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
Belize-Guatemala talks were held yesterday and today in Istanbul, Turkey. On Sunday, Belize's Foreign Minister Wilfred Elrington and his Guatemalan counterpart Carlos Raul Morales held what we are told was a four-hour working session in the margins of the World Humanitarian Summit.
The business of the meeting was concentrated into that session at the Hilton Bomonti Hotel in Istanbul. The Belize delegation was led by Foreign Minister Elrington, accompanied by Ambassador to Guatemala, Alexis Rosado, and Representative of the Leader of the Opposition, Eamon Courtenay. The Guatemalan side was represented by Foreign Minister Morales, and the Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize, Manuel Barillas, among other officials. Magdalena Talamas, the Representative of the OAS Secretary General, acted as mediator.
After that bilateral meeting, today, the delegations paid a courtesy call on the Turkish Foreign Minister since his country hosted the Humanitarian Summit, and yesterday's bilateral talks.
This morning, both Belize and Guatemala sent out an identical 450 word joint press release in English and Spanish, which contains very few specifics. It does mention that both ministers recognize the need to avoid incidents between the 2 countries as part of the confidence building measures.
The topic, which is at the forefront of everyone's mind, is mentioned almost as a footnote. That's the protocol for shared use of the Sarstoon River and the releases notes, "Both Ministers recognized the urgent need for and committed to working on the design and development of a mechanism for cooperation in the Sarstoon River, which should...be coordinated by both Foreign Ministries with the participation of the Organization of American States." End quote.
The release also speaks generally about military to military cooperation. The release says, quote, "The Ministers recognized the need to avoid incidents between the two countries…that affect the process of confidence building…they affirmed the need to work more...especially between the Armed Forces of both countries, including the possibility of having joint training for the troops responsible for patrolling the Adjacency Zone." End quote.
Of course, all this is just a start, but the release does not say if or when meetings will be held to flesh out these proposals. But it does say that both Ministers did no less, than, quote, "congratulated each other for the agreements reached and expressed their commitment towards dialogue and the creation of a positive bilateral agenda, in line with the advancement of the process...to submit the…differendum to the International Court of Justice." End quote.
Now we've all heard that so many times before, so if you're scratching your head and wondering what's the real takeaway from the meeting, well…maybe the Prime Minister knows. He's the chair of the National Security Council and the report he got seems to have given him confidence about the way ahead. Shortly after the joint releases went out, another Government release arrived announcing that the 30-day ban on the Sarstoon is over - the S.I. has been pulled a few days early. This release says quote, "the Government of Belize has asked the Governor General…to sign a Statutory Instrument revoking, with immediate effect, the Sarstoon Prohibition SI." End quote.
The release then goes unto say, quote, "While the formal mechanism is being worked on, the two sides have informally accepted a situation in which there will be untrammeled traffic for Belize's military and civilians along the Sarstoon." End quote.
Now that's very different than the very plain language of the joint release, as it suggests that all the antics and intimidation by The Guatemalan military in the Sarstoon will come to an end, and Belizean vessels, the BDF included will be able to go up the river without harassment.
But it's a moot point for the PUP - who failed to challenge the law as they had promised to do on Saturday. 3 weeks ago, the party said it was going to the Sarstoon to challenge the Government to stop them.
It was marketed first as direct action against an oppressive law. But then, starting last week, the leadership of the party started to change tune, describing this intended excursion as an "educational" trip.
Still, we were on board, and plans were made for the members of the PUP's National Party Council to go down to PG on Saturday morning at 10:00. The plan was for them to board boats which would take them near the mouth of the Sarstoon. But, at about 11:00 on Friday night, hours away from departure time, word started getting around that the PUP had suddenly cancelled their Sarstoon sojourn.
Politically, that's a major letdown, especially since the law has now been rescinded.
Today, we got a chance to ask Opposition Leader John Briceño about the flop, and he explained that there were two major reasons which forced them to take that decision:
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "This trip we started planning from earlier in the week, but unfortunately my father got very ill and we had him in the hospital since Monday. So, I was not intimately involved in the operations and organizations and everything. All I was told that on Friday that several of the boats that we already had lined up to take our people were doing last minute cancellations. They were under extreme pressure from the powers that be, for them not to participate. So it would have been difficult for us to be able to take the amount of people that had already said that they want to go to the Sarstoon. But just as important, on Friday, the doctors advised me that I need to stay by my father, because they were saying that he was not getting better, he was getting worse and that he could have died at any moment and so their recommendation was that I should not leave. I have to stay around my dad and I am the only son in the family and I felt that it was my responsibility to be with my father and with the family. And I felt it would not have been right for me to send members of my party to go to the Sarstoon where they may be potential problems and I not be there with them. I don't think that I as a leader should send them and I'm not there with them. So when the recommendation was made by the people in charge, said that they think its best that we call it off. I did not object because I wanted to be there with them."
As you heard, one of the two reasons that Opposition Leader John Briceño agreed to cancel the trip was because his father's health was failing fast.
And, personally, he made the right decision, because 78 year-old "Elijio Joe Briceño" passed away at the hospital at two minutes to midnight on Saturday. The elder Briceno was a two term PUP representative for Orange Walk and today, his son John spoke with us about his many accomplishments:
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition "MY father passed away on Saturday at 11:58pm. As you all know that my father suffered a stroke 11 years ago and its because of him being unable to move that overtime his party started to slow down, his metabolism and it started affecting his organs. We did everything try to try to keep him here, but the good Lord has other plans for him. Whilst we've been through a difficult time, a time of sorrow, a time of grief, it fills our heart with love to find out that so many people appreciated the work that my father did as a person and as a politician. He was a member of the Orange Walk Town Council between 1972 to 1975. He was a member of the national assembly from 1974 to1984 and he was a larger than life person and he took on the powers that be when he felt it was not in the interest of the people that he represented. For instance, in the history books now we talk about black Wednesday, when he with the cane farmers in Orange Walk stood up to defend the interest of the cane farmers in the Orange Walk District and went against his own government and they sent the BDF and I was there, I was at witness to it. I was a very young boy at that time, with tear gas, batons and full works. But he felt that he needed to stand up for them. The expansion of Orange Walk Town, the Louisiana Farm area was a farm that was loved very well by Don Chich Castillo. Don Chich Castillo was mentor to my father and a very close personal friend, but he knew that the town needed the land for expansion and he had to go against his friend and that he lost that friendship over that, because Don Chich really loved Louisiana Farm."
Government announced yesterday that, in his honor as former Minister and a former member of the National Assembly, they will hold an official funeral for Joe Briceño tomorrow in Orange Walk Town. John Briceño told us that his family is pleased and honored by the sentiment.
So, after hearing that the PUP failed to follow through with their trip to the Sarstoon, border activist Wil Maheia took his fellow BPP party member Bobby Lopez and TV personality Rosalie Staines to the river in his own personal boat.
Maheia had told the teachers that the Security Forces had been closely monitoring his movements ever since the Sarstoon Statutory Instrument was passed. Well, it appears that on Sunday, he was able to make the trip without being stopped.
Here's Rosalie Staines making the announcement only minutes after they had arrived close to the river mouth:
Rosalie Staine "We are here at the mouth of the Sarstoon and an island is in the back where you see a little blue thatch house, that's the Guatemalan side and our Sarstoon Island is over there. The sea is very rough and our little boat might not be able to get there. We have the Guatemalan armored vessels on the right and our Sarstoon Island is there. I want to tell you that we are all wearing our Belizean flag because nobody will tell us we can't come and traverse our property and our sovereign territorial rights."
And Wil Maheia wasn't satisfied with only just that trip. Yesterday, he and several others, including PUP Senator Valerie Woods went on another visit to the Sarstoon River mouth. They spotted several Guatemalan illegal fishermen, something we've noticed on nearly all our trips to the River mouth.
Today, Senator Woods spoke with us about the fact that the illegal fishermen were allowed to go about their business unhindered, while they, Belizeans who should have a right to move in the area, were the ones questioned:
Hon. Valerie Woods, PUP Senator "We went to the mouth of the Sarstoon and with the help of the Captain, Wil and Carlos Galvez, on board given a good long history of what's happening on the coastal side of the Sarstoon and the Tamash and Moho with these many fisher camps, namely Guatemalans. With a whole long history there, approaching the Sarstoon area we did find 3 persons in canoe. They were from Guatemala; one can attest just based on type of canoe. When we approached one of them, we asked and they told us they are from the village of Sarstoon on the Guatemala Side. So obviously the question then arises 'well how come is it that they were able to cross over the Sarstoon River?' because according to Belize, we do have this SI and you should not be doing that. So it did raise for me the farce of this SI, where we are blocking Belizeans. Now they were fishing which again makes it illegal because of who they are and where they are coming from. The question that then arose for me was, after we went to the mouth of the Sarstoon, yes we saw the Guatemalan military boat in the distance. We also saw two more canoes from closer to the mouth of the Sarstoon River so that's a total of 5. When we left the area and we came back, I would say it was approaching towards the Temash area, we were approached by a BDF patrol boat with about 5-6 persons in there. We were the ones being questioned such as, 'why are you here?', 'what are you doing out here?', 'does anybody know that you are here?', and I found that a bit ironic. Obviously at that juncture we are well in Belizean territory and no such questioning clearly was done for those who were canoeing and fishing and are not from Belize, yet we're left unabated. We continued along back towards Punta Gorda area and BDF approached us again just to make sure that we really are going back to Punta Gorda and that we weren't making any 'mischief', I believe that was the word used in the back and forth."
As viewers are aware, the ability to speak to the Guatemalan fishermen up close is a very rare opportunity since they usually flee as fast as they can whenever they see any boat, which could be law enforcement coming to stop them from illegal fishing.
Senator Woods stressed to us that she was not representing the Party on this trip. She merely participated in the trip as a concerned civilian interested in seeing for herself what is actually taking place near the southern border.
On Friday's newscast, we told you about how House Speaker Mike Peyrefitte tried his hand at parliamentary peacemaking between Belize and Guatemala at the FOPREL meeting in Managua, Nicaragua.
As we reported, Peyrefitte is the Vice President of "FOPREL", the Forum of Presiding Officers of National Parliaments of Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean Basin, while the speaker of the Guatemalan Congress, Mario Taracena Diaz-Sol is the President.
Well, during the weekend, Peyrefitte spoke with us, and he told us that while he was speaking with Mario Taracena for the parliamentary cooperation on last Tursday, he also mentioned that that worrying resolution that the Guatemalan Congress had passed. You'll remember that it was the travel advisory warning citizens not to travel to Belize - alleging human rights violations by the BDF.
Well, Peyrefitte told us that Mario Taracena said publicly to him that he, Taracena, was not present when the Congress passed that Advisory. Peyrefitte said that Taracena committed to doing whatever he needs to do table a resolution to remove the advisory. He also committed to Peyrefitte to speak to the Guatemalan military leaders, in the hopes of convincing them to reduce their military build up on the borders, especially on the Western Border.
Ambassador Manorma P. Soeknandan, the Deputy Secretary General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), is currently in Belize for a three day working visit. During that time, Dr. Soeknandan will be meeting with officials of the Government of Belize, as well as representatives of the various CARICOM institutions headquartered in Belize.
Today, May 24th, 2016, Dr. Soeknandan completed a visit to the OAS Office in the Adjacency Zone, where she was briefed on the latest developments taking place in the Adjacency Zone between Belize and Guatemala. In demonstrating their strong support for Belize, CARICOM Foreign Ministers at the Nineteenth Meeting of the Council of Foreign and Community Relations (COFCOR), emphasized their "resolute support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of Belize."
Dr. Soeknandan leaves Belize on Thursday, May 26th.
You may remember that terrible traffic accident back on July 3, 2013 which killed 64 year-old taxi driver Eliseo Chan, and his 3 female passengers Molly Hude, Angela Bugeja, and Ioanna Thomopoulou.
The three women were all international scholars who were studying archeology under the then Director of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe. On that date, they were heading to the airport when the taxi that they were in slammed head on into a Westline Bus right after Busman Arnold Bridge, at mile 60 on the Western Highway. They died on impact or shortly after.
Well, in the years that followed, their foreign families brought a private suit against the insurance company involved in covering the vehicles in the accident, and they won over a hundred thousand dollars in compensation.
But, because of the current problems facing the banking system due to the correspondent banking difficulties, they haven't been able to cash their cheques for over a year. They reached out to us to publicize their difficulties, and today we managed to catch up with their attorney who has been trying to get them the closure they are so desperately seeking:
Hon. Kareem Musa, Attorney for the Defendants "On July 2nd 2013, that's almost 3 years ago, there was a horrific accident at mile 60 on the George Price highway involving a taxi motor vehicle driven at the time by a Mr. Eliseo Chan. In the motor vehicle with him at the time were 3 international students who were here studying archeology. That motor vehicle collided with a bus and all 4 passengers including the driver, Mr. Chan, passed away. Since that accident I was retained by the families of the foreign students to take a civil action in the Supreme Court. That was done and last year July in 2015, the case concluded and we were able to secure the sum of $150,000 Belize Dollars for the families. Unfortunately, that was only half of the story. The other half which is that none of these families actually live in Belize, they have no ties or connections to Belize. They would have needed the funds to be sent out to their respected jurisdictions been Malta, Greece and the United States, but that has proven extremely difficult. It is going almost a year now and we have received approval from Central Bank to wire the funds out to these families but because of our dire situation, the correspondent banking situation, it is next to impossible now to send funds out of the jurisdictions to these various countries. So what we encounter in the process, we encounter banks that no longer have correspondent bank relations and those that do are saying to us that they do not have U.S currency available to send out. They put us in a waiting line and we are informed on a daily basis that the merchants come first. As you know, the merchants in Belize purchase their products outside of Belize and they are given priority. So we've just been sitting in this waiting line, its an extremely frustrating process and I have to agree with the families that its getting ridiculous. The fact that they cannot put closure on this case, the loss of their 3 daughters over these last 3 years is truly another black eye for Belize."
Recently Molly Hude's parents tried to get her money transferred by trying to cash the Belizean cheque using their Wells Fargo account. Their understanding was that it would work this way since the banks don't have US currency to facilitate the transaction in their currency. Unfortunately, the Central Bank of Belize stepped in and blocked the transaction. The reason, according to the letter is that Belize cheques are not allowed to be cashed outside of the Belize jurisdiction.
The Belize Zoo's animals almost perished in a weekend fire. The blaze erupted on Sunday afternoon in the Pine Savanna forest area - opposite the Belize Zoo and took the fire dangerously close to the facility. The wildfire was raging, and wind carried the smoke and ash over to the Zoo's compound. That's when the staff rushed over to try and contain it. Guests had to be asked to leave the compound. eventually, it was too much and the Belmopan fire department had to be called in to put out the fire. This is not the first time that a fire came so close to destroying the Zoo. There was another bush fire in 2011 but this one was much closer.
And what caused it? Well the zoo keepers believe it was set intentionally and they urge hunters to be more careful when starting fires near the Zoo.
This morning police found the body of a teacher who had drowned in San Carlos, Orange Walk. 31 year old Bartolo Torres and 2 of his Coast Guard friends were on a Sunday fishing trip across the New River Lagoon. Around midday that Sunday, they decided to rest at a nearby wharf but the strong winds caught them on their way and water got into their small boat - sinking it. The men then jumped into the water. 2 of the men survived but Bartolo Torres did not know how to swim and he drowned. Police told us that they conducted the post mortem immediately after they found Torres' body this morning. Torres taught at Chunox St. Viator Vocational High School.
A man was chopped this weekend in Independence. 33 year old Guatemalan watchman Jose Coc left for work around 6 Saturday evening. Coc was guarding the tools and equipment at the bridge being built just outside Trio village. But later at 11, 2 men came to the bridge and called out to him, and when Coc did not respond, the men approached him and chopped him - slicing off his right hand. Coc was also slashed to his stomach and foot. He is at the KHMH in a stable condition. Coc told police that he did not recognize the men because it was too dark. No tools were stolen from the bridge so police believe this may have been a planned attack.
Police in San Ignacio came up big last week Friday when they discovered upwards of 33 pounds of cannabis and an unlicensed firearm in the streets of San Ignacio. The first discovery was made around 5 am on Friday. San Ignacio Police were on mobile patrol between miles 68 and 69 on the George Price Highway and upon making checks by the police booth in front of Rumors Resort, they discovered a black plastic bag wrapped in transparent tape. Inside that bag was a large quantity of suspected cannabis. The substance weighed in at a total of 14,968 grams- approximately 33 pounds. Further searches in the area lead to the discovery of a smaller black plastic bag which also contained suspected cannabis. The substance in this bag weighed approximately 170 grams. Searches continued in the area which lead police to discover a 20 gauge sawed off shotgun with a wooden brown stock, and a brown wooden handle. Inside the barrel of the shotgun police discovered a single RIO Brand cartridge. No one was around the area when the discovery was made and as a result the items were deposited as found property.
The second discovery was made at around 3:20 pm on that same day. San Ignacio police were conducting operations in Unitedville Village and while conducting searches in the area of Ingram Creek they discovered a blue and white lard bucket. Nothing incriminating about that, but upon opening the bucket police discovered a gram scale and a black plastic bag containing some 315 grams of suspected cannabis. Likewise no one was around the area at the time and so the items were deposited as found property.
There was a spate of traffic accidents over the long weekend but fortunately, none were fatal.
On Friday afternoon at around 2:00, 64 year old retired Mechanic Kenneth Wright was driving his Dodge Ram Pickup to Sandhill from Ladyville. His brakes failed near the Burrell Boom Junction and he swerved into the opposite lane, hitting the rear tail of American National Carlos Arango's Toyota 4 Runner. The impact sent Arango's truck spinning on the highway then landing on the side of the road. Wright was served with a notice of intended prosecution. No one was seriously injured.
And later that Friday night, a pastor and his family were hurt in another accident on the Phillip Goldson Highway. At 9:10, 37 year old Pastor Angelo Dominguez and his family were heading to Ladyville from Belize City in his Toyota Hilux. As he was driving between miles 7 and 8, a white SUV coming in the opposite direction veered onto Dominguez's lane. Dominguez then darted to the side of the road to avoid the collision, but he lost control of the vehicle and it flipped twice. Dominguez received injuries to his hand and lower back, while his wife Gayle Dominguez was injured to her knee and upper back. The pastor's 63 year old mother Mona Requena Smith received only scratches. Other minors who were seated inside and in the pan of the Hilux also received minor injuries. The family was treated at the KHMH. Now their injuries are classified as harm and wounding but for now the driver of the SUV, American national Krlo Barbery has been charged with failure to provide specimen. Police continue to look into this case.
And yesterday around 3, police responded to the 3rd accident on the Phillip Goldson Highway. This one happened between miles 9 and 10. 60 year old Armand Howard was leaving the city in his Toyota Scion when a motorcycle sped across the highway. Howard rammed into the motorcycle, flinging the driver and his passenger off. The cycle driver - Henry Elijio was injured to his leg but his passenger Sandra Murrillo received injuries to the head, leg and hand. They are both in a stable condition at the KHMH. Armand Howard was served with a notice of intended prosecution.
Lastly for Ladyville crashes, earlier yesterday morning after 8:00, 2 lawmen collided at mile 8 1/2 on the Phillip Goldson Highway - right in front of the Shell Gas Station. 27 year old Police Officer Lloyd Casimiro was driving his motorcycle from Lord's Bank to Belize City when BDF Corporal 48 year old Fidencio Coc, who was driving a Dodge Dakota, turned into Casimiro's lane. Casimiro slammed on the brakes but it was too late, he smashed into the Coc's vehicle. Casimiro's leg was broken and he had scratches on his arm. Coc accepted the fault in the accident and he was served with a notice of intended prosecution.
It is the biggest football tournament in the region and the Belize Police Department has been invited to participate. After a tallying of points from the two local tournaments back in April, the Police United FC came out on top with a total 40 points besting the Belmopan Bandits by only one point. As a result the last two weeks, the team committee received their official letter from CONCACAF inviting them to this, one most prestigious football tournament. And while it is noteworthy that for the first time ever, a police club is entering the Champions League, this regional tournament will be a very costly initiative one that is of course not included in the police department budget. So today the police department invited us to a press briefing at the Raccoon Street Police Station to appeal for the public's support as they take on this venture.
The team committee has enlisted Charlie Slusher as the head coach for the team and are also looking for foreign players to add some more muscle to their rank.
Looking at the world and everyday life through digital maps: that is the idea behind the Geographic Information System technology. And to celebrate the impact of this type of referencing, the 6th annual ESRI conference will be held tomorrow at the Biltmore. There will be a number of presentations on how GIS can improve business operations in Belize. Organizer Loretta Palacio told us more today .
The conference is a 2 day event. It starts tomorrow at 8:30 at the Biltmore.
On Friday Oceana Belize joined 82 other countries around the world in observing the annual Hands across the Sand campaign. It is an event held every year to in a very literally way, draw a line in the sand in solidarity against offshore oil development.
Oceana was joined by hundreds of activists and ocean lovers from all across the country: including people from Orange Walk town, Dangriga, Belize City, Placencia, Corozal Town, San Ignacio, Hopkins, Sarteneja, Punta Gorda Town, Belmopan and of course from the islands of Caye Caulker and San Pedro. No numbers are yet confirmed as it relates to how many persons actually participated in the activity but according to Oceana it was very much comparable to last year's event- which would put the number at somewhere between 400 to 500 individuals.
What was very characteristic of this year's event said Oceana was that the areas of Hopkins and Dangriga, showed a remarkable increase in participants when compared to last year. In any event Oceana says this event goes down in their books as a successful story. In a press release issued today the vice president of Oceana Belize Janelle Chanona is quoted as saying, "Today we are uniting against dirty fuels and speaking out for clean energy that will benefit us all."
One of the biggest names in rap history, Sean Puffy Combs, rap mogul, producer, and founder of the Bad Boyz record label in the United States launched his much anticipated 2nd reunion tour on Friday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. It featured mega stars such as Jay Z, Rick Ross, DMX, and Usher performing live. And Belize's Music Ambassador was right there in the lineup with them. Of course, Shyne can't travel to the US because he is a deportee, but he did grace the stage, well sort of. Shyne came up on the big screen at the Barclay Center to perform his hit "Bad Boyz" - and he did it from Xunantunich. He told us about it today:
Though not quite on par with a Tupac Hologram, Shyne's was well received, and one press report we saw described it as a performance that drew goosebumps.