SUPERBOND DEFAULT. In February this year, Belize paid about US$16.8M as an interest only payment for a $550M bond issued in 2007 on the international market. Amazingly large amount given a country of only 330,000 people. A bond that size gave it visibility in JP Morgan's EMBI Global Index so there are many international investors anxiously waiting to see if the August payment of US$23.45M (now at a stepped up 8.5% interest rate) will be paid. Although it's in the budget, there has been a lot of talk about restructuring the debt but no solution yet. A recent document issued by the Central Bank of Belize shows Belize's external debt is unsustainable: "Overall obligations look certain to exceed the country's capacity to pay, even when conservative assumptions are used." In February Moody's cut Belize's foreign currency credit rating to Caa1 or seven steps below investment grade. Well into "junk" territory.
NEW BUDGET CONSTRAINTS BLAMED ON FALLING OIL REVENUES. Not only will the country have a US$61M shortfall for external debt but it looks like "peak oil" in Belize started in 2008. Oil revenues allowed Belize to report a modest 3.6% growth in GDP in 2008. But oil production began to decline late in 2008, when Belize reported zero growth (with GDP at US$1.349), and public debt at US$1.147 billion. (yes, B...billions). At the latest 2012/2013 budget meeting, Prime Minister Barrow said: “There is no doubt that this will be a difficult budget. Reason number one is what is happening with global oil prices. The significant drop is good news for consumers at the pump but our country’s export earnings are being hammered and government will experience a $30million falloff in tax revenue as a result of these far lower oil prices and also because of declining BNE’s (Belize Natural Energy) production.”
BUT SOME PEOPLE HAVE MONEY. The Qatar Sovereign Fund will create a Four Seasons Resort on Caye Chapel, the island next to Caye Caulker. This was a private, exclusive development with the only 18-hole golf course in the country that went bust. It will now be a resort, but just as exclusive, for the rich and famous none of which live in Belize of course.
TWO DOUBLE MURDERS IN COROZAL. Yes, once sleepy Corozal is now facing its own increase in crime that used to be exclusive to Belize City. A local hotel owner and her daughter were victims of an apparent assassination, both shot at close range by unknowns. About a week later, two men were shot and killed by a bike-riding gunman in what is considered a drug-related action. Add to that a teen killed earlier in the year in gang-related violence and people are starting to get concerned. Neighborhood Watch groups are popping up and I set up a website Belize Neighborhood Watch Coalition to provide these groups and interested individuals with resource material to help them be safer.
SEX OFFENDER ARRESTED. A case that has captured attention throughout the country involves a repeat sex-offender, Bert Vasquez. Recently arrested for the abduction and murder of a 13-year old, "he first appeared in the news in 2008 as a 24 year old for pulling a gun in a road rage incident. Then in 2011, he was charged for a pair of crimes eerily reminiscent of the allegations presently being made against him. First, he was accused of holding up a 24 year old woman at knife point and sexually assaulting her. The woman reported to the police that Vasquez offered her a ride, but instead of taking her home she alleges that Vasquez drove her on the Northern Highway near to Ladyville, put a knife to her throat, and fondled her. And then just a few months later, he was charged for holding a 16 year old female at gunpoint. The girl alleged that she was at the Pound Yard bridge when Vasquez pulled up, put a pistol to her side and forced her into a tinted car. She jumped out of the car at Vista Del Mar. He was committed to stand trial for that forcible abduction earlier this year. And now, he stands charged for murder - and there are 11 more complaints pending tonight - from girls in the Cayo district who he allegedly tried to pick up." There is a reported family relationship with a top police official. The Cayo District population and indeed the entire country is up in arms for the poor policing and incompetent judicial system. Meanwhile, several other young women have been abducted with only one being found, unfortunately deceased.
2012 BELIZE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. And the winner of the Best Belizean Film went to - MRS. ROBINSON Directed by THOMAS HINES- a Belizean living in the UK. Oh boy did that stir up a hornet's nest. Matthew Klinck, a local Belizean Film Director, said in a statement to the press: "Not a single Belizean appears in that movie was not shot in Belize, it has nothing to do with Belize, it doesn't have any Belizean texture to it. I don't know what you guys were thinking but it horrible." One of the judges replied to the contrary stating is was very Belizean. "The film maker is Belizean, his father is a black, mixed race man, his mother is an English woman who came here to live many years ago - his grandmother. They are - a Belizean story - the story is who - married an English person and she came back here and they raised a family here. That is a Belizean story and those are Belizean characters, they are not the only ones, Belize has huge diversity and I look forward in the coming years to see all those stories." "That particular story whether you like it or not is a uniquely and authentically Belizean tale. So that's not true ok and whatever you think about it - the language that was used, the characters were all authentic out of this country."
KILLERS WALKING FREE. I don't have an exact count but I believe in the last few months there have been almost twenty accused killers from crimes dating back to 2009 that have been released free men because witnesses failed to testify or recanted their signed/sworn statements. The most recent case and one quite typical of the bunch : "An alleged murderer walked free today - and again it's because of witnesses too scared to testify. 24-year-old Neil Grey, the man who was accused of the April 2009 murder of 21-year-old Aaron Brooks, was acquitted today in the courtroom of Herbert Lord. The prosecution's main witnesses refused to testify against Grey, claiming that they feared for their lives. According to police, on April 3, 2009, at about 7:00 p.m., Aaron Brooks, was hanging out with friends at the home of his brother, Mark Brooks, on Neal's Pen Road. That's when Grey arrived and allegedly fired several shots which hit Brooks in several areas of his body. He died while being transported to the KHMH. The prosecution, Crown Counsel Thalia Meagan Francis, called her 2 main witnesses to testify against Grey, but both of them took the stand and refused to give any incriminating evidence against Grey, claiming that they were fearful for their lives. They refused to testify despite the fact that they gave police statements after the shooting. When both witness stepped down, Crown Counsel Francis closed her case saying that she couldn't provide any further evidence. Grey's attorney, Hubert Elrington, then made a no-case submission, which Justice Lord was forced to uphold. He directed the jury to acquit Grey of both murder and manslaughter, setting him free."
FIRST OPEN HEART SURGERY IN BELIZE. The first open heart surgery in Belize's medical history was performed this week at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital. "It is a great leap forward - and one that was only made possible with the collaboration of a team of medical partners from the United States." Well, it was done in Belize...
DECRIMINALIZE MARIJUANA. Last but not least the Government of Belize is floating the idea of decriminalizing pot because the courts are full of small time dopers and the prison is full. The Prime Minister accused the leader of the opposition party of smoking his own ganja. But he changed his tune eventually and put the former head of police in charge of a commission to study the issue. Now open for comments to the pubic, the proposal decriminalizes small quantities (10 grams, less than half an ounce) which will then be subject to fines, mandatory drug education but no imprisonment.
Belize it, or not.