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First Confirmed Case of Chik-V in Belize
Nov 21, 2014

After eight months of being in the clear, the first confirmed case of Chikungunya has been recorded in Belize’s public health archives, following a rash of the mosquito-transmitted fever across the Caribbean and Latin America back in April.  CHIK-V, as it is otherwise known, has been suspected in several cases in the Belmopan area since mid-October.  It wasn’t until results of samples sent for testing abroad returned on Wednesday that the Ministry of Health was able to receive confirmation of the presence of the virus.  A thirty-four-year-old woman of Las Flores, whose specimen was sent for testing at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, CARPHA, in Trinidad, is the first diagnosed case of Chikungunya locally.  Incidentally, there have also been several other suspected cases coming from Las Flores, a largely Hispanic immigrant community.  News Five spoke earlier today with Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Interim Head of the Epidemiology Unit.

Via Phone: Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Interim Head, Epidemiology Unit

Marvin Manzanero

“We have been trying to confirm cases that have been suspected clinically.  We actually have sent initial samples to CARPHA during the month of September.  Those samples remain inconclusive for us here.  They was one positive sample in the private sector that CARPHA was unable to confirm so that remained as a suspected case but we were never able to confirm that.  Subsequent to that, we sent three more samples in October, approximately a month ago that had clinical characteristics of chikungunya.  All those three samples were from the Las Flores community, all three samples tested positive on the rapid test for chikungunya and on Wednesday of this week, CARPHA confirmed that one of those samples is positive with a PCI test for chikungunya.”

Isani Cayetano

“What happens next, in terms of either public awareness or in terms of dealing with this particular situation?”

Via Phone: Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“Well, you will recall that from before we had any suspect cases in August we were already doing activities in the Las Flores community.  Once we were alerted of possible cases in September our activities were scaled up and we continued through until October.  Now those activities continue throughout November because, as you would know, these samples were actually collected in the third week of October.  So it’s not that we stopped doing our activities while we waited for the results.  You have to work on the assumption that you have possible cases there.  So those activities have continued with vector control and in terms of educating the community there was even a public health community forum held during the first week of November.”

Las Flores Woman Infected in Belize
Nov 21, 2014

Marvin Manzanero

The first suspected case of CHIK-V was believed to have been imported into the country since Las Flores is a predominantly immigrant community. While that case was never confirmed, the diagnosis of the woman indicates that she was infected here in Belize.  It has been a little over a month however, since the specimen was sent for testing.

Via Phone: Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Interim Head, Epidemiology Unit

“This case that has been confirmed seems to be an autochthonous case because she hasn’t had any travel history.  The first suspect-slash-probable case that we had was an imported case, but this case that came back positive from CARPHA is a local person.  It’s a person that hasn’t traveled then.”

Isani Cayetano

“Is there any other word of advice, if I may, with regards to concerns that are coming out of this diagnosis with the general public?”

Via Phone: Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“I guess it’s, folks need to continue to do their share of ensuring that there’s no breeding sites in their communities because it’s a collective response.  I don’t think that the efforts will go down any further.  It should continue to be scaled up particularly as the rains have started over this last week.  So the thing is just being on the alert, we do expect that chikungunya cases will follow the pattern as dengue which means that from now until the end of the calendar year we don’t expect any major outbreaks but we are still going to continue our activities.”

The best means of preventing CHIK-V is overall mosquito control and the avoidance of bites by any infected mosquitoes.  There is no specific treatment for the fever but medications can be used to reduce symptoms.

Two Minors Detained for Shooting of George Street General
Nov 21, 2014

Two minors believed to be affiliated with the Ghost Town Gang are tonight in custody for the brazen attempted murder of a George Street boss, Carlos “Zimbab” Abraham. Zimbab was at a tire shop at the corner of Lakeview and Banak Streets, well within Ghost Town Crips territory, when it is believed that he was spotted by a member of the rival gang and attacked. Abraham was shot to the neck and arm and was rushed to the K.H.M.H. He remains hospitalized in a stable condition. Five nine millimeter shells were recovered from the scene and within minutes, one person was detained nearby by police in the area. But since the shooting of “Zimbab” around ten on Thursday morning, the police department has been tightlipped on the investigation; that is, until today when the Officer Commanding the Crime Investigation Branch in Belize City, Superintendent Hilberto Romero, gave a short press briefing at the Queen Street Police Station. But there are more questions than answers and the police say that a motive has still not been established, despite the obvious fact that both the victim and the accused are members of rivaling gangs.

Supt. Hilberto Romero, O.C., CIB, Belize City

Hilberto Romero

“An investigation was carried out which has led to the detention of two minors and as soon as the investigation is concluded, we will determine whether they will be charged.”

Reporter

“Sir explain to me how first of all were the police able to respond quickly enough to apprehend…”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“Yes, quick police response led to the detention of one of the minors who is now in custody. Police responded adequately and they pursued one person and he was apprehended. There was a patrol closer to the gas station in that area because the shooting actually happened on Lakeview Street.”

Carlos "Zimbab" Abraham

Reporter

“Sir, explain to me. These young men are gang affiliated? These suspects and the detained person?”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“Yes, we believe they are gang affiliated, the suspects that are in custody.”

Reporter

“Now are you all able to say about the firearm? I know you said one of the suspects was apprehended, but no firearm?”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“No firearm has been recovered regarding this shooting.”

Reporter

“Have you established a motive?”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“No we are working on several leads at this time, but we don’t have no motive at this time.”

Duane Moody

“Sir, is it safe to say that all parties involved are gang related, one and two, what is the police going to do to ensure that there isn’t any repercussion due to this incident?”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“Yes the parties involved are gang members and we have stepped up our patrols. We have put additional personnel in the areas concern over the weekend and even going towards the month of December. We have several operations to be launched to try and control any future escalation of violence on the streets.”

Reporter

“Can it be considered gang warfare between both gangs, George Street and Ghost Town?”

Supt. Hilberto Romero

“Like I mentioned, we are still working on a motive. As soon as we have that, we can pass it on, but at this time, we are recording statements. The shooting happened yesterday and we are still working on some statements.”

So going into the weekend, there has been a boost in patrols and an increase in number of officers on the streets as police go on high alert for the possibility of retaliation. 

Police Nix Consultation with D.P.P. on Any Crime
Nov 21, 2014

It has been and continues to be a practice of the Belize Police Department, whenever queried about the results of an investigation into a serious crime, to state that the file is with the Director of Public Prosecutions. All failure to charge, then, or delay in charging, is laid at the doorstep of the D.P.P.  But News Five has been able to confirm that the Director of Public Prosecutions is in actuality no longer consulted before charges are laid, and her office has not been since September twenty-fourth. The directive came via memo from the Head National Crimes Investigation Branch, Assistant Commissioner of Police Russell Blackett. He instructs all commanders that, “the practice of consulting the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions as to whether to charge a person or persons for murder or any other crime must cease forthwith.” The memo states that the Formation Commander should be the person to give the approval for charges to be laid, and ends by stating that, “if in doubt as to whether charges should be laid, the head National Crimes Investigation Branch or the support Officer must be consulted. This directive is with immediate effect.”  Interestingly, the directive from ACP Blackett was handed down five days after Prime Minister Dean Barrow went on national television to condemn the Police practice of waiting for the approval of the D.P.P. to lay charges, on September nineteenth.

Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I’ll put it on the table, we talked about the fact that currently there seems to be a feeling that the police can’t charge anybody without first getting the approval of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  That makes no sense to me at all.  The Office of the D.P.P. is the ultimate backstop but you can’t wait to charge until you’ve asked the D.P.P. for the office’s view of the circumstances.  When I was growing up or when I was practicing law the police used to charge you.  If they felt they had enough material they charged you.  And I am saying to the police let’s do that.”

In a communication with the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, we were informed that the new position of the Police is considered unfortunate. While the Police must cease all consultation with the D.P.P. before laying charges, it is the office of the D.P.P., and not the Police, which is in charge of prosecuting those cases. We note also that we had heard about this directive before, and had queried it with the Police Press office. We were told that nothing of the sort was in effect.

Chamber President Speaks on Sugar Impasse
Nov 21, 2014

On Thursday, the Belize Chamber of Commerce issued a release on the continued impasse in the sugar cane industry. It’s been criticized in some sectors because it doesn’t seem to take any strong position. Today, Chamber President Arturo Vasquez says that the release is not at all ambiguous and he feels that the chamber has a responsibility to speak on the matter as the head of the business sector in Belize. And while he admits that the B.C.C.I. doesn’t have the answers, they make no apology for stating that foreign direct investment is critical and should be encouraged.

Arturo Vasquez, President, Belize Chamber of Commerce

Arturo Vasquez

“We look at ASR as a foreign director investor and we see that they are basically moving the sugar industry forward. Now there is an impasse which we believe needs to be solved. I don’t think our release gave the solution, but I think what our release basically said is that you need foreign direct investment to move the country forward. As we said in one of our bullet points we made is that without the foreign investment it takes the taxpayers money and your contributions like social Security to invest. So for me and for the Chamber that is really the key point that we made – that we need to keep foreign direct investments encouraged. In this case there is an impasse and we feel that all stakeholders should take a responsible approach to this to look at the bigger picture and to ensure that the economy is not affected by this impasse. We can’t take sides – that’s for sure. And I can say that both sides have their reasons for what they are doing. I do believe that there should be a price on bagasse. Now what the price is I don’t know. I understand that there are several ways of doing that formula. As for ownership of the cane, that is something that I don’t believe is a good point, but I understand that is not the issue. Bagasse should carry a price. I understand and I may be totally incorrect here, but the issue has gone beyond that in trying to get some return on the electricity that will be provided, but that’s not a fact – it’s only what I heard. I know that there’s a price on the bagasse and both parties are asking for different prices.  I don’t believe it’s to the point where ASR would be pulling out. I don’t think that’s the case. I just think that it means a loss of money. It means a loss of revenue for both sides. And we are looking at a direct investor here, that I think would not like to have that a second time around.”

The farmers, through the B.S.C.F.A., have asked B.S.I. to sign onto an interim agreement. Based only on the principle of moving business forward, Vasquez says that is not something that they agree with.

Sugar Impasse in Full Effect – No Resolution This Week
Nov 21, 2014

Today is Friday, the deadline given to the Sugar Industry Control Board to call a meeting in an attempt to break the impasse between the BSCFA and BSI/ASR. But tonight we can report that the deadline has been extended to next week Tuesday, the twenty-fifth. The SICB was not able to meet before then, and in consideration of Wednesday being a holiday, the farmers decided to relax their stance just a bit, as a gesture of good faith. That decision was taken in a meeting held Thursday evening with all eighteen branch directors of the BSCFA. So that’s where it stands at this point – at least from the standpoint of the BSCFA. Committee of Management Chairman Ezekiel Cansino told News Five today that the BSCFA is cautiously optimistic that there will be positive news coming out of the meeting with the SICB on Tuesday.