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 uncertainty hanging over the start of the 2013 sugar season continues tonight, and there is no clear resolution in sight, even with the intervention of the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister. As we've told you the cane farmers want to be paid for bagasse, but BSI says that it is a waste product with no value, so, the farmers are not entitled to payment for it.
With those hardlines laid down, the farmers are threatening to refuse to deliver cane so that the season can start in a week's time.
To try and stave off the disaster which this would create, Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega have been meeting with both sides to try to convince them to commence negotiations on the issue, but so far, they haven't met.
Today, trying to act as mediator, Prime Minister Barrow met with the representatives of ASR at the Radisson to explain their position on the matter. As, we've told you, Barrow supports the cane farmers on their claim, but disagrees with their negotiating method.
He presented the position of the farmers and his Government at this meeting, which lasted for about 1 hour and a half. Afterward, he came out and told the media that even though both sides realize that this disagreement has gone on long enough, they are still a ways off from a resolution:
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "We've put our position to ASR. They will now reflect on that, consult among themselves and give us an answer in the shortest possible time, without actually saying tomorrow or the day after. They said they will get back to us in the shortest possible time."
Mike Rudon, reporter Ch. 5 "Sir, is ASR still sticking to its positions that bagasse is not a bi-product of sugarcane?"
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "They will give us an answer on our position and you know what our position is. So, until they give us that answer, I can't say what the mindset is. They have listened to us, we had a frank discussion, but I don't even know if those that are here can make the decision on their own. I believe there are other principals with whom they must speak before they give a final answer."
Reporter "Have they given a timeline as to when?"
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "That's what I've said, as soon as possible, but they haven't said tomorrow. Both sides have agreed that it has to be sooner rather later. Times are wasting and we need for the crop to start. We need to begin to fix the road, so they are well aware of that. It is in their interest to give us that answer as quick as possible. We have no doubt that they will do that."
Daniel Ortiz "Everyone knows that it's best for everyone that it starts December 15th, latest."
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "I'm not sure about December 15th, if you talk to the experts, people like the Deputy and Minister Pat who is a cane farmer. They will tell you that it may be a vein hope. The experts will tell you about sucrose content and what the weather conditions have done. So, I don't think December 15th...."
Reporter "This is a high level meeting and you said that they didn't send people who seem to make a decision..."
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "ASR is a global company, the people that are here are extremely high level, but I don't think that they can make the decision without the input of perhaps the rest of their board. There are other principals. If there are 10 key people, they couldn't send the whole ten. So they need to consult with other principals that are just as high ranking as they are."
Reporter "After they've sent the position on the bagasse issue, will there be a meeting with you again with their representatives?"
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "It depends on what they say, there will certainly have to be another meeting between us and the farmers because I will have to convey the ASR position to the farmers in order, depending on what that position is in order for there to be any possibility on starting the crop. So I am afraid it is a bit of a complicated dance, there are several steps, but we just have to proceed, we just have to press on."
Reporter "Is this what you expected PM?"
Prime Minister Dean Barrow "We knew that their negotiators would have to refer back to the larger grouping, so we did not expect an answer today. There is no disappointment yet."
After the meeting, the ASR representatives were very reluctant to speak with us about the issue, but we did manage to get a brief comment from ASR's Vice President of Technical Services:
Daniel Ortiz "Can we ask you for an interview sir?"
Ricardo Lima, Vice President, ASR "We continue to try to find ways to bring the farmers back to the table. That basically what I wanted to say."
Reporter "Have you send another email to them, to the president of the association?"
Ricardo Lima, Vice President, ASR "Not yet."
So, that's how the situation looks, there are at least 2 more meetings which need to take place, and as we've told you, experts say that December 15, which is this coming Sunday, is the latest the crop season can start without major losses. We'll keep following the situation.
It's Christmas-time, which for many means contraband time, and that's why the Customs department enforcement unit launched its special operation on November 25th. And on Sunday evening, that meant responding to a report that two vehicles were moving out of Arenal in western Belize with contraband. Customs mobilized and intercepted one of the vehicles with 12 bottles of beer and 3 liters of soft drink. Two police officers were inside the vehicle, but a civilian, who was also in the car took responsibility for the items.
Customs had to work harder to catch the other vehicle. They actually had to set chase - and when they stopped the car, they found that an apparently inebriated police corporal was driving. During the chase he also grazed the customs pickup. And when they searched the vehicle, customs found out why he was running: the vehicle carried seven and a half cases of beer and 3 cases of soft drinks.
Still, the corporal got a break when a civilian in the vehicle took responsibility for the contraband items. Customs reached a settlement with the professed owners, and so the matter did not go to court. That is the standard approach, since customs sees it as a fiscal and not a criminal offence. That settlement usually involves a fine of three times the value and the goods are forfeited.
Customs would not comment on the case today because of the confidential nature of the out of court settlement, and the acting commissioner of police Miguel Segura seemed clueless:...
ACP Miguel Segura "I was briefed about an incident over the weekend. Hopefully, I need to confirm it with customs and the media needs to confirm it with customs I will advise. In this case the police will normally get a report from the agency itself and if there is a violation of the police act, the disciplinary code, we will proceed also with that, there is no two ways about it. The zero tolerance that commissioner has in terms of the violation of the police act. We are being guided and supported in this operation by the customs, so they will also have to assist us in the proceedings if we are to proceed disciplinary."
Mike Rudon, Reporter Ch. 5 "Sir, could you tell us what this briefing has revealed? You've said basically nothing about what happened. What have you been briefed about?"
ACP Miguel Segura "I was briefed that in respect a customs operations, three officers were intercepted with a substantial amount of contraband, but I may suggest that the media get the exact amount from customs who were on the operation themselves."
Mike Rudon, Reporter Ch. 5 "Sir, even if the matter is say settled out of court, these officers will still face disciplinary action?"
ACP Miguel Segura "It's a prejudice to go undisciplined with is a violation under the Police Act."
ACP Segura told us that based on the information given to them by the Customs Department, the officers may be facing disciplinary charges.
A man was remanded to prison today after he stabbed his uncle, and left him in a critical condition. Just after midnight on Saturday, at 12:20 am, 44 year old Thomas Ferguson got into a physical fight with his nephew, Oliver Peters at a residence on Arlington drive in Belize City. Police say Peters took out the knife and stabbed his uncle in the center of the chest.
Ferguson was admitted to the hospital in a critical condition, while his nephew was arrested. The 37 year old Peters appeared in court today where was arraigned on charges of attempted murder, dangerous harm and use of deadly means of harm this morning.
Peters wasn't required to take a plea, since the charges are indictable and will be heard in the Supreme Court. He was remanded to prison and is due back in court on January 21, 2014.
We often report on joint operations between the different law enforcement agencies, but for the most part, they tend to operate independently of each other.
Well, after 2 years of consultation between the Government of Belize, Canada and the United States, all the major law enforcement organizations are pooling their resources, their expertise, and their man-power into one joint task force. It's called the Joint Operation Center, which is housed on the BDF's Price Barracks, and 7News was at the launch. Daniel Ortiz reports:
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Today, the Ministry of National Security, US Government and the Canadian Government celebrated the opening of the Joint Operating Center. It is a 3 million dollar facility which will fuse all forms of law enforcement, an improved form of interdepartmental cooperation.
Margaret Hawethorne - Charge' D' Affairs, US Embassy "The Joint Operation Center (JOC) represents the culmination of years of teamwork and collaboration between the Belize Defence Force, the US Southern Command and Governments of the Unites States, Belize and Canada. The Primary purpose of the JOC is the exercise of the operation, command and control. The JOC will enable operators to plan and execute maritime interception. The JOC will also help the Belize Defence Forces to determine and prioritize operational priority intelligence requirements, collect and share operational information, interpret operational information and integrate all other tasks performed by the agencies of the Ministry of National Security."
H.E. Stuart Savage - Canadian High Commissioner To Belize "We are very pleased that Canada has been able to participate in the establishment of a joint operation center that will bring together a lot of the resources that already exists here in Belize so that they can better work and respond in the face of these very real and important forces that challenge the wellbeing of Belize and its citizens. This joint center will provide one stop shopping central location for interagency coordination between law enforcement officials, the Coast Guard and of course the Belize Defence Forces and perhaps others over time as experience and knowledge grow here."
"This will enable Belize to better face these natural and unnatural forces that challenge its wellbeing over time."
Lt. Col. (Ret'd) George Lovell - CEO, Ministry of National Security "I believe, ladies and gentlemen, that no one country can single handedly defeat the threat of transnational organize crime that is now prevalent in our region especially these lesser developed countries such as Belize."
"Belize with its very small security and law enforcement forces and lack of resources necessary to effectively deter, detect and defeat these threats - the only option to address this matter is from a collective and collaborative approach with our partners."
The law enforcement agencies of Belize are therefore partnering to centralize intelligence gathering, resource management, and better reaction to crimes within the country's borders.
Brigadier General David Jones - Commander, BDF "It will be intelligence operation. There will be a fusion center which for the most part has been established already. There needs to be more enhancement, however, that fusion center will send information direct to this facility; Joint Operation Center. The Joint Operation Center, its director will decide how the operation will be conducted based on the intelligence information received. They in turn will execute the mission by sending the information to the joint Enforcement Team. This will be a team comprise of members of the Belize Defence Force, the Belize Coast Guard, Immigration or Customs Department. Depending on what the operations are will be dependent on what law enforcement agency or military organization will be going towards the target on that operation. If customs is necessary, customs officers will be on the operation. If immigration is necessary, they will be in the operation."
All matters dealt with by the Joint Operation Center are issues of national security, and will be treated as such on a need-to-know basis, meaning personnel only in the JOC. Not even the commanders of the different law enforcement Agencies will have any influence on the direction of these missions.
Brigadier General David Jones - Commander, BDF "Most of the operations will be done in secret, so when that information comes into the JOC and the director sends out that information to the Joint Enforcement Team, no other organization or elements outside of this building will know what is exactly happening. It will be done in secret. Until after the operation is done then the public may know what actually occurred. Because the guys that will be working in the Joint Enforcement Team are going to be vetted and they are going to get different vetting information from them; they are going to be polygraph tested, so that they don't divulge information. People deploying from here won't be having cell phones with them because we don't want information send out to anyone when operations are deployed from here. Even I as Commander of the BDF may not know when an operation is going to be sent here. The director has that full jurisdiction of sending out high intensity type operation from this facility."
So, what is the input from the other major law enforcement agencies?
Admiral John Borland - Commandant, Belize Coast Guard "The Coast Guard is going to have 8 people permanently attached or embedded in the JOC here at Price Barracks. Their duties range from battle captains to duty officers to clerks to signalers and operations analysis and then there is going to be one Coast Guard officer assigned as the Coast Guard liaison officer for maritime affairs or maritime operations. It's going to be a two year stint for the 8 of them and besides that we will also have a team of navy seals that form a part of the Joint Enforcement Team."
ACP Miguel Segura - Acting Commissioner of Police "It's basically a collective approach to deal with those types of crimes that we are seen that is threatening us along our border; those transnational organized crimes. From the police aspect, many of the times we get focused on internal issues, but also this JOC will tend to support us to look at those external ones that are actually affecting us that have the spin off effects like violence, firearms and drugs that stays in our country."
Brigadier General David Jones - Commander, BDF "We will have to integrate the members from the Customs and Immigration onto how a military operation is run."
And the man at the helm of this facility and its operations, which are almost completely autonomous, is Major Charlton Roches. He will be in charge all information coming in, and all operations initiated in response.
Major Charlton Roches - Director, Joint Operation Center "This facility here is basically separate from the Belize Defence Force, the Police Department, Coast Guard, Customs and Immigration. We will have them here with their capabilities and their expertise to plan and also conduct operations. There are understanding between the heads of department and there are policies that would need to be drafted up, if not yet draft, by the National Security Council for that to be functional. That is something that is yet to come. With those policies - that will give me the authority as the director of the JOC to execute whatever that is required as it relates to organized crimes."
Major Roches says that he is up to the challenge.
Major Charlton Roches - Director, Joint Operation Center "I've been the operations officer for the Belize Defence Force for the past 3 years and I have been working with these other agencies over that time period and we've faced a number of challenges as it relates to reaction time, resources. Because as you all know we are already tight with cash as the security forces. By having those individuals link from the respective departments and to some extent some of the resources too as well, we should be able to reduce those challenges that we had prior."
It is expected that the JOC will be fully operational sometime in January 2014. Former Commander of the BDF, retiring Brigadier General Dario Tapia is credited with laying the ground work for the realization of the J-O-C.
Last week, we showed you the latest on the alleged murder of Tyson Rodriguez, an apparent victim of deadly police brutality. The DPP found that based on an eyewitness account, there was enough to charge Sergeant Julio Shal for murder. That effectively refuted that statement he gave that Rodriguez escaped and then turned up dead. But all 3 officers who were present at the time gave their bosses the very same version of events, basically that he drowned after jumping out of the moving police vehicle.
So now, it would seem that the other officers who corroborated Shal's account were lying. Today, we asked the Acting Commissioner of Police, Miguel Segura, if the officers are facing any disciplinary charges. Here's what he told us:
ACP Miguel Segura "The criminal aspect we are working with the D.P.P., and the D.P.P. will guide us to continue the proceeding. Infernally, similarly after looking at the criminal we will deal with our internal aspect. But first and foremost the closure that the family feels, and the evidence that means the threshold in the court of law, the D.P.P. is there to assist us. Internally we are investigating that case and we will proceed based on the findings."
Daniel Ortiz "I am speaking specifically to the fact that the officers - it would seem from an outsider that they have tried to protect Sergeant Shal by providing evidence which is in line with what he has said, given that fact, are you guys looking at what they have told you for disciplinary purposes as well against these officers if that evidence is shown to be accurate?"
ACP Miguel Segura "Once we have that evidence, the difference between our disciplinary codes, internal issues and the criminal. In the criminal aspect you have to prove beyond reasonable doubt. Internally, the threshold of that is more minimal that once we could have that evidence and prove it that our police act was violated we will proceed. But we are guided by what is available."
As we've told you, the elderly Canadian woman who was assaulted identified Rodriguez as one of the three men who invaded their home and assaulted her. She is currently away receiving medical treatment for those injuries.
The murder count for 2013 in Belize City is down by a remarkable 50%, but while things have cooled down considerably, that doesn't mean that there's peace on every block. Violent shootings still occur, and tonight two men are lucky to be alive after they were shot up on Friday night.
20 year old Rakeem Vernon was grazed in his right temple, while 20 year old Eric Wills was shot multiple times to his lower body. It happened at 8:50 when Vernon and Wills were in a back yard at the corner of North Creek Road and Central American Boulevard in the Collett area when several shots were fired at them. Both were admitted in stable condition.
And on Friday morning in the area of LA Croix Boulevard in Lake Independence, a gunshot reached into the home of 58 year old Beverly Smith. Gunshots had been sounding in the area for days between rival sets, and on Friday at 6:55 Smith was at home when one of the shots pierced the ceiling and the roof of her house. Police say two men were firing at each other outside the house.
The name Nelson Young, former BTL employee may not be instantly recognizable to even those who keep an avid interest in the news. But when the history of the unrest of 2005 is told, his name will be central to the story. That's because Young was one of three workers terminated from the then Ashcroft controlled BTL in January of 2005. As a union activist, his termination was seen as union busting, and that event was the catalyst that spurred a revolt against the Michael Ashcroft affiliated management and led eventually a countrywide shutdown targeting the Musa administration that was seen as cozy and complicit with Ashcroft.
So when BTL was nationalized in 2009, the Prime Minister - in his official explanation of the move - went out of his way to express his hope that now the tribunal to hear Young's labour grievance will finally be convened.
Well, 2013 is finishing and it hasn't happened. So today the NTUCB sent out a release saying that the eight year wait is, quote, "not only…unacceptable, but downright, ridiculously intolerable." The NTUCB says that it has been trying to communicate this urgency to all relevant parties, but nothing has happened.
And so in today's statement, the NTUCB says it, quote, "demands a finalization." The statement ends by saying justice must be served now.
Today was celebrated United Nation's International Anti-Corruption Day, which is set aside to recognize the UN Convention against Corruption, which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2003. Well, Belize as one of the member states, has yet to sign on to the convention, and independent political party, Vision Inspired By the People, sees this as a clear sign from both the PUP and the UDP that they don't intend to stamp out corruption in their government.
They held a press conference today in Belize City, and the Chairman of the VIP told the gathering that the citizens should enjoy a corruption-free government and public service:
Hubert Enriquez, Chairman, VIP "We, the VIP believe that those governance and the freedom from corruption is a sacred right for which all Belizeans by virtue of the constitution are entitled. The United Nations Anti-Corruption Convention offers some hope that the oversight practice by that organization will motivate the government to take seriously this matter of corruption. We are aware of the national sovereignty implications of this preposition and of the less than favorable view of this organization by some of our people. But we, none the less believe that the long term developmental interest of Belize would be served with the application of this convention."
Bobby Lopez, Public Relations Officer, VIP ""On this International Anti-Corruption day, I urge governments, the private sector and civil society to take a collective stand against this complex social, political and economic disease that affects all countries to achieve an equitable inclusive and more prosperous future for all. We must foster a culture of integrity, transparency, accountability and good governance." That is the message from the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon on this Anti-Corruption Day December 9th, 2013."
The VIP has started a petition to raise awareness and get persons to sign on, and bring a consensus to Government that they should support it. Belize City was the last stop of a country wide tour.
On Saturday night from Belmopan, Channel 7 viewers got to see live coverage of the Premier League Football Belikin Cup when Verdes went to Belmopan to take on their district rival, the Bandits. It was a major test for the star-studded but struggling Bandits, which had its first outing under new coach and former national team coach Leroy Sherrier Lewis.
Still, Verdes struck first with a goal in the tenth minute by Rodney Pacheco but Deon McAuley was quick to strike back in the 29th minute. He spoke to commentator Marvin Ottley:...
In the end the Bandits defended their home turf and won two to one, pulling them back into a tie for first place with the Paradise Freedom Fighters.
In other games played this weekend, on Sunday, San Ignacio United FC, beat Police United FC 2 to 1.
And Paradise Freedom Fighters played to a 2 - 2 draw with the BDF team.
The largest showcase ever of Mayan artifacts found in Belize is going on right now. But it's not happening at the museum of Belize - that's space is too small. It's happening at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul Minnesota. The ambitious exhibit is called Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, and at a cost of over four million US dollars and sprawling over 17 thousand square feet, the show is a stunner. So much so that Jules Vasquez and camera man Codie Norales left sunny Belize on Friday to go to snowy, subzero St. Paul, Minnesota to see the show themselves. They just came back a few hours ago - but tonight we have a brief preview of what the show and the story is about:...
Paul Martin, Vice President, Exhibits "This exhibition is the largest and most comprehensive exhibition ever done on the Mayan and the reason that its different from many other exhibitions that we've seen - our partnership with the National Institute of Culture and History was really key in making this whole exhibition successful because it really looks at research that's happening right now and the new knowledge that's being created on the ground in Belize in those really rich archeological sites."
Dr. Ed Fleming, Curator of Archaeology "There have been many exhibits about the Maya done over the years but Belize is rarely mentioned very prominently. There's often many objects from Guatemala and from Mexico but Belize tend to be downplayed and it really shouldn't be, we saw this exhibit as an opportunity to really showcase the wonderful treasures and the archeology of Belize."
Two hundred of the 300 artifacts in the show are from Belize. We'll have the full story later this week.