News from 1998

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.

BELIZE LUCKS OUT, MISSES THE WORST OF HURRICANE MITCH Honduras and Nicaragua took the worst punches from Hurricane Mitch, while the Caribbean Coast of Belize, Costa Rica, and Mexico avoided serious damage from what began as one of the most-powerful hurricanes ever recorded and turned into the worst natural disaster in Central America in modern times. Mitch approached Honduras the week of Halloween as a Category 5 storm, with sustained winds over 180 miles per hour. Early computer models had Mitch giving Belize a direct hit. But the storm stalled over the North Coast and Bay Islands of Honduras, then moved onto the Central American mainland, dumping more than 50 inches of rain in some areas. Mitch was responsible for up to 20,000 deaths and property damage in the billions, mostly in Honduras and Nicaragua. No deaths were reported in Belize.

NEW BELIZE GOVERNMENT: PUP WINS NATIONAL ELECTION IN LANDSLIDE As widely expected, the People's United Party, out of power for five years, won Belize national elections August 27, but the margin of victory was even wider than expected. Belizeans are calling it a landslide, with the PUP taking 26 of the 29 House of Representative positions and about 60 percent of the popular vote. Even the former prime minister, Manuel Esquivel, head of the United Democratic Party, lost his race in the Caribbean Shores division. He later resigned as UDP head, replaced by Dean Barrow, the former deputy PM who narrowly retained his seat. Minority parties won no seats. The new prime minister is PUP leader Said Musa, a San Ignacio-born, British-educated lawyer of Belizean and Palestinean heritage who has been active in Belize politics for many years.

Belize, a member of the British Commonwealth, has a Westminster-style political system patterned on England's system. At least once every five years, a general election for the 29 representative seats must be held. The prime minister comes from the dominant party in the house. Eight senators in the Belize Senate are appointed. Democracy remains alive and well in Belize, with voter turn-out estimated at close to 90%. The election process went smoothly.

Since 1954, the PUP has won every national election in Belize except for the last one in 1993 and one in 1984. The center-left PUP, which traditionally has had strength in both the Mestizo and Creole communities, is expected to more or less continue the centrist approach of previous governments. The PUP generally has been more nationalist and populist than the center-right UDP. In this election, the PUP strongly attacked the unpopular Value Added Tax put in place by the UDP and promised that it would take steps to help turn around Belize's flagging economy.

PEACEFUL BELIZE SHOCKED BY SERIES OF HIGH-PROFILE CRIMES The year 1998 will go down as the one of the most violent in Belize history. A series of high- profile crimes -- shootings, robberies and carjackings -- rocked this laid- back Caribbean country. Some of the crimes remain unsolved. Perhaps the most disturbing event, because it was so unexpected in normally quiet and peaceful Belize, took place in May just a few miles from the Belize capital of Belmopan. As many as 200 people in 25 cars and trucks and four buses were held up by armed bandits May 2 on the Hummingbird Highway. Two men, a Belize Defence Forces volunteer and, later, one of the alleged highwaymen, died. Several Belizeans, including police, were wounded. A small band of men, all believed to be of Guatemalan nationality, stopped vehicles and took thousands of dollars and jewelry and other personal effects from victims before escaping in stolen vehicles, spraying arriving Belize police with bullets. Despite several well-publicized arrests, police apparently have not been able to solve the crime. On July 5, an American tourist, a teacher from Maryland, was killed in a hold-up attempt at a hotel at Maya Beach on the Placencia peninsula. Two of three men alleged to have been involved in the incident have been arrested outside Belize. On August 24, a British visitor, a volunteer with Raleigh International, was stabbed to death near Red Bank village in Stann Creek district. Two local men have been arrested and charged with the crime. No part of Belize has been immune to the crime wave. In Barton Creek in Cayo Rosanne Orrizzi, a Mennonite who had lived in Belize for 17 years and held Belize and U.S. citizenship, was brutally murdered. A non- Belizean is being held in connection with the shotgun slaying. There also were reports of several attempted carjackings and kidnappings in Cayo. Northern Belize saw a series of killings, hold-ups and kidnappings in August and September, including the shotgun slaying of the driver of a Coca Cola delivery truck in a hold-up on the Old Northern Highway in August. Three brothers living on the Old Northern Highway have been charged with the crime.

Some observers claim that these events, while tragic, are not typical of Belize. However, others worry that these crimes will hurt Belize's vital tourism industry, just as it is starting to recover from several slack years. They also fear that Belize authorities are showing they are not able to cope with the rising tide of lawlessness in Belize, much of it, they claim, a result of the thousands of legal and illegal aliens who have migrated to Belize from Guatemala, Honduras, and elsewhere in Central America. Regardless of the high-profile crimes, most visitors to Belize say they feel safe and are generally unconcerned about crime.

Compared to some other countries in the region, crime in Belize is almost nominal. Since 1994, about 10,000 people have been killed in crimes in Honduras, a country of 5 million people, according to Associated Press reports. Kidnappings and robberies in Honduras are common, so much so that in October the Honduran army was called out to patrol the streets of major cities in an attempt to control the crime wave. Guatemala has had a spate of violent crimes, including murders of American visitors. Each year, the megaopolis of Mexico City suffers about a million muggings.

NEW COMPETITION FOR BELIZE TOURISM COMING FROM "COSTA MAYA" Chetumal and the Quintana Roo coast just north of Corozal Town are poised to compete with Belize for eco-tourists. Chetumal, capital of Quintana Roo state, already enjoys some prosperity from the influx of Belizeans who shop there for prices in cheap pesos, not to mention the smuggling operations traditionally based there. Now, if officials have their way, Cancun, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen will be joined by the so-called Maya Coast as a lure for North American and European tourists. A tourism master plan calls for the construction of several small airports, additional roads, a cruise ship port and a number of hotels on the coast, stretching from the Sian Ka'an bioreserve to the Belize border. Initial public and private investment may total US$25 million or more. Mexican officials say Costa Maya tourism will focus on environmentally conscious eco- and adventure tourism, rather than the mass tourism of Cancun.

TACA ADDS BUSINESS CLASS Beginning December 1, TACA offers two classes of service on its flights to and in Central America. The El Salvador-based airline, which has enjoyed a reputation for good one-class service, adds executive class on all aircraft. Along with more room, TACA's business-class service includes upgraded meals served on china and personal video players. Fares are about 15 percent above full coach fare.

NEW CRUISE SHIP SAILS BELIZE A 50-passenger luxury cruise ship, the Acqua Azzurra, is sailing Belize waters beginning in December.

ATMs NOW AN OPTION FOR TRAVELERS IN BELIZE Although several banks in Belize have had ATMs for some time, until recently ATM withdrawals were an option only for those with Belize-issued ATM cards. Now, Barclays has ATMs which may be accessed by foreigners and Scotia Bank says that will be the case with its ATMs also. However, there are still no ATMs on Ambergris Caye, Belize's most-popular destination for visitors.

RADIO BELIZE SHUT DOWN As part of its effort to reduce expenses, the PUP in October pulled the plug on the Broadcasting Corporation of Belize. October 16 was the BCB's last broadcast day. For 61 years, the government-owned station was a source of news, information and music for Belizeans, and for the first 50 of those years it was the only radio outlet in the country. Radio Belize often was criticized for presenting only the government side of the news. Subsidized at the rate of US$150,000 a year, BCB was staff-heavy with more than 50 employees and ended with a debt of about US$250,000. Most of the BCB news staff found employment with other media channels. Observers say that LOVE FM, privately operated, now will be the dominant Belize radio station. Separately, The People's Pulse, the weekly newspaper of the UDP, has discontinued publication.

LATIN COUNTRIES RANK HIGH IN CORRUPTION INDEX Five Latin American countries ranked among the 10 "most corrupt" countries in the world, according to a new study of 85 countries. Honduras was ranked third most-corrupt in a survey of perceptions of corruption released by Transparency International, a Non- Governmental Organization based in Germany "dedicated to increasing government accountability and curbing both international and national corruption." Other Latin countries ranked high in corruption include Paraguay (# 2), Colombia (# 7) and Venezuela and Ecuador (tied at # 8). Cameroon in Africa was ranked the # 1 most corrupt. Denmark, Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Iceland and Canada were ranked, in that order, as the least corrupt, based on "perceptions by business people, risk analysts and the general public." The United States ranked as the 17th least corrupt out of 85 countries studied. Among other nations along the Caribbean Coast, Costa Rica was ranked in the top one-third of least corrupt countries, while Mexico, Guatemala and Nicaragua were in the one-third of most corrupt. Some countries, including Belize, were not included at all in the study.

DENGUE FEVER IN HONDURAS Dengue fever continues to be a health problem in Central America, especially in Honduras where more than 12,000 cases have been reported so far in 1998, including eight cases of often-fatal hemorrhagic dengue.

COSTA RICA AIMS FOR MILLION VISITORS IN 1999 Costa Rica, its tourism business growing again after several flat years, may hit the magic million mark in visitors in 1999, counting both arrivals by air and land, say Tico tourism promoters.

MEXICAN TOURISM SLOWED BY SPIRALING CRIME The number of international vistors to Mexico, the world's eighth most-popular tourist destination with more than 20 million annual visitors, may show no increase in 1998, and could actually fall despite bargains available thanks to the falling peso. Government officials point to increased crime as the reason. Mexico City, becoming infamous muggings and for crime against taxi passengers, and Southern Mexico have been particularly hard hit. However, Cancun and other resort areas are taking up the slack, showing significant increases in visitation.

NEW BELIZE GUIDEBOOKS New editions of several Belize guidebooks recently have been published. Belize Handbook, the best-selling guide from Moon Publications, released its 4th edition in October. Patti Lange is credited with helping updating Chicki Mallon's original text. Belize Handbook reportedly has sold more than 75,000 copies, making it the top selling guide to the country. Belize gets its own separate edition in the new Rough Guide to Belize by Peter Eltringham. Formerly, Belize was combined with Guatemala in the series, distributed to by Penguin in the U.S. A Guatemala edition also has been published, with updates by Eltringham. Adventure Guide to Belize by Harry Pariser is now out as Explore Belize, still from Hunter Publishing. Richard Mahler and Steele Wotkyns are researching a new edition of Belize, Adventures in Nature, John Muir Publications.

BELIZE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY NOTES:

BUZZ! Mark Espat, a veteran Belize hotelier, has been named minister of tourism under the new PUP government. Environment is no longer a part of the tourism ministry but a part of the ministry of natural resources and the environment headed by John Briceno. Valerie Woods has been named new director of tourism of the Belize Tourist Board. Formerly deputy director of tourism, Woods will work under the direction of Patty Arceo, chair of the BTB, and Espat. When prospective Belize visitors call the Belize Tourist Board number in New York City, the phone is now answered in Belize City. Joan Medhurst, whose public relations firm in the state of New York, handled Belize PR for several years, has retired, but her firm, now called The Wescott Group, now located in Virginia, still has the PR contract through April 1999, according to reports.

BITE! The Seagrill restaurant at the Tropica resort on Ambergris Caye claims to have the "world's largest public display of mounted crabs," with more than 160 crabs from all over the world. Missing so far are the Alaska King Crab and the Giant Spider Crab from Japan, but they're working on'em, says Gary Sogorka of Tropica.

YES! Banana Beach is a new 35-unit condotel at Mar de Tumbo beach south of San Pedro near Villas at Banyan Bay, Mata Rocks and Tropica. It has 14 sea front, 12 sea view and nine pool view units of 535 to 670 square feet, all in a two-story building patterned after Merida-style hotels. When completed late in 1998, Banana Beach will have a fresh-water swimming pool, cable TV, bar, restaurant, convenience store, gift shop, tour office, according to developer Tim Jeffers, who also have been associated with Coconuts Hotel on Ambergris Caye. Units are priced at US$75,000 to $120,000, according to Jeffers.

NEW! Victoria House on Ambergris Caye will build 24 new condo units and add a swimming pool in 1999, according to co-owner Mims Wright. Existing casita units will be torn down to make way, according to Wright. Other new or expanded development on the boards for Ambergris Caye include Los Encantos, White Sands Cove, Fountain Blue and Belizean Shores on the north end, and Xanadu and expansions at Royal Palm and Villas at Banyan Bay on the south. Mayas Katut in the San Pablo area is now open again and operating as a hotel.

SALES! Hotel properties currently for sale on Ambergris Caye include Playador for US$1.1 million; Alijuala Suites for US$2.2 million; Captain Morgan's Retreat, asking US$3.2 million, and Hotel del Rio, for US$365,000. The Conch Shell Hotel and Coconuts Caribbean Hotel also are for sale.

TRENDY! High design has come to Belize in the form of the new small luxury resort on North Ambergris Caye, Mata Chica. Each of the luxury cabañas was created around a fruit theme -- cranberry, banana, mango -- from the exterior colors down to the bathroom sinks. Mata Chica also has a trendy restaurant.

SPLASH! As part of the continued upscaling of Belize's tourism industry, a number of hotels and lodges around the country have added swimming pools. New within the last year or so are pools at Maya Mountain Lodge in Cayo, Chan Chich Lodge at Gallon Jug, Inn at Robert's Grove , Nautical Inn and Rum Point in Placencia and SunBreeze, El Pescador, Playador and Tropica on Ambergris Caye. Ramon's Village on Ambergris Caye has put in a new, larger pool.

· CHANGE! Parrot's Nest, the popular budget-priced lodge in Cayo, is in new hands. Fred Prost has sold to Meb Cutlack. Prost has returned to the sea, buying the Seaview Hotel on the south side of Caye Caulker. He says his new 26-foot catamaran "looks better here in the jungle." Seaview has winter rates around US$37.50, with a small separate house going for US$150 a week. Separately, the management of Martinez Caribbean Inn on Corker has changed. Ramon Reyes Jr., son of the proprietor of the Tropical Paradise Hotel, has leased the property, upgraded it a bit and renamed it the Tropical Star Hotel. Rates are still in the budget category, around US$15 per night.

WHY? Despite one of the lowest hotel occupancy rates in the world, Toledo District seems to be attracting new hotel projects. Several new lodges reportedly are planned. Golden Stream Lodge is expected to open in early 1998. And a new lodge is planned near Nim Li Punit in late 1999.

WHAP! A golf course is under construction at privately owned Caye Chapel south of Caye Caulker, funded by U.S. investors. Despite opposition from some environmentalists, which fear that runoffs from the course, including nitrates and phosphates, could damage the reef and its sealife, the project continues. Also reportedly planned is a 5,500 foot runway.

UP! One upmarket development on Caye Caulker finally opened, but another is still stalled. Iguana Reef Inn, originally scheduled to open in 1997-2001, finally opened in July. It has six suites, each with queen beds, air conditioning and TV. Rooms are in the US$75 range. Partners in this venture are Mario Guizar, a Belizean who lived in Chicago for a long time, and Jim Dobrowski, an American from Chicago. Another upscale project, Emerald Pointe Condominiums, originally begun with Glen Godfrey as majority owner, remains at a standstill, although Godfrey reportedly sold his stake to an investor group.

BELIZE MUSICIANS RELEASE CDs David Obi has released a Cungo CD, Hello Everybody. The CD has eight cuts including "Stand Up Belizeans" and "Tribal Vibes De Ya." A Belizen Caribbean Gospel band, D-Revelation, has released Payday.

U.S. COMPANY PUTS BARRIER REEF IN 3-D A Burbank, California, company, New Visual Entertainment, is releasing a video of sharks, rays and other underwater life on Belize's barrier reef, in stereoscopic 3-D.

BHI CORP SELLS NON-CORE ASSETS BHI Corp., the largest public company headquartered in Belize, said it sold several of its non-core assets to an investor group headed by Allan Forrest, a BHI exec who has been managing some of BHI's businesses in Central America. Among the assets sold, for a total of US$15.6 million, are BHI's interests in Belize Leisure Ltd. which owns the Radisson Fort George Hotel, its 36 percent interest in Great Belize Productions/Channel 5 and Belize Aggregates Ltd. BHI is focusing more on its U.S. building maintenance businesses based in Atlanta and developing its security business. Also, BHI is continuing to focus on its financial businesses in Belize and elsewhere in Central America, Belize Bank, and an offshore financial business, International Financial Services, which incorporated 400 IBCs in the quarter. BHI continues its equity investments in Belize Telecommunications Ltd. and NUMAR Group.

BELIZE INCOME TAX ABOLISHED FOR SOME Under a United Democratic Party bill passed in June by both the Belize House and Senate, individuals working for a salary and earning less than US$10,000 a year will be exempt from Belize income taxes. The individual income tax rate in Belize ranges as high as 45%. Businesses in Belize will no longer pay income taxes, which now range up to 35% of net income, but instead will pay a gross receipts tax on total business revenues. The gross receipts tax varies by industry. For example, domestic airlines and newspapers will pay 0.75% while banks must pay 12% and insurance companies 1.5%. Belize Telecommunications, Ltd. will pay 22%. The highest rate of 25% is for those receiving management fees, who charge for technical services, or who receive fees for renting plant and equipment. Many businesses and business groups opposed the new tax scheme. It is unclear what impact the new system will have on business in Belize.

BELIZE TAKES HOOPS GOLD IN CARICOM GAMES Belize beat Barbados 72-66 in the finals to take the gold in men's basketball in the 14th CARICOM Games, this one held in Belize City in early July. Guard Milton Palacio was named the Games' most valuable player. Palacio has played at Colorado State University. Belize's starting five were Fred Garcia, Keith Acosta, Kirk Smith, Alex Carcamo and Milton Palacio. The coach of the Belize team, David Greenwood, is a former U.S. National Basketball Association player.

FIRES IN MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICA CAUSED LITTLE PROBLEM IN BELIZE Forest fires in Southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, many of them set by milpa farmers using traditional slash-and-burn techniques, in May and June caused massive clouds of smoke and haze up into the U.S. Midwest. Texas and much of the Central U.S. were under an air quality alert. In Belize, some fires were reported in the Mountain Pine Ridge, along the Hummingbird Highway, and in Stann Creek District. Unusually hot, dry weather set the stage for more fires. However, winds have kept the Belize coast and cayes clear, and only occasional hazy conditions were reported on the mainland. The coming of seasonal rains in the region is expected to help control any further fires.

SUICIDE NO LONGER A CRIME IN BELIZE Under a new law passed in June by the Belize House of Representatives and approved by the Senate, it is no longer a criminal offense for someone to try to commit suicide.

POWER BACK Belize suffered from spot power outages during the first half of May. However, Belize Electricity Limited's power supply returned to normal May 19 with the installation of two additional units at the generating plant at Ladyville. BEL says the outages stemmed from generator problems and lack of rainfall at the Mollejon hydro generating plant.

BELIZE CERTIFIED U.S. IN ANTI-DRUG WAR Belize is back in Uncle Sam's good graces. In February, the country was fully certified as a drug-fighting partner. Last year, Belize was de-certified but the action was waived due to "national security" reasons. Mexico also has been certified.

SAN PEDRO SUN SOLD The San Pedro Sun, the weekly tabloid newspaper on Ambergris Caye in its eighth year of publication, and the Belize Sun, a country-wide tourism monthly paper which started publication last year, have been sold by owners Bruce and Victoria Collins to Dan and Eileen Jamison from Pennsylvania. The asking price for the two newspapers was US$65,000. Real estate, including a one-bedroom home and a two-story building housing the newspapers, with an asking price of US$195,000 was not included in the sale. The Collinses were quoted as saying building the newspaper business has been "a labour of love" but that they are now ready for "one more adventure." The new owners appear to be continuing most of the features and news approach of the former owners.

BELIZE TOURISM UP, BUT IS IT ENOUGH? Reports from lodges and hotels around Belize indicate that tourist bookings so far in 1998 show a considerable improvement over the situation the last two years. Placencia in particular has seen boosts in visitation, with some of the top resorts being full on many days. The more competitively priced hotels, and those with aggressive marketing, on Ambergris Caye reportedly are doing good numbers as well. Also having a good year: the small properties on cayes on or near the reef where snorkeling and swimming are possible from the shore. One of the biggest complaints of visitors to Belize is that they need to pay US$10 to $20 to take a boat out to the reef for snorkeling. Hotels in less-well-known areas such as Corozal Town, Punta Gorda, and Monkey River, are still struggling. Overall, the question among Belize tourism operators is whether small increases in visitation are enough to offset the increases in new hotel rooms around the country. "The pie is about the same size, but we're splitting is among more hotel rooms," says one operator. In fact, there is talk about a moratorium on new resort development in Belize until the present surplus is absorbed. The Belize Eco-Tourism Association, an organization of mostly small, eco-oriented hotels, supports such a moratorium.

GAY CRUISE SHIP VISITS BELIZE More than 700 gays shopped and enjoyed excursions to Maya ruins and other sites in Belize when the MS Leeward docked off Belize City February 1. The Norwegian Cruise Line ship had been turned away by the Cayman Islands government from its scheduled stop at Grand Cayman, but the Belize Tourist Board agreed to permit the chartered ship to visit Belize. The Cayman Islands government said it didn't expect "appropriate behavior" from the ship's passengers. A small group of protesters met the passengers as they arrived at the Radisson Fort George dock by hover craft shuttle, and some reports indicated that protesters threw rocks at buses carrying passengers. However, once away from small gang of protesters, the visitors reportedly were received with typical Belizean courtesy and friendliness. The ship carried about 900 passengers, but only about 720 disembarked in Belize City. Some gay and humans rights groups accused the Cayman Islands government of bigotry. Gays and travel operators generally praised Belize's actions.

EL NINO BRINGS HOT DRY WEATHER Central America has reported record high temperatures since the New Year, with droughts requiring water rationing in some areas of Costa Rica and Honduras, due to effects of El Niño. Thermometers in the Pacific town of Liberia, in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, set a record of 101.1 degrees F. in early February and even normally spring-like San Jos~ reached 86 degrees F. in February. Records were also set in Nicaragua and Honduras. In Belize, temps rose to over 100 degrees F. in Cayo District, but weather on the cayes was perfect for high season visitors, being generally dry, sunny and warm.

NEW LEADERSHIP IN CENTRAL AMERICA A new group of leaders are taking over in Costa Rica and Honduras, following democratic elections. In Costa Rica, 58-year-old Miguel Angel Rodr~quez won a surprisingly close victory in elections February 1. His Social Christian Unity Party, when it assumes power May 8, is expected to continue previous governments' centrist, free-market approaches. Rodr~quez's running mate, Astrid Fischel, is the first Costa Rican woman to win the First-Vice President's office. In Honduras, Liberal Party standard-bearer Carlos Flores was inaugurated in January. General elections are planned for Belize for later this year, probably in June. An exact date has not been set by the United Democratic Party. Challenger Said Musa of the People's United Party is thought to be ahead at this point, but incumbent Manual Esquivel of the UDP appears to be gaining back some ground.

LETHAL YELLOWING CONTINUES TO KILL COCO PALMS Lethal Yellowing, a disease that attacks and kills coconut palms, continues to ravage the beautiful trees all along the Caribbean Coast of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, and Honduras. In some areas, Philippine coconuts, which appear to be resistent to the disease, are being planted to replace the dying Jamaican tall coco palms. Some local residents, however, say the Philippine coconut oil and cream do not taste as good as that from the old trees. Individual coco palms threatened by Lethal Yellowing can be treated with the injection of antibiotics.

BELIZE BUY-A-PASSPORT DEMAND MODEST Since 1995, only 265 "Economic Citizenships" have been sold, under a law passed by the current UDP government, according to a recent report from the Belize Economic Citizenship Investment Programme Unit. The law permits up to 500 Belize citizenships to be sold each year, for a minimum of US$25,000 each. Of those approved so far, 57 applicants were from the People's Republic of China, 36 were from Taiwan, and the remaining 172 were from other countries. The previous PUP government also had a passport sales program.

MORE FUNDING FOR SOUTHERN HIGHWAY Belize has received two new loans totaling US$28.6 million, one from a development fund in Taiwan for US$10 million, and the other from the Inter-American Development Bank for US$18.6 million, to fund additional work on improving and paving the Southern Highway. A previous loan from Kuwait is financing the surfacing of the road from Punta Gorda to Big Falls. A development loan from the United Kingdom, expected later this year, will help finance additional work on the highway.

BELIZE HAS GOOD PAY RECORD WITH UNITED NATIONS Belize is one of only five Caribbean Basin nations that pays its U.N. dues on time, according to a U.N. report. Nine of 14 countries in the Caribbean community failed to settle their debts with the U.N. last year. Antigua, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, St. Vincent, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Suriname together owed the world body nearly US$2 million, according to the budget report. Only Belize, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, and St. Lucia owed nothing. These five countries typically pay their dues on time. The United States is the largest U.N. debtor, with billions past due.

ONE-FIFTH OF BELIZEANS SEEKING TO VISIT U.S. DENIED VISAS Over the past 45 months, about 19% of Belizeans seeking visas to visit the U.S. temporarily have been denied entry. Of the 45,058 applications received at the U.S. Embassy in Belize, 36,395 applications were approved and 8,663 were denied.

BEST PLACES FOR CHEAPSKATES Mexico, Honduras, and Ecuador are the cheapest places to live in the Western Hemisphere, according to International Living newsletter's annual quality of life survey. Belize was rated as the most-expensive place to live in Central America, with a cost of living only slightly lower than in the U.S.

BELIZE-TEXAS FUSION MUSIC Jerry Jeff Walker, the Austin, Texas, singer whose second home is in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye, has a new Caribbean-flavored album, Cowboy Boots & Bathin' Suits.

CLINTON SPEECH WRITER NEW U.S. AMBASSADOR TO BELIZE Carolyn Curiel, most recently a senior speech writer for U.S. President Bill Clinton, took office in January as the new U.S. ambassador to Belize. This is the first diplomatic post for the veteran journalist and former UPI wire service reporter. Separately, Taiwan has named Kuo-hsiung Shen, a career trade and commerce officer, as new ambassador to Belize.

BELIZE MED SCHOOL CLAIMS TO DO THREE YEARS IN ONE Belize Medical School, an offshore med school at Bally Gardens, Mile 4 of the Northern Highway, claims to be able to compress three years of medical training into one year, because it does not have long vacations. Students attend three 14-week terms, with about two weeks vacation between terms. After three terms in Belize, students are sent to Juarez, Mexico, and El Paso,Texas, to continue their studies, according to Felix T. Ortuelo, Ph.D., D.Sc., dean of the school. The school says it has 30 students. Belize Medical School is one of two offshore med schools in Belize. St. Matthews University, on Ambergris Caye, offers a two-year, five-semester program. St. Matthews opened in September 1997-2001 with 23 students and says it eventually could have 450 students. Neither school is officially accredited in the U.S. Several offshore med schools have attempted to operate in crime-ridden Belize City but have quickly moved to other places with more attraction to U.S. and other foreign students.

BLANCANEAUX IN THE NEWS Blancaneaux Lodge, Francis Ford Coppola's piece of the Mountain Pine Ridge, got extensive coverage in a January 25 article in the Travel Section of the New York Times, in an article by David Hochman. Blancaneaux was also featured in a January article in International Travel News.

AD CAMPAIGN BOOSTS TICO TOURISM A US$7 million ad campaign, featuring U.S. network television commercials and print ads in well-known publications such as Condé Nast Traveler and National Geographic, along with merchandising incentives for travel agencies, helped boost international visits to Costa Rica by 4% in 1997-2001, after several flat years for Tico tourism. Another US$7 is budgeted for 1998. Tourism arrivals in Costa Rica in 1997-2001 totaled 812,000, more than seven times higher than arrivals in Belize. Belize has only a tiny marketing budget for tourism promotion.

RABIES REPORTED IN CAYO In February, a rabid dog bit nine members of the San Ignacio family that owned it along with three school children and two teachers. The dog, along with at least two other dogs suspected to have rabies, were caught and destroyed. The bitten victims were treated for the disease. Cattle in Cayo District also have died from rabies. Vampire bats are suspected to be carriers of the disease.

NEW INN OPENS IN BELIZE CITY Veteran hospitality industry executive Steve Maestre has opened The Great House, a six-room upscale inn on Cork Street near the Radisson Fort George. The colonial house, built in 1927, has been extensively refurbished and renovated. Maestre built the Villa Hotel, which eventually was absorbed by the Radisson Fort George, which Maestre also managed for a time.

MEXICO CRACKS DOWN ON TRANSIT VISA TRAFFIC Belizeans have long brought in used cars and new television sets and other appliances from the U.S. through Mexico, often for resale in Belize. Now, Mexican officials say they plan to enforce longstanding regulations that limit the number of items which may be brought through Mexico. Only three of any category of item -- for example, televisions or microwaves -- will be permitted for those traveling from the U.S. to Mexico. In short, Mexico will enforce regulations requiring that goods being carried through Mexico to Belize be for personal use, not resale.

JAGUAR CIGARS LAUNCHED Belize Cigar Company has introduced a Jaguar brand cigar, along with another new line, the Don. The cigars, to be introduced in the U.S. and 19 other countries, may eventually be made in Belize, after workers are trained, but are currently being rolled in Honduras.

CRUISE SHIP TO MAKE WEEKLY VISITS TO BELIZE CITY Beginning in October 1998, a Premier Cruise Line ship, sailing from Port Everglades, Fla., is scheduled to make a weekly stop at Belize City. Other ports of call are Key West, Cancun, Cozumel, and Santo Tomas, Guatemala. The MV Sea Breeze is expected to carry about 800 passengers.

COSTA RICA GETTING MORE HIGH-TECH JOBS Intel's opening in March of a large Pentium processor plant in Costa Rica appears to be bringing other electronic assembly jobs to the country. Intel now employs 800 in Costa Rica. When a second chip plant opens later this year, Intel employment will jump to 2,000. Three other U.S. electronic components manufacturers, DEK USA, EMC Technology, and Photocircuits Corp., reportedly are investing a combined US$10 million in Costa Rica this year, creating 500 new jobs.

Currrent News

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