Important Note: This Internet version of 7 News is a verbatum
transcript of our evening television news script. Many interviews on our newscast
are conducted in Creole. In the interest of clarity for our foreign readers,
we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English
Tonight, George McKenzie Jr. - son of slain gang leader George "Junie Balls" Mckenzie Sr - is in detention after he was taken to court but couldn't be arraigned for the charge of murder. Investigators were sure that they had the right man. But at the very last minute, new information suggesting an alibi was brought forward from the upper ranks of the Department, causing the charge to be suddenly withdrawn - which is very unusual.
Police were sure that he was the shooter who gunned down 57 year-old Alfonso Cruz in Rhaburn's Alley on April 12. They got a statement from an eyewitness who Mckenzie Jr had allegedly tried to shoot immediately before Cruz was murdered. Plus, they did an ID parade where McKenzie was identified as the gunman who shot Cruz. But at the last minute, reports tell us a senior police officer intervened with alibi evidence in Mckenzie's favor. This caused McKenzie, who was already at court to be arraigned, to get a last minute reprieve. Senior Magistrate Sharon Frazer, who would have presided over the arraignment, stood the case down and demanded that police make sure that they got it right with McKenzie as the supposed gunman who killed Cruz.
The case didn't make it back before Senior Magistrate Frazer, and that's where it stands tonight, with McKenzie in custody while police await a second directive from the Director of Public Prosecution as to whether or not they should continue against McKenzie. We understand that at this time, the charge that McKenzie would have been arraigned for has been withdrawn, and not by the DPP, which is the lawful authority able to do that. Instead, the murder charge has to be formally brought against McKenzie once again where a new court book would be prepared.
But that may or may not happen depending on what level of importance DPP Cheryl-Lynn Vidal places on that alibi evidence which has emerged.
Neighbors tell us that Cruz was killed in a random act of violence. The 57 year old was a working man who was in his yard, when the shooter failed to kill his target and then turned the weapon on the front of Rhaburn's Alley, fatally injuring Cruz.
Tonight, 19 year-old Paris Copius, a Ladyville resident, is at the KHMH in a critical condition after he was attacked and stabbed in the village.
Police have very little information at this time, but they suspected that it happened sometime around 10 or 11 p.m. last night. One of difficulties they faced was that no one informed them of Copius' condition after he was transferred from the BDF Hospital, to the KHMH. That only happened after the professionals realized that his injuries were more serious than they initially anticipated.
Today, the Rural Executive Officer provided the media with the information they have about the incident at this time:
ASP Chris Noble - Rural Executive Officer "Earlier this morning we learn that a gentleman from the village has been taken to the military hospital and then onto the Karl Heusner Hospital. He was being attended to there and apparently procedures had to be done on him. We've establish that an incident did occur in the village and there is one person that's being sought and we are hoping that by day's end we will wrapped up the information to give something comprehensive. However we know that there was a stabbing and that is from the injuries we understand he received. We have received the information from him and we are working on whatever else other processes to get it sorted out."
Investigators are looking for suspects, who they say are well-known to them.
And Caye Caulker police are also investigating a stabbing. This one happened on Tuesday night on the island. 24 year old Aquiles Canche and 31 year old James Crawford got into a fight at 10:30 near the village cemetery - and a local resort. The dispute centered over a female Kathy Balam. She was reportedly hanging out and talking with Canche when Crawford who she has a relationship with came upon them and stabbed Canche in the back. Canche then stoned Crawford with a bottle of rum. But the bottle didn't even break, and Crawford continued to stab Canche 5 more times, twice in the back, once to his lower stomach, once in his arm pit, and once in the lower stomach.
Neighbors rushed Canche to the clinic but he was in bad shape, and at the height of the night, island Police had to find a boat to carry Canche to the KHMH. He received emergency surgery and is in stable condition. Police have not been able to get a statement from him.
They tracked down Crawford later that night at the south end of the island. He is detained pending directives from the DPP on charges.
Police had to close off the beachfront for one popular local resort while they waited for the scenes of crime team from Belize City - thus the jarring image of crime scene tape around sunbathing chairs. The stabbing happened right where the beachfront meets the pier.
An intensive search of the wider area turned up the alleged weapon, which is a 9 and a half inch kitchen knife. That was found in a bushy lot adjoining the cemetery.
It seems like whenever the major holidays arrive, there's an accompanying spike in illegal activities. Christmas usually brings an increase in contraband goods, and for the Fisheries Department, Easter and its seafood cravings means that off season product is more likely to be illicitly traded.
So, the Department has set up checkpoints, and yesterday their diligence paid off in a major way. Daniel Ortiz visited with them today, and found out that they had busted thousands of dollars in prohibited marine products. Here's his report:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
What you're looking at is somewhere between 15,000 to 20,000 dollars' worth of illegal fisheries products which were confiscated by officers from the Department's Conservation Compliance Unit yesterday.
It's a variety of marine foods, which, no doubt, the owners intended to become a part of their meals over the Easter Holiday.
Hampton Gamboa - Supervisor, Conservation Compliance Unit, Fisheries Department "Lobster, conch, even as far as marine turtles which is totally illegal in Belize and of course lobster season is closed until later on this year in June around the 15th of June when it re-opens. Outside of that as you all can see there are a variety of sizes of conchs and lobsters. It's bad already that lobster is closed and you find out you have people harvesting some extremely small lobsters. Even though the conch season is open as you all see here there is a lot of conchs and all of these are suspected undersized conchs."
Fisheries officers collaborated with the Belize Agricultural Health Authority and the Police to set up a crafty checkpoint which they ran for just over 10 hours straight.
Hampton Gamboa "We engaged yesterday in a joint operation with the police department specifically from Ladyville to the Belize River Valley area as well as BAHA and we were able to set up a check point in San Hill whereby we checked every vehicle, buses, even private vehicles that pass through the check point and as a result the end of the day, yesterday evening we were able to confiscate all these products as you all see here."
Although the checkpoint was effective in netting the illicit cache, the persons trying to smuggle them home managed to escape prosecution by feigning ignorance.
Hampton Gamboa "Unfortunately no one of the busses that we check that we retrieve these products from claim them, so what we did in that case was that we have the bus driver and conductor sign for these products as we remove them from their busses. What we did was that we educate the bus drivers - they need to be more vigilant in checking what people are bringing on their buses and remind the people that if their products are out of season or anything like that they won't take it on their bus because once we have done educating the bus companies we will start held them liable for prosecution if possible."
Though the law breakers have negatively affected the marine fish stock for the out-of-season harvesting, this is a lot of food that could end up being wasted. Fortunately, the Fisheries Department knows how best make use of it.
Hampton Gamboa "The department will make a decision in how we dispose of it. We have our feeding program which is very active. A lot of schools as well as different institutions that does feeding for the elderly or even for the kids at the different hostels and safe homes, so things like those we always contribute these products to those institutions."
In separate operations Fisheries officers, collaborated with Belize Audubon Society and Police to catch fishermen fishing illegally in some of the lagoons in the Belize River Valley. We understand that there will be persons charged with fisheries offences for confiscated illegal nets thrown, and for illegal fishing.
In December of 2012, we told you about the Canadian company named ACTYL which was in Belize recruiting workers for McDonald's. Hundreds flocked to their interview sessions at the Radisson and many were eager for the opportunity to earn as much as 10 US Dollars per hour - even if it meant flipping burgers in a cold country. But, now a report from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says that at least one disgruntled Belizean worker is calling it slavery. Jaime Montero has lashed out against McDonald's - and for that he has been fired, evicted from the McDonald's apartment and ended up in a homeless shelter. But, tonight, his claims are making headlines in that country. CBC network reported on the story:
Montero was fired in November and evicted from the apartment. He still has a work permit, but has been unable to find another job. And while his plan was to send money back to Belize, he says his family is now sending him money while he tries to find a job.
Canada's employment Minister Jason Kenney - whose department said it is looking into the case - told the CBC network that if the workers felt forced to rent a place they didn't want to live in, that would warrant investigation.
Montero also claims that they spent 600 Canadian dollars for medical screening, visa processing and the bus fare to Cancun which they say ACTYL promised to re-imburse them, but did not. ACTYL's Linda West denied to the CBC Network that any such promise was made.
A Canadian woman is demanding that police re-open the investigation into her husband's death, which was ruled a suicide. William Lloyd Webster was found hanged to death in his Cayo home in December of 2012. But, she doesn't buy it. She hired a private investigator who compiled a 10 page report citing inconsistencies in the forensic examination and the scene of the crime. Rene Webster says "there was no suicide note and there are many things that just don't add up." She says they recreated the crime scene and have proved that it was physically impossible for Webster to have hung himself. Nonetheless, she says local police are writing her off as an hysterical grieving widow.
But, police say differently. Today the officer in charge of Cayo Superintendent Ralph Moody told us quote, "there is no evidence at all indicating that there is a murder with Mr. Webster." End quote. Moody told us he met with Rene Webster last week and he claims that she told him she quote, "only wants the police to change (the cause of death) from a suicide to a murder…for insurance purposes." End quote. Moody stressed that we could quote him on that and told us that quote, "I will not put my career and my reputation on the line for any such thing."
Last night, we showed you the first part of our interview with Michael Singh, the CEO of the Ministry of Trade, where he explained that Norwegian Cruise Line's Harvest Caye Port project got all environmental clearances it needed. With the Environmental Compliance Plan completed, the project moves on the next phase where Cabinet will decided on a final agreement on the social and economic guidelines that the Company must adhere to so that they can get the final go-ahead.
As we've told you, the Belize Tourism Industry Association has been against the plan claiming that it is not environmentally or economically beneficial to the country. They will challenge the Department of Environment's decision to give the project environmental clearance in court by way of judicial review proceedings. The President of BTIA's Placencia chapter has also offered strong resistance to the project on economic grounds. Yesterday, while had the opportunity, we asked Singh to address them, given that he has been present as a trade and investment promotion representative ever since the project first emerged.
Here's our conversation with Singh on those economic concerns:
Daniel Ortiz "25% of the employment is being asked to be reserved for candidates that NCL think its best. Now their concern is that those will all be fitted with international employment when they may be Belizeans who could fill those posts. How do you address that with them and NCL?"
Mike Singh - CEO, Ministry of Trade "Very simply if you think about it, we are not foregoing the need for anybody to apply for a work permit and the labour laws will still apply. What we've said to NCL is that in cases where there is a need for technical workers that may not be available in Belize which is the way our labour law in written - that we would not be against having up to 25% of the workers of they are technical and that employment is not available in Belize that it would be allowed. That is a push back from what the labour law says; the labour law actually allows you to do 100% of technical people if they are not available in Belize. I think it's been mis-stated and I think it's been misunderstood what the intention is. Now NCL wants to hire Belizeans, their only concern why they ask us to put that in there is that in case they can't find the talent that they need for specific technical work that may be needed on the island that they would want the option to bring in employees until they can train Belizeans to take on that employment."
Daniel Ortiz "The project will allow for a duty free emporium on the site itself which the BTIA is saying will exclude Belizeans persons of crafts from presenting themselves and their produce and their items for purchase."
Mike Singh - CEO, Ministry of Trade "Again incorrect assumption. The MOU states that we will permit duty free shopping as long as Belizean companies are given equal opportunity to put duty free shopping. In other words what we are trying to avoid is what we have at the FSTV where every duty free shop there is Diamonds International and they have very clearly stated to us that they do not want that type of a project. As a matter of fact they are now working with us at the small business development center to create a pavilion for small Belizean businesses. They are also approaching food and beverage businesses in Belize to try to come up with concepts that are purely Belizeans operated by Belizeans, so the idea behind this project which we stressed very clearly with them is that we don't want it to be just another replica of FSTV or any other port where all you bring in are US brands or you bring in foreign brands. We are helping them to develop the local brands."
Reporter "The head tax agreement: I've been getting conflicting reports one of which says that the only company which stands to benefit from that head tax agreement is NCL."
Daniel Ortiz "Which they are saying will recoup its entire investment very short."
Mike Singh - CEO, Ministry of Trade "The head tax issue is an issue that is almost an industry standard where if we are competing with other countries you will find that in reality what Belize is actually keeping of the head tax is more than most countries keep. The lines look at the head tax almost as an incentive for them to come in because they look at it as a means where they are operating a port. Remember did not have to build this port, so we've invited a foreign investor to come in and build a port and that port comes with a certain costs - we are giving them a concession to operate that port under a license. Any port will have a port charge. In other words if I were to invite an investor to come in, I'll give you an example; the Port of Belize, which is own by a non-government entity - that port charges port fees to cargo. Those port fees go directly to that port, nothing comes back to the government because that is where their revenue stream is - it comes from port fees."
The final agreement on the social and economic terms, should be completed for Cabinet to review at its next sitting. That meeting is scheduled to happen in the next 2 weeks.
27 year-old Sherman Hemmans, a resident of Gracie Rock Village, is out on bail tonight after he taken to court for swiping a man's ATM Card and going on a grocery shopping spree valued at a little over 5 thousand dollars.
Joseph Fusy reported to police his card was stolen, and that charges of up to 5 thousand, 38 dollars was charged on it by the thief. Investigators looking into the missing ATM card and found out that all those expenses were from grocery items purchased at Everyday Supermarket in Hattieville. Hemmans was linked to the card and the purchased, so he was charged with 8 counts of theft.
He was arraigned before Senior Magistrate Frazer today where he pleaded not guilty and was released on bail of $6,000. He must return to court on June 3.
The Holy Saturday Cross Country Cycling Classic is the only certifiably epic event on the annual sporting calendar. And that is because of its history, but it's also because of the pageantry - the colors and the character of the men and their machines.
Today as an annual pre-race event, the Cycling Federation arranged a Cycling Parade. We stopped by to speak to a few of the local cyclists about their level of preparedness:
Darnell Barrow, 2013 Cross Country Champ "I feeling very amazing and I've been doing all my training so I feel confident right now; myself and my team has been training very hard. I have a good team support to back me up to defend my title, so feeling good."
Daniel Ortiz "Tell us about the pressure? Every Belizean wants to see a Belizean take the garland and you done it last year and now the pressure is on you to keep it, so how do you deal with that?"
Darnell Barrow "There is no pressure, it's not my first cross country I've been riding, so I know what to do and how to ride, so I just let the race come to me and hope for the best."
Byron Pope "According to our team plan then I should know how the race will play out when it gets on the way."
Daniel Ortiz "What does one do to prepare for a race as big as this?"
Byron Pope "A lot of hard work and dedication. It isn't just this month I am preparing for cross country, its a long time. It starts from the off season with the 3 months gym work, 3 months jogging - all of that I use as build up to use up towards this cross country."
Daniel Ortiz "What do you do as an athlete for the last two days before this race happens?"
Byron Pope "Two days isn't enough, you need like a week - two weeks of proper resting, eating properly, hydrating to time to be able to compete for this race."
Greg Lovell "This week I did a lot of spinning, a lot of slow ride - I just take it easy because only a week away there is nothing you can gain going to the cross country."
Daniel Ortiz "Tell us about your team's preparedness and fitness for the cross country? Are you guys confident in the work you put in?"
Greg Lovell "We have a very excellent Belizean team and we are all ready. We have Marlon Castillo, Joel Borland and also Geovanni and with the help of Leroy Cassasola and George Junior to help us out there getting our water and make sure we get our food on time. Marlon and I will go in the race really hard."
Marlon Castillo "Everybody was training in the race these past two months so I think everyone is in good condition, but I don't know foreigners riders, some of them I haven't rode with before but we will see how they stand after 140 miles."
Joel Borland "I think my team is fully prepared. From earlier in the year we did most of our based miles and the basic cross country training that you need to go the long distances."
Daniel Ortiz "Tell us about your role in the team?"
Joel Borland "Definitely I am prepared to play a supporting role for my team leaders Greg Lovell and Marlon Castillo. I think they are the more experience riders and they know how to ride this race. I am 19 years old, my time will come, but for now I am riding for them."
Saturday's race will feature 80 Belizean riders and 27 foreign riders. It starts at 5:50 a.m., and rolls off from the BTL Park, where it makes its way around the City at a moderate pace. When they get to Leslie's Imports, the riders will make their surge forward where the race officially starts.
Every year, we tell you about the Holy Thursday rush on fresh fish at the markets all over the country. As should be well known, it is both religious observance and cultural practice to strictly eat fish on Good Friday. But with high demand for a fixed supply, the only constant in the marketplace is increasing prices and increased haggling over said prices. This year Monica Bodden went for her education in Good Friday Fish Finding, and here's her story:..
And another fixture of the Easter holidays is the rush to the cayes. Hotels on San Pedro and Caye Caulker are booked to capacity - and so are the water taxis. Between Holy Thursday and Good Friday - thousands of Belizeans set out on the water taxis for their island retreats. Competition between the two leading service providers Caye Caulker Water Taxi and San Pedro Belize Express is fierce and so are the price wars. And while they are competing, the water taxi's are also having to deal with the biggest crowd of the year, kind of like Christmas in April. Today Joe Marin of Caye Caulker Water taxi told us they have multiple boats on standby just to accommodate the rush:..
Joe Marin, Caye Caulker Water Taxi "Yes the rush is picking up like from this afternoon right through the rush will pick right up and then tomorrow and Saturday and Sunday then Monday is start tapering off. But tomorrow and Saturday will definitely be the big rush. We have extra boats come on line and we are handling everything okay."
Geovanni Brackett, reporter "Can you give me a ball park figure?"
Joe Marin, Caye Caulker Water Taxi "Well it's quite a few thousand going out."
Geovanni Brackett, reporter "And now that you have a competitor right up the street. What does that mean for passengers in terms of prices?"
Joe Marin, Caye Caulker Water Taxi "I believe they are putting their prices very competitive but I don't worry about the competition, I worry about our business, I have an old saying 'the amount of time it takes to worry about their business….' We brought down the prices a little bit. What we are charging right now is $23 round trip to Caye Caulker and $43 round trip to San Pedro. I understand that all the hotels in Caye Caulker are booked out and I understand the same thing in San Pedro which makes me happy that the Belizeans are spending their money here in Belize. San Pedro needs it more than Cancun."
When we went to San Pedro Belize Express, no one was available to speak.
But we certainly can't all afford to splash out to the Cayes. Still, it is a four day weekend, a time when there are weighty religious observances, and where, for better or worse, "r and r" has become its own kind of religion. So, the question arises, what are you doing for Easter? That's what our colleague Geovanni Brackett went to the streets asking today:..
An observance both religious and Now, we know that most folks can't afford to go there.