IDB US $540,000 Grant To Belize For George Price Highway Project

dean-barrow-receives-idb-money-george-price-highwayThe Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Government of Belize today signed a grant agreement for US$540,000 to support the preparation of feasibility studies and social and environmental assessments for the rehabilitation of 32 miles of the George Price Highway between Belmopan and Benque Viejo del Carmen, according to an official release issued today.

The agreement was signed in Belize City by Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Gina Montiel, Manager of the IDB’s Country Department for Central America, Mexico, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.

“We are pleased to support Belize in its efforts to expand and rehabilitate its road network, which is so crucial to the country’s development”, said Gina Montiel. The grant will support the preparation of an investment program to finance the infrastructure works needed to upgrade and absorb growing traffic volumes on the highway.

Transport is one of the four priority areas of the IDB’s new country strategy with Belize, approved in December. The other areas are education, tourism, and trade and tax policy.

The Bank will focus its support in the transport sector on the rehabilitation of roads that foster trade and integration and improved access to major tourism sites in the country. The IDB is also supporting the development of a national transportation master plan to address existing bottlenecks in the country’s roads, ports, air travel and transit systems and prioritize actions for improving the transport system as a whole.

Ms. Montiel is visiting Belize to hold discussions with the government on the Bank’s 2014 and 2015 program with Belize

Belize and Guatemala Sign Roadmap To Strengthen Bilateral Relations

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Wilfred Elrington Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belize, Fernando Carrera, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guatemala and  OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza, today signed a  Roadmap for Strengthening Bilateral Relations in 2014 at the headquarters of the Organization of American States in Washington, D.C. The signing took place before Ambassadors and representatives of Organization of American States member states.

The Roadmap identifies specific aspects of the Framework Agreement for Negotiations and Confidence Building Measures between Belize and Guatemala and other measures that the parties will focus on for implementation in 2014. The objective it to promot peace, security and cooperation and an environment conducive to the holding of the agreed simultaneous referenda that was postponed in October 2013. The Roadmap should also contribute to the management of bilateral relations between Belize and Guatemala until such time as Guatemala’s claim to Belize is finally and definitively resolved.

Some of the specific outcomes include the creation of a Belize-Guatemala Joint Commission which along with the support and participation of a representative of the OAS Secretary General, will promote and develop cooperation programmes.

New $50 Million VIP Free Zone Touted For Belize-Mexico Border

jorge-valencia-belize-consul-quintana-roo-200A new VIP area in the Corozal Free Zone on the border between Mexico and Belize will start construction in 2014 according to Belize’s consul in Quintana Roo Jorge Valencia. Speaking to the Mexican newspaper La Verdad, Mr. Valecia is quoted as saying that the facility will feature genuine luxury goods, in contrast to the cheap knock offs currently featured in the old free zone. The consul said that the first phase of the facility will cost U.S. $50 million, financed by U.S. nationals.

He said that the investment will be fully private and aims to offer quality items to buyers because it is recognized that in recent years the old free zone has declined in quality. He said that recently the project changed owners, which led to a delay in the commencement of construction.

“The project has change owners and the new owners are doing a review, in that they are right now and we hope that concrete construction to begins next year. The investment announced for the first stage is approximately 50 million dollars”, he said.

Jorge Valencia said that physically the VIP area will be located next to the new international bridge with Belize “Chactemal”, however, the consul did not give more details of the project but said that it will be an exclusive area.

“We know that the first phase includes the construction of a Hotel and Casino, a Convention Center and some new businesses, while the second phase will include the construction of recreational areas. The investors are from the United States America, a particularly large company, but at the moment we cannot give more details. But is a strong enough company that has the necessary capital” he said.

The launch of the new Chactemal bridge over the Rio Hondo separating northern Belize from Mexico has led to concerns in both Belize and Mexico, especially within those businesses located at the old bridge crossing. Mexico which owns both bridges has been saying it intends to close the old bridge over security concerns.

Belize PM Says Bagasse Talks With American Sugar Refining Successful

The crisis facing the Belize sugar industry over the refusal of sugar factory owners American Sugar Refining  to honor an agreement to pay cane farmers for the use of bagasse for energy generation, appears to have been averted, according to a press release issued today by Prime Minister Dean Barrow.

ASR, which has a controlling interest in Belize Sugar Industries Limited, has been in negotiations with the 5,000 member Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association that wants ASR to agree to pay a percentage of the income that the BSI-ASR coglomerate makes from bagasse, which is used to produce electricity that is sold to government-owned Belize Electricit Limited. The cane farmers have said that they will not start delivering sugar cane unless agreement is reached to give them a share of the bagasse which ASR has so far refused to do, claiming it is a waste product. The impasse has threatened to delay the start of the 2013-2014 sugar crop, which usually starts on December 15.

After a another round of meetings today between Belize PM Barrow and principals of ASR, Mr. Barrow issued a statement claiming the meetings “were successful”. Without entering into details, the PM’s statement says:

“The American Sugar Refining principals accepted certain proposals made by Government and reiterated their desire and determination to work with Government of Belize and the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association to move Belize’s sugar industry forward. American Sugar Refinery also expressed their gratitude for the Prime Minister’s intervention, and Government of Belize’s leadership in trying to resolve the dispute. The Prime Minister and his team will now meet with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association at 2:00 p.m. today.”

It is expected that if the sugar cane farmers accept the proposals as agreed to between PM Barrow and ASR, a date will be set for the commencement of the sugar crop. But is is believed by local experts that the date may be delayed anyway by at least two weeks due to the current wet conditions in Belize, and the need to carry out repairs to sugar roads.

Belize PM: They Are Trying To Kill Off Our Offshore Industry

Belize Prime Minister Dean Barrow has said western countries are trying to destroy offshore financial services in developing economies such as that of Belize. Mr. Barrow was speaking at his first press conference today after returning from a two week trip to the U.S. for back surgery.

Mr. Barrow commented on the Caribbean Financial Task Force sponsored by the G7 group of industrialized countries, and its criticism of Belize and Guyana on November 21 for not doing enough to counter money laundering and terrorist financing.

“We have recently passed a raft of new legislative measures in order to try and achieve the compliance required. The big countries are hypocrites. They do not practice what they preach.  They tell you what you have to do. They talk about harmful tax competition. These people will not stop until they kill off our offshore financial services industry. But the bottom line is that we will comply. We have no choice. They can destroy our commercial banking system. We are preparing new legislation to meet their list of demands and expect to pass these in parliament by the end of February.

“The rational is this international effort to guard against money laundering and financial terrorism and nobody can quarrel with that. We subscribe to that. But there is an international movement driven by the big countries, and in particular by the United States of America, to come down on small countries such as Belize that have offshore financial sectors and I absolutely think that to be unfair. For a while we have been encouraged to diversify our economies. Preferences have been eroded. We try to diversify in the form of the financial services sector and this is what we get,” concluded Barrow.

Accused Guatemala Murderer Barreda de León Obtained Belize Passport

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Guatemala businessman Roberto Barreda de León and wife Cristina Siekavizza.

Mexican authorities say Guatemala businessman Roberto Barreda de León accused of murdering his wife Cristina Siekavizza, escaped from Guatemala to Mexico using a Belize passport, according to articles in Mexico’s Diario de Yucatan and Guatemala’s Prensa Libre today.

Citing government sources in Mexico and Guatemala, the newspapers say it is believed that Barreda de León procured a Belize passport and then entered Mexico from Belize in January 2012 from the eastern Guatemalan department of El Peten that borders Belize and Mexico. The businessman and his children first lived in the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco, before settling in Merida, Yucatan according to the Diario de Yucatan.

Barreda de Leon is the main suspect in the disappearance of his wife 33 year old Cristina Siekavizza who was last seen on 7 June 2011. The case was first suspected to be a kidnapping and received extensive news media coverage. After police uncovered incriminating evidence against Barreda de Leon, he disappeared along with his two children Roberto Jose 8, and Maria Mercedes age 4.  An INTERPOL arrest warrant was issued for his arrest in connection with the disappearance and possible murder of his wife Cristina Siekavizza.

Barreda de Leon was arrested in Merida, Yucatan on 8 November 2013 and deported to Guatemala. His children were also repatriated to Guatemala in the care of their maternal grandparents.

In an interview given to El Periodico on 1 August 2011, Barreda de Leon stated that he and his wife visited Belize in April 2011 for a vacation.

Another Guatemala newspaper, Siglo 21, has retraced the movements of Barreda de Leon through Belize and Mexico. It notes that “The authorities believe that a criminal enterprise, with ties in several countries, helped him change his name and that of his children, and obtain new travel and government identification documents; in the birth certificates of the children it is noted that they are of Mexican nationality and are recorded with one year less than their actual age.”

The issue of Belizean passports and visas being sold by corrupt ministers in the Belize government has been receiving extensive media coverage in Belize and abroad. This was sparked by the “Citizen Kim” case where a South Korean national Kim Wong Hong who was incarcerated in Taiwan, managed to obtain a Belize passport in an attempt to avoid extradition to his home country. The Minister of Immigration Hon. Elvin Penner was fired from the Belize cabinet after evidence was uncovered connecting him to the passport scandal.

The “Citizen Kim” passport scandal has now escalated to include the illegal sale of Belize travel visas by members of the Belize government.

Evidence has also been uncovered of the existence of a human trafficking organization that procures Belizean visas for residents of China and the Middle East wishing to enter the U.S. using Belize as a staging point. Belize’s Minister of Transport Hon. Edmund Castro has been implicated in an alleged visa ring.

The news of a prominent Guatemala fugitive with an INTERPOL arrest warrant being able to obtain a Belize passport is expected to add more fuel to the ongoing Belize passport and visa scandal.