What's New in Belize
Belize's Own Politics of Change
Like the United States, Belize held national elections in 2008, and, also like the United States, Belize elected its first black leader in history. Dean Barrow, a lawyer by profession, educated in Jamaica and Miami, became prime minister. His party, the United Democratic Party (or UDP) swept into office with about 57% of the popular vote. In its first years in office, the new UDP generally took a low-key approach to governing. It followed a reform-oriented agenda, in an effort to mitigate charges of high-level corruption levied against the former government. Seeking greater diversity in government, the UDP tapped Mayas and Mennonites for high office, in addition to the traditional core of Creole and Mestizo politicians. Prime Minister Barrow himself made the society pages of newspapers when in February 2009 he married his longtime female companion, Kim Simplis, in a high-profile ceremony in Savannah, Georgia, where the First Lady's mother lives.
An earthquake off the coast of Honduras in the early morning of May 28, 2009, measuring 7.1 on the Richter scale, was felt all over Belize. It was the first serious earthquake in Belize in more than 30 years. Many Belizeans were awakened as the quake shook their homes. Some buildings, road surfaces, and piers were damaged in Placencia, Monkey River, the Hopkins/Sittee River area, Punta Gorda, and elsewhere in southern Belize. The water tower in Independence tumbled over. The quake was felt as far north as Corozal Town, but there was little damage in central and northern Belize. A tsunami warning was issued for coastal areas of Central America and the Caribbean, but no tidal wave materialized.
New Transportation Options
Although the runway extension at Goldson International Airport near Belize City was completed in 2008, anticipated new airline service, including from Europe and Canada, hasn't yet materialized. Indeed, existing airlines serving Belize including Delta and US Airways have cut back on service from the United States. However, one of Belize's airlines, Maya Island Air, has started new international service between Belize and Cancún, Mexico, and also between Belize City and Roatán and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It also has started service to Flores, Guatemala, and Guatemala City. Maya Island appears to want to base its expanded international service at the airport under construction just north of the Placencia peninsula. A new water-taxi service, San Pedro Belize Express, has begun operation between Belize City and San Pedro and Caye Caulker, and the company is also debuting a service between Chetumal, Mexico, and San Pedro.
In mid-2009, UNESCO put the Belize Barrier Reef on its list of endangered world heritage sites. Mangrove cutting and excessive development are the main problems in the reef system. The Belize Barrier Reef is the longest Barrier Reef in the Western or Northern hemispheres.
Belize is still mourning the death of its best-know musical ambassador. Andy Palacio died in 2008 in Belize City at the age of 47 after he suffered a heart attack and stroke. He received the equivalent of a state funeral in his home village of Barranco in Toledo District. Thousands journeyed to the small, remote Garífuna village to pay tribute to the iconic world music man. He is buried in Barranco, and some Punta Rock aficionados trek to his grave to pay their respects.
Several noted Belizean artists, including Pen Cayetano, who divides his time between Germany and Belize, photographer Richard Holder, Belize City's Michael Gordon, and Seine Bight's Lola Delgado, were honored recently with one-person shows of their work in Belize City.
Barry Bowen, Belize's Belikin beer baron, who also has extensive landholdings and business interests including Chan Chich Lodge, has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Congratulations, Sir Barry.
April the tapir (the tapir is Belize's national animal) at the Belize Zoo celebrated her 26th birthday in 2009—in April of course. Sadly, the zoo's black jaguar died in late 2008 (you can still see spotted jaguars at the zoo).
Traveller's Liquors celebrated 55 years in the rum business in 2008, and it has opened the Traveller's Heritage Center, a rum museum, at the Traveller's factory on the Northern Highway near Belize City.
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