Note: News articles in this archive were contemporaneous reports and
generally have not been updated to reflect events that may have occurred
after the articles appeared.
SEASONAL RAINS BEGIN; ROADS IN SOUTH FLOODED Seasonal rains began
on schedule this year, with downpours hitting Stann Creek and Toledo districts
in early June. Heavier than usual rains have continued into July, flooding
parts of the Coastal Highway, Southern Highway and road to Placencia. Visitors
planning to drive south are advised to check road conditions before they
attempt the trip, or to consider flying to Dangriga, Placencia or Punta
GUATEMALA FARMER KILLED BY BDF Belize Defence Forces soldiers
allegedly shot and killed a Guatemala farmer, Mateo Paiz, who was selling
produce in Arenal village, in western Belize just south of Benque Viejo.
Arenal villagers generally dispute BDF claims that the farmer was a serious
threat to the soldiers, who were armed with rifles, although he may have
been waving his machete. They say Paiz, from nearby village of El Rondón
in Guatemala, often came to Belize to sell produce door-to-door. Paiz's
was shot to death in front of his 10-year-old son. The Guatemala government
has protested the shooting. In August, a Commission of Inquiry convened
to investigate the death determined that Paiz was killed in self defense
and no one is to be held criminally responsible.
LOBSTER SEASON OFF TO SLOW START The 1999 lobster season began
June 16. Smaller than-expected catches appeared to reflect a continuing
decline in the Belize lobster population, due to overfishing, especially
in the south. The season continues through March 15, 2000. More than 90%
of Belize's lobster catch is sold to the Red Lobster chain, through a long-time
arrangement between the restaurant company and the Northern Fisherman Cooperative.
CONSERVATIONIST PIONEER JAMES A. WAIGHT DIES James Aloysious Waight,
first president and founding member of the Belize Audubon Society, proponent
of Belize's national park system, former colonial governor of Belize and
head of the colonial survey department, died May 29 at the age of 92.
WHALE SHARKS BECOMING TOURIST ATTRACTION Whale sharks, gentle
giants of the ocean, are regularly seen off the southern coast of Belize
in between April and June. Snorkelers flock to see these huge fishes. Separately,
a large whale was seen in mid-July off Barranco, a rarity since whales generally
are too big to come inside the reef. Naturalists were not able to view the
whale closely enough to identify the species.
CAUSEWAY ACROSS PLACENCIA LAGOON PROPOSED A causeway across the
Placencia Lagoon connecting Independence village and the Placencia peninsula
has been proposed by Betty Zabaneh, president of the Belize Senate. Some
peninsula residents are concerned about the environmental impact of a causeway.
TOURIST BOARD CLEANS UP, POINTS WAY A reinvigorated Belize Tourism
Board led by Tourism Minister Mark Espat and Director Valerie Woods is helping
clean up the roadways of Belize and putting up signs to keep visitors from
getting lost. In late April, the BTB, Ministry of Tourism and Belize Waste
Control Limited removed 47 old, rusty vehicles from the sides of the Northern
Highway, and 62 from the Western Highway. Separately, the BTB is erecting
road signs to direct tourists traveling by rental car to key destinations
such as the Belize Zoo. Eight signs are being placed where the Northern
and Western highways enter Belize City. Another sign will go up at the junction
of the Northern Highway and the road to the international airport.
BELIZE TOURISM UP IN 1998, SETS RECORD IN MARCH 1999 International
tourist arrivals through the Philip Goldson International Airport rose 9%
in 1998, to almost 95,000, according to the Belize Tourist Board. About
70% of the tourists were from the United States. An additional 6,000 visitors
came through the airport on business purposes. Statistics for arrivals by
sea and land are incomplete, but figures from the Santa Elena border crossing
at Chetumal show a comparable 8.5% increase over 1997-2001. Following two down
months in January and February 1999, March 1999 was a record month for international
tourism to Belize. Tourist arrivals at the international airport totaled
12,130 in March, the first time the number has exceeded 12,000 in a single
month. Visitor arrivals were up more than 5% from the year-earlier period.
The BTB says its new US$1 million North American ad campaign, featuring
large-space ads in consumer publications including Condé Nast
Traveler, Islands and Audubon, along with full-page ads in travel
agency magazines, contributed to the increase in arrivals. The ads began
running in February. Observers, however, note that it usually takes a longer
period for the impact of magazine ads to be reflected in tourist arrivals,
since most trips are planned months in advance. The BTB says it is fielding
some 100 calls a day in its Belize City office inquiring about Belize, and
that its Web site is getting about 3,000 visitors a week. The Tourist Board
has shut down its New York office. Calls to its 800 number and mail sent
to New York are now routed to the Belize City office. Although March was
a record month for tourism, Belize remains relatively untouristed and undiscovered
by mass tourism. By contrast, Costa Rica averages about 75,000 international
arrivals a month, the island of Cozumel averages more than 75,000, and the
resort island of Cancun gets more than 200,000 tourists in the average month.
The BTB's new tourism logo and slogan, "Mother Nature's Best-Kept Secret,"
is designed to convey the message that Belize offers a variety of natural
attractions both on land and in the Caribbean.
TACA SUSPENDS NON-STOP MIAMI-BELIZE SERVICE Hard-pressed by rivals
American and Continental, TACA dropped its daily Miami-Belize non-stop service
as of April 19. Service continues through San Pedro Sula. The Miami non-stop
flight may be reinstated later, TACA management said. The Belize government
is trying to woo other carriers to replace the non-stop Miami service. TACA
also discontinued its non-stop service to Belize from New Orleans. TACA's
daily non-stop service from Houston continues. (Editor's Note: TACA resumed
non-stop service from Miami to Belize in June.)
"PENSIONADOS" TO GET TAX BREAK ON CARS AND HOUSEHOLD GOODS
Patterned on a popular Costa Rica program, now discontinued, the Belize
government has proposed new laws allowing the tax-free import of a vehicle
and household goods and personal effects for "Qualified Retired Persons"
from the U.S., the U.K. and Northern Ireland who reside in Belize. Canada
reportedly may be added to the final version of the law. A "pensionado"
would have to show a guaranteed monthly income, from a pension or annuity,
of at least US$1,000, or deposit at least US$12,000 annually in a Belize
bank. Under the program, retirees could also import an additional vehicle
tax-free every five years. Retirees cannot work in Belize without government
approval, but they can operate businesses outside Belize and any income
from outside Belize would not be taxed in Belize. The Retired Persons Incentive
Act was introduced in January. It is expected a final version of the law
will go into effect in May. Applications for admission under this program
will be made to the Ministry of Tourism, which will draw up further regulations
for the retiree program.
IMMIGRATION TIGHTENED, FEES INCREASED FOR RESIDENCY, WORK PERMITS
In an effort to stem the tide of illegal immigration into Belize, the PUP
government has enacted legislation which requires businesses that hire illegal
immigrants to pay the costs of repatriating illegal workers in addition
to paying existing heavy fines. Public carriers of illegal immigrants will
face fines of up to US$2,500 per immigrant and will also be ordered to pay
repatriation costs. New regulations which went into effect February 5, 1999,
also increase the cost of residency and work permits for non-citizens. Under
the new rules, U.S. and most European citizens applying for permanent residency
will pay a US$625 non-refundable fee, while Commonwealth citizens will pay
US$500. Fees for other nationals range from US$125 to $1,500. Work permit
fees for professional and technical workers increased to US$750 per year
and general workers to US$100 per year. Work permits will not be issued
for waitresses, vendors, domestics and farm hands "save in exceptional
circumstances." Visas/tourist cards for those not on permanent residency
status have increased to US$12.50 per month for up to six months, then US$25
per month after six months.
VAT TAX REPLACED BY SALES TAX The highly unpopular 15% Value Added
Tax was replaced April 1, two years after its introduction, by an 8% national
sales tax. While small businesses and some classes of goods were exempt
from the VAT, the new sales tax applies to nearly all sales transactions
in Belize. Hotel accommodations, already subject to a 7% hotel tax, are
exempted. The tax on alcoholic beverages is 10%.
CRIME NEWS: Crime continues to dominate the news in Belize. While
most Belizeans and visitors to Belize say they feel safe, especially outside
Belize City, the crime rate in Belize's largest city and throughout the
country continues to soar, with the police seemingly unable to do much to
stop it. A new curfew for those 16 years and under may help reduce street
crime in Belize City. Even keeping those caught in jail seems a problem
for Belize authorities, as break-outs continue to occur with regularity
at the over-stuffed Hattieville prison.
* U.S. EXPAT MURDERED A 62-year-old American citizen, Fredrick
Hopkins, resident in Belize City for over a year, had been found dead near
Bermudian Landing. He had been missing since April 1. His vehicle, abandoned
and stripped, was found earlier. Hopkins died from severe head injuries.
The U.S. Army veteran, whose last residence in the U.S. is not known, had
worked in Belize delivering building supplies. A former co-worker, who reportedly
told friends he was sorry for what he did to Hopkins, has been picked up
* POPULACE HORRIFIED BY CHILD MURDERS Belizeans have reacted with
horror to news of the murder, torture and sexual abuse of two young girls
in Belize City. In October, a 12-year-old girl, Sherilee Nicholas, was found
dead, and then in March, the body of Jackie Fern Malic, also 12 years old,
a student at St. Ignasius School, was found with stab wounds to her buttocks,
vagina and legs, and with part of her left arm chopped off. Prime Minister
Said Musa said the killings reflect the same kind of madness of Jack the
Ripper in London in the last century. The investigation, which is being
assisted by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, continues.
* THREE CHINESE KILLED IN BELIZE CITY Chinese businesses continue
to be victimized by Belize City hoodlums. At least three Chinese business
owners have been killed in recent weeks. The latest victim, Li Ron Chong,
a popular grocer on Jasmine Street in the tough Martin de Porres neighborhood,
was killed in a robbery in late March, while his 7-year-old son looked on.
His wife was struck across the head with a butt of a gun by one of three
masked and black-clothed men. The Chinese community has charged that Belize
City police have been ineffective in preventing crime against Chinese-owned
stores. They point to a series of robberies, burglaries, attacks and murders,
most allegedly by Creole men, going back several years. Police have arrested
several Belize City men in connection with this and other crimes against
* MENNONITE MAN KIDNAPPED A Mennonite businessman, Meno Penner,
was kidnapped and reportedly is being held for ransom. Details are sketchy.
BELIZE FULLY CERTIFIED BY U.S. IN DRUG WAR The United States has
determined that the Belize deserves full certification for its efforts in
counternarcotics. U.S. Ambassador to Belize Carolyn Curiel, a former Clinton
speech writer, stated, "I am delighted that the President has recognized
the efforts of Belize in working with the United States to curb the flow
of illegal drugs. This certification is the result of the Belizean Government's
commitment in ensuring that this country is no haven for drug smugglers
and I anticipate that our joint efforts will continue and grow in strength."
HARD-CURRENCY SHORTAGE HITS BELIZE BUSINESSES In late winter,
some Belize businesses reportedly were unable to pay their bills due to
a shortage of U.S. dollars. The businesses have been unable to convert Belize
dollars to U.S. dollars to remit payment outside Belize. Hard currency shortages
have occurred occasionally in the past, but such shortages appear to be
happening more frequently, boosting the gray-market exchange rate at the
Belize border to 2.15 Belize dollars, per U.S. dollar, or more, from the
peg of 2 to 1, and sparking renewed rumors of a coming devaluation of the
COROZAL FREE-TRADE ZONE TAKING OFF Mexicans looking for bargains
have fueled a boom at the Corozal Free Zone just south of the Santa Elena
border station. The zone now has 50 operational businesses, and officials
with the zone claim that by the end of 1999 some 200 businesses may be open.
It employs more than 300 Belizeans. Mexicans from Chetumal are flocking
to the zone where they can buy gasoline, alcohol, cosmetics and clothing
at duty-free prices. Businesses in the zone racked up sales of US$47 million
in 1998. The zone is currently off-limits to Belizeans, although Belizeans
returning from Mexico can fill up on gas at savings of almost two-thirds
from the going Belize price of more than US$2.50 a gallon.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS OPPOSE DAM Sharon Matola, head of the Belize
Zoo, and other environmentalists have come out against the construction
of the Chalillo hydro electric generating plant on the upper Macal River.
Matola says the development of the 2,700-acre site would be "an environmental
crime of the highest degree" and extremely detrimental for many endangered
species, including a sub-species of the Scarlet Macaw, Baird's tapir, Morelet's
crocodiles and the jaguar.
NEW ECO GUIDE TO BELIZE PUBLISHED The Ecotraveller's Wildlife
Guide, Belize and Northern Guatemala, by Les Beletsky, is the latest
entry in the Belize guidebook sweepstakes. This new guide, published in
London by Natural World Academic Press and endorsed by the Wildlife Conservation
Society, focuses on the birds, reptiles, mammals and marine life of the
region. It includes dozens of color plates of Belize wildlife. List price
for the 487-page book is US$27.95.
BELIZE HOTEL CHANGES New hotels are open or planned in several
areas of Belize. In the Hopkins/Sittee Point area, Beaches and Dreams and
Tipple Tree Beya Inn have opened recently. In Gales Point, White Ridge Inn,
a four-room rental house, has opened (but it is closed in the off-season
from April through November ) and plans by White Ridge Farms for a 35-room
upscale resort, with a golf course (if you can believe it) have been announced
for "sometime" in the future. In San Pedro, The Tides has opened
at the north end of town. In Crooked Tree, the Crooked Tree Resort has closed,
and in Bermudian Landing Jungle Drift Lodge has changed hands. New properties
in Placencia include Miller's Landing. Also on the Placencia peninsula,
the Hotel Seine Bight has new owners, its English owners being replaced
by Americans. The forced sale and its confused aftermath generated numerous
complaints from guests who charged that they were moved from the hotel to
other accommodations or didn't receive the meals or other services they
expected. The hotel has been renamed the Bahai Laguna. The Inn at Robert's
Grove is expanding again, with six new rooms to be open by October. Tamandua
Jungle Experience near Belmopan has closed and is up for sale.
CARACOL VISITOR CENTER OPEN A 1,500-square foot visitors center
with displays depicting the history of Caracol, is now open for visitors
to the Classic period Maya site, which in its prime in 700 A.D. had a population
of 150,000 with more than 30,000 structures. The US$5 admission to Caracol
includes entry to the visitors center. Visitors centers are also open at
Cahal Pech, Altun Ha and Xunantunich. Lamanai has a small museum.
BELIZE WEB SITE CONSOLIDATION Tony Rath, operator of the Belize
by Naturalight (Belize.net) Web site, has purchased the You Better Belize
It Web site from Ulrich Communications in Miami for an undisclosed sum.
The site, which had received some 125,000 total visitors, was put out for
bids to several potential buyers. Rath says he will continue to operate
Belizeit.com as an independent site, with improvements and enhancements.
NEW NEWSPAPER IN DANGRIGA Southern Exposure, a weekly newspaper,
has began publishing in Dangriga. Editor and publisher is Lydia Chuc, formerly
with the San Pedro Sun.
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