Monday, September 30, 2013

Belize Charge d' Affaires Now Ambassador To Taiwan

The China Post, a Taiwanese English language daily has recently reported that Cherie Minette Nisbet, Belize’s former charge d’affaires at the Embassy of Belize in Taiwan, has been promoted to the post of ambassador to Taiwan.

The post reported that Nisbet presented a certified copy of a letter of credence to Foreign Minister David Lin on Sept. 16. The announcement was made by Florencia Hsieh, deputy director-general of MOFA's Department of Latin American and Caribbean Affairs. Hsieh also said that Ms. Nisbet will soon present the official letter of credence to President Ma Ying-jeou to officially assume the post of ambassador to the R.O.C. 

The article also said that Nisbet has been the Belizean Embassy's charge d'affaires since August 2011. And according to Hsieh, Belize's decision to promote Nisbet to ambassador is part of the ally's ongoing policy to forge closer bilateral ties. It also noted that Belize would grant Taiwan passport holders visa-free entry for up to 90 days.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Belize's Uninvited Guest - The Lionfish

Belize's Uninvited Guest - by By Jo Hudson of Blue Ventures

On Tuesday July 2 at 11am, a very special box left Belize on its way to the U.S. Its contents? Eleven and a half pounds of filleted lionfish (Pterois volitans), a species that poses one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of coral reefs and fisheries throughout the Caribbean.

Lionfish, an insatiable predator native to the Indian and Pacific oceans, was accidentally introduced to the western Atlantic near Florida in the 1980s. This voracious fish has been devouring its way through much of the region’s marine biodiversity ever since, wreaking ecological havoc across Caribbean reefs from Panama to Puerto Rico.

With each lionfish capable of gulping down fish half its size, the unsuspecting Caribbean prey have never encountered a fish that hunts quite like it, and stand little chance in the face of their new predator’s impressive bulk and menacing venomous spines. The diverse Caribbean menu on offer has enabled the lionfish to develop a varied palate in its adopted home, gorging itself on invertebrates and reef fish alike.

Lionfish can be speared or captured using traditional lobster hooks. Without a Fisheries ‘Lionfish License’, it is illegal to spearfish within protected areas or on SCUBA.

Alongside its all-you-can-eat banquet, an absence of known predators in the Atlantic creates ideal breeding conditions for lionfish, with the animals reproducing at faster rates than in their native Indo-Pacific waters. This, coupled with the remarkable fecundity of female lionfish—producing up to two million eggs each year—means populations are exploding unchecked.

Five years after its first sighting in Belizean waters in 2008, lionfish are now decimating marine life along the length of the world heritage-listed Belize barrier reef. Beyond upsetting the ecology of this global biodiversity hotspot, the lionfish invasion now stands to undermine two of Belize’s most important industries: fishing and tourism.

Earning this small Caribbean nation around US $250 million each year, tourism accounts for almost one fifth of GDP, with many of the country’s 800,000 annual visitors drawn by an underwater wonderland that is now imperiled by the lionfish. And with Belize’s fishing sector worth a further US $27 million and employing 1% of the population, the loss of commercially important marine species to this unwelcome visitor threatens the traditional fishing livelihoods that are the lifeblood of the country’s coastal communities.

The Best Defense Is a Good Offense

But hope for Caribbean reefs is not yet lost. While the lionfish is now so well established that complete eradication is impractical, large-scale removal of lionfish could help to slow or even halt its rapid population growth.

But how to go about this seemingly impossible task? In Belizean waters efforts are now underway to confront the lion in its lair. The lionfish has a taste not unlike perennial favorites grouper and cod, with a delicate flavor and flaky texture. Yet fishermen have yet to catch up with this exciting new market opportunity, often remaining wary of targeting a fish armed with rows of syringe-sharp toxic spines.

Across Belize, conservationists are now working with communities to teach fishermen lionfish handling and processing techniques, in doing so cultivating new domestic and international markets for this surprisingly delicious fish.
“The common belief among the fishers in Belize was that the sting of a lionfish was fatal” says Jen Chapman, Conservation Coordinator for Blue Ventures Belize.” But when we started running handling demonstrations and the fishers saw me handling the lionfish without fear it became a matter of pride.”

Developing a market for the tasty invader is the most practical management solution, creating economic incentives for the regular removal of lionfish from Belize’s reefs. It also offers an alternative target species for the Belizean fishing industry, which is dominated by conch and lobster; both of which are showing signs of decline. Growth in the number of fishers has increased competition for stocks within Belize’s strict quota system, resulting in the early closure of the conch fishing season two years running. When the fishery is closed, fishing communities lose their main livelihood, buoying concerns over illegal fishing.

A Market for New Opportunities

Along Belize’s sleepy mangrove-fringed northern coast lies the remote village of Sarteneja, the largest fishing community in the country. Here, fishermen carve their wooden sailing boats by hand. They use these vessels for week-long sailing trips throughout Belize’s waters. With four fifths of households dependent for income on free diving for conch and lobster, this village feels the impacts of dwindling stocks first, and deepest.

“When the conch season closes early, it affects us. We can’t work, and have to try and find work elsewhere– sometimes there is none.,” says a fisher from Sarteneja who didn’t wish to be named. “Lionfish has advantages– it helps us as we can catch it and sell it, but it is bad for the reef, so it is good if we fish it. Especially when the conch season is closed, we can still work on the sea.”

Lionfish stomach contents, including a juvenile blue tang, a species protected from fishing on account of its ecological importance to Belize’s reefs: as a herbivore, it prevents corals from becoming smothered by algae.

Meanwhile, at the other end of Belize on the tip of a long, white-sand peninsula and surrounded by Mayan ruins and pristine rainforest, is Placencia; a peaceful village which has been making waves for its environmentally friendly approach to managing marine resources. The small local fishing cooperative, which was established in 1962, has been building a global reputation for its sustainable fishing efforts and enhancing local livelihoods. The success of Placencia’s seaweed farming project was the catalyst for them to explore other alternative opportunities, and develop a partnership with marine conservation NGO Blue Ventures and U.S. sustainable seafood distributor Traditional Fisheries.

“Lionfish is not only a business for Placencia and [the cooperative’s] members”, said Justino Mendez of the Placencia Producers’ Cooperative Society Ltd. “It is a business for the entire country; from Sarteneja all the way to Punta Gorda.”

The first fishing cooperative in the country to make such a bold move, Placencia now purchases lionfish harvested by local and Sartenejan fishers alike, with fish being processed in a locally-owned and managed facility. This facility, the first in Belize capable of processing lionfish, received certification from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in late June, authorizing export to the United States.

When Placencia’s first shipment of lionfish took off from Belize’s Philip S.W. Goldson International Airport bound for Minneapolis, the cooperative took a bold new step in paving the way for a Belizean lionfish fishery, setting an example for communities throughout Belize wanting to join the country’s war on the lionfish. Already other communities are following Placencia’s lead, promoting lionfish as a sustainable and delicious alternative to native reef species.

“We’re very excited about taking the first shipment here out of Belize… Right now the majority of our clients are high-end restaurants in New York City, Las Vegas, Chicago and Houston” said David Johnson, CEO of Traditional Fisheries. “We’d love to see lionfish become a common fish to eat and really make a difference in the Caribbean.”

There is a long way to go in the fight against the lionfish, but by swimming with the current of market-based incentives, Blue Ventures is hopeful that fishing could provide a lifeline to Belize’s reefs – promoting economic growth and safeguarding ecological resilience.

By Jo Hudson of Blue Ventures

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Belize At 32 - Happy Birthday

The land of my birth, Belize, celebrates its independence today. I can still feel the pride and remember the celebrations on that day, September 21, 1981 when Belize went from self-government under British rule to independence. 

Traditional Independence Day celebrations will be held all over the country and will include open-air concerts, dancing in the streets and family time cookouts in parks and backyards in honor of the holiday. 

I also wish to extend my sincere good wishes to the prime minister, Hon. Dean Barrow, on this special day. May we have continued prosperity and a peaceful future and a new tomorrow.

Belizeans abroad, let's celebrate with pride!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Typhoon Usagi Moves Towards Philippines, And Taiwan

I'm in Taiwan and it's raining here quite a bit today. Typhoon Usagi is suppose to hit southern Taiwan later this evening. Usagi has wind speeds of up to 175 km/h (109 mph). Meteorologists say that Usagi could become the most powerful typhoon of 2013. 

On Friday morning, typhoon Usagi was 560km (350 miles) east-southeast of Taiwan and 360km (225 miles) from the northern Phillippines, weather officials said. Both Taiwan and the Philippines have issued alerts and warned boats to exercise caution.

Emergency and health personnel in the southern provinces have been placed on standby, and Taiwan's Central Weather Bureau issued a land warning for Friday morning, and forecast heavy rainfall for northern and eastern Taiwan.

Typhoons are common during the summer in parts of East Asia because of the warm moist air and the low pressure conditions; these conditions enable tropical cyclones to form.

Government of Belize Fires Junior Minister Of Immigration And Nationality

The junior minister with responsibility for immigration and border security Hon. Elvin Penner

In an unprecedented move, the junior minister responsible for immigration and border security, Hon. Elvin Penner, has been fired effective immediately from a statement issued by the office of the prime minister of Belize. 

Minister of State Required to Resign

Belmopan, September 19, 2013. “The Office of the Prime Minister announces that, with immediate effect, the Hon. Elvin Penner is no longer a Minister of State in the current Administration. The Prime Minister formed the view that, with respect to a situation brought to his attention on Tuesday, Hon. Penner, as Minister of State in the Immigration Ministry, did not discharge his responsibilities with either the due judgment and balance, or the scrupulous regard for appearances, which the Prime Minister demands of all his Ministers. As a consequence the Prime Minister late yesterday evening met with Hon. Penner and required him to resign. After discussion Hon. Penner agreed with the position of the Prime Minister. He therefore tendered and had accepted his immediate resignation.

“In a related development, the Office of the Prime Minister also announces that the Immigration Ministry, together with the Ministry of the Public Service, has launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the issue of a Belize passport to a South Korean national. The Immigration Ministry will make a statement in the next day or so as to the results of that investigation.”

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Mountain Town of Jiufen - 九份茶坊 Taiwan

This past weekend we took a break from the hustle and bustle of Taipei and went to the northeastern mountains of Taiwan, to the Ruifang District.

We arrived at Jiufen to a pouring rain, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the spectacular town on the mountains overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

Recommendations to go to this town came from my Taiwanese friend, Christine, who was born and raised on these beautiful mountains. Jiufen used to be a gold mining town in the 1800's and when gold was struck the village went from 9 families to over 4000. But with the decline of gold mining, Juifen stopped growing.

In 1989 the movie, "A City Of Sadness", directed by Taiwanese director, Hou Hsiao-hsien was shot in the village and that brought the village back from decline. The movie was the first Taiwanese film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. It tells the story of the Kuomintang (KMT's) authoritarian misdeeds after it's 1945 handover of Taiwan from Japan, and was the first Taiwanese film to depict the 228 incident of 1947 in which thousands of people were massacred. 

Today Jiufen is also know for its beautiful panoramic vistas, including the famous shopping street, "Jiushan", which has shops and restaurants packed closely together from one end of the village main street to the other.

At the end of the village street is the "Jiufen Tea House". By the time we found the place I was dead tired and ready for some good tea, but low and behold, we had to wait about 30 minutes for a seat. The waiter asked if we wanted to be seated outside overlooking the bay, but it was still drizzling and I opted for a booth inside. I can just imagine the view outside on a gorgeous day.

In the middle of our table is a built in fire hearth with the tea kettle slowly boiling. We were seated on cushions on the floor and the waitress brought the menu that had some very interesting teas listed, some I have never tasted before. We ended up trying an Alishan high mountain oolong which the waitress told us was hand picked high on the fog-covered mountain plantations.
Fire Hearth in the middle of the table

A few minutes after our selection the waitress, or rather the tea expert, came back with the tea and tea sets and gave us a demonstration on how to brew the perfect cup of our selection. The demonstration led to a great tea learning experience on how long to brew this type of tea and how many times you can use the same pot of leaves. 
Quality tea leaves - Hand picked and no chemicals
This tea was of the highest quality and the steeped tea had a golden yellow color; the taste was fresh and there was a slightly sweet aftertaste. The tea expert said that the brewing time should be about 20 seconds, done twice, and the leaves should uncurl over time to experience the full flavor. In fact, the tea leaves can be reused and we ended up brewing our own set four more times.

After our tea experience we went out on the balcony to find that the rain had stopped and the most gorgeous view of the mountains and fishermen boats in the harbor was in full effect.  

Overall, the tea was great, the environment in the tea house was so beautiful, the reduced sour plums and steamed edamame sprinkled with sesame oil, garlic, and pepper served with our tea added to a wonderful tea experience. 

So the next time you are in Taiwan, go to Jiufen; it is fun and remember to stay to see the lights of the bay.
For reservations: Jiufen tea house 九份茶坊
                       142 Jishan Street - Tel: 886-2 2496-9056


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mid-Autumn Festival In Taiwan - 台灣在中秋節

Mooncake - I like them! Mooncake Festival, 19-21 September 2013
Pomelo - I don't like them that much, a bit too dry for my taste. Or maybe I have not picked a good one yet. Anyhow, pomelo is a part of the custom here and I respect the people and their customs.

It's an official holiday here in Taiwan, all weekend long, it's Mid- Autumn Festival. Mooncakes and Pomelo are everywhere!  "Mooncake Festival" is one of the most celebrated harvest festivals in the Chinese calendar, sharing its importance with Spring Festival. 

The Taiwanese Mid-Autumn Festival is also called the Mooncake Festival and has become an important time for families to spend together. Many people meet in the parks to enjoy the moon, considered to be at its brightest and fullest at this time of year and the making and eating of mooncakes is one of the hallmark traditions of the festival. 

Mooncakes are large round pastries stuffed with a variety of fillings, especially sweet red bean paste, and they symbolize unity and togetherness. Outdoor barbecues are also a key component of this festival and have become a popular affair for friends and family to gather and enjoy each other's company.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Taiwan's Dynamic Landmark: Taipei 101

101 on a rainy day
Replica inside the lobby
The High Speed Elevator
The Awesome View!
I'm finally at the top, Yeah!!!! Taipei 101 looms large over Taipei City. 

You are looking at the most obvious and dynamic landmark of Taiwan's upscale Xinyi District, Taipei 101. Taipei 101 was the world's tallest building, until the opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in 2010, it has 101 floors above ground and 5 below. But it still has the world's fastest elevator; it takes you to the top in just 30 seconds, the observation deck on the 89th floor.

But that's not all to Taipei 101, below or adjoining is a premier shopping mall with all the best name brand stores in the world; it's trendy, fashionable and as daring as one can get. There is ample opportunities for shopping, dining and night life in the sky! 

Taipei 101 was designed by C. Y. Lee and partners and constructed primarily by KTRT Joint Venture. It was designed to withstand typhoons and earthquake and the construction of the building was completed in 2004. 

The skyscraper tower has served as a symbol of modern Taiwan ever since its opening and in July of 2011 the building was awarded the LEED Platinum certification, the highest award in the rating system and is now the tallest and largest green building in the world.

All photos by Linda

History of building from

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Meeting Belize's First Lady In Taiwan, R. O. C

On my trip to Taiwan, Republic of China, I had never dreamed that I would be meeting the First Lady of Belize.

We are friends via Facebook but had never met face to face. I arrived two days previously and was surprised to get an e-vite to visit with Mrs. Barrow who also happened to be in Taiwan on humanitarian work. 

Arriving at her hotel, the first thing that jumped out at me was her dynamic personality and her vivacious spirit…stronger than ever, with her hair pulled back in a bun, she was the epitome of gracefulness. 

Kim Simplis Barrow recently returned from a trip to the UK and Nigeria as part of her humanitarian work for women and children of Belize.  In the UK, she created ties between London Children’s Hospital and she also hosted a very successful fund raiser for the new pediatric wing at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City.

Mrs. Barrow, Belize’s Special Envoy for Women and Children was in Taiwan on a working visit to learn more about the cooperation between Taiwan and Belize on humanitarian aid. Talking to Mrs. Barrow led me to believe that she takes her duties as Special Envoy very seriously and I can tell you that she cares deeply for the disadvantaged, the disabled, and the children and women of Belize.

The purpose of the First Lady’s visit is aimed at gathering knowledge about the development of charity groups and non-governmental organizations in Taiwan and exploring future cooperation between Taiwan and Belize.

I posed to her these two specific questions and got her reply.

Linda Crawford: The Tzu Chai organization is set up to help the poor; is your humanitarian trip designed to build a stronger Belize-Taiwan relationship?

First Lady Kim: This visit to Taiwan was designed to build relations with Belize particularly in the health sector as we seek to create partnerships for cooperation and support for the new Paediatric Intensive Care Unit being constructed at the Karl Heushner Memorial Hospital. Visits to the National Taiwan University Children's Hospital and the Far Eastern Memorial Hospital were enlightening as they relate to the design and function of the PICU as well as the possible establishment of a Dialysis Center in Belize City. 
For the Inspiration Center, visits to the Wenshan School of Special Education, the Genesis Social Welfare Foundation and the Children Are Us Foundation revealed significant ideas and opportunities to ensure the long term sustainability of the facility and to develop additional services for persons with disabilities in Belize.

L.C.: What do you think the average Belizean could learn from an organization like this?

First Lady Kim: What Belizeans can learn from the NGOs in Taiwan is the importance of looking after the vulnerable groups in our population. In the Chinese culture it is said that when you have extra, you should give to the less fortunate; if you cannot give financially, you can give of your time. All the organizations that I visited had many volunteer workers--some more than they need. That has been a great part of the success and sustainability of these NGOs that do so much for persons with disabilities, struggling single mothers, the poor, the homeless and other vulnerable populations that may have a harder time helping themselves.

Many of you already know that Mrs. Barrow has been through some very challenging times in regards to her health and I must say how amazing it is to see how she has handled her situation. She looks wonderful and remains active. I think that keeping a strict diet, and being active seem to be just some of the ways to win the fight against cancer. And of course, being in good hands with her doctors at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas. A year and eight months after her diagnosis, Kim is taking it one day at a time, knowing that she's still in treatment, with no guarantees on life. Mrs. Barrow said that she is here with us today feeling pretty good and doing the work that she loves and has set out to do.
It has been an amazing two weeks in Taiwan and I’m glad I got to meet this strong and brave representative for Belize, Mrs. Kim Simplis Barrow. Her work for women and children in Belize has been an inspiration to all of us.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) General, John F. Kelly in Belize

A group of Senior National Security Officials join General John F. Kelly upon his arrival in Belize.

[L-R: Coast Guard Commandant, John Borland; U.S. Chargé d'affaires, Margaret Hawthorne; Belize Defence Force Commander, Brigadier General David Jones; CEO in the Minister of National Security, Ret'd Col. George Lovell; U.S. Military Liaison Officer-Belize; U.S. SouthCom Commander, General John F. Kelly] 

Head of U.S. Southern Command Completes Visit to Belize

"U.S. Marine Corps General John Kelly, Commander of U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), departed Belize today after a two-day visit that included meetings with senior Belizean and U.S. Embassy officials, as well as visits to security installations around the country.

This is General Kelly’s first visit to Belize since becoming SOUTHCOM’s Commander in November 2012. Previously, he served as Senior Military Advisor to U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

Kelly visited Price Barracks on September 4, where he met with Brigadier General David Jones, Commander of the Belize Defence Force, to discuss security challenges of concern to the U.S. and Belize, bilateral military cooperation, and U.S. security assistance.

While at Price Barracks, the General visited the Belize Defense Force’s Joint Operations Center, being completed with U.S. and Canadian assistance to help Belize oversee future coordination between law enforcement, coast guard and defense forces supporting counter-narcotics operations.

Kelly also visited the Forward Operating Station in San Pedro, where he discussed maritime security cooperation with Rear Admiral John Borland, Commander of the Belize Coast Guard, before touring remote regions patrolled by Belize’s defense and security forces.

Earlier today, the General met with senior civilian leaders at the Ministry of National Security to talk about the defense partnership, security engagement and joint activities between the U.S. and Belize, including the recently completed humanitarian assistance exercise New Horizons, which contributed to the well-being of the Belizean people and afforded both of our military forces opportunities to sharpen their skills while gaining valuable experience. A similar New Horizons exercise is scheduled for 2014.

At the U.S. Embassy in Belmopan, Kelly and U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Margaret Hawthorne, spoke of SOUTHCOM’s support to U.S-Belize relations. Following today’s meetings, the General also traveled to southern Belize, where he observed an ongoing riverine training activity involving U.S. and Belizean personnel.

The U.S. and Belize enjoy a long history of active military cooperation that includes bilateral training, exchanges, seminars, exercises and operations aimed at addressing security challenges, improving interoperability and strengthening key capabilities."

Via Jose Sanchez's Facebook page.

Photos via Government of Belize Press Office

Rosh Hashanah - Chag Sameach! Happy New Year!

This year I will be spending Rosh Hashanah at the Grand Sheraton Hotel, Taipei, Taiwan. 

The Jewish New Year 5774 begins this year on the evening of September 4th, and continues until sundown on September 6th.

Unlike most other holidays, Rosh Hashanah is celebrated for two days in both Israel and the diaspora. It is the joyous beginning of a period known as the Days of Awe. The two days of the New Year were described by Talmudic sages in Aramaic as "Yoma Arichtah", meaning, "one long day."

Chag Sameach! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

PM Barrow Accompanies His Wife To The US For Medical Treatment

The Honorable Prime Minister of Belize, Mr. Dean Barrow traveled to the United States. 

A brief statement from the office of the Prime Minister announced that Mr. Barrow departed on Monday to join his wife Kim as she continues her scheduled medical treatment and check up at the MD Anderson Medical Center in Houston, Texas. 
Prime Minister Barrow is due back in the country on Friday, September 6, 2013. 
During his absence, the Honorable Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. Gaspar Vega will be the acting prime minister.
Photo via Special Envoy for Women and Children

Monday, September 2, 2013

Discovering The Sights And Sounds Of Taiwan

I'm in Taiwan, the Republic of China and I must say that this is a beautiful little island; a land of the old and the new dotted all over the capital city, Taipei. 

Ilha Formosa, as it was called by the Portuguese who once settled this island, is a modern and thriving industrialized country. There is just about anything you would like to see, do or eat here. Taipei is just as modern as any city in the West, but I have to say it's far ahead of many US cities in public transportation. Just think about high speed rail and you will know what I'm talking about.

Oh, and shopping; the streets are packed with whatever you would like to buy, day or night. And if you are like me, then this is the place for teas and tea houses. They are literally on every block and the displays are so inviting to the western eye. Not to forget the people, they are lovely. They are homely and down-to-earth, and go the extra mile to make you, a foreigner, feel welcome.

Here are some sight from around Taipei:
The Flag Of Belize At The National Taiwan Normal University
Taipei 101, The 4th Tallest Building In The World
Bikes For Rent And They Can Be Found All Over The City
Millions Of Scooters Everywhere
Land Of Tea...Look Carefully, You Will See My Reflection In The Cup
High Speed Rail