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 12 million dollar loan from the Social Security Board to the Santander group - it's become a political piñata this week -with everyone taking a swing at the controversial investment.
Well - the doubters won out, and Santander backed out, announcing today: "thanks, but no thanks" - they won't be taking the loan because of the political controversy. Chief Financial Officer Andres Ayau explained his company's aversion to political controversy at a Press Conference at the Biltmore this morning:...
Andres Ayau, CFO - Santander Group "It's sad enough to say that this issue was politicized and it's been a negative connotation and due to this negative media coverage we decided to actually use another lender, an international lender to cover that participation. That being said, we would like to leave the door open for Social Security Board and we are announcing here that we are doing and additional investment around this project for expansion of the factory and the sugarcane fields of 15 million US dollars and we continue our invitation to Social Security to participate in that's transaction. We hope that these issues can go beyond the politics around it and that we can see that these are safe and sound transactions. We will apply again for those funds. Like I say, we remain committed to offering these returns. I think it's a sound investment. I think it's something that the public and Social Security should take a very close look at."
And they want that second look taken because they say the project will soon prove its value. Ayau says they will be ready to start crushing cane by early March:...
Andres Ayau, CFO - Santander Group "At this point our project is ready. We are already in the commissioning phase of the project and we expect to begin crushing sugar cane within the next 3 weeks. That being said any participant to this loan at this point in time sees their risk significantly reduced. We expect if the weather allows for us to begin the crushing season within the next 3 weeks, the cane fields are there."
"This year we have a partial harvest that serves simply to test the factory and to make sure that we can process correctly. Next year we will have full harvest and we expect to crush 800,000 tons of sugar cane - produce about 80,000 tons of sugar and about 50,000 tons of molasses and put energy into the grid."
"Most of our sugar is going to the European market and we already have firm offers for all our volumes this year and part of our volume for next year. What we are doing here and this is said by the consultants is what will be one of the most efficient sugar operations in the world. This operations is going to put Belize on the map as one of the most efficient countries of sugar production in the world."
"All eyes of international lenders and other agro industrial developers are right now in Belize, that have begun to look at this country as an opportunity to invest and that is something that we really need."
The total investment is 150 million US dollars - and Ayau says one third is financed locally, one third is financed internationally, and the other third is an equity investment. He explains why they turned to Social Security to be part of the financing equation:...
Andres Ayau, CFO - Santander Group "We thought it would be a good thing effort to invite Social Security Board to participate. Why? Because Social Security have returns for it invertors we can do and 3% currently and this loan offers a return of 7% which is more than twice what you are currently getting and exceeds inflation cost which are not being covered by the current returns you are getting. There was a really strict due diligence done on this project. We had international consulting companies come and do technical financial and environmental and social reports for the loan and all consultants recommended this investments to the banks and to the entities that were reviewing this. It's a world class consultants that come all the way from the Unites States and from England that review this project and determined it as a safe investment. So we would like to make clear that a lot of money from outside has come in and that its customary in these type of transactions to bring in local lenders to provide sort of local validation to the project in this type of transactions."
But one of the reasons for the public pushback against the Social Security investment in Santander is because Santander is seen publicly as a Guatemalan company. Ayau says yes there are Guatemalan principals, but that is among many others:...
Andres Ayau, CFO - Santander Group "Yes there are some Guatemalan investors. We have people from Spain. We have people from the United States. We have people from Dominican Republic and I think we really need to get over this. Our commitment is firm with this country. We've been here for 4 years. Some of the investors actually live in Belize. We believe we are putting our money in a good place. We believe there is a lot of good things to come and if we just work together, there is great things we can accomplished."
And one more public misperception is that this Santander Group is synonymous with, or a subsidiary of the European Santander Bank. Ayau says there's no relationship:...
Andres Ayau, CFO - Santander Group "The Santander Sugar Group is in no way affiliated or related to the Santander Financial Group from Spain. None of our investors and none of our workers have any relation to the Santander Financial Group. These are separate entities and the reason for the name of Santander Sugar is because the investors, some of the investors are originally are from the Santander region in Spain and that's why they name the group this way."
Santander says it will invite the media to see its operation when it starts milling cane. As we showed you 11 months ago, Santander has set up a sugar cane farming and milling operation behind Valley of Peace.
The results of the 2 remaining Zika tests haven't been sent back to Belize as yet. On Tuesday at the Zika awareness meeting Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin Manzanero told us they have sent 3 samples to CARPHA - 1 has returned negative for Zika, and the other two were expected back today. But it didn't come back yet, and Manzanero told us that they hope to get the results on Monday because CARPHA, The Caribbean Public Health Agency in Trinidad is overwhelmed with work. We will keep following up.
The rice war rages on tonight, but right now it's more like a war of words. The Chamber of Commerce today blasted Jack Charles for alleging aflatoxin contamination in a press release, which says, quote: "Issuing such an inflammatory report on the rice industry is irresponsible and clearly intended to force an opening for rice importation."
The Chamber adds, quote, "the tests…carried out on Belizean rice samples found aflatoxins to be well within (safe) limits and therefore safe for consumption."
And here's where they wound up on Charles, saying, quote: "These accusations are clearly without merit, and obviously meant to cause consumer panic without any care for potential damage to the Belizean economy, the reputation of the rice industry or BAHA's institutional reputation…Belizean producers who contribute to our economy should not find themselves disparaged by spurious allegations made purely for competitive gain." Now, we should note that the rice producers are leading members of the Chamber.
But Jack Charles sent his own release today - where he asked about that same institutional reputation of BAHA. He says that BAHA should provide the public with the results of testing on food products over the last five years.
And he also invites the "NGO Community and other Civil Society Groups who would like to send any produce samples for testing that we would be willing to sponsor the cost to do the analysis.
As for the tests which he already did which show less than two micrograms of afla toxins per kilogram of rice, Charles is undeterred by all the backlash from the Burea of Standards, the PUP and the Chamber of Commerce. He warns, "Even if the levels are low, each Belizean consumes approximately 10 pounds of rice per month, so the chronic exposure and bioaccumulation of the toxin at the end of the year can be harmful."
One month ago, a group of tourists were terrorized when pirates boarded their catamaran and robbed and assaulted them. One man, Bradwick Lino was already charged, and now police have charged another. He is 20 year old Jason Emmanuel Cortez whose fingerprints were allegedly found which link him to the high seas heist. Both he and Lino were today charged for aggravated burglary.
The allegation is that on January 13, 2016, the Catamaran was anchored near Middle Long Caye when he and Lino boarded the vessel armed with a gun and stole a whole bunch of stuff, including a $10,000 US dollar pearl necklace, 15 bank and credit cards, passports, assorted electronics and personal items, two thousand dollars in US currency, and even the ice chest with beers and the outboard engine.
Cortez pleaded not guilty before Senior Magistrate, Sharon Fraser.
He told the court that his friend Bradwick Lino had already pleaded guilty to handling stolen goods for the pair of binoculars and the hard drives found at Cortez's home. He said he was at work when he learned that his home was searched by police.
His explanations were noted, but bail was denied, because the offense is alleged to have occurred with a firearm. He was remanded to jail until March 18, 2016.
His alleged accomplice, Lino who pleaded guilty to one count of handling stolen goods before Magistrate Carlon Mendoza on Tuesday, January 19, was sentenced to three months imprisonment for the pair of binoculars found at Cortez's home.
Today the Customs and Excise Department held a closing ceremony after a week-long training. The main focus of the training was to re-evaluate the entire customs structure at all levels and develop a strategic plan. This plan will address human resource constraints and other issues in the organization. The coordinators told us how this training will improve the effectiveness of customs officers which will in turn enhance trade and border protection.
Another major issue addressed at the workshop is contraband and illegal cross border trade. We report countless times on contraband products being smuggled into Belize through Mexico, not to mention the lucrative trade in drugs between Mexico and Belize. Comptroller of Customs and Excise Victor Recinos told us how challenging it is to track and monitor these types of illegal trade. He also discussed the need to bring on more officers to deal with this issue.
The new plan will run from 2016 -2019. During this time there will be a number of workshops and training sessions for all 200 employees in the organization.
After three months of intense legal battling before the Belize Family Court to maintain the custody of Baby Nina, today family court magistrate Dale Cayetano ruled that the transportation of the 2 year old child from Guatemala to Belize was illegal and as a result she will have to be taken back to Guatemala. After an eight hour session that lasted all day, the mother of the child Ana Liz Guitterrez came out distraught by the ruling today. She spoke to us in tears- her worst fears now a reality.
Ana Liz Perez Gutierrez- Mother "Basically the resolution made today was that Nina would be returned."
Mike Rudon, Ch5 "I know this is the last thing you wanted to hear."
Ana Liz Perez Gutierrez- Mother "Of course; I mean it's been three months of battle and ultimately we provided a very strong case. I must admit that my lawyer did a very good job at the end. At the end, it was the judge who needed to use his discretion and he believed that the removal was wrongful and so as a result, made the decision to have her returned. At this point, I've spoken to Nina's father and we are trying to do things now in good grounds for the best thing for Nina."
The child was removed from foster care yesterday and was placed in the care of social services. In the next few hours, she will be placed in the care of the Guatemalan Embassy. The child will then be handed over to Guatemala social services where the legal battle continues in that country.
Mike Rudon, Ch5 "From your conversation with Ernesto Barrera, are you hopeful that maybe you all will be able to work something out?"
Ana Liz Perez Gutierrez - Mother "Well, he's already made his views towards me, towards what really happened. I tried to ask him what was his main reason for doing all of this and he had already created some kinda view in his own mind which I do not agree with. However, at this point it is useless that for me to go in and fight with him with something that he already has stubborn in his mind. So obviously my relationship right now mainly with my daughter being my main interest, my main purpose to be able to have a friendly and peaceful relationship with him until the courts in Guatemala make a final decision."
Mike Rudon, Ch5 "Earlier in the case, you had expressed concerns, even fear at one point about going back to Guatemala. Is that still the case?"
Ana Liz Perez Gutierrez - Mother "Definitely that case always exists; I can't just discard it. Even though I have already started communication with the father, that fear will always remain because of the abuse that I lived being with them and of course because of the time that I spent with them and the thing that I know they are capable of. However, upon speaking with him, he says that that was never the case; that he and his family would never threaten my life, but at the end of the day that's what he is saying. But right now I am not fearful. If my daughter has to go to Guatemala, I'm gonna follow her to Guatemala."
Anna Liz expressed her reluctance to give up and says she will be preparing her legal documents to continue the fight for Nina in Guatemala. Gutierrez expressed her gratitude to all her family, friends and all other sympathizers for their support.
A 28 year old woman was taken before the judge today because she was caught with weed - but also because she is accused of biting police during the search. Tanisha McKoy was arraigned before Magistrate Deborah Rogers in Court #3 where she pleaded not guilty to possession of controlled drugs, and wounding a policeman. PC Cruz Garcia says that McKoy bit him on the finger during a search.
She was granted bail of $800 dollars which she met by noon today.
She is due back in Court #3 on May 13, 2016.
Possession is considered a minor offence, but not so for wounding which carries a sentence of 7 years.
The Social Security debate series travelled to Saint John's Juniour College today. The regional debate competition is going all across the country - and today it featured the UWI Open Campus students against the SJC Sixth Formers. They debated the subject of whether "birthright citizenship" in the US should be abandoned. Social Security's Communications Officer told us more:...
Gayle Ozaeta, Communications Officer, SSB "The debate is a part of our social and cooperate responsibility and this debate came about as a result of engaging our communities which is a part of our transformation plan and we thought of using this sector of society who are young and we want to cultivate brighter minds and make an informed Belize."
Martha Mejia, Speakers "The debate topic was about birthright citizenship. The topic was be it resolve that birthright citizenship be abolished in the United States of America. So you could either agree or disagree with that. They don't tell us what topic you get to choose. You find out in the mornings. So we got the negative stands - that it should not be abolished. We researched a lot and just yesterday we were in the chapel, we were rebutting the rebuttals - we try to find every single hole in every single argument. It was a lot of work. But I love my team and I believe we worked hard. It's very important, because it gives awareness to everyone and before probably people dent think about things like these, but they do affect society and they do affect Belize. They do affect other countries and to actually participate in a debate to find out different stances that someone can take on a topic - it's great."
Michael Zuniga, UWI Open Campus "We made it clear that civil rights of course was where the abolishment of slavery occurred and this is what lead to the 14th amendment which claimed that a naturalized or a person born in the United States of America can become a US citizen. What happen is that our point was that we will not look at it in retrospective. Which means of course that we would like for the law to evolve such as the society evolves. The UWI team definitely looks forward to winning a debate. We will win and this is our team and this is a practice. We did not come up successful on this one, but losing is a part of winning."
SJC Juniour college is the defending national champion.
Next week on the 17th of February the debate series travels to Sacred Heart college where the University of Belize will debate John Paul the second Juniour college.
Today, UDP Minister Anthony "Boots" Martinez was at Court.
No… he's not suing any one, and neither is he being sued. He was there to see his daughter, Stacy Martinez, sworn in as a new attorney before Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin.
As you would expect, it is a moment of great pride for the Martinez family, and we spoke with the father and daughter outside of court, right after Stacy Martinez was allowed to put on her attorney's robes for the first time. Here's what they told us:
Also called to the bar today was Orson Elrington, better known as "O. J. If you've been watching the UDP friendly Talk Show, "Lik Road", which airs right here on Wednesday nights, you may have noticed that Elrington has joined as a sort of regular co-host.
Today, after he took the oath of his profession, we spoke with him about the launch of his new career. Here's what he told us about being called to the Bar:
The British High Commissioner - unless you move in diplomatic circles - you probably don't even know who the current one is. But, if you know any one high commissioner, it's probably John Yapp. And that's because he was accused of touching a high society woman's backside while he was serving as High Commissioner in 2008. That allegation destroyed the career diplomat's professional reputation - and he ended up suing the British Foreign Service, basically for believing the spurious complaint. This week he is back in Belize and for the first time he's talking about the bogus allegation against him. You'll see the full interview on Monday - but here's a brief preview of what he told Jules Vasquez:
John Yapp, Former British High Commissioner to Belize "And so I have been completely vindicated of all the allegations - all the charges. My name, which is what I set out to do, my name has been cleared and that I think is really what I wanted and it says everything I believe that needs to be said about this whole sorry episode."