Trouble in Belize

The little-reported civil disturbances in one of the world’s smallest English-speaking countries, Belize, resulted in the nearly complete collapse of its telecommunications infrastructure. However, it was days before outside news agencies noticed that the country had vanished from the telecommunications map.

Local newspapers in Belize, with none of the dailies, said that the country awoke on Friday, 15 April, and found there was no telephone service and no internet.

That meant, among other things, no connection to global systems of credit and banking, forcing merchants back onto systems of trust without verification.

According to a major London newspaper, “only a few internet cafes with satellite connections provide a tenuous link to the outside world.”

Local news media in the tiny Commonwealth country (population 266,000) are coping with varying degrees of partial success in putting news online, but the situation is chaotic.

Had it happened to a state similar in size, such as Rhode Island, there would have been considerable attention brought to bear. But what has happened in Belize has been lost in news dominated by the death of the Pope, and a host of other front-burner topics.

Belize’s situation hasn’t even rated a mention on BBC, let alone any networks in the U.S., and has received scant attention from wire services.

In fact, it was Monday evening before the first international news agency, Associated Press, reported the trouble

In February, Belize Telecommunications Limited (BTL)L, a private, American-owned company, was seized by the government, setting off a chain of events that led to the disruption of service and much of the civil disorder taking place on the streets of the country’s cities.

Immediately before the sabotage, a U.S. federal judge ruled that the government of Belize, which had sold BTL to the American investors, would be fined $50,000 per day until it handed the company over. The ruling was retroactive to March 29. In all, the government now faces fines heading rapidly toward the $1 million marks in the lawsuit.

The question on everyone’s mind is: What happened?

Local news agencies reported that service had been brought down by acts of sabotage from workers at BTL.

Services from a minor player, Speednet, also went down following the collapse at BTL.

The government flew in Nortel engineers from Mexico. The engineers had nearly completed repairs when another act of sabotage by BTL workers brought the system down again.

Among the demands of the workers is that the government turn over its shareholding in the company to a collective of management and workers, either as an outright gift or for one dollar.
In its last press release, dated 21 April, the government said that it was willing to help the workers find a way to finance a purchase of the shares in question.

In the last statement released by the press, Belize Prime Minister Said Musa said, “The financial loss to BTL, BEL businesses all across Belize and to the national economy is in the tens of millions of dollars. Those who are responsible for the acts of sabotage, vandalism, and criminality must, and will, be held fully accountable.”

A well known financial advisor and offshore authority advised that investors and offshore planners should stay away from anything in Belize until the situation settles. This includes real estate, residency, banking and asset protection plans.

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