7 News Belize

7 News Belize HeadlinesFriday, December 19, 2014

Will He? Won’t He? Mayor Bradley Makes It Official
For three weeks now - we've been after Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley, asking whether he will or won't run for mayor in the March municipal elections. Well tonight after much stonewalli...
Sugar Crop In Peril, No Final Agreement, NTUCB Urges Farmers Not To Sign
When we left you last night, the signing of the final agreement between BSI and the Cane Farmers had been delayed by confusion over controversial clause the ASR/BSI seemed to have slipped in...
GOB Loses Int’l 41.7 Million USD Arbitration To Ashcroft Alliance, Says It Will Appeal
Government today suffered a major setback when it lost a 41.7 million US dollar international arbitration case to the Ashcroft Alliance. The arbitration was heard in Costa Rica between...
Christmas “Pop Shot” Can Be Dangerous
It's Christmas and - like it or loathe it - one of the traditions of the season are those dynamites, pop shots, cherry bombs and sparkles. Many adults find them to be a nuisance, but th...
The Dense Web Of Poverty And Power
Tonight, deep in the uncharted hinterlands of the area known as Gungulung in Lake Independence, lots of folks are watching the news on electricity stolen from lamp-posts. It's dange...
CITCO Releases Audit Three Months Before Municipals
At the top of the news you heard Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley say that he will run for another term as mayor. But just three months before the election he did something that you wouldn...
The Magic Of Christmas: Is It In The Lights?
A major part of the Christmas season is decorating the house with lights. You can find them draped across humble abodes and high powered mansions. IT's a kind of community work - bri...
Guat President Speaks
On Wednesday, Belize's Prime Minister Dean Barrow handed over the pro-tem presidency of SICA to Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina. But, most significant development coming out of t...
Bel Caribe Cares
It's the season of giving and that's exactly what the staff of Bel Caribe Communication did today. It's the 8th year for the company's "Food Hampers to Needy Families" initiative and today t...
Old Fashioned Bram
The Belize Music Agency will be hosting an old-fashioned Belize Christmas show, dinner and bram at Travellers Signature Lounge tomorrow night. It's an evening of live entertainment, fire-hea...
PROFILE...
Tonight's I AM Belize Profile features the inspirational teacher Carmen Jane Lopez Avila. She is today the manager of the Toledo District Education Center, and the holder of a Masters and a ...
National Team Footballer Charged
He's a member of Belize's National A Football Team, but tonight, Cristobal Gilharry continues to deal with an allegation of unlawful sexual intercourse. The 34 year old Verdes football p...
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7 News Belize - News:
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

Will He? Won’t He? Mayor Bradley Makes It Official

For three weeks now - we've been after Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley, asking whether he will or won't run for mayor in the March municipal elections. Well tonight after much stonewalling and less than artful evasion: we have a solid, clear and firm answer.

We're sure that after all these weeks - you don't want anymore hemming and hawing…so without any further delay, here it is: the question and the answer:

Jules Vasquez
"For those people who are going to vote in municipals in March, they should expect to see your name heading the UDP slate."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Let me just say this, yes. Our position is that we have work very at the municipality, at Belize City Council and I am satisfied that one good term deserves another - that we need to move forward with the team that we have. I have always been here. I saw this thing on the news that you are moving things out of your office. Jules, you are in my office. We were working on this very late two days ago into getting these regulations. We were here like 10-11 at night trying to finish that document. Where do you think I work from? Yes, I practice law. Yes I am going back and forth, but there is no flippancy. I will go further and say that the information that was have for many of these things, that information comes right from the City Hall itself. There are people in this organization, there are people otherwise who may not necessarily want to see the organization going forward. That's not a shock on anybody, but members of the public needs to know that you have a mayor who is on the job 24 hours a day who is working very hard."

Jules Vasquez
"You could have put a pause to all this three weeks ago and just say I am running, you all chill, but you choose not to."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Two weeks ago I was in the United States. Many times I don't follow the pulse as best as I should."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes, but we've ask you mayor."

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"Every question that you have ask me Jules and every question that members of the public have ask me, I have answered. I will only say that perhaps maybe the last interview which was an hour and a half long, I got frustrated and they played the very last bit of the interview when I just kind of said, this is it. So, I think I like and appreciate the vigilance of our media. I think they do a lot to control politicians which they should and democratic process. But in terms of fairness, there is no division in relation to where I have even been and the answer is simple, I aspire for higher office, but in order to get there, there is a certain process that you have to go through and that process will include another term at the municipality."

So, there it is...he's running, but how will he manage a council that has to take on 170 BML employees in January? As the mayor has very publicly stated, it is a political commitment - and one that goes against the entire thrust of his style of management which has been to systematically streamline the council. And in January when he takes on the BML workers, it will go in the completely opposite direction. Previously, the mayor publicly expressed grave misgivings about this, but now he says: it's difficult, but doable:..

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"I think many of the comments came as a result of being frustrated with being in this office, working very hard and then having my loyalty being questioned simply because I express certain views in relation to having difficulties with something which everyone recognizes is a challenge. Notwithstanding that, we are going to make it work."

Jules Vasquez
"So then one year from now or eleven months when cash flow at the council is scarce, how will you be paying those 170 sanitation workers?"

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"We have worked the numbers. The central government has said that they will assist at least up until the time of the elections on continuing the payment of these people. That's going to alleviate some of our cash flow difficulties. They are also committing about $800,000 in relation to purchasing of equipment. These things have already been or are in the process of being procured, so we will be ready for January 2015. Our staff have already deal with the orientation schedule, so we are already onboard in terms of dealing with how we are going to absorb these people initially. I will not characterized my sentiments right now as being optimistic. It is putting forward a face as a leader that this is something that we are embracing. This is something that is going to be upon us January 15th. This is something that I have said is going to be difficult, but this is something that hell or high water we would have to make it work. We are anticipating that it's going to be rocky, but when we look at our financial position, it's going to hit our budget hard, but that is something that we will have to make work and the numbers are difficult but I would think, based on the advice that I had been getting that it is something that we are going to have to make work. I would hope that you would reserve the questions until that period. Our analysis indicates that this is something that can be done. The difficulty that I have includes the finances, but also includes issues in relation to management and structure because when you are talking about 170 people, that drastically changed the nature of an organization and City Council is notoriously allayed with issues of management. I mentioned it on the new recently were we lost 10 weed whackers. So these are problems which will not leave us. We've gotten better at it because a smaller city council is better managed, but when you are dealing with a balloon staff, those challenges will persists."

Our interview with the mayor was extended, and next week we'll air the portion where he talks about the job security for the BML workers. Plus, later on you'll hear him talk about the latest audit of the council's finances which he released today for all to see and scrutinize. Who does that right before an election? He'll tell us why he did!


Sugar Crop In Peril, No Final Agreement, NTUCB Urges Farmers Not To Sign

When we left you last night, the signing of the final agreement between BSI and the Cane Farmers had been delayed by confusion over controversial clause the ASR/BSI seemed to have slipped in there.

It involves a body called the Sugar Cane Production Committee which the factory wants to replace with a new entity called the Harvest and Delivery Control Unit. The Production committee is a Government entity which oversees which cane is accepted and which isn't. But according to the farmers, BSI's proposed Harvest and Delivery Control Unit would have more influence from the factory owners and not enough oversight from the Government to protect the farmers from being victims and their cane unfairly rejected.

So, it was rejected at the negotiation stage. And the farmers say that BSI then slipped it back in. But BSI says it was always there, it was never taken out, and it's just that no one was paying proper attention to it.

BSI said it is willing to amend it - but the farmers want it out. While that was hanging unresolved..

literally overnight, things took a decidedly different course, fuelled in no small part by an inflammatory statement coming out of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. Last night at 10:30, the union issued a bold statement saying, quote:

The NTUCB says to the Directors of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, all eighteen strong, DO NOT SIGN any agreement."

It goes on:

"NTUCB calls on the farmers to wake up and denounce the trickery that has been played on them and to realize it is not too late to stop the signing of this oppressive and economically crippling agreement."

That strident denunciation followed up by a blast text saying pretty much the same thing, changed the temperature of the dialogue completely - and culminated this afternoon in the voluntary shutdown of BSI offices and preparation for a riot - which did not happen. But that's just an indication of how tense it got. Belizario Carballo explained:..

Diodi Novelo, member, Cane Farmer Negociating Team
"BSI is not playing clean. BSI want to introduce that AGCU for them to be in control of the situation in delivering of cane and to me if I was there in office with them I would put my point that this is the clear opportunity to tell BSI that we are going back to square one, we are going to start to negotiate because you are not playing clean. You have already entered something we have already rejected."

Audrey Matura-Shepherd
"Decisions of BSI/ASR and Belize Cane Farmers Association gravely impacts our employees first and foremost. But more importantly it impacts the nation. People have not been keeping track of this issue and where we are right now is going to be a grave disservice and injustice if these farmers go ahead and sign this agreement with BSI/ASR. I don't know how much you all were updated yesterday with the trickery they tried on them when they tried to insert a clause. That trickery is not only an insult to the Cane Farmers Association, but it's an insult to this nation because the law is clear as to who could be the entity that regulates the quality of cane. We realize that they are taking advantage of the farmers. This is the rest. If nobody can't see it, then we will show them it. Why pressure them into an agreement that makes them give up the ownership of their cane?"

Daniel Ortiz
"How do you answer to the criticism that many hand spoil the pot and Mr. Chris Coye, their attorney is already there and you are inserting yourself?"

Audrey Matura-Shepherd
"Let me tell you, we are not even hands, we are whole body in and we cannot spoil the pot. I am not here as the legal representative of anyone. I am here as the National Trade Union Congress and as the president of CWU and thank God yes I do have a law degree, so the b!@#*t on the farmers, when they try to insert a new clause cannot happen."

Ezequiel Cansino - Chair, Com of Mgmt, BSCFA
"The proposal asking them to do that. They gave us part of it but it was not completely and today we decide that this will be the last chance that we will be sending the proposal to include the SCPC as the regulating body and if that doesn't happen, well, a decision will have to be made and we have to come back again and decide what will be the next step."

Mike Rudon, Ch5
"People are saying that if negotiations fail at this point, they want the BSCFA, the cane farmers to go back to square one, to go right back to the beginning. Are you in agreement with that?"

Ezequiel Cansino
"If that is the demand of the people, then we have to do what they are demanding us to do."

Alfred Ortega, Member, Negotiating Team
"I would really want to ask the support of the farmers moving forward not to support the signing of this agreement in the way it is."

BSI was supposed to have held a press conference to explain their side of the story, but when we showed up, we were informed that it had been cancelled, with no explanation offered.

Just before news time however, BSI's Chief Financial Officer, Belizario Carballo, called us back and granted us a phone interview in which he explained what happened with the supposed offending clause in the final draft.

Belizario Carballo - CFO, BSI
"In that draft agreement we introduced no new change. The draft agreement that was sent on Monday was based on the last draft agreement that we presented to the BSCFA on the 9th October, which was the last date when we sat to negotiate and so that was the last agreement that we had before we met with the Prime Minister. And so, once we met with the Prime Minister we updated that draft with the three points that were agreed, that was surfaced as points of contention and we submitted that revised draft to the BSCFA."

Daniel Ortiz
"What happened to the harvest and delivery?"

Belizario Carballo - CFO, BSI
"The harvest and delivery as were reflected in the draft that we presented to the BSCFA from the 9th October were identical to the draft that we currently presented. This notion that somehow BSI updated something and try to slip it by someone is really untrue and I think it needs to be clarified. What has occurred is that we are now down to one point of disagreement."

Daniel Ortiz
"Persons who have always disagreed with this compromise agreement are now agitating for the farmers to take this deal off the table completely and reject the games that you've made to go back to Square one."

Belizario Carballo - CFO, BSI
"We are well aware of the misrepresentations and the distractions that are being introduced by those who are seeking to frustrate and stall the process of reaching an agreement. As you indicate those elements exists and we are well aware of it and we have heard those elements in the media this week and over the next week we will seek to clarify those points in more details, but for now, we have taken out a press release this evening to address fundamentally from our point of view how the process has evolved. The process is taking some time."

This evening, BSI sent out a press release which says, quote,

"in a considered effort to finalize an agreement, BSI further revised its position on this matter in the revised Agreement submitted to the BSCFA today….BSI accepts that the process and criteria for cane rejection would be developed and agreed between the parties in consultation with the SCPC. This provides for the SCPC to administer the cane rejection procedures agreed to by the parties. BSI has in no instance tried to undermine the SCPC."

We wait and see whether that will be enough to appease the farmers. As it stands right now, no agreement has been signed - and no one knows when one will be signed - much less when the season will open.

And while that matter lies unresolved, in the undercard, we note that the Government has openly clashed with the NTUCB. A release issued from GOB this morning referred to the NTUCB's inflammatory press release.

It says, quote "GOB derides as paternalistic and arrogant in the extreme, the NTUCB release regarding the agreement reached between the BSCFA and ASR/BSI. The NTUCB release characterizes the agreement as oppressive and something foisted on cane farmers with the connivance of GOB. This is notwithstanding the fact that the agreement was openly debated and approved by BSCFA Directors, its Negotiating Committee, and Its General Assembly. It is therefore incredibly patronizing and just plain wrong for the NTUCB to think and say that it knows better than the farmers; and…in effect condemn, a decision of the BSCFA taken in the full exercise of their judgment and democratic determination as to what was in their best interest." End quote.


GOB Loses Int’l 41.7 Million USD Arbitration To Ashcroft Alliance, Says It Will Appeal

Government today suffered a major setback when it lost a 41.7 million US dollar international arbitration case to the Ashcroft Alliance. The arbitration was heard in Costa Rica between Ashcroft's British Caribbean Bank and the Government of Belize.

The case centers over a loan that the then Ashcroft controlled BTL made from the bank in 2007, together with interest and costs. The government owned BTL has maintained that the loan was illegally entered into and the company should pay it back. But, the bank is still out tens of millions of US dollars - so they went to ask an arbitration panel to compel Government to pay.

The arbitrators agreed that the debt stands and the bank must be compensated - but only for the face value of the loan, not for any additional amounts, which the Bank was claiming.

But in a release today Government noted that that matter is still being decided in a case pending before the Supreme Court of Belize, brought jointly by Telemedia and Government against the Bank, arguing that the loan was illegal and may not be enforced. And while that is awaiting a court date, Government says it has received legal advice and will also challenge today's award.


Christmas “Pop Shot” Can Be Dangerous

It's Christmas and - like it or loathe it - one of the traditions of the season are those dynamites, pop shots, cherry bombs and sparkles. Many adults find them to be a nuisance, but the combustion and noise are the highlight of the season for kids.

Yes, these explosives should not be in the hands of children but they are easy to get off the streets and the kids sure do love them.

It's not always fun though; they can cause serious injuries. A young West Street Resident told us how a fun night out with friends and what the streets call "pop-shat" caused her a lot of pain.

Courtney Weatherburne reporting
What you just heard is a homemade explosive. It's dangerous and destructive. But at Xmas time, it's seen as child's play, it's an explosive similar to that one that exploded in 11 year old Kelize Garcia's left hand on Sunday night. She can barely move her fingers and it hurts when she puts her hand to her side. It's an experience she says she has definitely learned from.

Kelize Garcia, 11
"I was playing with the dynamite. The dynamite was wet and it didn't want to light, so I opened the dynamite and I opened the gun powder and I light it from the top and it exploded. I just want to tell them to stop play with dynamite and the cherry bomb because that is really dangerous."

And if you want to avoid this hazard, heed this warning.

Orin Smith, Station Officer, National Fire Service
"Fire crackers although a traditional part of celebration has over the years lead to many injuries. Usually there is a license or permit that is require for its manufacture, storage, sales and use and the misuse of fire crackers can lead to blindness, injuries, fatalities or fire occurring. Fire crackers, sparks and rockets should not be given to kids unsupervised. Sparkles can create heat as high as 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and enough to soften gold. Keep out of hair, face and clothing. Use fire crackers outside the home. Have a bucket of water or garden hose just in case. Do not try to make your own fire crackers. Do not hold fire crackers in the hand when lit. Point fire crackers away from the homes, bushy areas and other flammables. I remember one instance some years ago when one whistling dynamite came into my brother's house and almost catch his house on fire. We had to tear down the curtain and throw it outside, so the misuse of it is definitely a danger and pointing it in the direction of other residence is another serious thing."

Hopefully her hand heals before classes resume. Her mother is using Aloe Vera to treat the injury.


The Dense Web Of Poverty And Power

Tonight, deep in the uncharted hinterlands of the area known as Gungulung in Lake Independence, lots of folks are watching the news on electricity stolen from lamp-posts. It's dangerous and illegal, but for those who have no electricity, and now way to get it legally, it's the only way they can survive. Monica Bodden visited the area and found out how perilous existence in the margins can be:..

Monica Bodden reporting
It's often an invisible crime - someone illegally hooks into a power supply, hooks up a line or tampers with a meter to avoid recording electricity usage.

Quite a number of city residents are culprits - but the impact of electricity theft -including the danger - is often unrecognized.

While power theft carries deadly risks - and in some cases thieves pay for the power they steal with their lives - many are willing to take the chance -in instances where there is no other way out.

Area resident of CET Site
"To be honest I am one of the persons who is taking electricity and it's not because I choose to steal electricity, it's because I have access of having light because I don't have lamp post, we don't have street for them to put the lamp posts."

This is the CET Site area -a part of Gungulung in the Lake Independence division. Here, many families are squatting on this open piece of swampy property.

It will take some time for development to be done before power lines can be properly installed in the area. In the meantime - it is being done illegally.

Electrical lines are hooked up on the nearby lampposts by residents themselves. The wires are run on the ground. Some are held up on sticks - that travels all the way to the back. Even extension cords are used from house to house to transfer electricity.

Area resident of CET Site
"It's frustrating because when it rains, we have problems - the wire burns off and then the place gets flooded and we have kids who walks in the water and then sometimes kids get shock. It's not something that we want to, but we need to survive - we need help."

Electricity theft is not just dangerous for those who steal. If you are on the same power line as someone who steals electricity -you could end up paying the cost for their theft too.

The power line could become overloaded with electric energy -which could harm electronics and appliances that are designed to receive a certain steady amount of electricity.

This is an issue this paying customer -who lives in the neighborhood - has been dealing with for the past 2 years.

Area resident of CET Site
"For the past two years, I've been getting some very bad experience with the illegal electrical wiring with the residents in the area. We have some squatters around the area that put illegal wiring in the lamp post and a lot of times especially in the rainy season it causes fire on the post. I've called BEL several times and make complain and they said that they will look into the matter, but their workers have been threaten by some of the residents back here. I have a grandbaby that suffers from bronchitis (short of breath) and we have to use the electricity to put him on a machine majority of the times to help him breathe and when the illegal wiring would touch each other and caused fire on the post - knock out the electricity for the entire area and we have to be out of electricity sometimes half day or a whole day. A lot of times when I call BEL they say that they are unaware that the area have blackout - many times. As a matter of fact as late as last week when we have blackout back here and I call BEL, they say that they are unaware that the area have blackout. So I ask them if they can send their workers to come and check and they come and check and they see what the problem is. I went out there and I explain to them. I told them that I am sick and tired of the illegal wiring because me personally, I live in my house, I find that money as a single mother of 6 to put my electrical meter so that I can have my electricity and I believe that the others can do the same. I have been paying between $54 - $59 on a regular basis for the past almost 6 years and after the illegal wiring started on the post my light bill jumped all the way to $131. First it went to $141 and I went in and I fight with BEL: I talk to them and I told them I didn't put anything new electrical in my house and I want to know why my electricity went with that great big jump and they say we are consuming more electricity that we use to. I told her that I plug out everything in my home when I go to sleep at night and leaving the house. The only thing left plugged in is the refrigerator.

"We had an experience one day, it was raining and the rain stop and a pit bull dog cross on the wire and the pit bull dog got electrocuted from the wire. What happened is a lot of times the wires are not connected well and it gives a big ball of fire on the post."

And while those are concerns that should not be taken lightly. For these residents it's all about survival mode. And what they must do to provide minimum of comfort life for their children.

Area resident of CET Site
"I am working, I have a job and I can pay my electricity, but what, we don't have a post that we can go and apply for our meter like everyone else."

Monica Bodden
"How long you've been living in this area?"

Area resident of CET Site
"To be honest, 8 years."

Monica Bodden
"So this is an issue that you have been dealing with for 8 years?"

Area resident of CET Site
"8 years. BEL came around the other day and says that they are doing a project, but like right now things went slow and we just have to take out time and see what will happen."

Monica Bodden
"They know that you guys are taking electricity?"

Area resident of CET Site
"Yes, the do know because sometimes they come along and take off the wires. We have to do what we have to do. We don't want to put it up back because it's dangerous, but we have to do it - we have kids. I have a little grandson, he loves to play with lighters and matches. Imagine if we don't have electricity? What you all think will happen? We could light candles when we want to. Even if it's not time to light a candle, he will want to and then what will happen? If will lead from no light to no house and then what will happen to us out here? We are already living in swamp, we need to have a life just like everybody else."

While electricity is one problem for these residents- poverty is another. They took me on a tour of what life is like living in a swamp filled with garbage.

I struggled to get across these pallets that leads to their houses - An art they all seemed to master quite well.

Area resident of CET Site
"Actually Monica, that is pallet and it you notice the dirt in the yard, in the swamp - that's filling. In the future when we get some sand, it will be easier for us to spread because if you notice the dirt is the filling."

Monica Bodden
"Some people might look at the dirt and say that is nastiness, so many dirt. But you guys have to fill the area because it's swampy right?"

Area resident of CET Site
"Like what our neighbor said, if we don't put the dirt, when you get the clay or whatever, that could balance it - it's like to make it solid. You see it like that, but it's good. It looks much better than before. If you notice the other yards are swamp and the water is really high. Monica, please let this known that there are a lot of high school children living in the back of these areas that are attending school and they have homework and different things - it's really hard, so the electricity is really needed. The politician doesn't have time for anybody. They don't want to hear anybody cries. They don't really care about the people, but when election time comes, they will want to walk on your pallet and come for you to vote, but I want they come in my yard, I want the dogs to bite them."

BEL Representatives say they are aware of the matter and are taking steps to alleviate residents' concerns and safety hazards in the area. The Company says it will provide details next week.


CITCO Releases Audit Three Months Before Municipals

At the top of the news you heard Belize City Mayor Darrell Bradley say that he will run for another term as mayor. But just three months before the election he did something that you wouldn't quite expect: he released the just completed audit for the fiscal year ending 31st March. That's got all the council's financial affairs rolled up into one document - and things being what they are, you might not expect to find accounts that are rosy or robust. But the mayor says he had no reservation about releasing it even on the verge of an election:..

Darrell Bradley, Mayor - Belize City
"We want members of the public to criticize us. We want members of the public to be able to review analytically what's going on at the city council. We want members of the public to say Mayor, are you paying your bills? Are you able to meet the municipal bond obligations? Are you able to deal with this BML situation comfortably because that is part of leadership. It is part of good government. People have said Mayor, one of the things you shouldn't do is stop give interviews and I have said no, it is an obligation and duty of an elected official to answer every and any questions that is put to them that has to do with their office because I am accountable to the people and when we do our audit, the audit shows that we are truly committed to this vision of transparency and accountability. I remember the first audit that we did. It was a qualify audit. They didn't clear us, they said that the accounts of the city council had many difficulties and the management report was fought with challenges that we had. We've faced all of those things and the first thing that I had indicated is make that public on our website. The minutes of all council meetings are on our website. Our monthly financial statements are all there. Our tax are all there and now this audit which is our 3rd independent audit will be out there, so that members of the public can look at what's going on in here, so that nobody could say that Darrell Bradley do any under deposit, or Darrell Bradley do any craziness or so and they can have confidence in our abilities to discharge our functions."

As the mayor noted, the audit will be posted on the Council's website. You can find a link to that at 7Newsbelize.com


The Magic Of Christmas: Is It In The Lights?

A major part of the Christmas season is decorating the house with lights. You can find them draped across humble abodes and high powered mansions. IT's a kind of community work - brightening up the place to get everyone into that festive mood.

But while some of us will buy a few light sets and string them up outside some folks take it to whole different level! Cameraman Codie Noralez and I visited 4 families in the city last night to find out what drives folks to hyper-illuminate their homes:..

Courtney Weatherburne reporting
Reindeers, snowmen, even polar bears, you name it, you can find it right in this yard. This elaborate and grandiose display may seem a bit too much for many but According to Albert Vasquez there is no such thing as too much during his favorite time of year.

This winter wonderland is Albert Vasquez's home. What you see here is the product of 15 years of accumulation and fine tuning - building to a project of such a grand scale that it isn't just a residential back yard project, it's a virtual theme park:

He started off with this section of his house and gradually he expanded to this half.

Based on our count, Albert has well over 50 figurines and inflatable figures in total and it takes him over a week to set up.

Impressive right? But we can only imagine how 'impressive' the figure on his light bill must be. Well for Albert, the increased cost doesn't weigh on his mind at all.

It is all about spreading that Christmas spirit and "A" street resident Josefina Andrews feels the same way. But in her case, whatever the light bill may be for 80 feet of Christmas lights, her husband takes care of that.

Josefina "Chita" Andrews, A Street Resident
"He would know. I don't even see the bill, so I really don't know."

Courtney Weatherburne
"What drives you every year to make sure that your house is beautifully decorated for Christmas?"

Josefina "Chita" Andrews, A Street Resident
"Well, the family and we all get together. My son is coming tomorrow from Houston, my daughter, my son in law, my grandchildren."

Apart from family, Baymen Avenue resident Erica Morey says she decorates her house every year in memory of her husband

Courtney Weatherburne
"Has it become a tradition for you decorating your house during the Christmas season?"

Erica Morey, Baymen Avenue Resident
"Yes, it is a tradition. I've been doing it for almost 30 years. My husband and I use to love doing it you know and since he has passed away I continue doing it."

Courtney Weatherburne
"Approximately how much time does it take to decorate your entire house; hours, days?"

Erica Morey, Baymen Avenue Resident
"It takes about 4 days. I have a fellow who comes and help me and he comes one day on a weekend. We do it one weekend, we start and we do it, because we try to finish it on the 1st of December; one day every weekend. It adds hundreds of dollars more increase to your light bill. When the bill is so high, you really feels it. But you do it because it's Christmas time."

It certainly is and for the Badillo family, the thrill of decorating their homes is what they look forward to even more than Christmas morning.

Amado Badillo, Eve Street Resident
"Well it has become a tradition before. As you can see the excitement on the kids faces every single year. So this has become a part of Christmas for us. This is actually as much fun preparing for Christmas, putting up the lights and so on as Christmas Day itself. It's well worth it. Christmas like I said is really for the kids and the excitement that the lights brings to them. It's not only the kids in our family, a part of the tradition for us is other families who pass by. We have some people who have been coming by for the last 5-6 years and we know that they will come by next year as well. So, their kids are always excited. They know that every year this is one of the stops that they have to make."

Alani Smith, 10 year old niece
"We also did inside the Christmas tree and we hang up some garlands. We have been doing this for over 10 years now."

Courtney Weatherburne
"How old are you sweetheart?"

Alani Smith, 10 year old niece
"Ten."

Courtney Weatherburne
"Well you definitely enjoy every year during the Christmas season decorating two homes as well right?"

Kai Badillo, 8-year-old son
"Two homes. I always look forward to seeing the houses at night. Every night we try to come here and to see the lights and if any problem, help."

Courtney Weatherburne
"So you are definitely involve in the whole preparing for Christmas?"

Kai Badillo, 8-year-old son
"Yeah, I am very involved."

So it doesn't matter the cost, the time or patience it takes to create these enchanting displays. Beyond the labyrinth of colors and styles lies a deeper meaning and that's the genuine desire to spread good ole' Christmas cheer.

Reporting for 7news I am Courtney Weatherburne.

Historically, power consumption is less in the colder months, but BEL typically sees a spike in power consumption during December.


Guat President Speaks

On Wednesday, Belize's Prime Minister Dean Barrow handed over the pro-tem presidency of SICA to Guatemalan President, Otto Perez Molina.

But, most significant development coming out of that meeting was the historic signing of the 13 bi-lateral agreements between Belize and Guatemala.

Those agreements were released today - and as expected, they are voluminous, covering Prisoner Exchange, Operating Hours At land borders; Seasonal Workers; Items of Cultural And Natural Patrimony, Visa Waiver for Students, Deportation, Electric Power Connectivity; Mutual Recognition of Driver's Licenses; Movement of Students via land entry points; Protection Of the Environment and the Sustainable Use of Resources; Degree Equivalence; Sustainable Tourism; and Stolen Vehicles.

We're still going through them and we'll have a fuller profile next week - but the signing gave the Belizean media an opportunity to question the Guatemalan President on those burning at the Belize Guatemala border.

Love and KREM News president Perez Molina about the effects that the 13 bi-lateral agreements should have on the border incursions into Belize. He said that the hope is that they will curb the amount of incidents:

Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
"We have a commitment and it is to see how we can achieve better conditions for our population in the adjacency zone because they come out and since they are in the adjacency zone, they cross over into Belize side and they go there seeking work. Today we signed an agreement on seasonal employment and that is very important because then they will no longer have to do it as they have been doing it. There will be those temporary working permits as necessary for both people from Belize and Guatemala as well as Guatemalans in the adjacency zone into Belize. I think that will reduce the incidents that have occurred."

But, there is that unfounded Guatemalan Claim which still hangs over the heads of the Government of people of Belize. The hope is that at the second try at a referendum in 2015, there will be more success.

But, you may remember that Guatemala backed out the last time, so when our colleague from Krem asked the President if he'll be able to move his people to that peaceful resolution, he says that he hopes so, but the 13 agreements should provide a back-up to the Special Agreement of 2008, if the referendums in both countries fail:

Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
"It remain outstanding agreement which we continue to negotiate. That agreement seeks to establish how we can give it viability, so that in the event that the referendum is lost in either country the special agreement of 2008 is not lost and this an agreement that we have been progressing on little by little which we expect will be the next agreement we will sign. We expect that it will be like a protocol, additional to the special agreement which would allow us to find other mechanism so we can arrive at the final objective. The final objectives are not the consultations, the final objectives is to find the solution to this differendum in an international court."

But, bypassing all the bureaucracy, there is still the unresolved investigation into the murder of Tourism Police Officer Danny Conorquie, which happened at the Caracol Archaeological Site on September 25. It is still suspected, but not proven that Guatemalan cross-border bandits were involved in his death.

The president was asked about Conorquie, and he reminded the press that there have been deaths on both sides:

Otto Perez Molina, President of Guatemala
"There are incidents which have been committed on both sides. We both have the responsibility, both of us and here in Belize it's a justice in these cases and really when justice is done these incidents will decrease as it already happening. The incidents are every time less and I think that this show of between the authorities, the agreements and the implementation of these agreements will benefit people living in the adjacency zone. This will be accomplish and these incidents will hopefully disappear."

That interview with the president lasted only 7 minutes.


Bel Caribe Cares

It's the season of giving and that's exactly what the staff of Bel Caribe Communication did today. It's the 8th year for the company's "Food Hampers to Needy Families" initiative and today the staff visited the homes of 16 needy families around the city to donate Christmas hampers, groceries and toys. They told the media why the company finds it important to give back.

In addition to the Christmas basics, each of the 16 families received one thousand dollars' worth of groceries.


Old Fashioned Bram

The Belize Music Agency will be hosting an old-fashioned Belize Christmas show, dinner and bram at Travellers Signature Lounge tomorrow night. It's an evening of live entertainment, fire-hearth cooking and a good show that they hope will evoke memories of Belize's Christmas tradition. Today producer, Glenn Tillett stopped by our studios to tell us more.

The show starts at 9 tomorrow night at Travellers Signature Lounge.


PROFILE...

Tonight's I AM Belize Profile features the inspirational teacher Carmen Jane Lopez Avila. She is today the manager of the Toledo District Education Center, and the holder of a Masters and a Doctoral Degree in Education. But in her teenage years, she almost became a statistic - a pregnant teen mother who dropped out of school.

She tells the profile how with the support of her very strict mother, she rebounded to become a leader and an example in her community:


National Team Footballer Charged

He's a member of Belize's National A Football Team, but tonight, Cristobal Gilharry continues to deal with an allegation of unlawful sexual intercourse.

The 34 year old Verdes football player, an office assistant at Mclean Insurance Brokers was remanded into custody on Tuesday on a charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. But, with the help of his attorney, Dickey Bradley, he was released today on bail.

Bradley applied to the Supreme Court for bail, and after hearing the application Madam Justice Antoinette Moore offered him bail of $6,000.

Gilharry was arraigned at Belmopan Magistrate's Court on Tuesday, December 16. The charge against him arose for an incident which occurred on November 21, 2014 in which a 15 year old girl alleged that he had sex with her.




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