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.
TRAFFIC DEATHS DOWN IN BELIZE In 1997, 19 persons were killed
and 299 seriously injured in traffic accidents in Belize, compared with
34 deaths and 384 persons seriously injured the year before, according to
the Traffic Department. The improvement was attributed to increased police
surveillance and better traffic flow, mainly in Belize City. Drunk driving
is the leading cause of traffic accidents in Belize.
GANG, DRUG VIOLENCE CONTINUE IN BELIZE CITY A crusading anti-drug
policeman, Levi Spain, 22, was killed December 15 in a mysterious hit-and-run
automobile incident as he rode his bike on East Collet Canal Street in Belize
City. Spain reportedly had been aggressive in moving into areas where marijuana
is openly sold. During the same week, another 22-year-old, Julian Bush,
an escaped fugitive and criminal "reared on the crack streets of Belize"
as The Reporter newspaper described him, was shot dead during an attempted
robbery of a Chinese businessman, Boalin Tang, who was wounded during a
shootout with Bush. The merchant, one of a number of Chinese businesspeople
who have been attacked in Belize City by street thugs in recent weeks, has
been praised by members of the local Chinese community for fighting back.
After being shot twice by Bush, Tang pulled his .38 revolver and blasted
three shots into the Creole, who died shortly afterwards. Two alleged associates
of Bush, Frank Castro and Marcel Gabourel, also escapees from Hattieville
prison, reportedly have been linked to the death of a cab driver in Belize
City on the same night as the death of Julian Bush in the attempted robbery.
The involvement of these two also has not been ruled out in the murder of
a butane gas deliveryman and the wounding of his partner in Hattieville,
police say. Separately, police have arrested Melvin Young, whom they allege
has tried to establish a gang empire in Belize City by uniting two big street
gangs, the Crips and the Bloods. Young has been charged with abetment to
murder, in connection with the gang slaying of Liston "Big Crips"
McField in November.
U.S. LANDOWNERS TARGET OF VIOLENCE IN COSTA RICA New incidents
of violence flared up in Pavones, on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, following
the death of a U.S. rancher in November, apparently in a dispute with squatters.
In mid-December, an American landowner was attacked and stoned by a group
of about 40 campesinos as the American and his workmen attempted to dismantle
a squatter camp on his land. He escaped with minor injuries.
WILL VIOLENCE IN MEXICO SPILL OVER INTO CENTRAL AMERICA? The massacre
of 49 Indians, including women and children, in the southern Mexico state
of Chiapas has renewed fears that continuing violence in Mexico could spill
over into Guatemala and other parts of Central America. More than 300 have
died so far in violence in Chiapas.
DELTA SETS LATIN EXPANSION WITH SERVICE TO FOUR CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES
-- IS BELIZE NEXT? Delta Air Lines in December announced an ambitious
plan to increase service to Central and South America, with Atlanta as the
hub. The carrier said it will begin nonstop service in April between Atlanta
and Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Panama. It is now seeking government
okays to fly to Belize and six South American countries. It may add service
to other Latin cities over the next several years. Delta has been slow to
penetrate Central and South America, focusing instead on domestic service
and on Europe, although it long has served Mexico and recently began flying
to Brazil. American Airlines, Continental and United are the major U.S.
carriers in Latin America.
BELIZE AIR MERGER COMPLETED Maya Air, established in 1962, and
Island Air, started in 1989, in December completed their previously announced
merger. They're operating as Maya Island Air, with 11 airplanes serving
all destinations in Belize plus service to Flores (Tikal), Guatemala.
NEW GALLON JUG PRODUCT LINE LAUNCHED Barry Bowen's forces have
launched a new Gallon Jug Estate line of Belize products, named after the
Bowen farm in Orange Walk District. Gallon Jug Coffee sports a new package,
as do the mango jellies and jams. A new hot sauce, Lissette's Secret Sauce,
is said to be selling well.
HERTZ BACK IN BELIZE Hertz is in Belize again, after an absence
of about three years, in an association with Safari Limited Car Rental,
operated by Betty Jean Hunt. Safari/Hertz is located at the new Shell station
near the international airport. It picks up customers in a courtesy van.
Safari/Hertz rents Isuzu Troopers and says it will add a few Toyota 7-seat
Landcruiser Prados around Easter.
COSTA RICA HAS 30,000 PROSTITUTES Between 15,000 and 30,000 Ticas
work as prostitutes, according to official estimates.
TRAVEL CHANNEL FILMS IN SAN PEDRO Exotic Islands, which airs on
the Travel Channel on cable TV, has filmed a show exclusively featuring
Ambergris Caye. Model Hunter Reno hosts the program. The film crew stayed
at the SunBreeze and shot film at Tarzan's disco. It missed the famed chicken
drop at the Pier Lounge due to an arrival delay. The segment is scheduled
to air in February 1998.
BAY ISLAND LAND JUMPS IN PRICE Beachfront land on Roatan, Honduras,
has increased by as much as 30% or more during 1997-2001, according to International
Living newsletter and other sources.
NEW PRIVATE HOSPITAL PLANNED FOR BELIZE CITY A small 40-room private
hospital is being planned by a group of Belize doctors headed by Dr. victor
Lizarraga and Dr. Anastacio Cob. Completion date of the hospital has not
been announced. A new diagnostic and imaging center operated by the same
group is set to open in January on Goldson Avenue.
THREE DIE IN BARRANCO BOAT ACCIDENT Three people including a community
college student and a baby died in an October 11 accident en route to the
predominantly Garifuna village of Barranco in Toledo District. The boat,
reportedly captained by Alfredo Rash, was carrying a full load of 15 people
and capsized in rough water. The remaining passengers were rescued by a
passing skiff operated by Bobby Polanco. Garifuna leaders say that if the
road to Barranco were made an all-weather one and if a bridge were built
over the Moho River, it would not be necessary to travel by boat to and
from Barranco in the rainy season, thus avoiding this kind of tragedy.
CHRISTMAS HOTEL BOOKINGS STRONG Despite a punk tourism season
for most of 1997-2001, Christmas bookings appear strong on Ambergris Caye, Caye
Caulker, and in Placencia, according to reports from would-be travelers
and hotel operators. Tourists report that only the most-expensive or least-desirable
hotels still have space available. Seats on airplanes to Belize around Christmas
and New Years are already almost fully booked.
ACCUSED KILLER WALKS OUT OF PRISON, THEN ALLEGEDLY KILLS AGAIN IN
CRIME RAMPAGE After serving three months time in prison for burglary,
Winsworth Mangar, 22, in May walked out of jail a free man. The only problem
was, Belize police forgot to tell prison authorities he should have remained
in custody to face charges he murdered Dr. Byron Foster last year at the
British-born anthropologist's Cayo farm. Once free, Mangar allegedly went
on a rampage of crime around San Ignacio and Belmopan, including the killing
October 13 of Joseph Bulwer, a retired government official who was once
acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at the former
official's farm near Camalote village. Police are still hunting for Mangar
and two other men. News media in Belize have called Mangar "Belize's
Most Wanted Man."
DOLPHIN SWIMARAMA GIVEN TENTATIVE OKAY The controversial swim-with-dolphins
theme park at Cangrejo Caye near Ambergris Caye has been given tentative
approval by the Belize Ministry of Tourism and the Environment, pending
an environmental impact study. The lease on Cangrejo has been issued, a
permit to dredge has been granted, and the development concession to Grupo
Ritco de Eco-Dessarrollo S.A. de C.V of Cancun has been conceptually approved,
according to reports. The Belize Audubon Society and other environmental
groups have opposed the theme park, and a petition opposing the attraction
also has been signed by more than 700 San Pedranos. A two-page ad promoting
the dolphin swimarama ran in the new 1998 edition of Destination Belize,
the magazine sponsored by the Belize Tourism Industry Association. Susan
Fuller, BTIA president, said that the Miami publisher of the magazine approved
the ad and that it was not endorsed by BTIA.
OFFSHORE MED SCHOOL OPENS St. Matthews University School of Medicine
officially opened September 6 on Ambergris Caye at ceremonies attended by
local and national dignitaries and by school officials from Washington State.
The initial class has 23 students, with 50 more expected in January, and
an additional group coming in May, according to the university. School officials
claim the med school may eventually enroll 450 students in its two-year
program and that a total of US$15 million could be invested in the medical
school. St. Matthews is now housed in temporary facilities at Banyan Bay,
Mar de Tumbo, but plans are for a permanent campus nearby. St. Matthews
is one of a growing breed of controversial for-profit, offshore medical
schools ~ fueled by U.S. government student loans ~ that attract mostly
American students who want to become doctors but who can't get into U.S.
medical schools. Most of the offshore schools are in the Caribbean or Mexico,
due to the proximity of these locations to the U.S. The quality of these
schools varies. Some, such as St. George's University in Grenada and Ross
University in Dominica, have a good record of getting their students into
clinical internships in the U.S. and have a respectable rate of pass on
U.S. medical boards. Others appear less qualified.
DENGUE FEVER STRIKES BELIZE Belize City, Dangriga, and Northern
Belize are among the areas with incidents of dengue fever, but most other
parts of Belize, including Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker, have had at
least a few cases, according to reports from Belize. The total number of
cases in Belize is unknown. The government says there have been only a handful,
but the number is more likely at least in the hundreds. Dengue fever, a
viral disease transmitted by Aedes aegypti mosquitoes and generally causing
a flu-like illness lasting a few days to several weeks, is on the rise in
much of the Caribbean, Central and South America, and in Mexico. Costa Rica
has reported more than 10,000 cases this year, up by more than 100% from
last year, and the Mexican Yucatan has had more than a thousand cases in
1997-2001. The Aedes mosquitoes are most active during the day and, unlike the
type of mosquitoes that transmit malaria, are more common in urban areas
instead of rural or bush areas. They are often found indoors. Peak feeding
by Aedes usually occurs in the early morning and late afternoon, and on
overcast days. The mosquitoes are most common toward the end of the rainy
season. People who have dengue fever are NOT infectious (except to mosquitoes),
and person-to-person transmission does not occur. There is no vaccination
to prevent the disease. The treatment is complete bed rest and taking Tylenol-type
medicine (not aspirin as it can promote bleeding with dengue). The more-serious
types of dengue have not been reported in Belize.
BELIZE CITY TOURIST CENTER STUDIED Hibernia Bank and the Lugano
Group, both based in New Orleans, are conducting a feasibility study for
a cruise ship tourist center at Fort Point in Belize City, formerly the
old Customs complex on the waterfront. Observers say a key point of the
study will have to be how to overcome visitor perception that Belize City
is one of the crime capitals of the Western Hemisphere.
CONTINENTAL ADDS EXTRA FLIGHT TO BELIZE Beginning December 18,
Continental Airlines will add a second daily flight to Belize City from
Houston. American and TACA also have international flights to Belize.
BELIZE TOURISM STAYS FLAT Visitor arrivals by air in Belize for
the first six months of 1997-2001 totaled 48,417, down about 1.4% from 49,100
for the same period in 1996, and off about 7% from 1995. However, May and
June saw solid increases from the previous year, a possible indication that
the weakness is tourism in Belize has about run its course. Informal reports
from hotel operators suggest that the summer of 1997-2001 is at least somewhat
better for many than was what many called the "disaster" of the
summer of 1996. Any improvement would be welcomed by hotel operators. Overall,
hotel occupancy in Belize stands at only about 31% for the first half of
1997-2001, less than one-half that of average levels in the U.S., Canada, and
Western Europe. Belize's occupancy rate would bankrupt hotel operators in
most other parts of the world. Belize District and Ambergris Caye have the
highest hotel occupancies, at close to 40%. Toledo District has the lowest
rate, at about 10%. Belize Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel says that, with
proper development and promotion, Belize could host 500,000 international
visitors a year, about five times the present level. Tourism officials blame
Belize's weak tourism environment on lack of competitive air fares to the
country from the U.S. and Canada, lack of direct air service from Europe,
inadequate international promotion and public relations, higher prices in
Belize than in neighboring Mexico and Honduras, and the perception that
there is a serious crime problem in Belize, especially in Belize City.
TWO NEW BUTTERFLY CENTERS FOR CAYO Chaa Creek and its Blue Morpho
Butterfly breeding center is getting new competition from not one but two
new butterfly ranches in Cayo. Green Hills Butterfly Ranch and Botanical
Collection (tel. 501-9-23310, fax 8-23361, e-mail email@example.com), operated
by veteran butterfly rancher Jan Meerman, who was formerly associated with
Shipstern Nature Reserve in Sarteneja, and dragonfly and damselfly expert
Tineke Boomsma, is open at Mile 8 of the Mountain Pine Ridge road. It is
open to visitors daily Christmas through Easter, by appointment the rest
of the year. Entrance fee is US$2.50 per person with a minimum of two people.
Tropical Wings Nature Center is set to open in January 1998, between Miles
71 and 72 of the Western Highway about 6 miles west of San Ignacio. The
project is a joint Belizean-U.S. effort. Florentin Penados of San Jose Succotz
is president and general manager; John Yaeger is a U.S. biologist working
on the plant and butterfly developments; and his wife, Judy Yaeger, a teacher
in the U.S., is in charge of finances and marketing. Fallen Stones Butterfly
Ranch near Punta Gorda is another Belize butterfly operation. Associated
with Tropical Wings is The Trek Stop (tel. 501-9-32265, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org),
a budget-priced lodge now open near San Ignacio with cabins for US$10 and
camping for US$3.50. Tent rentals are available for an additional US$2.50.
CAPTAIN MORGAN'S, ROCKS, AND BARRIER REEF HOTEL FOR SALE Three
more Ambergris hotels reportedly are on the market: Captain Morgan's Retreat,
the nine-acre, 21-cabana resort on North Ambergris, is offered for a whopping
US$3.2 million. Separately, Magnum Belize, the operator, announced Hugh
and Teresa Parkey, who own Four Fort Street Guesthouse in Belize City, are
now managing the resort. One of San Pedro's oldest structures, the Barrier
Reef Hotel in the center of San Pedro Town, with 12 rooms, pool, and restaurant,
is for sale for US$695,000. Rock's Inn is also on the market, for US$1.5
BLACKBIRD CAYE BACK ON BLOCK Blackbird Caye Resort, sold by Houston's
Al Dugan last fall, reportedly is up for sale again. The owner is said to
be willing to sell Blackbird in a package with Manta Reef Resort on Glover's
Reef, or separately.
MARUBA FOR SALE Maruba Spa and its 1,000 acres on the Old Northern
Highway near Altun Ha is on the market for a whopping US$5 million. Listing
agency is Sunrise Realty in San Pedro.
TWO NORTHERN RESORTS CLOSE, A THIRD TO REOPEN Pretty See Ranch,
the lodge and restaurant on the Old Northern Highway near Altun Ha which
has received rave reviews from BELIZE FIRST readers and other Belize travelers,
has closed. An internal situation between the Belize operator, Pamela Kimberly,
and her Oregon-based partner, Finis Carter, allegedly contributed to the
closure. Carter may reopen the lodge under another name, according to sources.
Separately, Casablanca by the Sea at Consejo in Corozal District, owned
by a U.S. physician, has at least temporarily discontinued offering lodging,
although the restaurant remains open. It may reopen as a B&B. The Don
Quixote hotel and restaurant in Consejo Shores near Corozal Town, closed
for several years, is set to reopen late this year.
NEW FOR AMBERGRIS CAYE: Here are some of the new developments
on Ambergris Caye:
* TROPICA BEACH RESORT A new beach hotel, Tropica has opened next
to Villas at Banyan Bay at Mar de Tumbo south of San Pedro. The casual small
resort has a 34-seat restaurant and an open-air bar.
* CAYE VILLAS Like Ambergris but don't want a condo? Caye Villas
is one option. Developed by Bob and Diane Campbell, Caye Villas at Mata
Grande is a small development (construction of five houses has been approved)
which offers freestanding 2,000-square foot houses with some of the advantages
of condos, such as a shared pool and common grounds maintenance. Three villas
have been built. Although houses can be made available for nightly, weekly
or monthly rentals by owners, or through the Campbells, there is no pressure
on the owner to do so, says Diane Campbell, as has happened in some cases
with in the "condotels" in San Pedro. An associated 10-room dive
hotel, The Caye Resort, is next door.
* ESSENE WAY OPEN TO PUBLIC The Essene Way, formerly The Belizean
resort on North Ambergris and renovated to the tune of some US$7 million
to offer free vacations for terminally ill adults, is now open. "Several
families in crisis have been brought down to the resort," says developer
and food supplement entrepreneur Tom Ciola of Orlando, but "until we
have enough funds to be 100% humanitarian, we are also booking rooms to
the general public on an availability status." Rates this winter are
US$125 a night plus tax. A restaurant also is open to the public.
* SAN PEDRO SUPERMARKET With the opening of San Pedro Supermarket
at the San Juan Statue Crossroads, Rock's has another competitor in San
Pedro. Despite the competition, grocery prices remain high on the island.
A 6 oz. tin of tuna goes for US$1.50 at the new grocery, and an 8 oz. bag
of potato chips, on sale, is over US$2, while a 750 ml bottle of imported
Tanqeray gin breaks the bank at about US$23.50.
PLANTATION AT PLACENCIA OFFERS 50 BEACH LOTS The Plantation at
Placencia, a planned community of several hundred acres about 4 miles north
of Seine Bight Village, is marketing 50 seafront lots in phase one. Prices
begin at US$45,000 for a lot with 75-foot frontage on the water, or about
US$600 a front foot. Construction is set to begin this fall on a model home
designed in what the developer, Belize Land and Development of Arlington,
Washington, calls the "British Honduran architectural style of times
MONKEY RIVER GETS NEW LODGES Two small lodges are opening at Monkey
River. Bob's Paradise is a three-cabana lodge accessible only by water,
and the Monkey House is a small B&B.
INTERNATIONAL ARRIVALS TO BELIZE FLAT Visitor arrivals by air
in Belize for the first six months of 1997-2001 totaled 48,417, down about 1.4%
from 49,100 for the same period in 1996, and off about 7% from 1995. However,
May and June saw solid increases from the previous year, a possible indication
that the weakness is tourism in Belize has about run its course. Informal
reports from hotel operators suggest that the summer of 1997-2001 is at least
somewhat better for many than was what many called the "disaster"
of the summer of 1996. Overall, hotel occupancy in Belize stands at 31.4%
for the first half of 1997-2001, less than one-half that of average levels in
the U.S., Canada, and Western Europe. Belize's occupancy rate would bankrupt
hotel operators in most other parts of the world. Belize District and Ambergris
Caye have the highest hotel occupancies, at close to 40%. Toledo District
has the lowest rate, at about 10%. Belize Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel
says that, with proper development and promotion, Belize could host 500,000
international visitors a year, about five times the present level.
POPULATION EXPLOSION IN PETEN Thousands of Mayans from the Highlands
of Guatemala are arriving in the Petén, the jungle area of Guatemala
near Belize, every month, seeking land. Hundreds of thousands of uprooted
peasants have been on the move as a result of Guatemala's three-decade-long
civil war, which ended late in 1996. The Petén, which adjoins Belize's
western border, has seen its population increase more than 20-fold in the
last 30 years, to 360,000, and the current annual growth rate is as much
as 15%. The region's population may hit half a million within the next three
years, a level more than twice as high as the entire population of Belize.
Squatters attempt to replicate Highland Guatemala's slash-and-burn style
of agriculture in the low jungle, resulting in rapid erosion and even desertification
of the poor soil of the Petén. Some experts think the 3.9 million
acres of protected jungle that make up the Maya Biosphere Reserve, including
the world-famous Tikal ruins, are threatened.
LOBSTER RANCHING IDEA ABORTED Opposition by Belize fishing coops,
tourism operators, and environmental groups at least temporarily shelved
plans by the Belize government to allow a Taiwan group to farm lobsters
at a caye off Sittee Point. The marine farming idea was opposed in part
because of concerns that the impact on barrier reef ecology was not clear
and that such a program might harm Belizean fishing interests.
NIM LI PUNIT STELLAE VANDALIZED In August, culprits apparently
used a machete to deface four stellae at Nim Li Punit near Punta Gorda.
No one has yet been arrested for the crime.
U.S. JOURNO BIGWIG VISITS BELIZE David Lawrence Jr., publisher
of the Miami Herald, in August toured Belize at the invitation of
George Bruno, U.S. Ambassador to Belize. He stayed at Blancaneaux and met
with UDP Prime Minister Manuel Esquivel and PUP challenger Said Musa (who,
Lawrence reported, said of the upcoming 1998 election, "It's the economy,
stupid.") Among Lawrence's earthshaking observations: Belize has only
three stop lights and seven elevators.
SWIM-WITH-DOLPHINS PARK PROPOSED FOR AMBERGRIS A smaller version
of a Cancun theme park has been proposed for the Cayo Cangrejo area of Ambergris
Caye by Grupo Ritco de Eco-Dessarrollo S.A. de C.V of Cancun. The proposal
is under consideration by the Belize Ministry of Tourism and the Environment.
Such swim-with-dolphins businesses, while popular with tourists in Mexico,
Honduras, Florida, and elsewhere, have been criticized by animal rights
and environmental groups.
30 BELIZE COPS UNDER INVESTIGATION FOR DRUG DEALING About 30 police
officers are being investigated for drug trafficking activities, according
to Minister of National Security Dean Barrow.
TOURISM IN BELIZE STILL FALTERING Despite spotty improvements,
tourism remains weak in much of Belize. For example, the 1996-97 season
was a very slow one for Mountain Equestrian Trails in Cayo Its owners, Jim
and Marguerite Bevis, have temporarily returned to Texas. Business recently
has been "dreadful," says Marguerite, citing high costs, poor
promotion by tourism authorities, and other problems. The lodge remains
open under new resident managers, Bob and Camille Armantrout, who have leased
the property for a year.
TERREMOTO FELT IN BELIZE An earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter
scale was felt in much of Belize on July 6. The quake, which caused no serious
damage, was centered about 60 miles off Punta Gorda in the Caribbean Sea.
PENNY-STOCK COMPANY CLAIMS IT WILL DEVELOP SALT ESTATES SITE Wall
Street Financial Corp., a tiny U.S. Over-the-Counter company with stock
trading recently at about 33 cents a share, claims it will "develop
the first-ever mixed-use destination resort in the country of Belize"
at Mayan Salt Creek Estate, a 31,423 acre site near Ladyville north of Belize
City. According to a widely circulated company press release, the resort
will include a " world-class ecological resort" with a "golf
course and five-star deluxe low-rise hotel, as well as both executive and
affordable housing areas." Many observers are skeptical, however, noting
that planned development of the Salt Creek Estate is something that is announced
every few years but has yet to come to fruition. Others point out that published
financials show a peculiar situation: Despite grandiose plans, Wall Street
Financial had revenues in its most recent reported quarter of only US$358,576,
and its main claimed "net asset" is whatever interest it may have
in the Salt Creek Lake lands in Belize, which are valued by the OTC company
at US$134.5 million, or about 35% of the total annual GDP of Belize.
FIVE NEW MAYAN CITIES DISCOVERED IN ORANGE WALK Five new major
Maya cities and more than 50 other sites have been discovered in the jungles
of Rio Bravo over the past several years by archeologists from the University
of Texas. The archeological team is headed by Dr. Fred Valdez.
SEA & AIR FESTIVAL REVS UP San Pedro's annual Sea & Air
Festival will be held August 19-24.
DISCOUNTED AIR FARES FINALLY AVAILABLE American Airlines has been
offering fares to Belize and Honduras from Miami and elsewhere for around
US$200 round-trip through AA's "NetsAAver" fares, last-minute
specials offered through the Internet. Those interested can check AA's Web
site at http://www.americanair.com or call a travel agent.
AMERICAN TOURIST DROWNS WHILE SNORKELING A U.S. tourist, Floyd
Henry Crews, died in July while snorkeling off Ambergris Caye. He was one
of a group of tourists aboard the snorkel boat "Royal Blue." Reportedly
Crews was separated from his wife, other snorkelers, and the boat during
a thunderstorm. Investigations are underway.
'97 LOBSTER SEASON LOOKS GOOD Early reports of catches in the
1997-2001 lobster season, which began June 15, are very good. One co-op reported
it caught as many pounds of lobster in the first week of the season as it
did in all of the 1996 season.
TROPIC AIR PILOT KILLED IN BELIZE CITY CRASH A Tropic Air cargo
flight from the international airport to the Belize City municipal airport
crashed into the Belama Extension Phase 2 housing development just off the
Northern Highway near the Best Western Biltmore Hotel early in the morning
on July 23. Reportedly the pilot tried to set the plane down on a road,
but it caught some power lines and hit two houses. The pilot was killed,
but there were no other fatalities or serious injuries. Ironically, the
crash occurred very near the pilot's home.
BELIZE'S RICHEST MAN GETS RICHER Michael Ashcroft, British by
birth, Belizean by naturalization, and business tycoon by inclination, just
got a lot richer. Say, US$275 million richer. That's the approximate value
of his options in Tyco International Ltd., Tyco shares, and cash severance
from the sale of ADT Ltd., a security company headed by Ashcroft, which
is being taken over by Tyco, a manufacturer of security alarm systems. Ashcroft,
though out of the job of ADT CEO he's held for many years, is more than
a quarter of a billion dollars wealthier, thanks to savvy and timely changes
to his stock option plan with ADT. Ashcroft, 51, is worth an additional
US$100 million by virtue of an about two-thirds ownership of BHI Corp. which
in turn owns Belize Bank, the Radisson Fort George Hotel, and part of the
Belize electric and telephone monopolies. Ashcroft's total net worth is
now more than the annual Gross Domestic Product of Belize.
BIG FIRE SWEEPS THROUGH OLD BUILDINGS IN BELIZE CITY In late June,
a pre-dawn fire which began in an old building on King Street raged through
parts of Prince and Albert streets. Many buildings, mostly wooden structures
set close together, were destroyed. At least five businesses and a number
of homes and apartments burned. The damage estimates are in the millions.
No deaths were reported.
HOTEL OCCUPANCY UP, TOURIST ARRIVALS DOWN IN FIRST QUARTER Tourism
results from the Belize Tourist Board for the first quarter of 1996, high
season for tourism in Belize, were mixed. Average hotel occupancy rates
for the quarter were up from 1996, to 37.5% compared with 36.2% last year,
but tourist arrivals at the international airport were down by almost 5%,
to 28,573. Apparently, more visitors are arriving by land and sea. Hotel
revenues were also down, likely reflecting discounting or a move by visitors
to less expensive lodging. Hotel occupancy rates in the first quarter were
highest on Ambergris Caye (47.7%), Placencia (44.7%), and Belize District
(41.7%). Caye Caulker, Stann Creek District, and Placencia saw the greatest
increases in occupancy.
MAYHEM ON ROADS OF BELIZE While the entire country of Belize has
fewer cars on the road and fewer miles of highway than many small towns
in the U.S. or Canada, the number of traffic accidents in Belize is staggeringly
high, and the number keeps growing. In most months, 200 or more accidents
are reported. Through May of this year, there have been 24 deaths due to
traffic accidents. Reckless driving and driving while under the influence
of alcohol are the cause of most accidents, authorities say. Observers note
that driver education is lacking in Belize, that procedures for getting
drivers licenses are lax, that some roads in Belize are narrow and poorly
signed, and that the police traffic department is short of staff and equipment.
MEDICAL SCHOOL ON SAN PEDRO MOVING AHEAD St. Matthews University
School of Medicine's offshore medical school is closer to reality, with
three temporary buildings scheduled to be completed in July at Mar de Tumbo,
reports the San Pedro Sun. School officials say 150 students will be enrolled
in the first class this fall. Students will wear a uniform consisting of
white shirt and tan skirt or slacks. The permanent campus, with construction
scheduled to begin later this year, is to be located south of San Pedro
Town near Holiday Lands, according to the San Pedro Sun.
CAULKER HEADS UPMARKET WITH CONDOS AND SUITES The first condos
on Caye Caulker are scheduled to open in August, according to The Caye Caulker
Village Voice newspaper. The first building in Emerald Pointe Condominiums'
three-building development at the Split will have 10 condo units and two
penthouses, with prices from about US$95,000 to $250,000. The controversial
project likely will be run as a condotel, similar to those on Ambergris
Caye. Separately, Iguana Reef Inn is under construction, with suites hotel
units in the US$75 to $100 a night range expected to open late this year.
More in the Corker tradition, the 1788 Motel, near the Split, owned and
operated by George Besta and his partner Abe Meehl, both U.S. expatriates
now resident on Caye Caulker, has opened. The motel has seven rooms with
private bath around a courtyard with rates of around US$25 a night. A 21-room
dive resort owned by Shaun Keating also has recently broke ground on Caulker.
It is unclear whether the island can support all the new development. Occupancy
rates even in the high season on Caulker rarely exceed 33%, according to
Belize Tourist Board figures.
HEAVY RAINS HELP BREAK DROUGHT IN WESTERN BELIZE Torrential rains
in late June have helped break the dry-season drought in parts of Western
Belize. Low river levels have meant electrical brown- and black-outs as
power generation at the Mollejon hydroelectric plant has been reduced. Forest
fires have plagued the Mountain Pine Ridge.
BATTY'S DEBUTS LUXURY BUS Batty Brothers has introduced a new
articulated, 57-seat luxury bus, the Crown Ikar, to its fleet of about 70
buses in Belize. The bus is air conditioned and has bucket seats for passengers.
A second of these buses is on order from the European manufacturer. The
flexible center portion allows the bus to maneuver narrow Belize City streets.
The luxury liners probably will be used on the Belize City-Chetumal Northern
Highway route. Prices will be slightly higher than for regular buses.
TROPIC AIR LETS CUSTOMERS WRITE ADS Tropic Air, based in San Pedro,
has been running a contest in the San Pedro Sun newspaper which encourages
customers to send in their short headline for Tropic's newspaper ads. Winners,
who receive a non-designated prize, have included "Varoommm with a
View" submitted by Wil Lala of Caribbean Villas and "The Ones
Who Care" by Marion and Volker Jerichow of Germany. Entries can be
made to the San Pedro Sun, P.O. Box 35, San Pedro Town, Ambergris
Caye, Belize, C.A.
IMF TIGHTENS SCREWS ON BELIZE, HINTS AT UNPEGGING BELIZE DOLLAR
The International Monetary Fund in early June said that it's urging "deeper
fiscal consolidation" by Belize. Despite Belize's improved performance
in international trade, in boosting revenue through higher taxes, and in
cutting fat from the civil service, the IMF, known for its hard-nosed approach,
wants Belize to do more. Belize should raise government revenues and cut
spending further, the IMF said. Following its annual "economic surveillance
mission" to Belize, the IMF said that continuing external support from
the Monetary Fund and aid from the U.S., Britain, and other countries is
only "temporary relief," not a substitute for internal fiscal
reform, nor a way to redress Belize's "macroeconomic imbalances."
The IMF's published report suggests that the Belize dollar's peg to the
U.S. dollar depends "crucially" on strengthening the country's
financial position and on local wage restraint. The IMF wants Belize to
broaden its tax base, eliminate tax exemptions, and improve customs collections.
The IMF's recommendations may not sound good to many Belizeans, who are
already reeling from the impact of the pullout of British troops, the addition
of the 15% VAT, high local interest rates of nearly 20%, a weak tourism
sector, and increased competition from nearby low-cost producers such as
Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras which, unlike Belize, have currencies that
float against the U.S. dollar and other major currencies.
PRE-ELECTION MUD GETTING THICK In the best democratic tradition,
mud is being slung thick and fast in Belize , in anticipation of next year's
general election. The party in power, the UDP, is running "attack ads"
against the PUP and its leader, Said Musa, in Belize newspapers, while the
PUP, widely expected to win the election were one held now, charges the
UDP with everything from mismanaging the Belize economy to disenfranchising
voters through the voter re-registration program pushed through the legislature
by the UDP in mid-June. The timing of the re-registration scheme is viewed
with suspicion by many Belizeans. Also, Belize's many citizens now living
outside the country fear that they will be at least temporarily disenfranchised
by the re-registration process. The UDP, for its part, claims that the PUP
has in recent years packed the voter lists with illegal aliens from Guatemala
and Honduras, and that re-registration will help provide cleaner, more fraud-free
elections in the future.
ECONOMIC INDICATORS MIXED Selected economic indicators from the
International Monetary Fund show a mixed picture of the Belize economy.
Inflation in Belize, reflecting the impact of the VAT imposed in April 1996,
jumped to a 6.3% annual rate in 1996, about twice that of the U.S., but
fell back to 4.75% in early 1997-2001. Real Gross Domestic Product grew 3% in
1996, in line with expectations. Export volume expanded 6% last year, the
best performance since 1992, and imports declined by 2.9%, but this improvement
was offset by weakness in tourism and the fact that the pullout of British
troops reduced capital inflows. The external current account deficit increased
from 1.75% of GDP in 1995 to 2.5% in 1996. Total external debt remains high,
at 33.1% of GDP in 1996. The Belize dollar gained 5% in its real effective
exchange rate in 1996.
BELIZE NOT PART OF "OPEN SKIES" AGREEMENT TO CUT AIR FARES
At the Central America summit in May, five C.A. nations -- Costa Rica, Guatemala,
El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua -- plus the United States agreed to
sign an ``open skies'' accord to create new air routes to the region with
potentially lower fares. Belize was absent from the agreement, despite concern
by tourism interests in Belize that high fares to Belize are a major reason
why the number of arrivals to the country dropped in 1996, and dissatisfaction
with high air travel costs by expat Belizeans wishing to visit home. The
open skies agreements allow airlines to provide passenger and cargo services
between any point in the participating countries as well as to third countries.
It also will give airlines the right to price their services as they choose
and will remove all restrictions on capacity. Henry Young, Belize minister
of tourism and the environment, has told tourism groups he is working to
reduce air fares to Belize.
NEW ACCORD PROTECTS REEF In early June, the governments of Belize,
Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras signed an agreement to protect the barrier
reef shared by the four countries. The accord is designed to protect the
fragile reef, aid tourist development, and improve fishing opportunities
in the region. The agreement covers the reef from the Yucat~n peninsula
in Mexico to Roat~n Island in Honduras. Stretching for more than 600 miles,
this barrier reef along the coast of the four countries is the second-longest
in the world after the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. The section along
the Belize coast alone is fifth-longest in the world.
SHRIMP HATCHERY PLANNED FOR AMBERGRIS CAYE A company with a shrimp
farm operation on the Belize mainland has plans to open a shrimp breeding
and hatchery center on north Ambergris Caye. Nova Companies, Ltd. says it
has a contract on 16 acres in the Basil Jones area. The company is testing
the feasibility of breeding shrimp and hatching eggs on Ambergris for its
Ladyville operation. At present, the company must import shrimp eggs from
BELIZE BY NATURALIGHT WINNING INTERNET WAR? Tony Rath's Internet
development group appears to be winning the Internet war in Belize. While
Belize Online, operated by Belizean Manolo Romero and Californians Susan
and Izzy Garcia got off to a strong start, that site has added few new clients
or advertisers in recent months, while Rath's group claims to be adding
an average of two new sites a week. "We have a backlog now and are
planning on hiring a fifth person and moving to a new office," says
Tony Rath. Observers think that the Rath has the advantage in having superior
graphics and better local connections. You Better Belize It and other commercial
Belize sites appear to be also-rans, observers say.
COCA-COLA SMUGGLED INTO NORTHERN BELIZE Cheap Mexican Cokes are
flooding into Northern Belize, in a fairly large-scale smuggling operation.
In part because these soft drinks are not subject to high Belize taxes,
or to import taxes, they sell for one-half or less of the cost of Coca-Cola
bottled by the Bowen group in Belize. The Bowen folks have complained to
the Ministry of Trade.
BELIZE MAKES FRONT PAGE OF WASHINGTON POST ... IN HIGHLY NEGATIVE
STORY The Washington Post, which suddenly has shown an interest
in little Belize, ran another article on Belize in early June, this one
on the front page of the "World News" section, highly negative
of Belize's drug enforcement efforts. The Post quotes U.S. government
reports that the ability of the Belize government to combat drug trafficking
is "severely undermined by deeply entrenched corruption, which reaches
into the senior levels of the government .... Politics, incompetence, and
corruption have accompanied undermanned and poorly equipped police investigative
SERIOUS CRIME DOWN 30%, POLICE SAY Serious crime in Belize (mainly
robbery, burglary, and gun possession) dropped 30% in the first quarter
of 1997-2001 compared to the same year-earlier period, according to Belize Police
Commissioner Ornell Brooks. The incidence of rape increased, from seven
to 10 in the period, and the murder rate was unchanged, with 10 murders
occurring in both three-month periods.
SNAKES FEATURED ON NEW BELIZE STAMPS Slither on down to your nearest
Belize post office for the latest colorful Belize stamps, a set of four
stamps with a different beautiful Belize snake on each one: yellow-jawed
tommygoff (fer de lance), bead and coral snake (coral snake), guinea hen
snake (speckled racer), and green vine snake. The stamps were designed by
Doreen McGuiness and printed in Barbados.
CHRISTMAS BIRD COUNT A record 217 species of birds were counted
in one day at Gallon Jug during the annual Christmas Bird Count sponsored
by the Belize Audubon Society. The 1996 Belize City count, the 28th consecutive
annual count for this area, totaled 181 species, with 21,501 individual
birds counted. The Belmopan count found 198 species. The first Belize Christmas
count was conducted by W. Ford Young in early 1970.
NEW LODGE AND BUTTERFLY CENTER TO OPEN IN CAYO The Trek Stop,
a budget-priced lodge, and an associated butterfly and nature center, are
set to open near San Ignacio. The accommodations are scheduled to open in
early July, while the Tropical Wings Nature Center is supposed to open in
January 1998. The project is a joint Belizean-U.S. effort. Florentin Penados
of San Jose Succotz is president and general manager; John Yaeger is a U.S.
biologist working on the plant and butterfly developments; and his wife,
Judy Yaeger, a teacher in the U.S., is in charge of finances and marketing.
POOL AND SPA AT CHAN CHICH LODGE A swimming pool and spa opened
in late March at Chan Chich Lodge. The new additions were designed and the
construction supervised by Tom Harding, who with his wife, Josie Harding,
co-manages the award-winning jungle lodge for owner Barry Bowen.
SANTINO'S AND COURTS SLUG IT OUT Courts, the large Caribbean retailer
that moved into Belize about two years ago, is giving Santino's and other
local retailers fits. Santino's is running ads trying to counter Courts'
specials. Local observers chuckle and say, "Just wait until Wal-Mart
or K-Mart finally open in Belize!"
BELIZE COOKBOOK AVAILABLE Belizeous Cuisine, a collection of Belize
recipes, has been published by LABEN, the organization for Belizeans in
Los Angles. It may be obtained by sending check or money order, payable
to LABEN, to LABEN, P.O. Box 19001A, Los Angeles, CA 90019 The book is US$15
and shipping and handling is $2.95 for the first book, $1.25 for each additional.
LABEN's other contact information is tel/fax: 213-732-0200, with a Web site
FIRE SWEEPS 3,000 ACRES IN PINE RIDGE AND RESORTS NARROWLY ESCAPE
On April 24 and 25, a massive forest fire of unknown origin raged over
more than 3,000 acres of the Pine Ridge. At one point, it reportedly came
close to destroying both the Five Sisters and Blancaneaux lodges, but the
efforts of forestry department fire fighters, and some luck, allowed the
lodges to escape damage. Guests staying at the lodges had to be evacuated.
The cause of the fire is as yet unknown. However, the Cayo has experienced
hot, dry conditions during April. On April 22, a record high temperature
for April, 98 degrees F., was set at Central Farm, Cayo.
OFFSHORE MEDICAL SCHOOL CLAIMS PLANS TO OPEN IN SAN PEDRO. An
offshore medical school has sent press releases to media saying it plans
to open a school of medicine on Ambergris Caye. The press releases did not
include an address or telephone number, only an e-mail address. In the release,
Mary Beth Downs, who describes herself as dean of academic affairs with
a Ph.D., said that "I am pleased to announce that on April 21 the Government
of Belize and St. Matthews University School of Medicine signed a charter
for the establishment of a medical school in San Pedro. The school will
offer courses leading the M.D. degree and will be open to all qualified
applicants. Once established, St. Matthews anticipates enrolling three classes
of 150 students each year. St. Matthews anticipates enrolling the first
class in the fall of this year." Offshore medical schools in Belize
have had a brief but checkered history. One in Belize City allegedly took
advance payments from students but never opened; another operated for a
short time in Belize City but then relocated to another part of the Caribbean.
Offshore medical schools, run for profit, have sprung up in the Caribbean
to meet the demand by U.S. students who aren't able to get admitted to U.S.
schools. There are schools on several islands including St. Vincent, St.
Maarten, and Grenada. St. George's University, which has campuses on Grenada,
St. Vincent, and the Grenadines, is considered one of the best of the Caribbean
medical schools, with more than 2,000 students having been awarded the M.D.
degree, a high student pass rate on the U.S. medical boards, and graduates
practicing in some 40 countries.
THREE NEW TARANTULA SPECIES DISCOVERED IN BELIZE Memphis biologist
Steve Reichling has discovered three new types of tarantulas in Belize,
including a fingernail-size arachnid that is the smallest tarantula known
to exist and a spider unique enough to receive its own genus name, Crassicrus
lamanai. Crassicrus, the genus name, means ''thick-shinned'' in Greek, and
lamanai is the species name, so called because because it was discovered
in northern Belize near Lamanai Outpost Lodge where the biologist was staying.
RADISSON WINS INDUSTRY AWARD The Radisson Fort George is one of
15 Radisson hotels worldwide to win a top Radisson customer service award,
according to General Manager Norman Pennill. Based on responses from guest
comment cards, the hotel received the 1996 Advocate Award from the Radisson
chain. According to Pennill, 99.6% of guests filling out the comment card
said they were "willing to return" to the hotel.
NEW ELECTRIC CABLE TO BE LAID TO AMBERGRIS CAYE Belize Electricity
Ltd. has announced it has awarded a US$6.3 million contract to a French
company, Alcatel, to lay a 34.5kV submarine cable to Ambergris Caye. The
12 1/2 mile cable will connect to a Maskall substation which is part of
the power grid carrying electricity from Mexico.
BETEX '97 EXPO LOOKING GOOD The Belize Tourism Expo 1997-2001, set
for July 15-18 at the Belize Biltmore Plaza in Belize City, has sold out
nearly all of its 74 supplier booths, and interest in the event appears
even higher than for last year's successful show, according to organizers.
BELIZE SUN PROVING SUCCESS WITH VISITORS The Belize Sun, operated
by the owners of the San Pedro Sun, Bruce and Victoria Collins, has
quickly established itself as the most useful of local Belize tourism publications.
The Sun is distributed free to visitors at hotels and other outlets
in Belize. The typical 40-page, tabloid-sized issue contains travel advice
and numerous articles on destinations in all parts of Belize. It is published
nine times a year.
OPPOSITION PUP PARTY SWEEPS BY ELECTIONS: Hard-fought but peaceful
and democratic elections for town board seats around Belize held March 11
resulted in a sweep by the opposition People's United Party (PUP). Every
municipality in Belize, including San Ignacio which was a former United
Democratic Party stronghold, is now controlled by PUP. PUP politicians are
playing the "VAT card" -- claiming they will do away with the
unpopular tax if returned to power in the 1998 general elections.
OPERATORS CAUTIOUSLY HOPEFUL ABOUT TOURISM After a dismal showing
in 1996,when hotel occupancy dropped by as much as a fifth during some periods,
and air arrivals in Belize fell almost 5% for the year, tourism may be on
a modest upswing. Some of the higher quality resorts, such as Chan Chich,
report strong occupancy and bookings for the winter and early spring. Officials
at the Belize Tourism Industry Association called the '96 summer season
in Belize a "disaster" but are hoping for an improved summer of
'97. According to the Belize Tourism Board, tourist arrivals at the international
airport totaled 83,756 in 1996, down from 87,981 in 1995 and 87,399 in 1994.
Air arrivals represent about 70% of all visitor arrivals in Belize. However,
in an optimistic sign, air arrivals in the fourth quarter of 1996 were up
by 2.3% from the year earlier period.
U.S. citizens make up 71% of all tourists arriving by air, with Canadians
making up almost 7%. Tourists from Europe, including the United Kingdom,
constitute 13% of air arrivals. With a number of new hotels and resorts
having opened in the past year, the decline in air arrivals means that fewer
tourists are being divided among a larger number of hotel rooms. The Belize
Tourist Board estimates that there are now 360 hotels in Belize with a total
of 3,690 hotel rooms and 6,111 beds. Occupancy rates at Belize hotels are
low by U.S. and international standards. They range from a high of 35.3%
in Belize District to 9.1% in Toledo District. In the U.S., occupancy rates
under 60% are considered a cause for possible financial failure. Here are
occupancy rates by area and average room night rates in US dollars for 1996:
1996 Occupancy Avg. Room Rate
* Belize District (60 hotels) 35.3% US$59
* Ambergris Caye (52 hotels) 33.5% US$101
* Orange Walk District (10 hotels) 26.8% US$57
* Out Islands/Remote Cayes (25 hotels) 25.9% US$65
* Cayo District (67 hotels) 25.0% US$46
* Placencia/Seine Bight (31 hotels) 24.9% US$62
* Caye Caulker (33 hotels) 19.5% US$22
* Stann Creek District (37 hotels) 19.2% US$40
* Corozal District (12 hotels) 13.6% US$33
* Toledo District (33 hotels) 9.1% US$22
Countrywide, the average room rate in Belize in 1996 was US$64, up from
US$58 in 1995. Because of its high average room rate, with the second-highest
occupancy rate and second-highest number of hotel rooms, Ambergris Caye
contributes the largest amount of hotel revenue (and therefore the largest
share of the 7% hotel tax revenue) in Belize, more than 43%. Belize District
is second at almost 27% of total country hotel revenue. Tourism operators
point to several factors which are holding down tourism to Belize: the high
cost of Belize hotels, restaurants, and car rentals, especially compared
with Mexico next door; the cost of air fares to Belize -- fares to Belize
from U.S. gateways are as much as twice as high as to Cancun, Jamaica, or
some other popular Caribbean destinations; lack of knowledge about Belize
by most travel agents in the U.S., Canada, and Europe; the low level of
marketing, advertising, and public relations spending by Belize, especially
compared with competitors such as Costa Rica, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, and
the U.S. Virgins Islands; the perception that crime is a problem in Belize,
primarily due to the reputation of Belize City. Some hotel operators outside
of Belize City claim they are do not get a fair share of tourism promotion
dollars and aid, despite the fact that only about one-fourth of Belize's
tourism revenue comes from Belize District. While 1997-2001-1998 may prove to
be a better time for tourism in Belize than 1995-96, the unknown in the
equation is the state of the U.S. economy. With the U.S. stock market volatile
and interest rates up, a possible recession in the U.S. could hold down
travel to Belize by Americans.
UN CITES BELIZE'S REEF AS 'OUTSTANDING UNIVERSAL VALUE' The Belize
barrier reef system is one of five new sites the United Nations has added
to its list of natural places of "outstanding universal value."
Belize's barrier reef is the longest and largest in the Western Hemisphere.
The other sites added were in Nigeria, Zaire, and two in Russia.
BELIZE CITED AS BABY-BOOM RETIREMENT SPOT Belize, Costa Rica,
Guatemala, Honduras, and even Cuba could be part of a new Sun Belt retirement
area with appeal to the 76 million U.S. baby boomers who will begin to retire
in the next decade, reports the Trends Research Institute, a Rhinebeck,
New York, consulting firm. The firm predicts that a "massive new migration"
of retirees will start settling abroad, lured by low living costs and warm
weather. Other experts call that conclusion speculative and predict that
the total number of expat retirees is likely to be small.
Most Interesting News
from Earlier in 1999
Most Interesting News