What's New in Belize
Belize's Own Politics of Change
Like the United States, Belize held national elections in 2012, and, also like the United States, Belize re-elected its first black leader in history. Dean Barrow, a lawyer by profession, educated in Jamaica and Miami, first became prime minister in general elections in 2008. His party, the United Democratic Party (or UDP) swept into office then with about 57% of the popular vote. In its first years in office, the 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. However, as the years since the 2008 election passed, Belize’s UDP government has faced growing challenges and increasing popular discontent. The 2012 election against the People’s United Party, the main opposition party, was much closer. Rising prices and a slow economy (when the U.S. sneezes, Belize catches a bad cold) cost Prime Minister Barrow some popularity, as has increasing crime, especially in Belize City. The government has become mired in new charges of corruption and in messy efforts to renationalize the main telephone company, Belize Telemedia Ltd., and the electric company.
Although a runway extension at Goldson International Airport near Belize City was completed years ago, anticipated new scheduled airline service, including from Europe and Canada, hasn't yet materialized. Indeed, existing airlines serving Belize, including Delta and US Airways (as of this writing set to merge with American), have cut back on service from the United States. While international service by one of Belize’s two puddle jumper airlines, Maya Island Air, fizzled, the other local airline, Tropic Air, has added international service to Cancún, Mexico, San Pedro Sula, Honduras, and Flores and Guatemala City, Guatemala. Tropic also added domestic service to Belmopan and the San Ignacio/Benque Viejo area. Construction on a controversial new international airport near Placencia has essentially stopped, and it’s now unclear when or even if the airport will open. The national bus network, divided into northern, western, and southern zones, with franchises often awarded on a political patronage basis, has been in a state of flux since the bankruptcy or closing of several large bus companies. A number of small regional bus lines have filled the gap, providing frequent and inexpensive, if not always comfortable, service on the main George Price Highway (formerly Western Highway), Philip Goldson Highway (formerly Northern Highway), and Southern Highway routes and elsewhere. Belize’s water-taxi network has expanded, and there are now three different companies providing service between Belize City and San Pedro and Caye Caulker. Also, two water-taxi companies are now running boats between Chetumal, Mexico, and San Pedro and Caye Caulker, making it easier for those flying into Cancún to reach Belize.
George Cadle Price, the "George Washington of Belize," who led Belize to independence from Britain in 1981 and who served as the country’s first prime minister, died September 19, 2011, just two days short of the 30th anniversary of Belize independence. Never married, George Price was known as an ascetic and religious political leader. A populist, he believed in Belize for Belizeans and often opposed tourism development.
In late 2012, eccentric millionaire expat and virus software pioneer John McAfee brought Belize extensive international publicity (and not the good kind) after his neighbor on North Ambergris Caye, Greg Faull, another expat, was shot and killed. Faull and McAfee had had a running dispute, especially about the dogs McAfee kept at his beachfront property. For weeks, McAfee hid from Belize police, who said they just wanted to question him, while McAfee did extensive interviews with international media and contributed to his own internet blog. McAfee denied any involvement in the murder and charged Belize police and top politicians with corruption and said, fearing for his own life he would not turn himself in to Belize police. The McAfee story, which included all the necessary elements—sex, money, drugs, guns, and an exotic locale—appeared in hundreds of media outlets from CNN to the Wall Street Journal. Finally, McAfee ended up in Guatemala City, where he gave more interviews before flying to the U.S. Book and movie deals are said to be in the works. To date, no one has been arrested for the Faull murder.
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.
Sir Barry Bowen, the "Belizeanaire" beer and soft drink baron, who also had extensive landholdings and business interests, including Chan Chich Lodge, died in 2010 when the private plane he was piloting crashed near San Pedro.
April the tapir (the tapir is Belize's national animal) at the Belize Zoo celebrated her 29th birthday in 2013—in April, of course.
Nearly all remaining British Army forces in Belize were pulled out of the country in 2011. British forces had stayed in Belize after independence, and as many as 3,000 British troops per year had been undergoing jungle training in Belize. The United States sent a group of Marines to Belize in September 2011 on a training mission and may expand its jungle training program here.
After suffering a more than 5% decline in tourism arrivals in 2009, Belize’s tourism industry struggled to gain traction in a soft world market for travel. While many tourism businesses saw increasing numbers of visitors in 2010 and 2011, with overnight visitor air arrivals to Belize up nearly 6% in the first half of 2011, several large hotels closed, including Bella Maya on the Placencia peninsula and Belize Legacy Resort on Ambergris Caye.
Belize had at least 132 murders in 2010, a record, and police statistics suggest that final 2011 figures will be even higher. About 60% of the homicides occur in Belize City, mainly in the gang- and drug-ridden South Side. Based on a population of 313,000, Belize’s homicide rate per 100,000 is about 42, one of the highest homicide rates in the world.>
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