Calm Returns to Belize After Rioting

April 29, 2005

GUATEMALA CITY (EFE) –Belize’s largest city, Belize City, returnedto calm last weekend after several daysand nights of violent protests linked to adispute over the privatization of the telephonecompany, authorities said.Speaking by telephone from the capital,Belmopan, Belize government spokesmanSeth Hernández said the disturbancesin Belize City have been brought undercontrol and the government is now “workingon completely re-establishing thecountry’s telecommunication system.”The tiny Central American nation’stelephone service was cut off Wednesdaynight because of labor troubles at BelizeTelecommunications Limited (BTL), aformerly state-owned monopoly privatizedeights years ago.HERNANDEZ said the problemsbegan after workers’ representativeswalked out on talks with the government.BTL employees want the state to helpthem purchase a majority of shares in thefirm, he said.Others joined disgruntled BTL workersin violent protests on the streets of BelizeCity, attacking Belize Bank, burning tiresand “committing acts of sabotage againsttelecommunications,” Hernández said.He denied anyone had been killed inthe rioting, though other governmentsources said one person died.EYEWITNESSES to the riotingdescribed a chaotic scene of tourists tryingto get out of the country, but not beingable to get money from ATM machines orbanks, which were offline because of thetelecom shutdown.“We met people who couldn’t get ontheir flights home because they couldn’tpay their hotel bills,” said former TicoTimes staffer Kim Beecheno, who wastraveling through Belize at the time.“Television and radio was down, so therewas no communication with the outsideworld, and we couldn’t get money wiredto us. Tourists were forming huge queuesoutside the banks every morning to tryand get cash. It was the most bizarreexperience ever!”LATE Thursday, Belize’s consul inthe Mexican city of Chetumal said hisnation had temporarily closed part of itsborder with Mexico because of the outbreakof violence.Consul Ricardo Ismael Moguel alsocited reports that one person had beenkilled in the disturbances.Belize measures 22,965 square kilometers– slightly smaller than the U.S.state of Massachusetts – and is home to250,000 people. Formerly known asBritish Honduras, it is Central America’sonly English-speaking country.

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