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
The Government of Belize has shut the door on the Sarstoon River tonight. It did so by hastily signing into law a very unusual regulation – one which makes it illegal for civilians to go into the Sarstoon River for a whole month! It's a statutory instrument under section 2 of The Public Safety Act, signed and put into effect today by the Governor General. Of course, the law is all about stopping Wil Maheia and the Territorial Volunteers from going down the Sarstoon tomorrow.
Now, it's the first time we have seen a law, which seeks to restrict the movement of citizens, outside of a curfew. But here's what it says: "regulations made by the Governor-General, being satisfied that a state of civil commotion which threatens the public safety is likely to arise within the area prescribed by these regulations."
And the area prescribed is the Sarstoon River. The law says that for one month, quote, "No person shall…without lawful authority, enter into, move within, or exit form the prescribed area or any part thereof. Operate any vehicle or vessel within that area, carry out or threaten to carry out any act of intimidation violence or other disorderly conduct within the prescribed area."
And it's not just words – there's also a stiff fine. How much? Two thousand dollars or a maximum prison sentence of 12 months!
That's a pretty stiff deterrent to those dozens of folks planning to join Wil Maheia on his Sarstoon sojourn tomorrow. But, with the law in place, will the expedition still happen? That's what Daniel Ortiz asked him via telephone today:…
Wil Maheia - Leader, BTV "I'm stunned that such a law was put in place given the fact that Guatemalans continue to use that part of the river and our southern cayes to conduct illegal activities. So I am stunned that we a peaceful group, non-violent, no arms, nothing like that. We will take with us nothing like that so I'm stunned that the law could apply against us on peaceful move."
Daniel Ortiz "Is the trip still going?"
Wil Maheia - Leader, BTV "As of now the trip is still going sir."
Still going, and he's not alone. Maheia says that supporters are heading down south by the busload to the launching point at Barranco.
Wil Maheia - Leader, BTV "We have so many people standing up to go right now that we were thinking of actually having to go outside of Punta Gorda to look for boats because there is a flood of people who have signed up and you can check the buses that are getting hired to bring people to Barranco. So you know in buses you can squeeze in extra people but on boats you can't do that. So that's our big concern is the amount of boat that will be available. I would have thought the government ought to come clean with the people of Belize and let us know exactly what is going on; our 1859 treaty which is what we were going to basically celebrate tomorrow clearly states that the Sarstoon Island belongs to us and the northern part of the Sarstoon River belongs to us."
A government release says, quote, "Government advises that this course of action has become necessary in order to prevent any "commotion" or "threat to public safety" that might arise (because) of the continuing tense and dangerous standoff between Belize and Guatemala over the Sarstoon, and the tipping point that could be caused by the unregulated insertion of members of the Belizean public into this very volatile mix."
And on the one month Sarstoon shutdown, the government release says, "During the one month period…it is expected that a diplomatic solution will be found to the problem, (which) will provide for safe passage of Belizean civilians along the Sarstoon River."
But the PUP is not convinced. The Party issued a release today condemning the new law – which marks a change of course for the party after it had been taking a bi-partisan approach to Belize-Guatemala affairs. But, according to a statement from the PUP today, Opposition Leader John Briceno told the Prime Minister Dean Barrow, quote, “that the PUP does not support this draconian measure.”
The statement says the party is appalled at the new law, which it calls, “retrograde and highly prejudicial.”
The party warns, quote, “preventing Belizeans from entering Belize’s portion of (the Sarstoon)…may be viewed in law as acquiescence by Belize to Guatemala’s assertion of sovereignty over the entire Sarstoon.” It adds, quote, “the regulation only serves to embolden Guatemala and harden its resolve to assert sovereignty over the entire Sarstoon.” End quote.
And the release goes further, it calls it an act of “cowardice” for the Government to threaten to arrest those wanting to go down the Sarstoon when, quote, “Guatemalans illegally pour over our Western border every day committing a range of illegalities, pillaging our resources and damaging our environment.” The release adds that the Government has failed to consider those Belizeans who go up and down the river everyday to earn a living.
The statement concludes by saying that the “legality and constitutionality of the Regulation is highly suspect,” and calls on the government to, quote, “Declare whether the Regulation will be equally and impartially enforced against Guatemalans who enter into Belize’s portion of the Sarstoon River; and Immediately rescind the unpatriotic Regulation.”
And as we told you last night, the newly elected Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Baroness Patricia Scotland, is in country. It's her first stop on a tour of the Commonwealth Caribbean. She's had a very busy itinerary of activities while in Belize, headlined by a meeting with Prime Minister Dean Barrow.
Apart from exchanging courtesies, the Prime Minister used the visit to advance Belize's cause. The PM wants Scotland to convene a meeting of the Commonwealth's Standing Ministerial Committee on Belize.
About 2 and a half hours ago, the Secretary General fit a quick press briefing into her schedule, and she discussed a bit of today's conversation with PM. Here's what she had to say:
Baroness Patricia Scotland - Secretary General, Commonwealth "I have had a long and in-depth very fruitful conversation with the Prime Minister. I am going to relay what is happening here in Belize to the other members of the Commonwealth. As you know there is a committee which has been created to deal particularly with this matter between Belize and Guatemala and there is an opportunity to call a committee meeting before September and I have indicated to the Prime Minister that I am willing to do that, particularly as a result of the details that I have now been able to call from this visit but also from what I've seen for myself. And so when I go back, I will be asking the committee to reform."
"I had the opportunity to go to the border, I also had the opportunity to speak to OAS who described the peace building work that they have been undertaking particularly with children on both sides of the border and that gave me huge hope because it looks as if the young people of Belize and the young people of Guatemala are working really happily together. So that work that the OAS is doing is very important work. I also understand the tension and the worry and the anxiety that is now starting to arise as a result of recent incidents. And it's clear the integrity and sovereignty of Belize is something which must be upheld; you know that the ACP has just made a very clear declaration in relation of their position and the Commonwealth's position on the integrity and the sovereignty of Belize remains absolutely unchanged. These issues are always complex but I really commend the way in which Belize is responding right now. Belize has held fast to the agreement that was made and is trying to do all it can to de-escalate the tensions with their neighbours. One of the things we all know is that Guatemala will remain Belize's neighbour now and in the future so the sooner we can resolve these tensions the better. The 1859 line is a line that has been maintained and will be maintained going forward."
Later on in the news, we'll have a bit more from that press briefing in which she discussed Belize's key role in the Commonwealth.
Right now, Belmopan Police are investigating the early morning murder of 55 year-old Jelion De Leon, a Naturalized Belizean from Camalote who was killed about a mile away from his home. His body was discovered just after midnight last night front of the Cedar Hill Ranch.
We have been reliably informed that he left his house yesterday evening, and about 8 hours later, the watchman of this farm heard the guard dogs barking. Shortly after that, he heard several gunshots. When he looked out, he saw a white pickup parked at the entrance here. The police were called in, and they found De Leon's body, here, at the corner of the fence. He had what appeared to be a large cut wound to the neck, and gunshot wounds to head and left shoulder. The white vehicle, a Dodge Dakota extra-cab, which the watchman saw before the gunshots, was also found parked next to the body.
Today, we spoke to his family who told us that they are unable to grant any interviews to the press because it is too emotional for them at this time. We've learned that De Leon was originally from El Salvador.
We also spoke with the owners of the Cedar Hill Ranch, who told us that his murder is not in anyway connected to them. The suspicion at this time is that De Leon's killers chose this location because it is a remote and very dark location. There are no streetlights nearby. De Leon's death in front of their compound was a somewhat of a blemish on the Cattle Ranch's official opening, which happened this evening at around 3 p.m.
And that was the third murder in the Cayo district in 10 hours. At 2:00 pm, two Guatemalan men were executed outside San Ignacio.
They are 52 year old Santos Ramon Gonzalez Gomez and 37 year old Orlando Antonio Garcia Calletel. As we told you yesterday, police found their bodies on a feeder road between miles 69 & 70 on the George Price Highway.
Both men were shot to the back of the head. Police believe they were killed as a result of drug transaction gone bad. Police also told us that one of the men is a known drug trafficker from Peten who regularly smuggles drugs into Belize. In fact, this same feeder road is a known drug drop off spot. Police also suspect that these 2 men were the ones they busted a month ago with 135 pounds of weed and a pump action shotgun –but they escaped that time, leaving police with the drugs and weapon.
Police in the north have arrested and charged 22 year old Angel Cahueque for the murder of Gilberto Najarro.
Earlier in the week we told you about 43 year old Gilberto Najarro, a farmer of Paraiso Village, Corozal who was shot and killed while working at a cane field. It happened on Monday morning but the dispute that led to the murder began unfolding on Sunday. Two men had approached Najarro at a farm in Pariaso and accused him of stealing their bicycles. They threatened to hurt him, and it seems one of them kept his word, because the very next day one of those men returned and shot Najarro dead.
4 days later police have charged the suspected shooter. Today Angel Cahueque appeared before Magistrate Hamilton in Orange walk where he was arraigned for three charges. They are: murder, aggravated assault, and possession of controlled drugs. Police say that Cahueque had been hiding at his sister's home in Corozal. His sister was cautioned but was not charged for aiding and abetting. Cahueque has since been remanded to prison and will remain there until October when he is to return to court.
Since last week, we've been closely following the spike in tensions between Belize and Guatemala. That happened shortly after the BDF shot and killed 13 year-old Guatemalan Julio Alvarado Ruano in the Chiquibul on last Wednesday evening.
The BDF soldiers say that they came under fire in the darkness, half a kilometre inside Belize; they were forced to return fire to defend themselves. Guatemala has condemned the fatal shooting as "murder" – and suggested that it was somehow a calculated act. Now, so the OAS will have to investigate and determine who is at fault.
But, one element of the tensions, which we've not explored, yet is the strong language that the Guatemalan leaders have used in their comments to their Guatemalan press. It's the strongest language we've seen in a long time, but did they go too far? Today, Daniel Ortiz took a closer look at the rules of the Confidence Building Measures which Guatemala's officials appear to have violated with their emotive language:
The Confidence Building Measures, it's the much referred to OAS protocol signed in September of 2005 – the one that substituted the word "adjacency zone" for border. It's the playbook for improving relations and keeping tensions at a minimum between Belize and Guatemala.
The crafters of the CBM's, including Ambassador Assad Shoman, were careful when wording the guidelines for handling incidents like the Cebada fatal shooting from last week Wednesday.
It contains passages like this one which says, quote,
"The Parties agree to exercise caution and restraint in the treatment of all issues related to the Territorial Differendum…" End Quote.
and this one
"Neither Party shall use force, or the threat of force, to pursue their positions with respect to the Territorial Differendum…"
Foreign Affairs Minister Elrington told teachers earlier this month that's why he's so careful
FILE: (April 15, 2016)
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "…The party shall specifically recognized that not only incidents on the ground, but statements in the media or elsewhere can also be disruptive of confidence between the parties and inimical to the process of conflict resolution." So even what we say in the media can bring harm to a nation."
And there are other important agreements from Annex C which say, quote
1.Each Government must observe a self-denying ordinance in avoiding public accusations and attribution of hostile motives to the other.
4. The Governments shall moderate the language and tone of their written communications and public pronouncements of their officials.
6. Whenever a State receives a report of an "incident" allegedly caused by the other, the State receiving the report, before it denounces the other State or publicly comments on the "incident," should immediately communicate with the allegedly offending State to determine what occurred and the explanation for it, and make every attempt to verify the facts before making the issue public.
Foreign Minister Elrington has certainly had to weather his fair share of criticism as being weak-kneed in his strict observance of the CBM's.
Take for instance his comments back in September of 2014 when Special Constable Danny Conorquie was killed in the Caracol Archaeological Reserve.
File: September 24, 2014
Daniel Ortiz "There will be those in the public who will be outraged that a Belizean was killed on Belizean soil by some persons believed to be Guatemalans?"
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "Well I can't take that further than that. It is his belief, but we have no evidence that in fact it is Guatemalans. We don't know who has done it. I am told that the police are looking for the people who supposed to have done it, but not even the police knows who have done it; who are responsible. So that it would not be to my mind proper to ascribe it to any particular nationality - we don't know."
But, last week, the Guatemala Leaders and Diplomats threw the CBMs out of the window when they publicly called out the BDF for the fatal shooting of 13 year-old Julio Alvarado Ruano.
The Guatemalan President was the first. His Ambassador to Belize followed, and then his Foreign Affairs Minister.
File: April 21, 2016
Jimmy Morales - Guatemalan President "Yesterday members of the Belize Defense force killed another Guatemalan. To our dismay, this time the victim is a 13-year-old boy. The cowardly and excessive attack was against 13 year old Julio Rene Alvarado Ruano, whose body is still in the hands of the Belizean authorities."
"I ask the Belizean authorities, what threat to your sovereignty do these two children pose? One 13 and the other of 11? This act provokes severe indignation and repudiation. I want to express my strong condemnation of this cowardly act of aggression and use of excessive force against minors on the part of the Belize Defense Force."
File: April 26, 2016
Manuel Roldan Barillas "This is an unspeakable act. It is something completely disgraceful for which Belize will have to explain the circumstances....Unfortunately, as you know, since 1999 there have been 10 killings of Guatemalans at the hands of the BDF and we view this with concern. Unfortunately, we recognize that although there may be a lack of discretion by the armed forces of Belize in contrast to that of Guatemala, a professional army, which although they have been trained for war, that would be the last resort... I see the bilateral relation with Belize damaged at this time by a completely condemnable act." End quote.
H.E. Carlos Raul Morales - Guatemalan Foreign Minister "We could be very angry about what occurred with the death of this child but we won't react like them. We won't go and hunt down a Belizean, like they have hunted down Guatemalan farmers before. Sorry for the strong expression but that is literally what they have done. But we will not act in the same manner."
Even the OAS, which is supposed to be neutral and impartial said it "Repudiates the death of a minor."
File: April 25, 2016
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister "That word stuck out like a sore thumb and I have to believe that there may have been some difficulty. I first I thought it was originally in Spanish and something may have been lost in translation."
Eamon Courtenay, PUP Rep., BZ, Guatemala Relations "I took a look at that statement and I was struck by the language that was used by the OAS. I am surprised that the OAS would issue a statement like that particularly at this time. The secretary general just left Belize and he is well aware that Belize is not looking for any military confrontation with Guatemala. He is well aware of the raping of the Chiquibul and the areas along the western border by Guatemalans. The Secretary General and the OAS is well aware that the Government of Guatemala is in breach of its obligation to take effective steps to dissuade its people from coming across. Everybody is saddened by the loss of life, but to suggest or to imply that the BDF was somehow at fault, I think is a matter of concern for me. It is a matter of concern that the OAS would begin to think that way."
But it's not the first time The OAS made a verbal mis-step. In 2012 when the BDF shot and killed an illegal logger, the OAS called it reprehensible:
File: July 20, 2012
Jules Vasquez "Words have meaning Ambassador, the language quoted to the secretary general is reprehensible. Reprehensible means deserving condemnation. Again, if there is an armed engagement between outlaws and the armed forces of a sovereign nation and it results in a fatality, that is regrettable but it is not reprehensible in so far as deserving condemnation."
H.E. Fred Martinez
"I certainly agree with you and therefore I do mention that I do not like his choice of words"
In stark contrast, the Belize side has stuck strictly to the guidelines for public speaking, and Foreign Minister Elrington has had to shrug off harsh public condemnation for it.
File: October 3, 2014
Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Minister of Foreign Affairs "As a foreign minister I have the responsibility not only to Belize and the government of Belize and the people of Belize - that's where I have my first responsibility, but we are now part of an interconnected world and so I've got to think in terms of the impact of what I say on the world at large.
File (April 15, 2016)
Hon. Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs "…In the Conorquie issue there were members in my government, head of the police and other, even ministers were saying 'I am certain that it is the Guatemalans that killed Conorquie'. My position was if you bring me the evidence I will say that."
And looking briefly to Guatemalan Foreign Minister Carlos Raul Morales's disparaging remarks about the supposed lack of professionalism in the Belizean military, that's one heck of a claim, from an official in a country where the military killed two hundred thousand of its own people, in a genocidal civil war which went from 1960 to 1996. Here is how one of the relatives of the victims put it in a documentary that we found on YouTube:…
And, while you might think that the military would, by now, be purged of those persons, in fact, former President Otto Perez Molina was a commander in those genocidal assaults, and President Jimmy Morales's party, the FCN was founded by former Generals.
BTL's 2016 telephone directory was released today – and this year Oceana snagged the cover page for an endangered turtle species, in this case, a logger head turtle.
The media was invited for the big reveal at the BTL Office on Church Street today:
Cindy Blanco - Senior PR, BTL "This new directory is very exciting; it's one like never before. We've joined OCEANA this year in raising awareness of Belize's endangered species."
Jannelle Chanona - VP, OCEANA Belize "As we all know these books will be used in about every home, office, hotel room and schools in Belize; possibly some cars and boats along the way too. Our hope is that when you see the image about to be unveiled, you'll be inspired to do whatever you can; ask questions, get informed. OCEANA is especially grateful that this year's book includes additional material about Belize's endangered species in the all about Belize section. Speak up for those species, speak up for yourself."
Cindy Blanco - Senior PR, BTL "This year the newest exciting features are the augmented reality feature. So you need an app, Layar and then you can make your cover come to life which is something we've never seen before, something we're very excited but also the book itself is filled with many features. More information, we have the directory online, we have the app for it, we have the Belize Yellow Pages app; so we're trying to make information as accessible for our customers as easiest as we can."
Cheryl Dixon - Global Directions "AR is cutting edge technology which utilises sound, video, graphics and data to put an amazing spin on what would otherwise be just an ordinary print ad. Simply put it allows users to hold their smartphones or tablet in front of a printed page and access extra content about a product or service."
Some of the businesses in the BTL yellow pages that have embraced the new AR technology include Atlantic Insurance, Marie Sharp, Home Protector Insurance, UB, and RF&G.
Earlier in the news, we showed you the press conference hosted by the Commonwealth Secretary General, Baroness Patricia Scotland. As we told you, she's in Belize until next week Monday, and during that that time, she has a packed schedule of activities.
So, what's the importance of her visit? That's what we asked, and she told us what role she sees for Belize in the Commonwealth at this time:
Baroness Patricia Scotland - Secretary General, Commonwealth "As you know Belize is a very valued member of the Commonwealth and I promised myself that as soon as I became Secretary General, Belize would be one of the first places that I would come. Belize has a proud history of in support of the Commonwealth and has been a very active member; and of course I'm very grateful for all the support that Belize has given both the Commonwealth and myself. And I've come here to hear what the interlockers here in Belize really want to work with the Commonwealth on. We know there are huge issues in relation to climate change that's an existential threat to all of us. There are also issues in terms of how we put the wealth back into Commonwealth and the common back into wealth. As you know Belize host CARICOM climate change centre and one of the things we've been looking at is how we can enhance the ability particularly of the small island states to get access to the 900 and million dollars that there are in terms of help to mitigate and to adapt our environment to meet the new climatic challenges. And what we're hoping is to create hub and spoken relation to financial access and have specialists. We are going to create a hub in Malaysia, we've been very gracious but of course Belize has the climate change centre here already on behalf of CARICOM. So what we're hoping is we will be able to enhance that service which is provided for the whole region by putting in financial service advisors to help us here in the Caribbean to better understand how we access the money that is being made available to help mitigate and adaptation for climate change. And I think that Belize is doing the whole of the Caribbean region a great service by hosting the Caribbean climate change centre right here and I'm very grateful.
Baroness Scotland is a distinguished attorney and public official, and stateswoman. She holds dual citizenship from the United Kingdom and the Caribbean Nation of Dominica, where she was born. She has also made history becoming the first woman hold the posts of the Attorney General of England and Wales, and the Secretary General of the Commonwealth.
So you saw all the engaging and exciting performances from our Belizean musicians at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, last night you also saw the cultural demonstrators and their art displays. But what is happening back stage? What’s the first time experience in New Orleans like for these bands? That’s what we captured last weekend – here’s the story:…
And tune in next week to see the final parts of the New Orleans feature series.
And in our last newscast for April, we celebrate the riot of pink that the Mayflower gives us at this time of year. Yes, the tree scientifically known as Tabebuia Rosea, and its wonderfully intense flowering period in April and May colours the Belizean landscape in varying tones from pink to purple, even fuschia sometimes. And it's hard not to notice in the city where the otherwise dreary urban landscape is punctuated by this proliferation of pink. And part of the beauty, is that it'll all be gone in a few weeks, and that evanescence makes Mayflower-power even more special to behold.
So to indulge a little more in our Friday muse, we sought the professional view of Lascelle Tillett. He owns one of the longest established tour operating companies in Belize and he has learnt a lot about the majestic and surprisingly mysterious May-flower.
Lascelle Tillet - Owner, S&L Tours "The genus name is Bignoniaceae and the Tabebuia rosea commonly called Mayflower. It originated in South America but now it's very common in Central America and the West Indies. Its grows a lot for shade and the rare thing about it is most of the hardwood trees they drop all their leaves to save water so it can germinate and in the rainy season when its ready but this guy drops it leaves and put flowers out which is very rare because it should be de-seeding but it has flowers. It has a first blooming around February which is like a falls bloom and then end of April and May that's the highest bloom it has."
Emanuel Pech "Why is it blooming such a short time?"
Lascelle Tillet - Owner, S&L Tours "The blooming come at a time when the tree is de-seeding because it does not have much water in the ground so it doesn't have the strength to hold on to it petals so that's the reason why it goes so fast and this will happen all through the month of May. Last year the weather was so undetermined, sometimes it was hot, rainy when it was supposed to be dry so the trees got confused and they were blooming different time of the year but this year they are right on target."
The plant will bloom again in June but not as intensely as it is now.