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
There was a fatal accident on the Yo Creek Road in the Orange Walk District about an hour ago. The driver of a Jeep Cherokee lost control and flipped several times. The impact flattened the top of the SUV and killed the driver on the spot. 7News has confirmed that the victim is Miguel Solis from August Pine Ridge. He was reportedly traveling from Orange Walk to his home in August Pine Ridge.
We'll have more on this tomorrow.
The Yo Creek Road was paved fairly recently - and there was a triple traffic fatality on this same road in December of 2016.
And there is another traffic accident to report tonight, but this one happened in Belize City this evening. According to reports, an SUV was driving down Mahogany Street when the driver rear - ended a motorcycle that was in front of it. The impact launched the motorcycle and its driver into a pedestrian who was crossing the street. Both the cycle driver and the pedestrian crashed to the ground and received head injuries. The severity of their injuries are unknown, but a bystander told us that they seemed serious, and they were both rushed to hospital.
Belize's sugar cane industry is one of the bedrocks of the Belizean economy, but, experts agree, it won't remain competitive much longer if farmers don't modernize. Presently, the old way of cane cutting with a machete is still the way cane is harvested, but now, ASR-BSI is trying to prod farmers towards mechanization. Daniel Ortiz found out more when he went North TO SAN ESTEVAN, Orange Walk today:...
Daniel Ortiz reporting
Mechanized Harvesting, it's a concept that's been floating around in the Sugar belt for a few years now, but for this crop season, BSI/ASR has actually been putting it into practice. There was initial resistance from the thousands of cane farmers who are used to hiring laborers to harvest their cane manually. But, they're slowly warming up to the idea, and for these last few months, 37 of them signed up to be part of a pilot project run by the millers to test out mechanical harvesting for themselves.
And what they have found is that BSI wasn't offering empty promises. This way of harvesting is more efficient and more cost effective.
Each these mechanized harvesters are able to cut 38 tons of cane per hour. Every time you see one of these high dumping wagons fill up, that's about 6 to 7 tons of cane being offloaded to a truck, which can be taken to the mill for grinding.
For this pilot project, BSI will oversee the harvesting of 28,681 tonnes of cane from these 37 growers.
Enrique Rivas - Field Agronomist, ASR/BSI "This year we have already gotten 37 farmers that have signed with us, contracts with this mechanical harvesting pilot project. We have approximately 1,300 acres into the project. More or less, it is 35,000 tons that is being amalgamated. The benefit is to reduce cost. The industry as a whole is looking forward to reducing cost. What we want to do is maximize our profits."
And to qualify, each of these 37 farmers had to submit their cane fields to rigorous testing. The 250 fields that will be mechanically harvested were carefully selected for quality. They had to have the right level of flatness, free of debris like rocks and stumps that could damage the harvester's blades, and each row of cane had to be carefully measured out so that the harvester can properly pass over them and catch every stalk of mature cane.
Enrique Rivas - Field Agronomist, ASR/BSI "We go about doing site visits. We have to visit all the cane fields that they are talking about, ensuring that the fields are at least harvester friendly."
But each and every one of the farms will be rewarded for their diligence. They will cut the cost of their harvest by $6.38 per ton of cane. That might not sound like much but, this project will see allow all 37 farmers to reap a total savings of 205,000 dollars.
That by itself justifies mechanized harvesting, but it has additional benefits. For one, harvested cane goes to the mill with less debris. Muddy cane has caused grinding to fall behind schedule due to the problems it brings. Mechanized harvesting cuts that down, and it also reduces the amount of cane lost during the harvesting phase.
So, that's a win all around.
Enrique Rivas - Field Agronomist, ASR/BSI "Farmers will start realizing little by little that it is for the benefit of their families that we need to move into mechanical harvesting."
But, the harvesters burn a lot of fuel, and so, the project coordinators must make sure that they can efficiently use the machines so that the cost effectiveness endures.
Enrique Rivas - Field Agronomist, ASR/BSI "What we have for fuel consumption is 1.2 liters per ton. We want to spend less or equal to 1.2. So if we can do less than 1.2, it is more efficient. That means you're spending less fuel for cutting that same ton of cane."
One cane farmer told us that he had to take a long look at the viability of his way of life, and that's why he tried out mechanized harvesting.
Cane Farmer "Last year's price on the sugar definitely was not conducive for me as a cane farmer. If I continued paying the amount of price I was paying just for harvesting and delivery - the mechanical harvesting cuts my costs almost 20%. So if you are presently committed to any financial institution and the price of sugar comes at 50-52 dollars per ton, automatically you are out of business in 2-3 years. So things like that make farmers make drastic changes. Of course I was concerned, I was wondering in my cane fields are ready. If we do not make changes right now under the circumstances, a lot of us will be out of business, a lot."
So, with this crop cycle, less than 5% have tried it out for themselves. BSI is hoping that it will soon become the industry standard, but they accept that they can't get to a state of fully mechanized harvesting
Enrique Rivas - Field Agronomist, ASR/BSI "It is not very likely 100%. Why? Because there are certain fields that are very rocky, so there is no way that you would be able to harvest cane with a harvester on those fields. Our way is paving at least 70-80% of the cane and if we can attained 90%, then it would be just much finer."
Ernesto Pop - Farmer Relations, Field Officer, ASR/BSI "It's something new and we have to walk farmers through the project. We give them the benefits of it."
But, it's a move that the experts believe will help to keep Belize's industry viable.
William Neal - Communications & Government Affairs Officer, ASR/BSI "This pilot project is indicative of the type of changes that the industry must make, in terms of trying to remain viable and competitive. We are a small country and the world market prices are set by larger countries like Brazil. If you want to compete, you have to see whether its $6 here or there. You have to see exactly where you can save a penny and it means in some cases that you have to move away from the way you always done it and having a romanticize kind of notion that this is the best that we can do to actually compete with everybody. Post Brexit and as the EU regime changes, we as an industry we have to come together and see what are the best ways that we can pool all our resources to make sure that we remain competitive, not only for this region, but globally as well."
This is one of the many techniques that those in the industry are exploring to make sure that Belize's sugar industry survives sweeping changes coming in only a few months from now.
In 6 months, the European Union will lift all the restrictions that they had on European Beet Sugar. Belize and the other ACP countries will have to compete directly with beet farmers who are able to produce high quality sugar very efficiently, far more so than Belizean cane farmers.
But the local industry knew that this was coming, and they weren't sitting on their hands. They've been working on several techniques to improve their production, while cutting costs. This is all in an effort to hopefully prevent European market from swallowing the local market.
Today, members of the EU met with farmers under the accompanying measures for sugar, and we met one of those officials at another event this afternoon. We had a conversation with him about the impact that the regime change could have on Belize's sugar. Here's what he told us:
Gavin Tench, Political Counsellor - E.U. BZ Delegation "We've all known this day would come so we have spent the last 10 years preparing for it. From what I've seen today and what I've heard today from cane farmers themselves from all those involved in the project overall, Belize's is adjusting to the big change coming up and there are a lot of positives going forward. So from where I stand we're quite pleased with what we've delivered together in partnership over the 10 years. I have every confidence that the industry in Belize will go from strength to strength."
Daniel Ortiz, 7News "Is there any concerns that there will be transitional tremors for the industry when we move directly from that preferential market status?"
Gavin Tench, Political Counsellor - E.U. BZ Delegation "We're in the realms of speculation here and of course one of the key driven factors is well market prices and unfortunately none of us has a crystal ball. I think there is the healthy approach for hope for the best, plan for all sorts of contingencies. As I say, the industry has got a solid foundation and has been preparing carefully for the day ahead."
Reporter "Will the assistance continue on behalf of the EU?"
Gavin Tench, Political Counsellor - E.U. BZ Delegation "Assistance directly on the sugar program will cease at that point but our overall level of assistance to Belize, our partnership with the Belize government continues and goes from strength to strength. Delighted to say that Belize was the only country in the Caribbean in the last negotiations for development funds to actually receive an increase. We are working very closely with the national authorizing office here. We'll see a lot of work going forward in the areas of energy, health, public financing management. So nobody should be under the allusion that this is the end. We may be changing our focus but our partnership is enduring."
Later on in the news, we'll tell you about 3 new schools that the a million dollars of EU funding built in the north.
Belize and Guatemala's military commanders are shoulder to shoulder at a regional military conference. The event is the Central American Security Conference held in Cozumel, Mexico and co hosted by the United States and Mexico. It brings together chiefs of defense and ministers of defense from Central America, along with observers from Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Great Britain.
Belize is represented by BDF and Coast Guard Commanders, General David Jones and Admiral John Borland along with Defense Minister John Saldivar.
Now, Central America is one of the most crime ridden areas on earth - so discussions of regional security dominate the agenda. They discussed regional and transnational threats, and regional efforts to cooperate in security matters. But, in the margins of the meeting, the US, Belize and Guatemala held a tri-partite meeting between General Jones, his Guatemalan counterpart, Chief of Defence Staff General Carlos Eduardo Perez and Commander SOUTHCOM Navy Admiral Curt Tidd. According to a press release, quote, "they discussed the ongoing cooperation between Belizean and Guatemalan armed Forces along our shared borders."
We should note that joint patrols between Belizean and Guatemalan armed forces have been going on from at least since 2011.
A 16 year old old has been arrested along with three other males for killing 22 year old Trio resident, Santiago Garcia Jr. On Saturday morning, a group of machete welding men jumped Ba in the village. When it was finished, Garcia was dead and two others - including one of the attackers - was hospitalized with severe chop wounds.
Southern police have moved quickly to jointly charge a 16-year-old male, along with 23-year-old Sabanito CAL, both of Trio Village, along with 20-year-old Arnoldo Xol, a laborer of San Marcos Village, Toledo for Murder. The minor was charged in the presence of his father.
One more man will also be charged, but right now he is in the Southern Regional Hospital. He is 24-year-old Leonardo BA, also of Trio who is at the Southern Regional Hospital recovering under Police guard.
Belmopan police saved a woman from an armed and angry horse-man. On Saturday afternoon around 3:20, a woman was walking in Roaring Creek when Alwin Cruz also known as Boots charged after her on his horse with a knife. Police were called out quickly and caught up with Cruz on his horse. The woman ran off but so did Cruz after the cops tried to arrest him. They said he charged at them on the horse, and that's when they shot the horse in its left leg. After that, Cruz ran and left the horse behind. That's why tonight he is a wanted man; Police plan to charge him for aggravated assault. They say they don't know why Cruz was trying to stab the woman in the first place.
Today 23 year-old- Jamaal Warrior was sent to jail for the relatively minor offense of obstructing police.
According to reports, Warrior made an appearance in court last Thursday where he was charged with four counts of unlawful sexual intercourse with a 15 year old girl. Warrior was remanded into custody and taken to the Magistrate's Court cell block. While he was in custody, Warrior's younger brother allegedly dropped off a container of food. The food was then inspected by WPC Shanice Bevans, who noticed a plastic bag containing a green leafy substance protruding from a piece of chicken. Well, it wasn't cilantro; it was weed. Bevans showed it to Warrior's brother, who she then detained pending charges. Bevans was on her way to show the weed to her commanding officer when, Warrior, who was being taken to the bathroom rushed towards the desk where the food was. He got into a struggle with two other officers, but managed to force his way through and snatched up the transparent bag, placed it in his mouth and swallowed.
Warrior's brother was released from custody the next day because Warrior swallowed the evidence needed to prove that he was attempting to smuggle drugs. When he appeared in court today, Warrior wasted no time in pleading guilty, telling the Magistrate that the food was not even for him. He had no explanation for eating the suspected weed and was sentenced to 2 months in prison starting today.
Today UNIBAM completed the final day of its conference on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Representatives from the Heartland Alliance in Washington DC presented on the importance of community involvement in ensuring that the government enforces the human rights of all citizens - including the LGBT demographic. Two of the Heartland Alliance's directors, Fanny Gomez-Lugo and Stefano Fabeni told us about the role that both the government and the people play in ensuring that everyone's rights are protected.
Fanny Gomez-Lugo, Senior Director "So basically we're invited by UNIBAM to take part in the workshop regarding human rights and sexual orientation identity. So the first day was sort of like a domestic review of human rights and then the second day, today, I took part in a presentation regarding the inter-american commission of human rights, the LGBT that was created there to sort of overview the protection of human rights is the sexual orientation identity. What are some of the means of engagement for some of the society's organizations with a commission and the rapportership either through public hearings where the state is also sitting and to discuss human rights in that regard or through the petition case which could actually end in a case before the court. Also I spoke briefly about the two conventions that have been adopted by the OAS General Assembly; one on discrimination and all forms of intolerance and another one on the rights of older people and how they are the first treaties in the world to include sexual orientation gender identity as a prohibited form of discrimination."
Stefano Fabeni, Executive Director "One of the reasons why we are here being that Caleb Orosco and UNIBAM have been key in the 10 years of advocacy work that we've been doing within the Organization of American States. Part of the workshop was sort of to look at what has been the work over the past 10 years. This speaks to the importance of civil society to be in those places. We've been talking about the fact that English speaking Caribbean's states, Belize being one of them, they are not as present when it comes to the Organization of American States and most of the states have not signed and ratified the conventions, the inter-american instruments of protection of human rights. Therefore, in order to be visible, to hold the states accountable, it's important that civil society is present there. Back at home it reminds and challenges governments to ensure that they are a part of that process. That's really the most important thing. The question of advocacy that is to start at home, it continues in regional spaces with the general assembly of Organization of the American States whether it's at the inter-american commission of human rights, but the question is to ensure that the civil society is the watchdog of states when it comes to promotion, protection and implementation of human rights."
Fabeni and Lugo also told us that there are already international standards for including and representing members of the LGBTQ community human rights legislature.
This afternoon in the north, the Government of Belize and the European Union inaugurated 3 pre-schools, 1 in the Orange Walk District and 2 in the Corozal District.
These 3 schools, the Trial Farm Government Pre-School, San Jose Pre-School, and the San Pedro Pre-School will allow for more than 150 children to get access to early childhood education.
The 3 new schools cost a total of 1.14 million dollars, and they were officially opened for business today. The VIP's traveled to the shiny new pre-school in Trial Farm, and 7News was there to speak with them about the generous donation:
Gavin Tench, Political Counsellor - E.U. BZ Delegation "The story starts maybe over 10 years ago with the European Union deciding to help support the Belize sugar industry and part of that program is looking at a holistic approach to that support. It's not just about cane farmers, not just about road, it also includes schools and that's why we're here today to open this fantastic new school. It's also about helping the whole industry adjust to the future when price structures change and we realize that the sugar industry is a community within itself and that the families are just as affected as those who work in the fields or drive the tractors or work in the factories."
Dr, Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer "Its 3 preschools, one in San Pedro, Corozal, San Jose and one here in Trial Farm in the Orange Walk district. It's over a million dollars (1,140,000 BZD) and it's a grant from the European Union so that's a good thing that we don't have to worry about paying it back. We are very thankful to the European Union because they know Early Childhood Education is extremely important and we in the ministry of education value that. We want every child to have access to early childhood education. We believe in starting strong. These are the foundation years so we are extremely thankful and want to ensure that these children get the best quality education."
Nazira Romero, Principal - Trial Farm Gov't School "Several years ago I was visited by doctor Gillet and she saw the overcrowded classroom that housed our then preschool and she encouraged me to write in a letter asking for a new classroom. I am glad that I got more that I asked for."
Reporter "Talk to us about all the amenities that it comes with."
Nazira Romero, Principal - Trial Farm Gov't School "The preschool has 2 classrooms, there are 2 large classrooms. It has 4 bathrooms, 2 for staff and for the babies it has bathrooms at their level at their size, very cute bathrooms for them and it also has areas in which they can clean up after art. We have new stove and new refrigerator placed there for the children to get their healthy snacks."
Omar Cabrerra, Principal - San Jose Primary School "We are certainly grateful to the European Union and the government of Belize for assisting us in getting this preschool. This is the first for a large school we are one of the largest government schools in that area in the north with 500+ students and this is the first time I'm getting a preschool, so the social skills will definitely develop with the students going into infant 1."
Over the past 10 years, the European Union has assisted Belize with grant funding upwards of 50 million dollars.
There have been countless initiatives and projects focused on women empowerment and inclusion especially in politics. Well another project entitled "Enhancing Women's Political leadership in the Caribbean," is addressing this issue but with a more research based approach. A representative from the Commonwealth Secretariat is in Belize gathering data as to the involvement of women in politics, analyzing and challenging the roles women are assigned to or take up themselves in their respective political parties. Yesterday she held an open meeting with the UDP to discuss the project.
Kim Simplis Barrow, Special Envoy for Women and Children "Cultural norms and traditional perception of roles of women still predominate and as such women continue to sit, to sit at the back and work behind the scenes, significant challenges in moving toward parity have indeed kept us from moving forward but I am happy today that over the past 7 years women have begun to take their rightful places in society especially in the political landscape. Earlier this year Mrs. Laura Tucker Longsworth was appointed as the speaker of the House of Representatives. Mrs. Longworth is the third woman who has been appointed as the speaker in the History of Belize. In addition to this currently there are 3 accomplished women in the senate and 3 in cabinet as serving as Ministers."
"The slow but steady increase of women in the political arena proves we may well be on our way to having a balanced representation of women and men. It is no secret that men and women, are very different, if we weren't, a gender issue would not exist. As women we think differently, speak differently and act differently than men but in my opinion this a form of strength rather than weakness."
Tres-Ann Kremer, Political Advisor Commonwealth Secretariat "Mrs. Barrow said that um men and women are different and it is a strength and so we want to hear how is that manifested in cabinet, how is that manifested in the executive, how is that allowed to organically happen and are you really drawing from the strengths that your women bring to the table."
"We are trying to be bold to really go to the source of this issue to see if we can generate political will."
Kremer mentioned that it is rare for them to consult directly with political parties in regards to this issue but it is necessary to truly understand the inner workings of the parties. Kremer will meet with parliamentarians, youth leaders among other political officials from both parties. Similar research has been done in other Caribbean countries.
$500 isn't a lot of money but for 4 youths, it will help keep them in high school. Today one of those 4 kids received her certificate for the Helen Gabb Memorial Scholarship. She is 14 year old Wesley College student Shantae Bailey. This scholarship program is just one part of the Rise Up Belize initiative which started in 2004. Founder and Executive Director Jo-carol Garcia, who is originally from Belize, told us more about how this initiative started and the impact it continues to have on Belizean youth.
The Helen Gabb Memorial Scholarship is in honor of Helen Gabb, she was a pillar in the Methodist Church. IF you would like to find out more about this initiative you can go to Riseupbelize.org.
Yesterday we told you all about the National Cyber Security Symposium. The government has assumed the role of what it calls, the "Principal Gatekeeper Of State Information" and committed itself to, quote, Digital Government Service Delivery. And while that sounds all so hifalutin' as if its coming through some special "hole in the air", what about just plain old Cabinet briefings or regular information on government spending and collection from the Ministry of Finance? The Musa Administration was forced to do that in September 2005 - when it was in a precarious fiscal position. The Barrow Administration has walked back from those practices - and, 10 years on, it looks as if they may never return. We asked Deputy Prime Minister Faber to explain why:...
Jules Vasquez, 7News "If one looks at the last years of the Musa administration, the level of transparency that they had to provide because the multilaterals were coming down on them, in terms of quarterly disclosure of the government's financials, in terms of the operation and functionality of the government press office website, we have actually gone backwards since then. We still don't have quarterly financials from the Ministry of Finance as we previously did 10 years ago under the Musa administration."
Hon. Patrick Faber, Minister of Education "Well you are saying all of these things Mr. Vasquez, I don't know that we are moving backwards. Maybe there are some instances where things that were put in place did go back, but it is not out of any intention of the government not to be transparent. It is not out of any intention of the government not to advance ourselves in e-government either. We, as I've said, outline in a very detailed way this morning the advances that we've made in terms of e-government act. You've seen moves made in the lands ministry, you've seen moves made in our ministry of education, you've seen it made in finance as well - the collection of GST and all of these areas. So, we have made advances and we are hoping that we can make more advances with the support of the wider population."
Belize's most well-known social media celebrity, Joyjah Estrada recently announced the next big step in her modeling career. Joyjah has been making waves on the internet in the last year or so, showing off her freckles and curly hair and inspiring other to embrace their natural beauty. She's racked up over 150,000 Instagram followers who helped land a cover feature on LOVE magazine, one of Britain's premier fashion and lifestyle publications. The cover was shot by supermodel, Kendall Jenner, and that caught the attention of The Squad Management, the modeling agency that represents Naomi Campbell.
Joyjah announced on social media four days ago that she has officially signed with The Squad and has moved to London to be closer to her agents.
On Sunday, the police organized a Conch Shell Bay Family Day with the usual stuff, food, drinks, kids face panting, music, races, basketball and prizes. Normally, it wouldn't be much to comment on, but it happened in the same place that was a murder scene three months ago. That's when Keimar Nicholas was killed, part of the explosive warfare that had been going on in that neighborhood since New Year's Day. But through mediation turned a war zone into a peaceful area - and at Sunday's event we asked the area representative and the police commander about the transformation. They said people just want to live in peace:â€¦
It was now been 16 days without an act of gang related violence or even a shooting in the city, and on Sunday, Williams said peace is a process:â€¦
The police are next planning a family day for the Jane Usher area where there has been some friction between rival groups.
Six days ago, we told you about how the family of the 14-year-old American Tourist, Tomari Jackson, is suing the Monkey Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for his drowning while he was in Belize back in February 2016.
The Monkey Bay will join the Cobb County School System and the school trip's chaperones as defendants in the lawsuit that Jackson's family will bring. They say that his death on that study trip to Belize could have been prevented, and they are relying on footage captured on a body camera he was wearing at the time of his death.
That footage is a key piece of evidence in the case, and the family has now released it. They say it shows that "there were chaperonesâ€¦not paying full attention to what was going on."