneffe Island Lodge

Cayo:
Pook's Hill Lodge
Banana Bank Lodge
Cave's Branch Adventure Camp
Mopan River Resort

Hidden Valley Inn
Mountain Pine Ridge Reserve

Hopkins:
Hamanasi
Kanantik
Cockscomb Preserve

Placencia:
Inn at Robert's Grove
Tradewinds

CENTRAL AMERICAN TOURISM:   COSTA RICA LEADS, BELIZE LAGS   Although Belize tourism continues on its growth track, the number of international visitor arrivals to Belize lags far behind those to its Central American neighbors:

Overnight International Visitors 2003

Costa Rica          1,000,000
Guatemala              884,000
Honduras               611,000
Belize                     221,000

Source:  The Wall Street Journal

TELEPHONE AND INTERNET SERVICE IN BELIZE BACK UP   Internet and international telephone service in Belize, disrupted for 96 hours in late November due to damage to an underwater telecommunications cable, resumed November 30.  Reportedly, an ARCOS communications cable providing telcom service to Belize was dragged, first by a cruise ship and then in another place by a tanker.   Separately, Starband satellite internet service in the region was disrupted due to a problem with one of the satellites used by Starband.  DirecPC/TV service was unaffected.  Although businesses and individuals in Belize, including hotels attempting to handle reservations for the busy holiday season ahead, struggled to get by without e-mail and with reduced international telephone and fax service, media outside Belize ignored the situation.

CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR BOOKINGS GENERALLY STRONG  Hotel operators in Belize report that bookings for the Christmas and New Year period appear to be higher than in recent years.  Many hotels, especially on Ambergris Caye, Belize's most popular destination, report that they are fully booked for at least some part of the holiday season.  There are still some availabilities in Placencia and elsewhere, especially for budget- and moderate-priced lodging.

MEXICO TO BUY AND PRESERVE 370,000 ACRES IN THE YUCATAN   The government of Mexico has agreed to buy and preserve 370,000 acres in the Yucatan, as part of the Calakmul Biosphere preserve. The U.S.-based Nature Conservancy will contribued US$1.7 million towards the US$3 million cost of the land in Campeche state. The Mexican government will buy the land from about 300 Maya communal farmers, known as ejiditarios. The land is selling for about US$8 an acre. The ejiditarios live more than a 100 miles from the property and thus have been unable to work the land.   The land will become part of the 1.8 million-acre Calakmul preserve, the largest contiguous tropical forest outside the Amazon. It also contains the Maya ruins of Calakmul, a rival to Tikal. The biosphere is thought to be home to the largest jaguar population outside the Amazon. It is also home to about 1,600 plant species, 90 kinds of mammals and 350 species of birds.   Official announcement of the purchase is expected to come from the Mexican government later in November.


SUGAR REEF IN PLACENCIA BURNS  A fire on 10 November partially destroyed Sugar Reef, a popular palapa bar on the back side of Placencia village.  Sugar Reef formerly was known as the Lagoon Saloon.

WITH BELIZE GOVERNMENT FINANCES IN SHAMBLES, WILL TAXES GO UP? The Belize government faces a series of unprecedented financial problems: a current budget deficit nearing 6% of GDP, the liquidation of the Development Finance Corporation, the Novelo’s bus line and Social Security fiascos, the Carnival Cruise Line, BTL sale and Chiallo Dam controversies, to name only a few. “Many errors were made,” said Prime Minister Said Musa, in a recent radio interview. The question now is whether the government will finally move to resolve these problems and raise at least US$35 million to plug the deficit. A few steps already have been taken. The International Monetary Fund has been called in, the Belize Central Bank has raised the reserve ratio at Belize banks, several Belize embassies and consulates are being closed, and Musa has said government may reduce the salaries of cabinet members and area representatives. No one thinks that will generate enough revenue, however. Observers say they think increases in sales, income and tourism taxes are inevitable ... and coming soon..

BANK ACCOUNTS FOR NON-RESIDENTS NIXED According to a statement from the Belize Central Bank, effective 4 November 2004 non-residents no longer may have bank accounts with Belize-chartered banks. The notice reads:

                                  Central Bank of Belize
                                              Notice


The public is hereby informed that the Minister of Finance has signed a new statutory instrument in order to cause section 4 of the International Banking Amendment Act to come into effect on 1 November 2004. Section 4 repeals subsection (2) of section 3 of the principal Act. As a result of the amendment, domestic commercial banks licensed under the Banks and Financial Institutions Act may no longer carry on banking business with non-residents. This action was taken with a view to eliminating the co-mingling of funds and improving the measurement of domestic liquidity in the banking system.


This could impact those who own vacation or investment property in Belize but who are not official permanent residents or residents under the Qualified Retired Persons program, or who are building a house or otherwise are doing business in Belize and need to have a local bank account to pay bills in Belize. However, non-residents can have accounts with Belize offshore banks. Also, as a practical matter, many non-residents with interests in Belize maintain their banking relationships back home and transfer funds via traveler’s checks or through ATMs.

“TOUCAN TRAIL” INEXPENSIVE HOTEL PLAN UP AND RUNNING The “Toucan Trail,” a marketing initiative by the Belize Tourist Board to promore more than 100 small hotels with rooms prices of US$60 a night or less, is under way. To date, the BTB has visited 112 small hotels in 22 villages and towns. The hotels have to meet specific criteria set by the BTB, and operators have to sign a pledge of good business practices. These hotels will be listed and profiled on a web site, www.toucantrail.com, which is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2004, according to the BTB.

MAYA ISLAND DISCONTINUES SERVICE TO SAN IGNACIO  Maya Island Air has discontinued service to the airstrip near San Ignacio.  The service, less than a year old, at one time included three flights a day from the international airport in Belize City to the airstrip near Central Farm in Cayo.

NEW JET SERVICE FROM BELIZE CITY TO FLORES AND GUATEMALA CITY   Tikal Jets, a Guatemalan airline, has started service between Belize City (international) to Flores (near Tikal) and Guatemala City. Promotional fares make travel on the route almost as cheap as going by bus. Belize City to Flores initially is US$25 one-way, and Belize City to Guatemala City is US$65 one-way or US$129 round-trip. Regular fares shown on the Tikal Jets web site are US$149 round-trip Belize City-Guatemala City and US$69 round-trip Belize City-Flores, still less than half the fare on Maya Island or Tropic. The Tikal Jets fares are only a little more than deluxe bus service and require only a fraction of the time. These prices do not include taxes or exit fees, which in the case of the international air exit fee from Belize (US$35) is actually more than the ticket price to Flores.  Service, initially only twice a week on Mondays and Fridays, is on a 123-passenger DC-9 jet. Flights leave Goldson at 9:30 a.m. and arrive in Guatemala City at 11:40 a.m. Returning, flights depart Guatemala City at 6:30 a.m. and arrive Belize City at 8:45 a.m. Flights include approximately one-half hour ground time in Flores. Information on the flights is available at www.tikaljets.com. Tikal Jets also has service from Guatemala City to Havana, Cancun, Mexico City and San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

PM ASKS IMF TO LOOK AT BELIZE FISCAL ISSUES  Prime Minister Said Musa says he has invited the International Monetary Fund to visit Belize to look at continuing revenue and debt issues faced by the Government of Belize. "While the economy has grown tremendously, over the period 1998 to the present, we have the fiscal deficits and the public debts to address now," Musa said in a recorded statement.  The PM cited revenue shortfalls, a budget deficit, and problems with the Development Finance Corporation (DFC), which is being liquidated.  The IMF will visit Belize later in October to "monitor" Belize's efforts, according to Musa.

ANOTHER SWIM-WITH-DOLPHINS PARK PROPOSED  Teresa Parkey and the Hugh Parkey Foundation are proposing a new swim-with-dolphins park in Belize. Dolphins from Anthony's Key Resort in Honduras would be imported and kept in a 4-acre pen for human encounters. A swim-with-dolphins park was proposed off Ambergris Caye a few years ago, but it was opposed by environmental and tourism groups in Belize, and it never materialized. Some ecologically sensitive countries such as Costa Rica have banned swim-with-dolphin zoos.

 

CRUISE TERMINAL CONTRACT IN DISPUTE  The controversial US$50 million Carnival Cruise Ship Terminal in Belize City is the focus of new charges and counter-charges, and there is a question as to whether the terminal will actually be completed.

TOURISM GROWS MODESTLY   For January to August 2004 Belize recorded an increase of 3.7% in overnight tourism compared with the same period in 2003. Belize hosted 167,782 overnight visitors for the period versus 161,734 in 2003.  The month of August saw a decline of 2.8%, attributed in part to the impact of storms in Florida.  The cruise sector continues to show strong growth as more than 267 ships called to Belize’s port during the period January – August, accounting for 566,074 passengers. This represents an increase of  about 70% over the same period in 2003.

POLITICAL EARTHQUAKE HITS BELIZE, BUT ENDS WITH A WHIMPER  The more things change, the more they stay the same, huh?  In mid-August, after months of general mutterings about corruption and mounting public debt in the highest offices of Belize, the political dirt finally hit the fan, with seven of PM Said Musa's ministers resigning en masse.  For awhile, it looked like the PM would lose his grip on power and might even call early elections.  UDP honchos were rubbing their hands in glee.  Then, on August 18, after intense negotiations and deal-making, the seven ministers returned to the fold, and the PM spoke to the nation in a public address: 

"Our nation is facing serious challenges. We must embrace the tasks at hand and meet these challenges with confidence. As a young developing country, we have been buffeted by many storms that have brought devastation to our economic and social infrastructure in recent years. We held the course. We did not weaken.

"Yes, we had to borrow. Yes, we were forced to incur additional debt in order to secure funding to provide for our people in their time of great need. In such a time, we had to provide shelter for those who had lost homes. We had to attract investment capital in order to protect jobs generated by the commercial sector and agro-industry. We had to rebuild streets, roads and bridges, hospitals and health centres, schools and centres of learning. How could we not?

"Today we face new challenges such as the steady escalation in world oil prices, the reduction of world market prices for our exports and the serious threat of removal of preferential access for our traditional products, in particular bananas and sugar. Despite these circumstances the national economy continues to grow, jobs are being created and our social investment in education, housing, health and water continues in fulfilment of our manifesto promise to the people.

"Now we must consolidate our achievements. Whatever changes have to be made to chart the way ahead will be made. The stability of the Belizean dollar has never been in question. The international financial institutions have confirmed the solidity of our currency just recently. My Government recognizes and appreciates the need for good governance, as well as for broader consultation, accountability and full transparency in the management and oversight of the work of the government particularly in regard to the adoption and implementation of fiscal and monetary policies."

The newly reshuffled cabinet:

Hon. Said Musa: Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Defence and the Public Service

Hon. John Briceño: Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Natural Resources Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance

Hon. Vildo Marin: Minister of Health and the Environment

Hon. Ralph Fonseca: Minister of Home Affairs and Investment

Hon. Assad Shoman: Minister of National Development

Hon. Mark Espat: Minister of Tourism, Culture and Enterprise

Hon. Francis Fonseca: Attorney General and Minister of Education and Culture, Youth and Sports

Hon. Godfrey Smith: Minister of Foreign Affairs and NEMO

Hon. Jose Coye: Minister of Works
Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance

Hon. Cordel Hyde: Minister of Housing and Transport

Hon. Marcial Mes: Minister of Local Government and Labour

Hon. Servulo Baeza: Minister of Agriculture

Hon. Sylvia Flores: Minister of Human Development

Hon. Eamon Courtenay: Minister of Foreign Trade

Hon. Mike Espat: Minister of Fisheries, Cooperatives and Commerce and Industry


Hon. Ainslie Leslie: Minister of Energy and Communications

MINISTERS OF STATE:

Hon: Dave Burgos: Minister of State in the Ministry of Works

Hon. Ismael Cal: Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture

Hon. Rodwell Ferguson: Minister of State in the Ministry of National Development

Is the earthquake truly over or was it simply a trembling precursor to future instability?  Time, as they say, shall tell.

TOURISM DROPS IN MAY BUT INCREASES FOR SECOND QUARTER  For the first time in months, the number of tourists visiting Belize fell in May, down a little over 2% from May 2003.  Arrivals at the the international airport from April through June 2004, however, increased by 6.5% over the same period last year.   The cruise sector continues to show growth as more than 220 ships called on Belize City during the period January to June 2004, accounting for 452,262 passengers. This represents an increase of  almost 72% over the same period in 2003 when there were 263,989 cruise passengers recorded.

POSSESSING SMALL AMOUNT OF GRASS WON'T GET YOU ARRESTED IN BELIZE:  The police have bowed to reality and officially stated they won't charge anyone for possessing 2 grams or less of marijuana. That's the word from Police Commissioner Jose Zetina in late June.

COLTON HOUSE IN BELIZE CITY SOLD, WILL NO LONGER BE A GUESTHOUSE  Colton House, for many years one of the top guesthouses in all of Belize, has been sold by owners Alan and Ondina Colton.  After June 30, 2004, it no longer will be operated as a hotel.  The new owners, from France, have said they will restore the 1920s West Indian-style colonial house and will use it as a private residence.  The Coltons say they will retire to their home in Consejo Shores in the Corozal District.

CAYE CAULKER AIRSTRIP TO CLOSE FOR SIX MONTHS BEGINNING IN JUNE 2004:  The Belize government has announced that the Caye Caulker airstrip will close for six months beginning in early June for repairs to the landing strip.  While a fleet of water taxis will continue to serve the island from Belize City and San Pedro, local hotel owners and other tourist operators fear they will lose business due to the lack of air service.

BELIZE GOVERNMENT DEFICIT AND DEBT MORE THAN TWICE AS HIGH AS USA LEVELS Belize continues to run an annual government budget deficit of around 9% of GDP, and total external public debt is more than 92% of GDP, according to a report issued by the International Monetary Fund in April 2004. The IMF says the red ink poses a threat to the peg of the Belize dollar to the U.S. dollar, maintained at 2 to 1 since 1976. Belize’s net international currency reserves fell by about a third in 2003. Even with the huge increase in U.S. government spending under George W. Bush’s administration, the U.S. budget deficit is still under 4% of GDP and the total external public debt is around 50% of GDP. Thus, Belize central government budget deficit and central government debt levels are roughly twice as high as those in the U.S. “There is an urgent need to put in place comprehensive fiscal adjustment measures and tighten monetary policy to prevent a balance of payments crisis, return Belize to a sustainable policy path, and enable the country to regain a margin of resilience to exogenous shocks,” the IMF report said. In plain English, the IMF is telling Belize to cut spending, raise taxes and make credit harder to get.  Or else.

BETEX 2004 SET Belize Tourism Expo (BETEX) 2004 has been set for September 14-20, 2004, in Belize City. BETEX, held annually, showcases Belize as a travel destination, providing an opportunity for travel trade professionals to meet with local suppliers, learn more about Belize and experience the destination first-hand. This year's event has been designed with two days for business sessions and seminars, followed by three days of countrywide expeditions. For the first time, small hotels and operators at destinations in Belize (such as Placencia village or Hopkins village) are not permitted to band together to buy a booth, raising some complaints from those who cannot afford the full price of a booth.  BETEX is organized by the Belize Tourism Industry Association (BTIA) and the BETEX committee. Participating airlines are Continental, American, US Air and TACA. Hotels are the Radisson Fort George, Best Western Biltmore Plaza and the Princess Hotel & Casino. Tourism and hotel operators, travel agents and others can get information on BETEX 04 at www.betex.bz or by e-mailing golda@betex.bz or calling toll-free 1-866-96-BETEX.

 

BELIZE HITS TOURISTS WITH NEW FEES AND TAXES  Tourism is booming in Belize, so it's not surprise the Belize government has levied new and increased fees and taxes on tourists.

International Airport Departure Tax & Fees: A new "Airport Fee" of US$15 on non-citizens increases the total exit fee/tax for visitors from US$20 to US$35, as of April 1, 2004.  Belize's exit fee/tax package is now the highest in Central America.  Some airlines now include the exit charges in the price of airlines tickets. 

Hotel Room Tax: 9%, up from 7%, effective mid-2005

National Sales Tax on Most Items: 9%, up from 8%

Archeological Fees: Fees increased to US$5 at most sites, including Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Cahal Pech, up from US$2.50; at Caracol, fee is US$7.50. Effective April 1, 2004

Marine Park Fees: New fees for anglers, snorkelers or divers in protected parks will increase to US$10 to $15 per person per day, depending on the reserve, effective November 1, 2004.

Land Border Exit Fee: US$18.75, up from US$13.75, now in effect.

There is some good news, though. Visitors going to Mexico from Corozal for less than seven days will not be charged the approximately US$21 entrance fee by the Mexican government.

BTL SALE OFFICIAL It’s a done deal. Innovative Communications Corporation LLC has concluded an unconditional agreement with the Government of Belize to buy for US$100 million the 52% of Belize Telecommunications Limited shares owned by the government. The deal officially closes March 31 and ICC will take over BTL operations April 1. ICC is also acquiring the 26% of BTL shares held by the Belize Social Security Board. The remaining 22% of shares are owned by several hundred private investors. ICC, based in the United States Virgin Islands and West Palm Beach, Florida, owns and operated telcom and media companies in the British Virgin Islands, Sint Maarten/Saint-Martin, Guadeloupe, Martinique and elsewhere. The GOB purchased its majority ownership back from Michael Ashcroft’s Carlisle Ltd. ICC Chairman, President and CEO Jeffrey L. Prosser says that Belizean consumers will be “happy” with the new telecommunications service in Belize and that ICC will provide “the people of Belize with modern and expanding telecommunications service.” He says that while BTL’s general manager and other Carlisle managers will be replaced, other existing BTL management and employees will remain, and that the new GM will be a Belizean. Prosser says ICC has “no plans” to purchase BTL’s competitor in Belize, Intelco. He also says that The opposition United Democratic Party has condemned what it calls the “giveaways” to ICC by the United People’s Party.

BELIZE TOURISM CONTINUES TO ROCK Visitor arrivals continued to break records in 2004. According to statistics from the Belize Tourist Board, both overnight and cruise arrivals surged during the first two months of 2004. Arrivals at the Philip Goldson International Airport, the country's main port of entry, increased 9% in January and 17% in February compared to the same period in 2003. Fourteen out of the last fifteen months have seen record tourist arrivals. Cruise ship arrivals increased 67% in January and 82% in February.

NOVELO’S BUS LINE GOES BUST Smothered in debt and unable to pay its bills, the only national bus line in Belize has been put into receivership. Novelo’s was unable to pay its monthly mortgage payment of about US$250,000. Facing a debt load reportedly as high as US$24 million, the Novelo family business, which dates back 45 years, has been taken over by its creditors, the Development Finance Corporation, operated by the Belize government, and Atlantic Bank, one of five banks operating in Belize. The DFC had made a loan of about US$15 million to Novelo’s in late 2001. With part of that money, Novelo’s acquired Z-Line, then the major bus line in the south of the country. In 2002, Novelo’s received an exclusive license from the government to operate the nationwide bus system. The future of Novelo’s and bus service in Belize is unclear, but the receivers say that for the present bus routes will remain the same.

AMERICAN WOMAN KILLED IN GALES POINT
The badly decomposed body of a New Mexico woman was found March 2 floating in the Southern Lagoon near Gales Point village. Her nude body was wrapped in a bed sheet and tied to a cement block. The Belize police are treating the case as a homicide. Jovonna Poe, 57, who operated a computer training business near Taos, owned property at Soldier’s Creek near Gales Point. She had visited Belize on a number of occasions over the past several years, most recently arriving in mid-February. Poe, last seen kayaking in the lagoon February 26, had been scheduled to return to New Mexico at the end of February. A friend and office mate in Taos said Poe had been concerned about a local man in Gales Point, according to media reports in New Mexico. Poe had taken karate lessons to protect herself, the friend said. The police spokesman says the man is the “primary suspect” but no arrests have yet been made.

MULE AN’ CART MAN PASSES
Gilbert Wellington “Power” Ramsey, widely known in Belize City for singing spirituals while riding his mule and cart, died March 7 in Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital of complications of liver disease. Ramsey, 57, was a link to an earlier age. Like his father, Ramsey transported goods around the city by mule cart, always happy and singing religious songs. A born-again Christian, he became known around Belize when he went on a hitchhiking tour of the country in the early 70s. Several years ago, the D-Revelation Band dedicated the popular song “Power” to Ramsey. Ramsey’s casket was transported by “mule an cart” to St. John's Cathedral, where his funeral was attended by an overflow crowd, including a number of government dignitaries.

BLISS CENTER REOPENS
The Bliss Center for the Performing Arts in Belize City reopened in mid-March, after being closed for a year for US$4 million construction and upgrading project. The Center, which originally opened in 1955, was named for Baron Bliss, the English nobleman who donated his fortune to Belize despite having never set foot in Belize. The Bliss Center has a theater which seats more than 600.

BELIZE ECONOMY GREW AT 5% RATE
Driven by increased activities in tourism, shrimp farming and agriculture, estimates are that the Belize economy grew by almost 5% in 2003, one of the fastest rates in the region. Belize’s Gross Domestic Product is now about US$2 billion, according to the Government of Belize.

BELIZE TOURISM CONTINUES TO HIT RECORDS
Bucking the general slowdown in international travel, Belize tourism continues to turn in record performance. Every month in 2003 except September saw record increases in international arrivals to Belize. Tourist arrivals at the international airport in 2003 were up more than 17% over 2002., to about 152,000. Arrivals by land and sea were up more than 11% in 2003 over the previous year, to almost 78,000. Cruise arrivals were up by more than 80%, rising to over 575,000. Still except for cruise ship tourist, Belize’s total tourism figures are small compared to those of its Central America competitor, Costa Rica, which received an estimated 800,000 overnight tourist arrivals in 2003. However, tourism in Belize is growing while tourism in Costa Rica has remain stagnant or has declined for much of the last three years. The Belize government projects that overnight arrivals in 2004 will increase by 4 to 6% and that cruise ship passengers will increase to 30% (despite the limitation of no more than 8,000 cruise passengers will be permitted on any one day).

DUTIES DROPPED ON STAPLES AND SOME HOUSEHOLD GOODS
As part of an ongoing program to reduce or eliminate import duties on staples and other goods used by ordinary Belizeans, the Belize government has said it has removed or soon will remove import duties on food staples including tea, salt, toothpaste and baking powder. It also is removing duties on diapers, telephones, small scooters with engines under 50 cc, recorded music and videos including CDs and DVDs, musical instruments and floor fans. The sales tax will be removed (the duty was previously eliminated) on refrigerators of less than 15 cu. ft. and gas stoves. Most basic food and home items are now duty-free or at most have only the 8% sales tax levied.

CONTROVERSIAL CHALILLO DAM OKAYED BY PRIVY COUNCIL
The Privy Council in London, the highest court in the British Commonwealth, in late January ruled that work on the controversial Chalillo Dam could proceed.  Environmentalists have long objected to the dam, being built by the Canadian company, Fortis, due to potential damage to wildlife habitat and to its impact on the Macal River. Fortis owns Belize Electricity Ltd., the Belizean energy company.

BELIZE BANK ATMs NOW ACCEPT FOREIGN ATM CARDS
Automatic Teller Machines at Belize Bank locations around the country now accept both Belize and foreign-issued ATM cards on the PLUS and CIRRUS networks. They also accept Visa and MasterCard cards for cash advances. Belize Bank has 12 ATMs around the country, including San Pedro, the most popular tourism destination in the country. Until this change by Belize Bank, most ATM machines in Belize, except some at First Caribbean International Bank (formerly Barclay's) would not accept ATM cards issued outside the country.  Visa and MasterCard holders can, however, get a cash advance from their cards at most ATM machines in Belize.

CHANGES LIKELY IN PROPERTY TAX LAWS
Property taxes in Belize long have been very low. Even an expensive home on many acres of land usually has property taxes of only a few hundred dollars at most, and in many cases even these taxes have gone uncollected. This may be changing for those with larger holdings. Prime Minister Said Musa has said the government will introduce new legislation to assure that the annual speculation tax of 5% of value on land holdings of 300 acres and more is collected promptly. Also, new efforts will be made to put the burden on the owner to pay property taxes, and that valuations for holdings of 30 acres or more may be increased. However, the property tax rates will not increase, and those owning 30 acres or less will only pay a “token tax.”

NEW ROAD PLANNED TO CARACOL
A new all-weather road to Caracol, the largest and most important archeological site in Belize, is expected to be completed by late 2004. The project begun in early January involves the upgrading of 6 miles of road and the paving of about 9 miles, at a cost of around US$2.5 million.

NEW HOTELS IN COROZAL
Corozal Town has increased its stock of quality lodging with the opening of Copa Banana, a new 5-unit upscale guesthouse at 409 Corozal Bay Road, and the expansion of Corozal Bay Inn. Copa Banana (www.copabanana.bz) is operated by Connie Mietchen and Gregg Turrentine. Turrentine also operates Belize North Real Estate. Copa Banana rooms have en suite bathrooms, air-conditioning and cable TV and share a common kitchen, dining room and living room. Rates are US$55 a day. They also offer car rentals (US$70 daily) and scooter rentals (US$8 an hour). Corozal Bay Inn (www.corozalbayinn.com) next to Tony’s, is operated by Doug and Maria Podzun, has opened 10 thatch cabañas with color TV, near a “human assisted” beach on Corozal Bay. There’s also a restaurant and swimming pool. Rates are US$80 double. Scooters are available for rent.

TOURISM CHANGES IN BELIZE
Luba Hati in Placencia is under new ownership. Clifton and Carrie Logie purchased the stylish beach hotel in July 2003 and have since made improvements. Also in Placencia, Kitty’s Place has a new swimming pool. An upscale condo development, Zeboz, has opened at the north end of the peninsula, next to Calico Jack's.  On Ambergris Caye, Capricorn restaurant and resort has new owners. Salamander (www.salamanderbelize.com), an eco-oriented resort on far North Ambergris Caye, with five cabañas on the beach and three back in the island bush, has opened. Costa Maya also has opened way up north, at the site of the former Avalon timeshare. Several new restaurants also opened in 2003 in San Pedro, including the Stained Glass Pub, Taste of Thai and Caramba, all getting rave reviews. On Caye Caulker, the Seaside Cabañas are being rebuilt after the fire, Caye Caulker Condos have opened at the site of the former Tina’s Backpacker Hostel, which has relocated. Chan’s has new apartments available for weekly rental. The ever-popular Treetops has added a third floor with two honeymoon suites. Ragamuffin Tours has opened and is offering two-day trips to Placencia from Caulker. The new public pier has opened, replacing the old one. Near Orange Walk Town, the New River Lodge was partly destroyed in a fire in December 2003.

WAL-MART OPENING SOON IN CHETUMAL, MEXICO
Belizean shoppers will soon be able to get their Wal-Mart fix. A new Wal-Mart store is set to open in Chetumal, just across the border from Corozal, Belize. There is already a Wal-mart Supercenter in Cancun, along with a Costco and other discount stores. Wal-Mart operates more than 600 stores in Mexico.

News from 2003:

CARNIVAL CUTS DEAL FOR CRUISE PIER IN BELIZE CITY  Belize City isn't considered one of the Caribbean's tourist paradises, but Carnival Cruise Lines, which floats big cruise ships under more than a dozen brands, reportedly has cut a deal to build a cruise pier and related facilities in Belize City. It would cost US$50 million and have space for two mega-cruise ships to dock at one time. Carnival reportedly would commit to Belize City as a port of call for the next 25 years. At present, cruise ships must tend passengers in, as the Belize harbor is too shallow to accommodate the big ships. Many tourism interests in Belize object to the continued increase in cruise ship visitation, which strains local facilities and offers little to local businesses except a few well-connected companies handling cruise excursions. Some also see the growth in cruise tourism as damaging Belize's ecotourism and cultural tourism sites such as Maya ruins and caves.



YACHT GOES AGROUND ON REEF OFF AMBERGRIS CAYE

In August, a sailboat on an around-the-world trip went aground on the barrier reef while trying to sail into San Pedro. Many attempts by tugs, cranes and barges were made over a period of many days to refloat the boat. When it finally was pulled off the reef, it sank and at last report had been taken on a barge to Belize City. The Swiss owners reportedly had picked up the yacht in Taiwan four years ago and had sailed it some 25,000 miles without a major mishap until now. The owners stated they had no insurance and that the damage, including the loss of the keel and a large jagged hole in the hull, could take US$100,000 or more to repair. Photo by Chris Berlin.


TOURISM UP AGAIN IN JULY 
International visitor arrivals through the Philip Goldson International Airport near Belize City increased almost 22% in July 2003, to 13,799 visitors, compared with July last year. This is the ninth consecutive month of increases. Cruise ship visitation is also up significantly for the year. In most months, the number of cruise ship day visitors now exceeds overnight visitors.

BELIZE ADDS TOURIST POLICE IN PUNTA GORDA AND XUNANTUNICH   The Belize government has added 16 new recruits to its Tourist Police Unit, strengthening the Tourist Police presence in Punta Gorda. It also has added a mounted police unit at the Xunantunich Maya site. Tourist Police units are already in place in San Pedro, Caye Caulker, Dangriga, Placencia and Belize City.

 

JAGUAR REEF LODGE REPAIRED AFTER DAMAGE BY FIRE Repairs to Jaguar Reef Lodge, an upscale beach resort in Hopkins/Sittee Point, have been completed, and the resort now looks essentially as it did before it was damaged by a fire in late March. According to the owner, Bruce Foerster, a Canadian, a fire at Hamanasi resort nearby got out of control, swept down the beach and seriously damaged the main lodge building at Jaguar Reef, along with two of the hotel's duplex cabanas and the suites building. There were no no reports of serious injuries. Buildings at Jaguar Reef have thatch roofs.


BELIZE TOURISM SETS ANOTHER RECORD IN FIRST QUARTER
Tourism may be sliding in other parts of the world, but it's booming in Belize. Arrivals at the International Airport set a record for March and for the entire first quarter of 2003. A total of 19,061 visitors arrived at Philip Goldson International Airport in March. This represents an increase of 16.6% when compared to March 2002, which had 16,347 tourist arrivals. Over the past few months, record arrivals at the PGIA have also been set for January and February with increases of 19% and 13% respectively compared to the same period last year. Tourist arrivals at the PGIA for the first quarter of 2003 account for a 16.1% increase compared to the first quarter of 2002. These figures are from the Immigration Department and the Belize Tourist Board. Cruise ship arrivals also saw another increase. March recorded a total of 54,151 passengers representing an increase of 148% over March 2002. During the first quarter, 159,012 cruise passengers visited Belize.

GAS PRICES NEAR US$4 A GALLON IN BELIZE The price of unleaded premium has reached nearly US$3.80 a gallon in Belize City and $3.94 in San Pedro. Leaded regular on the mainland is US$3.70, and diesel is around US$ 2.40 to $2.45.


PUP RETAINS POWER IN PEACEFUL AND DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL ELECTIONS The reigning People’s United Party won re-election in national elections March 5, though it lost some seats. Said Musa overwhelmingly won his seat and will remain as prime minister. The PUP won 22 seats in the 29-seat House. The United Democratic Party won 7, more than doubling its representation. UDP flagbearer Dean Barrow won his race. The PUP garnered 52% of the vote and the UDP about 45% with the rest going to independents. About 79% of registered voters cast ballots. The election, which unlike recent elections in the United States was untainted by any serious conflicts or charges of significant corruption, marks the first time since independence in 1971 that the same party won two consecutive national elections.


AIR ARRIVALS UP 15% IN FOURTH QUARTER, 2% FOR THE 2002 YEAR
Tourist arrivals by air increased 15% in the 02 foruth quarter, compared to a weak same period in 01 following events of 9/11. Overall, tourist arrivals in Belize were up 2% for 2002, a fairly strong showing given weakness in international air travel.


BTL NO LONGER MONOPOLY, BUT LITTLE CHANGES
As of 2002 year end , Belize Telecommunications Ltd. no longer enjoys an official monopoly in Belize. But little has changed, with a rival company, Intelco., getting off to a slow start. Residents complain about worsening internet and other service. A growing number are turning to satellite internet services such as Starband.

DIPLOMATS REACH AGREEMENT ON GUATEMALA'S CLAIM TO BELIZE; ACCORD MUST BE APPROVED BY VOTERS IN BOTH COUNTRIES In September, "facilitators" working to resolve Guatemala's long-standing claim that it owns part of Belize came to what may be an historic agreement. The agreement is complex, but among its key points are that Guatemala will give up its claim to Belize territory, recognizing Belize's land boundaries from the 1859 Treaty. In exchange, a slight border realignment will be made that will give Guatemala about 3 square miles of land near Garbutt's Falls.
More importantly, Guatemala will gain important new maritime rights off southern Belize. As Sir Shridath Ramphal, facilitator for Belize in the negotiations, explained it at a news conference: "On maritime issues, Belize and Honduras join in facilitating an Economic Zone for Guatemala in the golf of Honduras leading to the Caribbean Sea. This is achieved by for the first time delimiting the Exclusive Economic Zones of Belize and Honduras, and doing so in such as way, as to provide this special Guatemalan Maritime Area with the attributes of an Exclusive Economic Zone.It comprises a zone of some two thousand square nautical miles--one thousand facilitated by Belize and Honduras respectively; but with Belize and Honduras retaining full fishing rights in the area and 50% of any mineral resources that may be in the seabed beneath. The wider area of the Gulf of Honduras will be managed by a Tripartite Regional Fisheries Management Commission in relation to what are described as `straddling' fish and other highly migratory fish stocks. All three countries will join in establishing an Ecological Marine Park including some of the Belize Cayes and parts of the coastal areas of Guatemala and Honduras. (Crowd murmurs) The Ecological Park will be managed by a separate tri-national commission."
Both major Belize political parties, the PUP and UDP, have come out in support of the accord, as have most civic groups in Belize. However, in Guatemala, reception has been much cooler, with public sentiment apparently overwhelmingingly against it. The agreement must be ratified by voters of both countries in a simultaneous election.


HISTORIC PASLOW BUILDING IN BELIZE CITY DAMAGED BY FIRE
The third floor of the Paslow Building was destroyed by fire in late September. The third floor of the historic wood-frame building housed the Magistrate's Court, and all paper records of the court were destroyed. However, many of the records in criminal trials were backed up on computer, but those for civil cases were not, officials say. The main post office on the first floor had water damage.

DIPLOMATS REACH AGREEMENT ON GUATEMALA'S CLAIM TO BELIZE; ACCORD MUST BE APPROVED BY VOTERS IN BOTH COUNTRIES
In September, "facilitators" working to resolve Guatemala's long-standing claim that it owns part of Belize came to what may be an historic agreement. The agreement is complex, but among its key points are that Guatemala will give up its claim to Belize territory, recognizing Belize's land boundaries from the 1859 Treaty. In exchange, a slight border realignment will be made that will give Guatemala about 3 square miles of land near Garbutt's Falls.

More importantly, Guatemala will gain important new maritime rights off southern Belize. As Sir Shridath Ramphal, facilitator for Belize in the negotiations, explained it at a news conference: "On maritime issues, Belize and Honduras join in facilitating an Economic Zone for Guatemala in the golf of Honduras leading to the Caribbean Sea. This is achieved by for the first time delimiting the Exclusive Economic Zones of Belize and Honduras, and doing so in such as way, as to provide this special Guatemalan Maritime Area with the attributes of an Exclusive Economic Zone.It comprises a zone of some two thousand square nautical miles--one thousand facilitated by Belize and Honduras respectively; but with Belize and Honduras retaining full fishing rights in the area and 50% of any mineral resources that may be in the seabed beneath. The wider area of the Gulf of Honduras will be managed by a Tripartite Regional Fisheries Management Commission in relation to what are described as `straddling' fish and other highly migratory fish stocks. All three countries will join in establishing an Ecological Marine Park including some of the Belize Cayes and parts of the coastal areas of Guatemala and Honduras. (Crowd murmurs) The Ecological Park will be managed by a separate tri-national commission."

Both major Belize political parties, the PUP and UDP, have come out in support of the accord, as have most civic groups in Belize. However, in Guatemala, reception has been much cooler, with public sentiment apparently overwhelmingingly against it. The agreement must be ratified by voters of both countries in a simultaneous election to be held in November 2002.

HURRICANE ISADORE MISSES BELIZE Other than heavy rains in Northern Belize and high seas along the coast, Belize was untouched by Hurricane Isadore, a Category 3 storm that hit the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, causing considerable damage there. Hurricane Lily, which rammed the Louisiana coast, also missed Belize.

ANOTHER JACKING NEAR EL PILAR; AMERICAN WOMAN SAID RAPED Another mass carjacking has taken place near El Pilar Maya ruins in western Cayo District, near the Guatemala border, but this time at least one and possibly two women were raped, according to early reports from Belize authorities and media. On the afternoon of Sunday, September 1, as many as six to eight vehicles were stopped at gunpoint by masked bandits on the road from Bullet Tree village to El Pilar, about 1 1/2 miles from Bullet Tree, say sources in Belize. Occupants of the cars were tied up and forced to lie on the ground. The bandits then took money, valuables and cell phones from them and their vehciles. It is believed the carjacking incident took place over as long as two to two and a half hours. One, or possibly two women, were raped. Initial reports from authorities say an American woman was raped repeatedly. A second woman may also have been raped but apparently did not make a report to authorities, at least not initially. According to one eyewitness and victim, Raymond Cox, a City Councillor in Belize City, as reported on Channel 5 TV, the bandits were four men who carried .22 caliber rifles and machetes and who spoke Spanish. However, at least one of the bandits also spoke a Belizean-style Creole, according to Cox, which suggests that one or more Belizeans may be involved in the crime. Several other recent incidents in Cayo have been blamed on Guatemalans crossing the border. In this case, there is speculation that Guatemalans crossed the border on horseback, with help from a Belizean, or someone living in Belize and familiar with Belizean language and customs, with a car. On an earlier Sunday afternoon this year, 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. Several other armed hijackings or hijacking attempts in Cayo have occurred over the past year.

DENGUE SWEEPS ACROSS CENTRAL AMERICA; FEW CASES IN BELIZE
Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador have reported serious outbreaks of dengue fever. Few cases have yet been reported in Belize, but the country is at risk due to cross-border traffic from Guatemala and Honduras. Belize, working with Mexico, has launched a massive mosquito spraying program which, it is hoped, will stop the spread of disease. There are two basic types of dengue: Classical dengue causes mainly flu-like symptoms. Hemorrhagic dengue is more serious and can be fatal. So far this year, Guatemala has reported more than 1,500 cases of classical dengue and a few cases of hemorrhagic fever. Honduras has had more than 16,000 cases of classical dengue and more than 400 cases of hemmorrhagic fever, with at least nine deaths. El Salvador has reported eight deaths from dengue. Belize, with the help of Mexican authorities, plans to conduct spraying programs against mosquitoes in high-risk areas which include parts of Benque Viejo, Belmopan and all of Stann Creek district. There is at present no vaccine or other preventative for dengue, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Treatment of classical dengue usually involves bed rest and taking non-aspirin pain relievers (aspirin can exacerbate internal bleeding associated with dengue). For hemorrhagic dengue, hospitalization may be necessary.

HUGH PARKEY DEAD OF HEART ATTACK
Hugh Parkey of Hugh Parkey’s Belize Dive Connection and one of the best-known dive operators in the country, died of a massive heart attack July 13 while on a trip to Cancun, following a shallow-water dive. Parkey, 56, an American who had lived in Belize for many years, had planned to move to Placencia later this year where he was to run the Turtle Inn dive operation. With his wife, Teresa, now GM of the Biltmore Plaza, he operated the Fort Street Guesthouse for many years. According to those close to the family, Parkey's body was cremated and his ashes are to be scattered on his beloved Turneffe Atoll, where he dived frequently. Besides Parkey, a number of noted pioneers of Belize tourism have died recently. Among them: Ken duPlooy who established duPlooy’s Lodge in Cayo, of heart failure; Skip White, who started Turtle Inn in Placencia, of cancer, in Chicago; Tom Giblin, who built Serenity hotel in Placencia, murdered in Puerto Cortes, Honduras; and Logan Gentry, who helped revitalize El Pescador fishing lodge on North Ambergris Caye and who also helped develop a new fishing lodge in Toledo district, in a boating accident near San Pedro.


TROPICAL WAVES CAUSE FLOODING, TEMPORARILY CLOSING HIGHWAYS IN WEST AND SOUTH
The rainy season began in earnest with a crash of thunder, as a series of tropical waves moved across Belize in late June, creating torrential rains that temporarily closed the Western and Southern highways, along with the Coastal road from Democracia to near Dangriga. The bridge over Beaverdam Creek at St. Matthews village on the Western Highway was damaged and, for a time, bus and truck traffic were barred from crossing the bridge. The bridge has now reopened for all traffic, but a new bridge is planned. Several bridges along the Southern Highway, including one at Deep River, were under water for several days. Conditions are returning to normal, however, and hotel operators say there is no need for anyone to cancel a trip to Belize because of the flooding, which is common from time to time during the summer and early fall.

BELIZEANS WERE CHOCAHOLICS 2,600 YEARS AGO:
According to a report in Science Magazine, humans developed a fondness for chocolate about 2,600 years ago when the Mayas used earthenware teapots to prepare cacao drinks. The evidence, residue in clay pots, was found at Colha, a Maya site in Northern Belize.


BELIZE CITY CRIME WAVE CONTINUES
Murders, shooting sprees and attacks on security guards continue to be almost daily occurrences in Belize City, the murder capital of Belize. At least seven people were killed in July. In August, the epidemic of death slowed, but On June 18, two Bowen and Bowen employees, Patrick Robateau and Leslie Pipersburg, allegedly shot three security guards at the company's distribution center on Slaughterhouse Road, killing two of them. Later, the two allegedly murdered a couple in a car in the University Heights area of Belize City. Robateau and Pipersburg later were arrested in Tijuana, Mexico, and returned to Belize. In mid-July two died in a gangland-style killing in downtown Belize City. A drive-by shooting killed a Belize City newspaper vendor in late June. On Neal Penn Road, a man died after robbers broke into his home, put a bucket over his head and beat him severely. Thugs have attacked at least six different security guards in the past month, stealing their weapons. Armed robberies of shops and stores in Belize City happen so frequently that many are not even reported in the media. One gas station, the Texaco near the BelChina Bridge, was robbed three times in a six-week period beginning at the end of May. But crime isn't confined to Belize City. In mid-June, a gang of four went on a rampage in Corozal and Orange Walk Towns. The gang kidnapped a Mennonite couple from Shipyard, Susanna and Enrique Petkau, robbing them, killing the wife and injuring the husband. They also gang raped at least two women and robbed several businesses. On Ambergris Caye, a resident was stabbed to death in a family dispute.


BELIZE CURRENCY STABILIZES
After months of weakness in the face of U.S. dollar shortages, the Belize dollar appears to have stabilized. In late June, legal casas de cambio in San Pedro and Belize City were offering just 2.05 Belize dollars to 1 US dollar for most transactions, and even grey market money changers at the Santa Elena border crossing near Corozal were offering only 2.05 to 1 for small transactions, and a little better for larger ones. Previously, some money changers had been giving from 2.20 to 2.40 for each US dollar. Regular transactions at most Belize businesses still are at the established rate of 2 to 1.

NEW TOURIST VILLAGE IN BELIZE CITY GETS RAVES FOR EYE APPEAL AND CLEANLINESS, BUT BUSINESS COULD BE BETTER
Tourists and locals who have seen it give the new Fort Point Tourism Village high marks for its attractive shops, cleanliness, ease of parking and safety. But shops in the Tourism Village say business results so far are mixed. When cruise ships are in port, the Village is busy. Many cruise passengers are just lookers, however, and don't buy much, shop clerks say. With free food available on the ships, passengers are loathe to spend money at Village restaurants. At times when no cruise ships are docked, business is very light. Among the shops at the Tourist Village are a number of gift and craft shops, tour operators, a car rental agency (Crystal), an Internet café and several eating establishments. Some local residents were put off by the fact that initially the Village locked out locals, permitting access only by tourists. Now, however, the Village is advertising aggressively for local business. Local hotel owners say they like having some water taxis to San Pedro and Caye Caulker based at the Fort Point Tourist Village.

CRUISE TOURISM: HOW WILL IT WORK OUT?
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 Norwegian Sea, Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Dream (Norwegian Cruise Line), Galaxy (Celebrity Cruise Line), Volendam (Holland America Line), Carnival Spirit, Carnival Legend and Carnival Pride (Carnival Cruise Lines), Nordic Empress, Rhapsody of the Seas and Splendor of the Seas (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 Galaxy is unusual in that it has a 10-day itinerary leaving from Baltimore. Cruise lines are adding "exotic" 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.

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 Galaxy said that passengers on the 1,850-passenger Galaxy 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.

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.

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