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
Belizean Cheaters - it's a Facebook group that has been overheating Belize's Social Media scene for the past week. The group traffics in little more than low-down gossip, revenge porn, and just plain old "bad mind" - but it's been garnering thousands of page views from those who delight in nothing more than "shoosh."
But now, it's garnering mainstream media attention because someone maliciously posted the picture of an 11 year old girl accusing her of having sexual relations with adult men. That crossed the line and the child's mother called Southside Police Commander Chester Williams who posted on social media that he will "deal with those responsible." But, deal with them how? Are there even laws on the books to prosecute those who engage in cyber-bullying? There aren't, and today the press asked the Attorney General Mike Peyrefitte and the Solicitor General Nigel Hawke about it:...
Nigel Hawke - Acting Solicitor General "There is a committee set up, looking at the issue of cybercrime legislation, but it's at a stage where it's just a number of multispectral groups which have been discussing the issue with the view of coming up with a final policy position to take the cabinet for approval. At some stage there will be some cybercrime bill or some cyber security bill. That is the hope, but it is on horizon."
Reporter "How long will it be before any such legislation is passed?"
Nigel Hawke - Acting Solicitor General "It's difficult to say but, let's say probably another 2 or 3 months, you might be hearing something from us in terms... there is a proposal or policy going forward to the cabinet."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "We have to be fair, writing legislation and passing laws is not like buying a pound of rice, going into the shop, giving a dollar to get your rice. It doesn't work, that quickly, that instantaneous. We have to make sure that the laws that we write and propose for passing are comprehensive. For example, there's this cheaters thing that they have and their was a minor on that thing, who do we hold responsible for that? The parents, the person who took it? What if the minor herself, took the video and posted it? Who do we hold responsible? I spoke to the DPP yesterday about it and we are looking to see if we can amend, make a simple amendment to the criminal court for right now, to tackle minors being on Facebook or social media, but we are in Belize. If you are to prosecute everyone who had a bad thing to say about somebody else on Facebook, everyone would have been to jail or get sued because that's all social media is used for, bashing people, and outing people. We have to make sure that when crimes are being committed or things that are of such an indecent nature that it upsets us that we have find the laws to address. But it's not as easy as people think it is."
Nigel Hawke - Acting Solicitor General "We know you have the new phenomenon fake news and that is an issue the law will also have to address because there are people out there just bent on making mischief."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "Who do you sue and who do you charge when they create an anonymous account, no picture, no address and so you have to include the people who are computer savvy. It would now include bringing in the owners of these different media houses such as Facebook and Snapchat. We have to maybe engage them for their help, because if you go and I find a site where somebody is libeling for example, we have to get to the actual person. How do we locate the server? So all of these things have to be contemplated when you are passing legislation."
Of course, the laws cannot come into place soon enough and the Cheaters group is now multiplying since there are now two copycat groups.
We also got to ask the AG about the case against Andre Vega, the son of former Deputy Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega, and attorney Sharon Pitts. Last year, news broke that they had been awarded hefty government compensation for land that was already owned - and should never have been sold. The Ministry of Natural Resources then demanded that those monies be paid back within one month, which did not happen. Since then the Attorney General's office has committed to filing suit against both parties in order to get the money back. We asked Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke for an update.
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "It is strictly a legal matter and the SG the person who is the head litigator for that case as he has told me, he has difficulty locating Mr. Vega to serve him personally and he may have to do substituted service, but we have served Ms. Pitts. It was purely a legal matter, it is a matter that went into the system before I became an attorney general. I have no intentions of discontinuing. The court will decide what the court will decide."
Reporter "Certainly for the benefit of the public, it must be clarified that it's the specific person that needs to be served. They cannot go say it through his father who is very well known."
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "Absolutely no, the Honourable Dean Lindo would say, if I am dead, they won't bury you. So what happen is we have to serve him personally. If a certain amount of time passes and we can't serve him personally then we will have to go to substituted service. But they are no political considerations or favors here. The decision was made that we should go after the monies and we will go after the monies, what the court decide, they decide."
Reporter "So what kind of measures are being put in place to locate Mr. Vega?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "She would give you more details of it, but we have our process servers, we are looking for him, but we have to find him personally."
Reporter "Do you still believe he is in the country?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "I wouldn't know."
Reporter "Do you know where it is?"
Nigel Hawke "I wouldn't know but certainly in relation the matter with Ms. Pitts, she had filed her defence. Her matters was served on her. She has filed her defence, so we know now with a date from a court for case management in relating to her matter. We are still attempting to serve on Mr. Vega."
Hawke also gave us a brief update about the Ashcroft Alliance's latest challenge. It seeks to discharge the Supreme Court's injunction which stops Belize Bank and BCB HOLDINGS from attempting to enforce awards granted by the US Courts earlier this year. The court granted a temporary injunction three weeks ago - and now the Ashcroft Alliance wants it lifted.
Nigel Hawke "Like I said I don't want to comment too much on these matters, because the matters are before the court. What we know there is a challenge to discharge the injunction that it was granted in favor of GOB, that will be heard on Monday. Mr. Denys Barrow, senior counsel, is representing the government of Belize in that matter. Like I said before because those matters are before the courts, we would not comment on the merits or demerits of those cases."
Peyrefitte also answered questions about the ongoing Senate inquiry. The press asked if he sees any reason for further investigations into the matters revealed in the probe, or other related immigration scandals such as Nanes Shnitzer.
Reporter "In relation to the entire senate probe that's ongoing, there have been a lot of disclosures and in particular since then a lot of back and forth as it relates to the disclosures of Ms. Ruth Meighan about electoral fraud and so. As attorney general would you hope that that's a matter that's investigating alongside the what's now been disclosed for the Nanes Shnitzer case with an internal investigation done and certain people being deemed as needing disciplinary action but also a police investigation alongside that?"
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "The police investigation will depends on what the police wants to do. Many criminal moves that want to be made, will be left to the DPP. You may want to ask her that. But in general as a senator myself, I want to respect that senators. I want them to finish with their inquiry and then we will see what recommendations they made from that body. Until then I wouldn't want to say anything that would prejudice their inquiry that's taking place right now."
And, finally, on the subject of deportation the AG answered questions about whether there has been a rush of deportees sent back, or headed to Belize since Donald Trump was elected President. Now, we know there has been fake news saying 1,800 Belizeans were rounded up in the US for deportation. But, that has no basis in fact, since the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement reports that in February just over 600 illegal persons were picked up in total, in operations targeting criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives. No special mention was made of Belizeans. The attorney general said they are not aware of any rush of deportations:...
Hon. Michael Peyrefitte - Attorney General "I am not aware that there's any official policy to deport Belizean who are incarcerated yes, I would like to think that most Belizeans are here legally. It has not reached the point where it is such an important policy consideration that we need to come up with something to address it. We have not been notified by any of our counsels or by our embassy abroad that we it will become an issue. But if it does certainly we can find a way to address it. It has not come as an urgent matter to consider."
Supa G is Belize's most well known and successful Punta Rocker - and much os his popularity comes from the United States where he plays to adoring crowds of Belizean Americans. But Supa will have to slow it down for at least the next few months. That's after he was turned back by US Immigration earlier this week. Supa arrived in Houston on the 22nd on a visitor's visa. But, while his manager says he was there as an ambassador, performers need what is known as a P3 Visa. We spoke to his manager via telephone from California this evening:
Cyril "Uruwei" Garcia, Supa G's Manager "On February 22, Supa G was on his way to Houston to represent Belize as a cultural ambassador, not to perform. The Houston tri-country regional black chamber of commerce invited him to join honored guests, the Love Foundation, to the 4th annual conference and award gala. He was denied entry into the US as a result of not holding a P3 visa. He couldn't return on that same day, because there were no flights leaving Houston to Belize after the investigation process. So he had to return the following day which is Thursday 23rd. We are actively working on his P3 visa. One of his supervisors at the US Immigration Department has actually assured us that this is not an end to his musical career in the United States and that there are other artists with offences on their record that have been allowed entry after such experience. So his fans in the US, we can assured them that he will be back in the US in no time."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "We know that the norm in the industry for a long time has been that you use your visitor's visa and you go and you do your gigs in the States, it has been a long established practice. Are Belizean artists under more scrutiny now for this P3 visa?"
Cyril "Uruwei" Garcia, Supa G's Manager "Unfortunately, yes."
According to our sources, a number of well-known Belizean performers have been pulled aside recently upon entry into the US and warned that they cannot perform on a visitor's visa. The issue is that their performances are paid, and the holder of a visitor's visa cannot gainfully work in the US.
On Valentine's night, Geneva Estrada allegedly pushed her common law husband Eric Moses down a flight of stairs. He hit his head, and later died. She was originally charged for dangerous harm, but today, that charge was upgraded to manslaughter. Because of the nature of the offence, bail could not be offered. She was remanded into custody until April 17.
According to the allegation, Estrada got angry with him and pushed him. Moses hit the back of his when he tumbled to the bottom of the stairs, and he lost consciousness.
Tonight a cop is serving the first night of a three month jail sentence after he stole a police radio. Chief Magistrate, Anne Marie Smith sentenced Police constable Jamil Scott to 3 months today after he was found guilty.
His girlfriend, Jelsie Zapeta, who was charged with handling stolen goods for the Kenwood brand radio, was found not guilty.
Back in September, 2014, the radio went missing from a police mobile that was parked in the Raccoon Street Police Station compound. Later that night, when Scott left the station on his motorcycle, police intercepted him at the corner of Raccoon and Elston Kerr Streets and told him to return to the police station. Scott instead went to Novelo's Bus Terminal on West Collet Canal, but police detained his girlfriend there and found that she had the police radio in a bag. Scott and Zepeta both gave statements from the dock in which they denied they stole anything. But Chief Magistrate Smith rejected it; she told Scott that she does not believe his statement; that it was fraught with lies. She said that in the case of Zepeta she is not convinced that Zepeta knew that the radio was stolen she she acquitted her while convicting her boyfriend.
He had also been accused of stealing items form a home he searched, but those charges were dropped.
Last month we told you that new House Speaker Laura Longsworth will take over the regional parliamentarian organization, FOPREL. That's the abbreviation for the Forum of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments of Central American and the Caribbean Basin. This will be the second time that Belize's takes over the rotating presidency.
And so, tonight, Longsworth, Senate President Lee Mark Chang, and National Assembly Clerk Eddie Webster are in Managua, Nicaragua. That's where FOPREL's Headquarters are located, and in an inauguration ceremony, Longsworth officially accepted the presidency. She took over from the outgoing president, Oscar Chinchilla, who is the President of the President of the parliament of Guatemala.
Belize will hold the Presidency for 1 year, after which it will be passed along to one of the other 9 member states.
And, tonight, in our final report from last week's CDB Press Conference in Barbados, we have bank president Dr. Warren Smith discussing the Bank's Special Development Fund, the Bank's largest pool of concessionary funds. That has an interest rate of only 1% and it is earmarked for landing to agencies such as Belize's Social Investment Fund. Smith told us that a significant portion of those funds will be earmarked for Belize:..
Warren Smith, President CDB "Belize is going to get a big chuck of that money which as I understand it, works through Belize SIF (Social Investment Fund). So I mentioned to you in my earlier remarks that our experience has been that Belize has used those resources very effectively in the past and it is one of the countries where we like to take people and show them what can be accomplished."
Jules Vasquez, 7News "You all ever feel like sometimes it's trying to bail out a boat that's taking on water, not to be defeatist but Belize continues to have one of the highest murder rates in the world. So with all the work the CDB has done, we still see these corrosive social patterns. Is there ever any loss in resolve is saying that maybe we are approaching this the wrong way?"
Warren Smith, President CDB "That's a very thought provoking question Jules. I would say to you that I think what it illustrates, what you describe just points to the fact that development is a complex process. We have the benefit of having seen some of these things happening in other countries, so you can draw lessens from those countries to apply in countries that might now be going through some of those challenges."
"But the bottom line is that we are not going to resile from our role which is to continue to work with your country and the other members of CDB to overcome all of the challenges that you need to address in order to be able to reach the destination of a country that provides a decent standard of living, that is inclusive in its approach to its development and addresses ad abject poverty."
In other Caribbean news, a study is underway to look at the impacts of rising cost factors on fishing operations in the Caribbean. The workshop will be held next week in Barbados and it will review a study, carried out in Belize, St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines and other Caribbean nations. The workshop will examine, factors such as capital, labor, maintenance and energy costs. The idea is to propose strategies to improve efficiency, productivity and sustainability in the fisheries sector.
About 120 kids under 18 are living with HIV in Belize - that's the number the National Aids Commission has in their records. But there are more kids out there born HIV positive. And you can help The National Aids Commission along with Hand in Hand Ministers reach out to all these kids by attending their fundraiser event tonight. It's the "Unite for the Children" benefit concert. It was scheduled to start at 7:00 at the BFLA compound on Mercy Lane. There will be performances from the Pantempers Steel Orchestra and Pandemonium Steel Band. The Communications and Programs Officer at the National Aids Commission told me more about the significance of the concert.
You still have time to head to the concert. It finishes at 12:00. The proceeds will go to medication and other services that these kids need.
Belize's Queen of Brukdong will be buried next week Thursday in PG. But her vibrant soul, unique style and strong cultural imprint will live on forever. Well known Mortician and close friend of Lila, Stanley Lizama is keeping her spirit alive in his way . Lizama got a mannequin and designed a replica of Lila Vernon performing, with Mic and all. Lizama told us today just how special this display is to him.
Everyone is invited to view or take pictures . Lizama lives just off Baymen Avenue, near Alaska store.
Earlier this week, we told you how Team Belize was turning heads in the First Round of the 2017 CONCACAF Beach Soccer Championships, when they beat Jamaica in a penalty shootout. That game ended in a tie, but Belize managed to score 2 penalty shots, snatching that first match away from their opponents.
Well, since then, they've gone up against Bahamas and Guyana, and in those games, Belize lost 3-nil and 4-1 respectively. So, that takes Belize out of the running for the top 8 countries, but that doesn't mean that the beach footballers aren't still giving it their all. They're currently battling for 9th place and today, they played an impressive game against the US Virgin Islands.
They had a rocky start when the US Virgin Islands scored the first 3 goals on them, and those went unanswered. In the final period However, Team Belize turned up the game play and scored 4 consecutive goals. The US Virgin Islands scored their last goal of the match, and after that, Team Belize made two clutch goals in the last few minutes.
We've put together a short clip showing the highlights of the match. Here's that now:
Team Belize has 2 more games, 1 tomorrow, and 1 on Sunday. If they win both those matches, Belize will place 9th in this tournament.
In 2015, 7News was first to report on the second largest piece of carved piece of jade ever found in Belize and probably in the entire Maya World. It was unearthed at Nim Li Punit in the Toledo District and researchers are still marveling over it. An online news outlet named "phys.ORG" quotes a paper recently published in the Cambridge University journal Ancient Mesoamerica detailing the jewel's significance.
According to Archaeologist Geoffrey Braswell it's the only pendant known to be inscribed with a historical text. Carved into the pendant's back are 30 hieroglyphs about its first owner. Braswell notes, quote, "We would expect something like it in one of the big cities of the Maya world. Instead, here it was, far from the center." End quote. The pendant measures 7.4 inches wide, 4.1 inches high and just 0.3 inches thick. The article notes that sawing it into this thin, flat form using string, fat and jade dust would have been a technical feat.
Tonight, we re-visit the story on this remarkable piece which I first reported on in June 2015:..
So, what do the inscriptions on the pendant mean? The paper reports that the text is still being analyzed by Christian Prager of the University of Bonn.
But the interpretation so far is this: The jewel was made for the king Janaab' Ohl K'inich, and the hieroglyphs describe the king's parentage. "His mother, the text implies, was from Cahal Pech while the king's father may have come from somewhere in Guatemala.
And for the end of the news tonight, we'll keep it in the south, with a look back at some of PG resident Lila Vernon's memorable performances which were captured on camera. These archival clips are courtesy NICH Belize and AEAU productions.
We leave you with that, I'm Courtney Weatherburne, have a good night, a great weekend and join me back here on Monday.