Features — 20 January 2018 — by Rowland A. Parks
Amandala’s year in review: Part 1

BELIZE CITY, Fri. Jan. 12, 2018– January
Amandala opened New Year 2017 with its lead story, “UDP’s Fonso charged for death of Gilbert ‘Thready’ Myers”. The story opens by stating that Alfonso Noble, the editor of the Guardian newspaper and the host of the ruling UDP’s morning show on WAVE Radio, after spending Christmas and Boxing Day in police custody, was charged in court on Thursday, December 29, for a traffic accident on December 24 that claimed the life of Gilbert Meyers, a Hattieville resident who was on his way home when Noble knocked him down between Miles 3 and 4 on the George Price Highway.

Apart from the road traffic accident that claimed Myers’ life on Christmas Eve, there was a spike in road traffic accidents that claimed the lives of 7 other persons in various parts of the country within a period of 12 days. Many of the accidents were reportedly alcohol-related.

At the close of 2016, there was anxiety for parents as they tried to ascertain which of two dates in January would be the day on which classes resumed for their children. On the one hand, there was the Belize National Teacher’s Union (BNTU) which was saying that teachers needed another week of vacation, and there was the Ministry of Education, which wanted the school vacation to be shortened to compensate for the lost days in October when the BNTU successfully led a strike for 12 days.

Other notable headlines included “Belize loses $109 million in judgment in US courts”. In that article, it was noted, “The US Supreme Court has signaled that it will not accept Belize’s petition against enforcement of the awards in the USA. The arbitral award dates back to 2009 when the London International Court of Arbitration ruled against the government.”

Another tragic occurrence that was highlighted on the front page of Amandala was the death of electrician Anthony Gilharry Sr., 40, who, according to his sister, died from a broken heart. “After his wife died, my brother gave up life,” Maggie Haylock said.

Then there was another notable court loss for the country to the multi-millionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft and his business entities. Specifically, Belize lost another US $19 million to the Ashcroft alliance’s Belize Social Development Limited.

Another newsworthy incident was the chopping of Wilfred “Chickie Blue” Nicholas, Jr., in the head by a Chinese restaurant worker in Ladyville. Nicholas had gone to purchase food from Green Jade Restaurant.

In the middle of January, the disturbing story of “Sex videos ‘gone viral’” on social media hit Amandala’s headlines: The story was about four young females whose ages were unknown, but who had been videoed having casual sex. One video depicted one of the young girls having sex with a bus driver, while they moved to the rhythm of the R. Kelly hit song “Wine for Me.”

Also in mid-January, Amandala reported that at least thirteen current and former UDP ministers were named in the Auditor General’s report on the Immigration Department. These government ministers, according to the audit report, had recommended Asian nationals for illegal visas and nationality documents.

Also in January, news out of the US courts indicated that the Belize Government, which had been resisting the enforcement of foreign arbitral awards, was bound by these awards, and must pay. The awards were to the Michael Ashcroft’s BCB Holdings. At least two of the awards were for US $50 million. The cases were brought by NEWCO and Belize Social Investment Limited.

In that same month, Hon. Francis Fonseca and Senator and Minister Godwin Hulse reached an out-of-court settlement in a libel suit that Hulse had raised against Fonseca.

Mid-January also saw the Belize Integrity Commission resurrect itself after years of being dormant.

Attorney and former PUP Cabinet Minister Glenn D. Godfrey sued the government of Belize for US 22 million dollars in a US court in that same month. The lawsuit was over equipment that the defunct Intelco, a telecommunications company created by Godfrey, had leased to the government.

Late January saw bondholders say no to an offer made by the government to restructure the so-called Superbond.

Former Immigration Director Ruth Meighan, who was named in the Auditor General’s report, went before the Senate Select Committee in that same time period to testify and told the committee that she knew nothing about the practices at the Immigration Department that had been revealed by the report and that had resulted in a huge public scandal.

Also in January, a 15-year-old boy, Jamal Mahler was murdered on Iguana Street Extension; and Italian authorities made a bombshell revelation that the Puerto Azul fantasy island was a 40- million-dollar Ponzi scheme.

Also, the Senate Select Committee zeroed in on 8 visa foils that were stolen from the Immigration Department.

As January was drawing to a close, news out of the Philippines confirmed that a Belizean ISIS supporter, Nadir Ali “Abu Naila” Ahmad, had been killed by that country’s government forces which discovered his hideout.

Also, two men were shot in the Conch Shell bay area of Belize City. Kiemar “Bewee” Nicholas, 22, was shot and left paralyzed from the neck down, while Clinton Fraser, 45, died from gunshot injuries.

The question coming out of the Senate Select Committee as January came to a close was whether or not the UDP used the Immigration Department to hijack the 2012 general elections.

Then January ended with the big scare about Lord Michael Ashcroft’s maneuvers in the US to go after the country’s foreign reserves that are being held in US banks to settle arbitration awards against the government.

February
February opened with unusual bi-partisan support in the House of Representatives by the PUP and the UDP for legislation to protect the country’s foreign reserves from the Ashcroft alliance, which were litigating in US courts to recover US50 million dollars in arbitration awards from the Belize Government.

In the Senate, 13 senators were united on the bill to protect the foreign reserves.

In that same time period, the US Embassy denied a report that the newly installed Trump Administration had a new visa policy for Belize.

The legal fight from the unrelenting Ashcroft alliance continued in court, as the alliance mounted a constitutional challenge against legislation to protect the foreign reserves in the Caribbean Court of Justice.

Meanwhile, at the Senate Select Committee public hearing, senior Immigration officer Gordon Wade blamed former Immigration Director Ruth Meighan and Minister Elvin Penner for the issuance of nationality documents to more than 2,000 Guatemalan nationals in the run-up to the 2012 general elections.

The carnage in the streets continued when Mark Jones was gunned down on Iguana Street and community activist Felix Ayuso, 43, was stabbed to death at his home, located at the corner of Jew Fish and Seaweed Streets in San Pedro.

For this year’s Black History Month, the artist Pen Cayetano paid tribute to Kremandala’s chairman Evan X Hyde at his studio art gallery in Dangriga Town. Despite the threat of rains, there was a good showing from the activist community, who attended the event to witness the tribute.

In that same time period, budget consultations were held between the business sector and the government in preparation for the year’s budget exercise. Preliminary figures for the $1.2 billion budget were presented when government officials met at the Biltmore Hotel. Another similar meeting was held with trade union leaders.

In Belize City, a father of four, Alrick August, 23, lost his life to gun violence.

Also, the Secretariat of the United Democratic Party issued a press release calling for the removal from the Senate of PUP Senator Eamon Courtenay. The governing party’s call for Courtenay’s removal was triggered by court papers he filed challenging government’s legislation to protect the country’s foreign reserves from businesses owned by his client, Lord Michael Ashcroft.

February was also the month in which the educator, Dr. Cecil “Chubby” Reneau, 67, and Roman Catholic Bishop Osmond Peter Martin, 86, died.

Meanwhile, as the Senate Select Committee public hearings continued, it was revealed during the testimony of Teresita Castellanos that the Immigration Department had an entrenched culture of corruption and hustling.

Superstar artist Lela Vernon died on February 19. The iconic Vernon, 66, made lines “who seh Belize no gah no culture,” popular.

In the Dangriga session of the Supreme Court, Alberto Coleman, who was accused of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, was acquitted of the charge when Justice Dennis Hanomansingh ruled that he was not guilty of the murder.

In that same month, the Government of Belize, which was supposed to pay $26 million to holders of the Superbond, ended up missing the payment, and the entertainer known as Supa G was denied entry into the United States.

Also, the BNTU won a no-docking-of-salaries judgment for its members, who had gone on an 11-day strike in October 2016.

At the Senate hearing, former Belize City Councilor Eric Chang and Patrick Tillett, a former Financial Controller at City Hall, were summoned to appear before the Senate Select Committee to testify.

As February came to an end, the Social Security Board chairman, Doug Singh, announced that the board had plans to buy 55 million dollars of BTL and BEL shares.

Also, Ashanti Pollard, 6, lost her life when she was hit by a speeding vehicle on Fabers Road. The child was with her mother when the incident occurred.

Notably, also in February, attorney Sharon Pitts and Andre Vega, the son of Orange Walk North area representative and former Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, were served with court papers for $400,000 that the government is trying to recover from each of them.

March
As March began, the Government of Belize lost a motion in the US courts against attorney Glenn Godfrey, who had won a US22-million-dollar judgment against the government.

There was also a double murder in Placencia. The burnt remains of a husband and wife were discovered. The charred remains of the couple were found in a Ford F-150 pickup truck. The couple are believed to be Hungarian nationals.

Everald Augustine, 17, was fatally shot 3 times on Aloe Vera Street; and at the Senate hearing, Immigration officer, Mark Tench told the committee that the 8 missing visa stickers were never reported to police.

Father of 11 children, Marcelino Chan, was stabbed to death in San Roman, Orange Walk District in that month, and Government announced that it had plans to raise $70 million more in revenues.

Also, during the Senate hearing, Cherie Nisbet, Belize Ambassador to Taiwan, fingered former Deputy Mayor Eric Chan in the Won Hong Kim passport scandal.

There was also the passing of attorney and politician Philip Palacio, who died while undergoing treatment in Los Angeles, California, for cancer.

Amidst the tragic news that month, Belizeans received a bit of news that lifted spirits: Belizean football star Deon McCaulay had signed up with the Atlanta Silverbacks to play in the US.

Also that month, the media staged a successful boycott of the Police Department for its adversarial attitude against the media. The police had stopped giving interviews on topics of great interest to the public.

Dr. Luz Longsworth was inducted as principal of University of the West Indies Open Campus at ceremonies that were held at the Biltmore Hotel and were presided over by the Chancellor of UWI, Sir George Alleyne.

PUP supporter Louise Berry, 86, lost her life in a fire that destroyed her Iguana Street home in March, and two men, Shalon Santos and Jaime Patnett, were charged for Kenora Ara’s murder, which occurred in Blackman Eddy, Cayo District. Ara’s body was burnt.

Also in March, a brother chopped his sister to death. Julieanne Burke, 28, had just finished working at Aisha’s Restaurant when the incident occurred. Her brother, Elijah Burke, ambushed her before attacking her with a machete.

A Belizean man became the third person to be killed in Melchor in that month. San Jose Succotz resident and tour guide Carlos “Botty” Manzanero was with his wife at a bar when he was shot multiple times.

A Canadian man who had been living on San Pedro fled to Canada after he became a fugitive for murder in Belize. As it turned out, Jordan Bacchus was also wanted in his native Canada for firearm offences.

Also, in March, the Senate Select Committee on the Auditor General’s report on the Immigration Department also began hearing about a mysterious man named “Mr. Middleton” from Immigration officer Inez Cassanova.

Around that time, Belize was on the lookout for rotten corned beef that turned up in a number of Caribbean countries.

Also, the Central Information Technology office director moved to New York (who is she?), along with her husband, Herman Longsworth, a former UDP minister, who took up a posting as Counsel General. The CITO director was still receiving her salary, the PUP’s Hon. Cordel Hyde told the House of Representatives in a budget debate speech.

In that same month, a police officer was stabbed to death outside the Racoon Street Police Station by a Honduran man, Marcial Toledo. PC Mervin Locke died from multiple stab wounds after Toledo hugged him and then began viciously stabbing him.

Marcial Toledo, who was charged with Locke’s murder, was remanded to prison to await his day in court.

In that month as well, a massive conflagration destroyed a number of homes in Majestic Alley, leaving 51 persons homeless, and Belize ranked 12 out of the top 25 countries in which Americans have been killed, said Business Insider, in the wake of the murder of Anne Swaney, who was the digital operator at ABC 7, in Chicago.

At the end of March, Guatemala featured Belize in a map of its territory, but CEO of the Belizean Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Lawrence Sylvester, said it was no big deal, and that the map did not undermine Belize’s position with respect to Guatemala’s unfounded claim to Belizean territory.

Also, a policeman who went to sleep with a loaded gun under his pillow was shot in the chest when the gun reportedly discharged accidentally. Corporal Daniel Lawrence, Sr. was shot at his Church Street home.

April
Mark Seawell, who had been the subject of a United States Government extradition request, was freed after his attorneys argued before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin that the warrant on which he was imprisoned was defective. Seawell had spent 10 years behind bars.

Also, police officers were observed smuggling contraband beers at the Belize/Mexico border, and the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Education teamed up to spend 1 million dollars to reward teachers who did not support the BNTU strike in October 2016. The motive, critics said, was to undermine future support for the union, which they considered union busting.

In April, there was a murder on Holy Emmanuel Street. Rafael Mario Guerra lost his life when a gunman exited a van and fired a single shot, hitting him in the head.

Also, Alvarine Burgess alleged that she had been falsely imprisoned at the direction of a minister of government, and Minister Edmond Castro’s vehicle was broken into and thieves allegedly made off with two laptops and a number of passports that were in the vehicle.

In April as well, Susan Anita Barrington-Binns, a British lawyer who sent US1.6 million dollars to Belize Bank International, was suspended for 12 months to allow for a money laundering probe.

The Belize National Teachers Union held elections for president in that same month, and Senator Elena Smith captured the top post. The elections were held in San Roman, Corozal, at the campus of Escuela Secundaria Tecnica Mexico.

Also in April, a motion to claim Belize in an official Guatemalan map was defeated in the congress of the Republic of Guatemala.

Two brothers (ages unknown) from Trial Farm in the Orange Walk District were laid to rest after they had suffocated in a well on Good Friday. They are Jeovani Coyoc and Isidoro Coyoc.

In that month also, a mentally challenged woman, Indira “Princess” Thompson, 35, was killed for refusing to have sex with a man on the grounds of the old Bellevue Hotel on Southern Foreshore.

Evrett “Jack” Davis was acquitted of rape in the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas when the victim told the court that she did not wish to continue with the case, and Brandon Bradley, 17, was gunned down in the Green Garden Estate area of Lords Bank.

In that same time period, at the Senate hearing, witness Barton Middleton invoked his constitutional right to not answer questions put to him by the panel.

Also the name of former UDP Caribbean Shores, area representative and former Cabinet Secretary, Carlos Perdomo, was called in connection with the shady issuance of passports.

May
The murder of a Canadian-American couple sent shockwaves through Corozal and the rest of the country. Francesca Matus and Drew DeVoursey were strangled to death.

Newly appointed Magistrate Norman Rodriguez became the first sitting magistrate to be criminally charged for a major crime. DPP Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, S.C. advised Dangriga police to “charge Magistrate Rodriguez with rape.”

In that same month, a Belizean lost his life in Chetumal, Mexico. Saul Pech, a popular drummer in his early twenties from the Village of Yo Creek, was stabbed during an argument and was pronounced dead when he was transported to a hospital.

A female corpse was found burnt inside a Kia SUV. The vehicle was owned by Belmopan Baptist school teacher Pamela Lino, who had gone missing.

Also, Guatemalan Ludwin Kivany Lalin, 19, was executed in a hail of bullets as he was about to get on his bicycle at the corner of Jane Usher Boulevard Extension and Curl Thompson Street.

In that same month, health authorities moved to close down a private pharmacy after a medication mix-up may have contributed to the untimely passing of a 5-month-old baby. Estrella Pharmacy and Clinic in Independence, Stann Creek District, was being operated by an unlicensed nurse, an official investigation alleged.

Also in May, writer, historian and activist Olatunji Balogun died in Unitedville, Cayo District. The father of 7 children, who was given the name Michael Elvibirch Brewster at birth, was originally from Trinidad.

In that month, the disgraced former Minister of State for Immigration, Elvin Penner, appeared before the Senate Select Committee, but refused to answer questions about the Won Hong Kim passport, citing his constitutional right not to answer the committee’s questions.

Also, Magistrate Norman Rodriguez was arraigned before Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith in her Belize City courtroom on a single count of rape, which allegedly occurred in Dangriga, where the case will continue.

Amandala’s headlines in May also noted that the United Democratic Party chairman Alberto August had led into a Senate meeting a group of his party’s stalwart supporters, including the House Sergeant-at-arms Bryan “Yellowman” Audinet, who threatened to smash a reporter’s cell phone and assaulted KREM Radio and TV News Director Marisol Amaya.

In May as well, the UDP instructed the police to charge Plus TV’s Pastor Louis Wade for common assault, a charge that was later thrown out of court.

An illegal Guatemalan gold panner fell to his death in the Chiquibul forest in the Cayo District in that month, and Andrew Bennett, a popular DJ known as “Hard Rock”, was murdered within walking distance of his Central American Boulevard home. A gunman walked up to Bennett, 42, and shot him at close range.

In that month as well, the widow of Dean Dawson, the Gardenia mechanic who was knocked down and killed on the Philip Goldson Highway by Government press officer Dorian Pakeman, received a $45,000 settlement from Pakeman’s insurance company.

June
In the Senate Select Committee hearing, Alvarine Burgess testified and named ministers who were involved in writing recommendations for Asian nationals who wanted to visit Belize. Burgess named Minister Edmond “Clear the land” Castro and Minister Anthony “Boots” Martinez.

Minister Edmond “Clear the Land” Castro used a government press release to explain his cancelled US diplomatic and personal visas in that same month.

Also in June, Ready Call Center announced that it would trim its workforce by 239 workers.

 The second-in-command at the National Forensic Lab, Orlando Vera, was sentenced to two years in prison after he was convicted for abetment to pervert the course of justice.

Devyne Lopez and Leeanne Palma are two brilliant young students from the Toledo District who topped the PSE in June, and in that month as well, former UDP cabinet minister Derek Aikman revealed in an interview with Amandala that it was the UDP which first considered the Maritime Areas Act during the Manuel Esquivel-led government of 1989 -1993.

In June as well, an Orange Walk shopkeeper, Pedro Pol, 93, was chopped to death. The incident occurred in August Pine Ridge. Pol was in his shop when he was tied up and robbed by two Hispanic men.

Teacher Naomi Taylor McKenzie, 26, died in a traffic accident in that month. McKenzie was knocked down on Ecumenical Drive, in Dangriga Town.

Also in June, the IMF urged Belize to increase the General Sales Tax to 15% and to broaden its tax base.

Also, a lovers rendezvous in Santa Familia, Cayo District, ended in death. Amy Guerra was stabbed to death after 3 men followed her and her boyfriend, who were headed for the village cemetery, but ended up at the football field, where the stabbing occurred.

In June as well, a 13-year-old student alleged that her school principal kissed her. Johnny Valencia, the principal of Monsignor Roman Catholic School in the Valley of Peace, Cayo District, was arraigned for sexual assault.

The price of regular gasoline passed the $10 mark again in that month, and two San Pedro cops allegedly extorted US $500 from a tourist. PC Denfield Ramos and PC Orlando Mendez allegedly put a gun to Timothy Braun’s head, and in fear for his life, Braun reportedly handed over the money to the cops.

Also in the month of June, Elvin Penner, 45, the former UDP Minister of State, was accused of causing the death of a motorcyclist, Kenrick Myvett, in a road traffic accident on the George Price Highway. The accident occurred as Penner was attempting to overtake another vehicle near Running W, in Central Farm.

The trial of businessman Bert Vasquez, 35, began in the Supreme Court of Justice Adolph Lucas in that month. Vasquez is facing a three-count indictment for forcible abduction, harm and aggravated assault upon a 16-year-old girl.

The jobless rate in Belize increased to 9%, making a further 25,000 Belizeans unemployed. The hardest hit groups are the Creoles and Garifuna, the Statistical Institute of Belize reported.

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