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Year in Review Part 2 – 2022

HighlightsYear in Review Part 2 – 2022

Photo: LA-based photographer and artist Menyelek Marin Coleman is partnering with the UEF to host a 1-month-long film camp for Belize City youths.

In the first half of 2022, with the People’s United Party (PUP) administration being in office for over a year, the Opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) began asking for disclosure on legal fees paid to law firms linked to Government ministers. While figures outlining the amounts that were paid were revealed by the current administration, fingers were also pointed at the Opposition, which, during their term in office, also hired party- aligned lawyers. In the back and forth, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay of Courtenay Coye LLP affirmed he had written the Governor General to request to be exempted every time from being removed from parliament in the event Government contracts his law firm.

During an appearance on KREM’s WUB Morning Vibes Show, Commissioner of Police Chester Williams, at the beginning of July, suggested that the “younger generation” of gang members are deadlier than the older ones, to the extent that the latter “cannot control the younger ones.”

Opposition Leader Moses ‘Shyne’ Barrow stepped back onto a stage in the U.S. for a performance in honor of his mentor, Sean P. Diddy Combs. He told HipHollywood that he’s done with music except for one-offs because his focus is on becoming Belize’s next prime minister.

In July, the UBAD Educational Foundation (UEF) launched a first ever Breddah Cliff Augustine Youth Film Photography Summer Camp. It was a hit among the children between the ages of 8 and 12 who produced some notable photos.

On July 4, PC Kent Martinez was found not guilty of the July 2019 shooting death of Allyson Major because the prosecution failed to establish that the shot that killed Major was fired from PC Martinez’ gun.

In the first week of July, the price of premium fuel reached almost $18 per gallon. This is something Geovanni Brackett, famed former president of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), would likely have organized a protest against. However, in July, we learned he had gone from government watchdog to being on the government’s payroll. He was hired as an Information Consultant in the Government Press Office.

The cost of eggs was added to the list of items that saw an increase in 2022. The Belize Poultry Association cited the rising cost of fuel and increases in the prices of soybean and corn that are used to produce chicken feed as reasons for the hike. The same was said when the price of dairy products increased in the third week of November. Also impacted by the rising price of inputs, Dario’s Meat Pies increased its cost per unit by 25 cents, beginning on July 18.

Belizean Garifuna legend, Dr. Theodore Aranda passed away on July 10 at the age of 88. He was among the first Belizeans to obtain a Ph.D. He commanded great respect among his people.

The National Bank in July announced it had obtained correspondent banking through Italy’s Banca Intesa SaoPaolo, allowing for international money transfers, among other services.

For the first time, in July, the Central America U-21 Female Volleyball Championship was held in Belize. There was high hope for Team Belize to capture the win. Our women played spectacularly, but, in the finals, fell painfully short against Guatemala before a raucous crowd of 3,800.

Luke Martinez, the president of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), suggested there be yet another restructuring of the Public Accounts Committee so it is chaired by a civil society or social partner senator instead of the Opposition. Notably, in July we learned that only Hon. Julius Espat was attending PAC meetings on the Government side.

Despite decreases in world fuel prices beginning mid-year, Prime Minister John Briceño in July reminded the public that initial reductions would not be automatically passed on in Belize because they first needed to replenish the fuel contingency fund which allowed for a cap on the price of regular gas and diesel starting in March. It would not be until December that fuel prices dropped in Belize.

In July, UEF, chaired by YaYa Marin Coleman, was notified that it would not have representation on the People’s Constitution Commission (PCC) because the composition had been finalized. This is in spite of Marin Coleman having sent a letter to relevant authorities in March and the Kriol Council and the Young Leaders Alliance of Belize having been added to the Commission in July. Likewise, authorities disallowed representation for the Diaspora and the Belize Assembly for Persons with Diverse Abilities. Plus TV’s Louis Wade was elected as the media’s representative on the People’s Constitution Commission, while Channel 7’s Daniel Ortiz was selected as the alternate.

The PCC was officially launched on November 14 with former PUP mayor Anthony Chanona as Chairman, despite rejection of the appointment by the Opposition Leader, who affirmed that the selected individual should be apolitical. While PM Briceño proceeded with that appointment nonetheless, another nominee had to be found in place of former disgraced politician Moises Cal—nominated by the PM to serve as chairman of the Public Services Commission—due to significant backlash.

Cabinet on July 14 announced its support for the increase of the age of compulsory education from 14 to 16 – a move estimated to impact 10,000 more children.

Canadian socialite, Jasmine Hartin was indicted in the Supreme Court on July 14 for the May 28, 2021 shooting death of Superintendent Henry Jemmott on a pier in San Pedro. She was charged with manslaughter by negligence and pleaded not guilty before Justice Ricardo Sandcroft. She is being represented by attorney Richard ‘Dickie’ Bradley.

The Ministry of Education launched the pilot for the competency-based National Curriculum Framework in August from pre-school through to high school. At the start, teachers complained that not all modules were uploaded, but the Ministry said that in the transition year, gaps would gradually be closed.

In its first supplementary appropriation bill for fiscal year 2022-2023 presented on July 15 for $68 million, the Briceño administration set aside $2 million to start the digitization of the Vital Statistics Unit and Civil Registry.

Business Senator Kevin Herrera recommended that Government start auditing contractors who receive public works contracts in the interest of accountability for loan funds. Meanwhile, Albert area representative, Hon. Tracy Panton, questioned how much more GOB will borrow this fiscal year.

After fishermen expressed concerns, an analysis showed that all three bridges in Belize City are at varying levels of disrepair, with the Swing Bridge and Belcan Bridge needing to be replaced.

In health news, a case of Monkeypox was detected in Chetumal, but fortunately, Belize remained free of the disease throughout 2022.

In the third week of July, the Belize Defence Force (BDF) announced that due to erosion, the Sarstoon Forward Operating Base (FOB) was deemed unsafe and soldiers were moved out, but daily patrols continued. Engineers visited the FOB to determine the works necessary.

On the morning of Sunday, July 31, there was a public shooting at a Hopkins nightclub in which two men were killed and 8 others injured, including three police officers and three teenagers. Three men from Sittee River, Brian Andrews, 28, Kenyon Moore, 28, and Sherwin Moore, were charged for murder. Canadian ex- soldier, John Roy Smith, 43, who was accused of driving one of the getaway vehicles, was similarly charged. However, he was freed on December 20 after the judge found there was insufficient evidence to link him to the murders.

At the start of August, a 30-day State of Emergency was declared for the St. Martin De Porres area of Lake Independence after the killing of Alrick Smith and Darren Banks before him. The SOE was not extended.

The trial in the case against UDP supporter, attorney Sharon Pitts, started on August 4 before Justice Lisa Shoman regarding the recovery of $400,000 in compensation paid to Pitts for private land resold to her by Government. On December 16, Justice Shoman dismissed the claim.

Mining Minister Cordel Hyde at the start of August stated that Vulcan Materials Company would not be allowed to mine at the privately owned White Ridge Farm near Gales Point Manatee. He said they needed to take into consideration the villagers’ opposition to the project, but the company insisted it be allowed to go through the approval process. Aquatic ecologist Dr. Ed Boles affirmed that mining at a large scale at White Ridge would negatively impact our groundwater.

The father of BDF soldier, Micha Miguel, 23, reported that his daughter ended her life due to unchecked sexual abuse and bullying at the camp. A joint investigation with representatives of the Ministry of Human Development was launched.

Troy Banner, 31, was remanded until September 13 after being charged for cruelty to a child and wounding of his 15-day-old child, whom he claimed fell off a bed. The child ended up with a broken arm, abrasions to the mouth and bruises to the back. This was the second time Banner was being charged with similar offenses.

KREM Radio stalwart, J.C. Arzu, resigned in August after being with the KREMANDALA organization for over three decades. He explained that he had to leave to care for his ailing mother.

On Saturday, August 13, Corozal police detained an intoxicated Cristo Rey villager, Derrick Anthony Uh, 20, and placed him inside a prison van at the San Joaquin Fiesta. However, he was apparently forgotten inside for over 12 hours and died from heat exposure. Four officers were charged with manslaughter by negligence. The Commissioner of Police Chester Williams agreed with the Human Rights Commission of Belize that there should be harsher punishments for law enforcement officers found culpable of gross negligence and breach of protocols that result in death.

In August, the Prime Minister defended area representative Hon. Marconi Leal after it surfaced that he had agreed to be used as a reference by a friend who wanted a discount on import duty for a vehicle. The PM stated that in that role, they get all sorts of requests and Customs would ultimately decide on the matter.

Minister Anthony Mahler was frowned upon after an outburst against 7News reporter Courtney Menzies, who was pressing him about an audit for the $750,000 cited as the figure spent for the first Belize International Music and Food Festival held at the end of July in San Pedro. He told her that she and her news director have a gripe because Government ads were not being pushed their way. Off-camera, he referred to the reporter as a Chihuahua, then added, “sometimes, Chihuahuas get kicked in the face.”

In August, the Briceño Administration reported it had reached a settlement with Lord Ashcroft’s Belize International Services Ltd. (BISL) on the payment of an outstanding Caribbean Court of Justice order regarding the 2013 nationalization of the ships registry, IMMARBE and the International Business Companies Registry, IBC. A Cabinet release stated that when the PUP came to power, the damages claim was at US$65 million, and they settled at US$38.25 million.

In more Lord Ashcroft news also in August, it was revealed that, he, as chairman of Waterloo Investment Holdings Ltd. had written the Prime Minister on January 10, 2022, saying Waterloo was entitled to compensation, because, by not granting approval of its Port of Belize expansion project, Government breached the 1982 treaty between the UK and Belize for the promotion and protection of investments.

The Opposition United Democratic Party staged a protest with an estimated 100 people without a permit after being denied their application twice. The issues were high gas prices, cost of living, corruption and crime.

On Monday, August 29, public sector healthcare workers across the country staged a walkout following suit after nurses at the Southern Regional Hospital walked out. They expressed frustration over the lack of proper compensation for overtime hours, among other workplace issues, including shortages in medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. As regards the latter, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Kevin Bernard, said that changes were being made to the tender process to avoid a repeat in the next tender cycle.

Upon the return to face-to-face learning, some students also returned to continued discrimination over their hair. It happened at Bishop Martin High School in Orange Walk, where up to 30 students were denied entry after being accused of not keeping their hair short.

On August 30, Corporal Elmer Nah and PC Manuel Caliz were found not guilty of violation of police protocols after being found in possession of a stash of weapons/ammunition following the November 4, 2021 Bladen drug plane landing. The ComPol later said they found that the adjudicator erred regarding evidence admitted and said a retrial would be ordered with a new adjudicator.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino made a historic visit to Belize at the end of August and pledged to continue helping with football development in Belize.

On September 2, Madam Justice Louise Blenman, a St. Lucian/Guyanese court of appeal judge, was sworn in as Chief Justice of Belize, and on November 22 she was sworn in as Chief Justice of the Senior Courts of Belize.

Former ombudsman Lionel Arzu successfully sued the Government because of the COVID-19-related changes made to his contract without his consent. He was awarded just over $10,000.

On September 5, residents of rural Toledo staged a protest at the start of the school year due to students getting stranded because of poor road conditions. The Ministry of Infrastructure Development put in place a plan for repairs, but Minister Julius Espat said that to repair all Toledo roads would require five times the national budget. Meanwhile, in Belize City, St. Mary’s Primary School students had to continue learning from home because their historic school buildings were condemned as unsafe and were ordered demolished. Alternate locations for classes were subsequently identified.

Following the COMMONWEALTH Heads of Government meeting in Kigali, Rwanda in June, the Government of Belize Press Office announced that the President of the Republic of Rwanda, Paul Kagame would visit Belize in September. It would have been the first visit by a head of state from Africa to Belize, but he never made it. 

Belize’s Head of State, Queen Elizabeth II, died on September 8, and a holiday was designated for her funeral on September 19. This was questioned by some sectors, including those who wish for Belize to become a republic. The business community also expressed concerns and wrote the Government to be exempted from paying overtime for workers on the unscheduled holiday. 

Former Belize Tourism Board Director, Karen Bevans won big when Supreme Court Justice Geneviève Chabot ruled she should be paid for the remainder of her 5-year contract and her legal fees after being terminated upon the change of government.

On September 9 in Belize City, the legendary Gerald “Lord” Rhaburn was honored for his incalculable contributions to music with the designation of a Lord Rhaburn Plaza between Memorial Park and the shores of the Caribbean Sea. Also, in October, during graduation ceremonies, the University of Belize awarded Lord Rhaburn an honorary Doctor of Arts degree.

The 3rd Annual Martin’s Community Fest made a big comeback in 2022, seeing a much larger turnout than previous occasions. 

An announcement on September 13 that avian influenza was detected at a farm in Blue Creek led to the depopulation of 24,000 birds. Another farm was placed in isolation and fortunately, the situation was brought under control.

Surveillance cameras were promised for the John Smith Airport Link Road due to the increasing number of murder victims’ bodies being dumped off that roadway.

Friends for Conservation and Development, which co-manages the Chiquibul forest, reported that illegal cattle ranching activity continued as activities affected during the pandemic started normalizing. 

During the Belize Territorial Volunteer’s annual visit to Sarstoon Island in commemoration of Belize’s Independence, two flags they planted were uprooted by the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) stationed on Guatemala’s side of the Sarstoon. They refused to return the flags to the BTV, but the Prime Minister in his Independence Day address stated that the GAF delivered the flags to the Belize Embassy in Guatemala. In November, Belize Foreign Affairs officials returned the flags to the BTV, who said one will be gifted to an archive or museum.

Under the gun to begin the process of upgrading their fleet by December 2022, at a press conference in September, the Belize Bus Association (BBA) also objected to Floralia being approved for runs in the North. The executive bus company, which started runs in the South in December 2021, responded by saying they were providing the service the public wants. Some bus operators did begin the upgrade of their fleet by the deadline. As regards the cost of fuel, GOB extended its original 6-month subsidy for bus operators to last through to the end of the year.

Separately, the BBA said it wanted in on the e-buses pilot project spearheaded by the Department of Transport and Belize City Council under the auspices of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The two authorities said local bus owners would be allowed to partner with them in the pilot. The Belize City Council undertook the upgrade of Holy Emmanuel Street in preparation for the e-buses.

After images emerged of Cayo West area representative Jorge ‘Milin’ Espat and PUP Senator Collet Montejo in Melchor meeting with registered voters there, Political and Constitutional Reform Minister, Hon. Henry Usher defended them, saying they were meeting with people who were already registered voters of Belize.

In the 3rd week of September, it was reported that Hon. Patrick Faber was denied his application to run again as Collet area representative for the UDP based on non-compliance with a decision of the National Party Council. Hon. Faber in December clarified that he never even submitted an application based on the understanding that incumbents need not re-apply. On November 12, Ian Jones was endorsed to run in his place. Notably, the list of 65 applicants did not feature Denise ‘Sista B’ Barrow. The hopefuls in Queen’s Square are Godwin Haylock and Shane Williams.

The Crooked Tree community was left reeling after the accident which claimed the lives of village chairman Brandon Gillett, John Dawson and Eustace Dawson, Jr. The men were in a pick-up on their way to Belmopan on September 27 when they collided head on with a Silva’s passenger bus coming in the opposite direction. The bus was overtaking a taxi cab that had suddenly slowed on the highway to drop off passengers.

At the end of September, the Supreme Court made a $10.89 million judgment against the Government in the case brought by four LPG/butane importers. This was in connection with losses following the butane monopoly, National Gas Company Ltd., created under the previous UDP administration with investors from both sides of the political divide.

Seventeen years after the publication of the UB Journal of Belizean Affairs, the institution started publishing the UB Journal of Belizean Research on September 30, 2022.

Another initiative brought back was the visiting justices program at the Belize Central Prison for prisoners to share their concerns with Justices of the Peace.

Belmopan area representative Hon. Oscar Mira on October 5 took the media to show them a fence built across what was supposed to be the Philip Goldson Boulevard, which had been de-reserved under the term of Mayor Khalid Belisle. When the PUP got into office, they learned that 28 lots were surveyed. Among the new landowners, said Mira, is a former UDP Minister. Compensation would be required to correct the situation.

In October, authorities including the Police, Immigration and Financial Intelligence Unit coordinated a raid at Caribbean International Brewery Company Limited (CIBCL) in Carmelita, Orange Walk. They confiscated $3.1 million in cash and detained almost a dozen workers for immigration offences. The company hired Senior Counsel Dean Barrow to get back the money that was placed in the custody of the FIU. The latter subsequently hired Senior Counsel Godfrey Smith, and he was successful in getting the Court to allow the continued custody of the money while further investigation was conducted.

A Labour Complaints Tribunal chaired by attorney Anthony Sylvester was established to provide an appeals process for complaints of unfair dismissal or wrongful termination. At the end of November, the Ministry of Labour also launched an Online Labour Complaints Management System.

Flooding from Hurricane Julia left $3 million in damages over the weekend of Sunday, October 9. According to the Prime Minister, 50 communities and approximately 20,000 people were affected.

There was sheer excitement all over when a Belize High School team, as part of an alliance, won the robotics competition First Global Challenge 2022 that started on October 13 in Geneva, Switzerland. More than 180 countries participated in the Olympic-style competition.

On October 19, the Government and The Nature Conservancy launched a 5-year Belize Marine Spatial Plan to determine the best uses of our marine space.

On October 24 inside the Senate, Leader of Government Business, Eamon Courtenay announced that the Government intended to take Honduras before the International Court of Justice to resolve that country’s claim to the Sapodilla Cayes in the South. Lead Opposition Senator Michael Peyrefitte called for a referendum on the matter and affirmed that a new claim would extend the timeline for a ruling on the Belize/Guatemala case. Other senators supported the motion in favour of all territorial claims being settled once and for all. Guatemala, for its part, on November 19, called the application deplorable and lamentable also due to the timing since it was to file its reply to Belize’s counter memorial on December 8.

The new Belize e-passport system was launched on October 24, and fees remained the same but that is expected to change.

In October, New Growth Industries Minister, Hon. Kareem Musa revealed that his Ministry was assessing the possibilities of having a canning business for ackee grown in Belize.

Toward the end of October, the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital Authority Workers Union held a press conference to once more sound the alarm about shortages in medical supplies and pharmaceuticals, among other concerns. They said their requests for meetings with Minister of Health Hon. Kevin Bernard were being ignored. They were finally able to meet in the 3rd week of November. The Minister also met separately with the Nurses Association of Belize and Belize Medical and Dental Association. An initial effort of all entities to come together under a Belize Coalition of Medical Professionals seemed not to have taken off. 

A strong category 1 Hurricane Lisa made landfall 10 miles south of Belize City at the mouth of the Sibun River at around 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 2, causing damages to Belize City not seen in decades. With maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, Lisa completely destroyed an estimated 140 homes, and 1,300 sustained varying levels of damage. Improper home construction was cited as a contributing factor. There was massive support for the Belize City Council in the required clean-up after the hurricane. Seventy-seven schools received varying damages estimated to total $3 million.

In an October 31 letter to the Embassy of Belize in India, the Indian Commissioner of Customs asked the High Commissioner to notify the family of 70-year-old Francis Gegg that he was detained at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi with almost BZ$17 million worth of suspected heroine weighing in at almost 22 pounds. The drugs were found in a false bottom in his luggage.

A Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) report pointed to the number of diabetes cases having tripled in the last 30 years in the Americas. The increase is attributed to growing rates of obesity, poor diets and lack of physical activity.

In a bombshell announcement, the US Department of State on November 15 declared former Belmopan UDP area representative John Saldivar an official involved in significant corruption. Specifically, the allegation was that “Saldivar accepted bribes for the improper acquisition of Belizean immigration documents and interfered in public processes for his personal benefit during his tenure as a government official,” and misused a U.S.-donated Coast Guard vessel for his personal gain.

Saldivar said there was no proof and would sue if he could. The UDP set up a special committee to decide if he should run for Belmopan standard bearer, and the decision was NO. However, this was overturned by the majority vote of the National Party Council. Party Leader Moses ‘Shyne’ Barrow initially remained impartial, but after the committee’s vote, he publicly affirmed that Saldivar was bad for the UDP and that he would do everything to convince the members of the NPC of this. Having failed in that endeavor, he then asked Belmopan residents to choose anyone but Saldivar as their standard bearer in the convention coming up in February. Former Mayor Khalid Belisle dropped out of the race, after which Barrow endorsed George Lovell.

A few months after the launch of the amnesty program to legalize the status of over 40,000 illegal migrants living in Belize, the Government reported a 3-month extension due to people not showing up to apply.

On November 17, OCEANA Belize announced the launch of another petition to trigger a referendum on offshore oil exploration, citing indications from the Prime Minister and Government officials that they would allow seismic testing. The PM refuted the claim, saying there was no agreement to that effect at this time, but affirmed we need to know if there is oil to leverage it. Despite the PM writing OCEANA headquarters about it, OCEANA Belize went ahead with its petition and called on Government to place the referendum requirement in the law so the people decide if the moratorium on offshore oil exploration should be lifted.

The Minister of Infrastructure Development reported that 220 starter homes were delivered by the end of 2022.

On November 26, attorney and activist Audrey Matura launched a grassroots movement called Moving Ahead Together (MAT) with the goal of creating positive change for a better Belize. She said she does not discount the movement becoming a political party in the future.

A Belize Defence Force soldier was shot to the buttocks on November 26 at around 3:30 p.m. near the Valentin Conservation Post along the Western Border. When word first got out, there was some question as to whether a Guatemalan could have fired the shot, but in subsequent interviews, the BDF suggested the soldier may have been shot by one of their own.

After a trip to Venezuela toward the end of November, the Prime Minister announced that President Nicolás Maduro had agreed to a significant haircut on Belize’s PetroCaribe debt, which, at last count, stood at $547.6 million.

At the end of November, it was announced that Justice Lisa Shoman is departing the Belize bench to take up a CARICOM post in January.

On December 2, the BTB lost yet another wrongful termination suit, this one against Misty Michael for $217,822.18.

After the inability to agree on the terms of a new commercial agreement, BSI/ASR and BSCFA agreed to go to mediation. That started on December 5 but also failed. With Government involvement, the parties then agreed for the existing agreement to roll over another year while negotiations continue. The crop season 2022-2023 started on December 27.

Decorated former U.S. gymnast Michelle Kwan arrived in Belize to assume her post as Ambassador to Belize in December.

At the beginning of December there was the sad news of the talented cyclist Marlon Castillo losing his right hand in a workplace accident. 

Former Dangriga politician, Hon. Sylvia Sarita Flores passed away on December 7. As a woman, Flores broke many barriers and held very prestigious positions.

In December, members of the media spoke out about how the merger of the two companies’ registries hinders accountability and transparency, as it shrouds the local companies’ registry in the secrecy that applied only to the International Business Companies Registry. The Government said it must balance freedom of information with data privacy. A solution suggested by a Government official was a law change to compel disclosure of beneficial owners for government contracts. The media requested a meeting to discuss the matter.

In mid-December, after the post remained vacant from April 2021, a majority in Parliament approved the appointment of Gilbert Swazo as Ombudsman. He last held the post of Ports Commissioner.

In 2022, the Briceño Administration rolled out a pilot for free education for students of 4 high schools in Belize City and in December, it was announced that the pilot would be extended to the South of the country.

On December 20, there was a joint operation of the BDF and Police to destroy 120,000 coca plants found near the Sarstoon River southwest of Graham Creek.

At a long-awaited meeting, the Prime Minister told representatives of the three public sector workers unions that their increments would not be restored and whenever that does occur, it will be contingent on pension reform. Based on that and responses on other matters, the PSU and BNTU called on their membership to prepare for a fight in 2023.

On the last day of the year, following months of peace, 23-year-old U.S. nursing student J’Bria Bowens was killed in San Pedro while celebrating her father’s birthday with her family. She was hit by a stray bullet as two gunmen with high-powered weapons targeted a man standing in front of a nightclub.

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