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Home Highlights Year in Review 2021 – Part 3

Year in Review 2021 – Part 3

One week after stripping Hon. Patrick Faber of his position as Leader of the Opposition and being sworn in as Opposition Leader himself, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow had to debate an 11th Amendment to the Constitution that seemed to have been drafted specifically to render him ineligible to hold a seat in Parliament. The proposed amendment was tabled on July 2nd. It was aimed at, among other things, disqualifying convicts and persons who have served more than 12 months in prison from being elected to parliament. Barrow called it classist and inhumane since it goes against the prospect of rehabilitation. Notably, the Social Partner senators were opposed to a piecemeal approach to reform. Instead, they called for a comprehensive review of the Constitution. On Independence Day, the Prime Minister announced that a Constitutional Reform Commission would be formed by October 1.

At the same House of Representatives meeting, Prime Minister John Briceño introduced a slew of tax revenue recovery bills to enable the government to aggressively go after taxpayers who he said owed about $645 million. Of that figure, 80% would soon be unrecoverable due to the statute of limitation.

On July 6th, the Christian Workers Union (CWU), still embroiled in a labour dispute with Port of Belize Ltd., made public a 2006 MOU between the Government and principals of Big Creek Port. It emphasized that only banana exports and goods related to that industry would be handled there so as not to cause losses to PBL. The hope was that the disclosure would prompt GOB honour the 2006 agreement so that stevedores would not lose income due to a shift in sugar-loading operations by ASR/BSI from PBL to the Big Creek port. When PBL refused to engage them in dialogue about a redundancy package, the stevedores launched a go-slow and issued notice of industrial action on July 13. That secured them a meeting on July 21. At that virtual session, the CWU learned, not directly from GOB, but from PBL that BSI/ASR would be allowed to export out of Big Creek. A sugar ship in port at PBL headed south that same morning.

On August 14, the CWU would disclose yet another document, this one dating back to 2005

Evan “Mose” Hyde, CWU, president

and signed by GOB and PBL agreeing that PBL would be “entitled to a payout if the Big Creek’s operations encroached on PBL’s business.” That disclosure changed nothing.

Our headline on July 10th was, “Bill to ‘legalize it’ introduced.” The historic bill was drafted to allow for the establishment of provisions for the licensing and registration of enterprises operating in the cannabis industry for adult consumers. It was also meant to correct what Minister Kareem Musa described as a “contradictory marijuana policy.” He was referring to the 2017 law change that decriminalized the use of up to 10 grams of marijuana but didn’t remove penalties against those who sell the product.

July 4 saw the Government introduce mandatory bimonthly testing for unvaccinated frontline workers via SI 74 of 2021, with effect from August 1st. Weeks later, the Belize Rights and Justice Movement (BRJM) filed a legal challenge to the SI.

After 16 months of inactivity, cruise tourism resumed with the arrival of the Carnival Vista in Belize City on July 7 with reduced passenger capacity and with most of its passengers and crew having been vaccinated.

On Sunday, July 11, there was excitement at Bird’s Isle, where the United Democratic Party was holding a leadership recall convention initiated by Mesopotamia area rep, Hon. Moses “Shyne” Barrow. At the day’s end, Hon. Patrick Faber managed to retain the leadership. He received 226 delegate votes – 64 more than the minimum 162 required.

One of our most gripping headlines drew attention to the police killing of promising Laddie Gillett, 14, in Placencia on July 14. He had been eating cake on the beach with friends and was running back to his hotel in an attempt to arrive there before the start of the curfew when he was shot in the back by police corporal Kareem Martinez. In October 2021, Martinez was dismissed from the police force. He is appealing the Police Commissioner’s decision.

Laddie Gillett, deceased

On July 19 we reported that a criminal investigation had been launched into the embezzlement of just over $60,000 of COVID-19 Unemployment Relief funds by employees of the Labour Department. An audit found they approved funds for relatives and friends.

On that same day, the Supreme Court agreed that picture-taking by police of persons not charged after searches was unlawful profiling. The suit was brought by Bryton Codd and Greg Nunez.

(l-r) Bryton Codd and Greg Nunez

On the morning of July 22, Belizeans were shocked to learn of the shooting death of 19-year-old Ashton Samuels during a robbery at Jacky’s Fast Food & Supermarket in the Mile 8 Community. Chinese businessman, Chu Rong Zhang shot at Samuels and two others as they were scaling the fence. Tyler Ramclam, 20, was grazed in the left calf.

Our featured headline on July 24 was that CEOs had escaped the 10% salary cut, much to the chagrin of the Public Service Union. Despite stiff objection and even agreement by a couple Government ministers, the CEOs’ salaries remained untouched.

On the weekend of July 23, there was a tense confrontation between Belize Defence Force (BDF) soldiers and Guatemalan armed forces that fortunately did not escalate when BDF soldiers, police and Forest Department officials went to remove the farms of Guatemalans in Rio Blanco in the Chiquibul National Park. Guatemalan soldiers who were notified by some of the Guatemalan civilians, entered Belize territory and a Guatemalan military plane flew overhead.

On July 25, Gary Young, 24, was killed at the corner of Kraal Road and Haynes Street in Belize City. On leaving the scene, the gunman, Matthew Guy, was killed by someone in Young’s group.

Near the end of July, a nurse was caught selling vaccine cards stolen from her workplace for $300 apiece.

Gary Young and Matthew Guy, both deceased

On Sunday, August 1, another gunman, Shamar Nicolas, 16, met swift death after firing at Matthew Gutierrez, 24, who died while receiving treatment for his injuries. Nicolas was shot on Kraal Road while escaping from the scene. Police say he opened fire on them and he was injured when they returned fire. He died shortly after.

August 5th saw the opening at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) of a new Oncology Unit that had been in the making since 2018. The KHMH provides medical care to between three and four hundred cancer patients yearly.

Patrick “Beans” (Lawrence) Lewis

Lifelong supporter of KREMANDALA and enthusiastic Raiders fan, Patrick “Beans” Lewis, passed away on August 5.

On August 9, the PSU in a public statement called out the Briceño administration for switching dozens of government-funded mobile accounts in several ministries from BTL to SMART, which is partially owned by Briceño’s relatives. The PM defended the switch as a cost-saving effort. Subsequently, it emerged that the Government had given SMART a $3.3 million contract for the procurement of Microsoft licenses. The Government’s defense was that it had been put to tender and SMART came out on top over BTL and a regional provider.

In the second week of August, Ministry of Education officials announced that part of a comprehensive overhaul of the primary school curriculum would include the elimination of the annual PSE. They expressed preference for more “creative” models of testing.

On Wednesday, August 11, some were concerned that the Government allowed the visit of the Carnival Vista despite 27 persons being COVID-positive on the ship. Tourism Minister Anthony Mahler said there was no threat to Belizeans, since the persons were isolated and no more cases were identified.

In Billy White, 28-year-old David Klassen drowned while trying to save a girl who was drifting in the river on August 12. He was celebrating his birthday that day.

David Klassen, deceased

Medardo Canelo, 46, and Lawrence Canelo, 33, an uncle and nephew, were shot and killed at their family-owned bar by two armed, masked men on August 12 in Punta Gorda.

Based on advice from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, classes for pre-primary, primary and secondary schools continued in distance learning mode.

Just about 4 months after he signed a 5-year contract with GoB, the Government parted ways with Central Bank governor Gustavo Vasquez, who, it is reported, wrote staff to say he “tried to restore the integrity and operational autonomy of the Central Bank.” His base salary was $200,000, and reports indicated that his settlement was over half a million dollars. Vasquez was replaced by deputy governor of the bank, Kareem Michael, whose family members are said to be staunch UDP supporters, at the start of December. The Prime Minister said they looked at his qualifications and willingness to “work in tandem with the government.”

A shipment of 111,150 Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines arrived in the country on August 18 and was almost immediately put into rotation in the vaccination campaign solely for minors 12 to 17 years of age. Then, on August 26, we received a donation of 132,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

On August 19, a one-month State of Emergency was declared in Southside Belize City in response to an alarming increase in the number of gang-related shootings in the previous weeks. The detainees were housed at the Belize Central Prison, where they underwent the first of a series of intervention exercises spearheaded by the new Leadership Intervention Unit, which aims to introduce alternatives to crime.

Dr. Fernando Cuellar

Over the weekend of August 21st, Dr. Fernando Cuellar, internist, was hospitalized for COVID-19. He got to go home days later and said that he would have fared off worse had it not been for the vaccine.

That same weekend, lab technicians at the Central Medical Lab absented themselves from work to express frustration about multiple unresolved concerns, including sub-standard working conditions, reduced overtime pay and a postponement of their scheduled vacation leave.

Services at the San Ignacio Community Hospital had to be temporarily suspended due to a COVID-19 cluster among staff.

Early in the morning on August 21, a mother and her daughter, 37-year-old PC Arilee Young and 17-year-old Shania Cardenes, were killed in King’s Park by Young’s partner, a security guard identified as Glenford Perriott, 26.

WPC Arilee Young and Shania Cardenes, both deceased

Fifty-nine-year-old Mercedes Pais handed himself in to police after bludgeoning his

Mercerdez Pais

common-law wife Alejandra Garcia, 27, and injuring her mother and sister in San Ignacio on Monday, August 23. The mother, Angelica Rodriguez, 64, died while receiving treatment. Notably, Pais had gone to broadcast personality, Kent Pandy, to have a statement recorded in explanation of his future actions. Pandy said he tried to dissuade him and then attempted to call Garcia, but it was too late.

On August 28, we headlined the death of yet two more Belizean men in Mexico. The report is that Norman Haulze, 21, and Ozmond Melendez had moved to Cancun to look for work. Haulze was killed reportedly in a shootout between Mexican authorities and a criminal group. Melendez of San Andres Village, is said to have died in a separate shooting.

Ozmond Melendez and Norman Haulze, both deceased

A landmark judgment was handed down by Justice Westmin James in a defamation suit brought by Karen Bevans, former Director of the Belize Tourism Board, against the Prime Minister, Hon. John Briceno, and RSV Limited. Bevans was awarded close to $90,000 in damages for defamatory comments that the Prime Minister made in an interview aired on Love FM/TV in December 2020.

On August 31, Guatemalan truckers who frequent Belize began protesting the COVID-19 measures at the Western Border, including mandatory testing at their expense.

The Government on Friday, September 3, introduced a bill to increase the penalty for the dissemination of misinformation from $300 to $3,000.

There was great indignation on Sunday, September 5 in Santa Familia when off-duty, unarmed BDF soldier, Jessie Escobar, 29, was killed by a fellow soldier, Raheem Valencio, on patrol with police. It occurred at a store as Escobar tried to intervene on behalf of persons in a group he was with. The killing was witnessed by his wife and daughter. It was found that the police officer lied about the way the incident unfolded. The claim was that Escobar tried to take away their firearms, but surveillance footage showed otherwise. Valencio, 32, was charged with murder while the other two lawmen on duty were charged with perverting the course of justice.

Jesse Escobar, deceased

On Thursday, September 2, the police received a report of sexual assault within the Belize Defence Force made by a female soldier against a non-commissioned officer.

On Monday, September 6, the Christian Workers Union revealed that the Ministry of Labour declined to mediate the negotiations of PBL and CWU on compensation for stevedores who lost a chunk of their earnings due to the transfer of sugar-loading operations from PBL to the Big Creek port.

The Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Michel Chebat, announced on September 9 that as of October 1st, anyone wishing to enter a public building would have to be vaccinated or present a negative rapid test. This was later restricted to just government-owned buildings, and while initially, the visitors would have borne the cost of testing, the Government later opened 15 free testing sites across the country, starting with Belize City and Belmopan.

Alfonso Bulux Vicente, Guatemalan fugitive

Alfonso Bulux Vicente, believed to be a fugitive from Guatemala for his role in the Dos Erres massacre of December 1982 was picked up by Belizean authorities after he applied to regularize his status in Belize.

By mid-September, when we were in our 3rd COVID-19 wave, and our hospitals were filled to capacity due to an increasing number of infections, the U.S. South Command donated a field hospital with a 40-bed capacity valued at US $1.1 million.

In more U.S.-related news, a report surfaced in mid-September that Reynaldo Verde, former Deputy Tax Director, had taken a plea deal and would face 20 years maximum imprisonment in connection with extortion charges. He was arrested in 2019 at a U.S. airport following a report made by a U.S. resort developer living in Corozal.

On September 18, Zenaida Moya of the BRJM was charged for organizing an illegal demonstration against SI 74 in Belize City. Mennonites from Spanish Lookout who were on their way to participate in a demonstration of their own were stopped by police at La Democracia.

Zenaida Moya’s arrest

The appointment of Chandra Nisbet-Cansino as CEO of the KHMHA was announced near the end of September. The institution had been operating with an acting CEO since the departure of Michelle Cox-Hoare in June after her contract was not renewed.

On September 25, 15-year-old Dwayne Gabourel became the 8th minor in 2021 to die at the hands of a gunman. The 3rd form SJC student with dreams of becoming a basketballer was innocently shot while entering a Pickstock neighbourhood store to make a purchase for his mother. The shooting was caught on camera and became one of the violent incidents that most moved the community.

Ninety-six schools started hybrid learning — a combination of distance and face-to-face learning— on October 1. At year’s end it was reported that 14.7% of staff had become infected, mostly from outside the school setting, while 2.1% of students had registered a SARS-CoV-2 infection. With that record, and even in the face of a more infectious Omicron variant, authorities called for all schools to start hybrid learning on January 10, 2022.

After an almost 20-year struggle, on October 6, the Christian Workers Union and Port of Belize Ltd. signed a new Collective Bargaining Agreement for PBL staff. The previous CBA was signed in December 2002.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness’ page was hacked on Friday, October 8 and was taken over by a business in Vietnam.

On October 10, a 12-year-old in San Roman Village was administered the Johnson and Johnson vaccine instead of the Pfizer jab. The former is not yet approved for minors.

Two healthcare professionals were terrorized and one was robbed of several thousand dollars on Tuesday, October 12, in Belize City. The victims were Dr. Maria Reyes, 53, and nurse Melinda Guerra, the former Director of the Central Health Region. Their home on Chancellor Avenue in West Landivar was broken into by a group of masked robbers between 3:00 and 4:00 a.m.

Also on October 12, Cabinet approved a trade licensing system for villages.

PC Wayne Dawson was shot by another police officer on the afternoon of October 14 after he drove past a checkpoint in Orange Walk which police say had been set up to apprehend Dawson, who fled the scene of an accident in Corozal. From his hospital bed, Dawson explained that he did so because he felt that the woman who crashed into his vehicle and the responding officer were conspiring to have him bear the blame for the collision.

Churches vociferously objected to SI 119, which required that churchgoers be vaccinated. The National Evangelical Association of Belize remarked that such a mandate went against the spirit of Christianity. as they should not turn anyone away from church. They wrote the PM a letter on October 15.

On October 20th, Seine Bight residents protested the location of a gas station being erected in the village.

On October 24, off-duty police officer Royni Cobb was stabbed while socializing in a yard in Corozal. An eyewitness said the officer stopped by with others after his shift and while hanging out with the group, he got into a confrontation with another man, who stabbed him.

Dr. Cecilio Eck

Another doctor who had a close call due to COVID-19 was paediatrician Dr. Cecilio Eck. He was hospitalized at the KHMH over the weekend of October 23rd and later transferred to BHPL. He remained hospitalized for about 3 weeks.

At an October 25th House of Representatives meeting, the Briceño administration tabled a historic reparations motion to pursue reparations from Britain for the enslavement of blacks. It was presented by Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Cordel Hyde.

At the same House meeting, Prime Minister John Briceño announced that they had renegotiated their loans with Taiwan and had secured almost $70 million in cash flow relief for three years.

San Ignacio residents, 25-year-old Jeffery Perez and 51-year-old Petrona Inez Montejo were given maximum sentences for human trafficking offences. On Thursday, October 28, Justice Antoinette Moore sentenced Perez to 12 years for child prostitution. Montejo received 10 years for procuring a child for sexual exploitation.

Jeffery Perez and Petrona Inez Montejo

Also on Thursday, October 28, a Cabinet brief disclosed that booster shots were approved for adults 18 and older.

November 1st saw the signing of an MOU among the Football Federation of Belize, the Minister of Youth and Sports and Pickstock area representative, Anthony Mahler for the upgrade of the historic Berger Field. All three committed to provide funds for the initiative.

On November 3rd, St. John’s College, a Jesuit educational institution, announced that beginning January 1, 2022, it would offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs.

On November 4, for a second time in a decade, a narco plane landed in the same location in Bladen on the Southern Highway. Three police officers, including two from ACP Marco Vidal’s strike team known as COST, were detained following a shootout with four Independence policemen. One was the assigned driver for Vidal’s wife, the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), Cheryl-Lynn Vidal, though she noted that since November 2020, she had asked for Corporal Delwin Casimiro not to participate in the team’s operations due to COVID concerns. The next day, November 5, police at a checkpoint busted Vidal’s nephew, Elmer Nah, his wife, Epifania Caliz and her brother PC Manuel Caliz in a vehicle in the south. Inside, police found over 100 rounds of ammunition assigned to Vidal’s operations office and firearms that had been stolen from Succotz in November 20, 2020. At the plane landing, two vehicles assigned to Vidal’s Operation Unit were found. Police also detained 7 civilians and recovered 25 bales of cocaine. The men were all granted bail of $40,000 each on November 21.

Vidal was initially transferred to a desk job, but based on a subsequent investigation, he was placed on paid 60-day suspension on December 15 after it was determined that there had been administrative irregularities at his office.

On November 28, another officer who had previously served under Vidal while he was commander of the GSU was detained after the crash-landing of a plane in Hidden Valley in the Mountain Pine Ridge on November 28. The men claimed they were hunting.

During a media briefing after the November 4th Bladen drug plane landing, ComPol Chester Williams reported that since the start of the year, some 40 officers had been dismissed from the force for engaging in some type of inappropriate behaviour.

A case brought by Belize against Trinidad and Tobago at the Caribbean Court of Justice over trade-related policy breaches concluded in the first week of November. Though originally, damages had been sought, in the end, the Belize government was satisfied with the Court using strong language in its order to confirm that Trinidad and Tobago imported brown sugar from non-CARICOM states without imposing the required 40% Common External Tariff.

On November 10, one of our stories featured the shortage of a vital anaesthetic in the KHMH COVID-19 Unit due to procurement delays through the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Additionally, the hospital’s work was made more cumbersome due to 15 faulty patient monitors received from the Ministry. The Minister’s response to the concerns of KHMHA officials was that they needed to “step up” to their responsibilities. On the heels of that comment, board member, Dr. Fernando Cuellar, quit. The following week, it was disclosed that Ministry of Health CEO, Dr. Deysi Mendez, was also leaving. The Prime Minister said her departure was due to “personality differences.”

A leaked memo on November 11 indicated the departure of Chief Environmental Officer Martin Alegria, who went on pre-retirement leave 3 months early. It came amidst the environmental community questioning approval of the Port Coral causeways.

There was a double homicide on November 11 in the village of Burrell Boom, where handyman Dennis Brown and cashier, Kendra Miguel, were fatally shot inside Matilda’s Mini Mart. Robbery was ruled out. The target was believed to be Brown.

Kendra Miguel and Dennis Brown, shooting victims

Meanwhile, after 9 years, Jared Ranguy, who was accused of the triple murder of his mother, sister and step-father in November 2012, was granted $30,000 bail and released into the custody of a human rights activist.

On November 15, the government issued a one-month notice that all public officers must be vaccinated since COVID-19 tests would no longer be accepted. After opposition from the Public Service Union, authorities backtracked on the mandate.

In order to begin addressing the shortage of nurses, the Ministry of Education granted 45 nursing scholarships on November 18.

On Sunday, November 21, police went on a manhunt for Brian Castillo, 28, who killed his common-law wife, Jennifer Archila, 33, and her daughter, Nitzia Catzim, 12, at their apartment in San Ignacio. He was located by Guatemalan authorities while moving inland after he left his son with his ex in Melchor.

Traffic accidents are one of Belize’s biggest killers. On November 22, two lives were taken on the George Price Highway when a Geo Prism car was hit from behind and was sent careening into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler truck. The victims were identified as 10-month-old Abdur Smith and his godmother, Tifara Samuels Hall, 40. The baby’s mother, who was driving the car, survived with minor injuries.

Drastic price hikes were a constant for consumers across the country since the start of the pandemic, and Cabinet, in its release of November 24, once again committed to have the matter looked into.

That same week, KREM Radio shared the exciting news that its annual New Year’s Day Cycling Classic had been green-lighted to resume in 2022 after a one-year break.

On November 25, Indian businessman Anil Asnaney and his wife, Manisha Asnaney, were shot by two gunmen on bicycles as the couple made a routine stop at Sumathi Restaurant. Anil did not survive.

Well-loved chef, Reuben Cano, 33, was gunned down on Pitter Street in Belize City on Saturday, November 27, while socializing inside a yard.

At the stroke of midnight on November 29, Barbados became a republic, replacing the Queen as head of state with a president to usher in its 55th anniversary of independence on November 30.

Amid online teaching, the rant of a frustrated teacher against her disengaged students in San Pedro went viral, with some criticizing her outburst and others being more sympathetic.

After a decade in the post of Auditor General, Dorothy Bradley departed the Public Service at the beginning of December. With no forward planning, the post remains vacant.

At a special meeting of the Senate on December 6th, Immigration Minister Eamon Courtenay announced the Government’s plan to grant amnesty to between 40,000 and 60,000 undocumented migrants already living in Belize who meet specific criteria. The program is set to begin in April 2022.

That same day, a Sugar Act amendment that would have empowered the Minister of Agriculture to resolve disputes and complaints arising from within sugar associations stalled in the Senate when all Opposition and social partner senators objected.

The body of Canadian retiree, Richard Lewis Jeffery, 60, was found inside his house along the Melinda Road in Dangriga on December 7. Foul play was suspected.

Kaya Cattouse became Belize’s first female cyclist to go pro when she signed a one-year contract with LA Sweat. The announcement was made on Tuesday, December 7.

MS-13 gang members who live in the Krooman area of Belize City brought terror to a family of 5 who own a store in the area. It all started when the matriarch asked two fighting, intoxicated men to leave the premises on Saturday, December 11. They turned on her and clubbed her with a stick. When her husband tried to intervene, the men attacked him, then her brother-in-law and even her mother-in-law. While family members were being treated at the hospital, their house was burned down.

In San Antonio, Orange Walk, two brothers, Enrique and Shamir Teyul, took the life of their uncle, Eugenio Teyul, on Sunday, December 12. They then fled across the border.

Michelle Kwan

Michelle Kwan, decorated figure skater, was named as the United States’ ambassador nominee to Belize on December 15.

On December 15, Cabinet announced that the land borders would be reopened on January 1, 2022, only to postpone it days later until February.

Waterloo’s Port of Belize expansion and cruise port project was denied environmental approval by the National Environmental Appraisal Committee. Waterloo subsequently expressed dissatisfaction with the decision–making process and promised to challenge it.

On December 21, Kriol cultural icon, Myrna Manzanares, 75, passed away. As the National Kriol Council (of which she was a founding member) put it, she was sent off just the way she would have wanted, with drumming and dancing, and was laid to rest in her home village of Gales Point Manatee.

On the morning of December 22, Chinese baker, Zi Hui He of Western Paradise was found with a gunshot wound in the head along the John Smith Road, where he usually jogged in the morning.

A woman’s ex, Jorge Triminio, killed her new boyfriend, Namid Mesh, on the night of December 23 in Seine Bight. The two men had worked at the same Placencia resort.

Unfortunately, there was a Christmas day murder in Orange Walk Town. Steve Patten, 57, was killed while on his way home after socializing with friends.

On December 29, Kanye West, whom we described in our article as “one of the most prolific musicians in modern history,” touched down in Belize for a two-day trip.

We closed out the year with the Ministry of Health and Wellness reporting that Omicron was likely already in the country based on the increasing number of infections.

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