Belize’s Reputation Abroad – Letter to the Editor

I have spent the last two years cruising Belize, Honduras and Guatamala, flying the Belize flag. I only have to walk into any bar with cruisers, announce proudly that we live in Belize to be derided about Belize and its corruption.

Today we went to the Sundog Cafe in Fronteras, Guatemala. Announced that we came from Belize to be greeted with shaking heads. We sat next to Sterling, who had a few days earlier decided to go with a friend to Florida to visit a veteran hospital of some kind. They were both getting on in years. They, like every other cruiser in his/her right mind, decided to bypass Belize as they had heard of the corrupt officials and the thievery.

As they passed Turneffe his jib blew out and it became clear that they would not reach the US in time for the crew to make his critical appointment. So they decided to put into Belize City so the crew could fly up to the US and make the appointment.

This was last Tuesday, 1st June 2010, when Capt Sterling on his boat called “Sterling”, docked at the Radisson Fort St George and went ashore to find Immigration and Customs.
At Immigrations they were castigated for not following International Law and anchoring off under the Q flag to await boarding. While it is true that this is the custom in many countries, it is not the way it is done in Belize, (or Honduras), not in San Pedro, not in Belize City, not in Big Creek, not in Punta Gorda. So they refused to book the crew in so he could catch his flight. After a big argument where Sterling stood his ground, and refused to pay the mordida, they agreed to check them in.

Next morning the Port Authority visited the boat and demanded a $1,000 US fine for crossing the shipping channel without a Belize pilot! So TMM and The Moorings charters all have Belize pilots on board? Sterling, getting on in years, being slightly deaf but having fought on more than one war, stood his ground. Beside, he did not have $1,000. So they decided to impound his boat! Eventually they went through his boat, took all the cash he had, amounting to some $377 BZ, and let him go.

He got his arse out of there as quick as he could to return to Guatemala, penniless, to spread the word. “What the [#%!] you do, never go to Belize”. Lorie and I sat here tonight looking at cruisers blogs, reading the same stories of thievery and corruption in Belize.
Here is a similar story from Lea Scotia- (this is the name of a boat, people who write their blog like others online) (if you click on link an almost identical story will read)

If this is the way we welcome tourists, there is no way they will come back. They tell their friends, who tell others, they write their blogs that get read internationally. It does Belize so much harm. Even if you were thinking of getting on a cruise ship, it would make you choose another route. You’d never let your son or daughter back pack there, etc, etc. Hey, you want to retire to Belize to sail, forget it. Honeymoon, it’s much nicer in Playa, cheaper too. You have to go through Belize City to get to San Pedro – you gotta be joking. You know they speak English in Roatan? The stories abound.

One of the most popular stories, even from those that might have enjoyed Belize is the overtime scam. “So you arrived last night, well we’ll have to charge you overtime, you arrived out of hours” (checking in at 9am). “So you want to leave at first light, well that’s overtime” (checking out a 4pm). Needless to say the overtime charges vary depending on how hungry they are for the mordida. Usually it is $40BZ, but they’ll accept $40 US if offered (mistakenly), and sometime it may be per person. Other round numbers will work too. No receipts. I have never been offered a receipt when I have had to pay these “fees”. Naturally the prices go up closer to Christmas.

If ever you get hold of Roberto Smith of the Winnie Estelle, he’ll tell of the time a year ago, when he had to go up to Placencia from Fronteras to rescue the captain of a 45 foot power boat, on his way down from Fort Lauderdale to the Rio Dulce. He made the mistake of stopping in Placencia and was boarded by Port Authority officials and had his boat impounded because he did not have a Belize Captains Licence. Roberto had to go up to Placencia and captain the boat out of Belize waters! After paying the mordida and making an early morning run for it.

Although these sailing people may no be a huge number, they have parents, brothers and sisters, children and wide circle of friends and club members that they will enjoy telling their experiences to. Then there are the on-air sailing nets (hear the groans when one mentions Belize), the individual internet blogs (to communicate to friends and family and the guys in the office and all wannabe cruisers and the armchair adventurers), and the many sailing forums where cruisers exchange experiences. The word is out.

Why are we contributing to promoting Belize while the people spending the money on promotion ignore the reasons why people do not like Belize. Why are the government departments working against each other. My direct experience is with cruisers, but I hear that back packers are also hassled, as are people that to bring their campers or drive through Belize and I guess the occasional conventional tourist experience problems after an arduous flight to get here at International airport.

Belize should send their Immigration Officers, Customs, Health officials to Guatemala or Honduras for training. Learn from the competition. Contrast Punta Gorda and Livingston. Every cruising blog, cruising forum and any cruiser in any bar praises Livingston. They really make you feel welcome, they show concern about your security, offer advice, try to sell you a sailing permit so you can stay for a year! No wonder the cruisers bypass Belize on their way south, visit the Rio Dulce and sometimes never leave.

The stories abound. Just so much damage to Belize. Belize has no monoploy of reefs, rain forests or Mayan ruins. There is competition out there. Just really sad. A country that time and time again just screws itself. Sitting rather ashamed in Fronteras. Peter Verralls.

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