It will soon be a year since a moratorium was placed on rosewood extraction and the wood became a regular topic in the news. The outcomes of the most recent incidents involving the uncovering of illegal operations having to do with the extraction, storage or transportation of the timber have for the most part been unknown.
Well, the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, Hon. Lisel Alamilla, along with Chief Forest Officer at the Forest Department Wilber Sabido, has addressed that issue.
Sabido said that the department is dealing with two cases involving rosewood being found in containers. One of them came to their attention when they received a report in December 2012 that there was a container carrying what was suspected to be rosewood. He said when they did the inspection, the wood in the container turned out not to be rosewood, but a mixture of different types of timber.
“The situation with that is that the exporter had reported that they wanted to export only grenadine; however, when we opened the container and we found zericote in round or log form, that is against the law essentially,” Sabido said. “The zericote is a protected species that can only be exported as a value added product. So in that particular instance, we seized the produce from the container,” he explained.
Sabido said that the exporter, Anita Lui, is a known exporter to them, who was originally exporting out of Roaring Creek, but later moved to Orange Walk.
The other situation the department is dealing with is the one involving the two containers that were on the Belize Engineering Compound that had rosewood in them.
“We contacted police and we contacted customs, BAHA, all the law enforcement agencies, and it was so we actually had 20-foot containers that we took to our compound, and when we offload it, it was about a total of about 15,000 board feet of rosewood,” he said.
Sabido said that that particular exporter was Kambokin Enterprises Ltd., located in the Corozal District. He was only able to name one of the persons who were connected to the company, and could only identify the person as “Perrera.”
“We’ve had had dealings with that company before because they exported rosewood legitimately,” he said. “In this particular instance, we have only managed to make contact through the broker, Mr. Raul Cawich, so it’s through him, with the DPP, that we’ll see how we can contact the actual owner of the material.”
The wood found in the containers at the Belize Engineering Compound was impounded and is being held at the Forestry Department compound in Belmopan. Minister Alamilla said that as far as she is aware, the department has contacted the DPP and has proceeded with legal action. She assured that the wood is secure at the location and that there is 24/7 security to ensure it is not tampered with.
In the case of the 40-foot container containing 380 pieces of rosewood that arrived at the Belize Western Border in Benque Viejo Del Carmen in January, Sabido said that that remains in the hands of the Customs Department.
“Simply because Customs gives some period for the owner of the material to present legitimate documents, and if in a particular period of time they cannot present such documents, then the Comptroller of Customs can then move to seize the property. So at this point, the Forest Department can’t assume that responsibility until that is done from the Customs,” Sabido said.
Sabido said that since there are allegations that the wood is of Guatemalan origin, they have contacted Guatemalan authorities, who are concerned about the wood as well. He said that the Guatemalan authorities are doing their own investigations into the matter.
Minister Alamilla has been criticized for her bold actions when she burnt hundreds of flitches of rosewood that were discovered in the Golden Stream Village in the Toledo District. Several sections of the public were offended by the burning and said that Minister Alamilla could have used the wood for something beneficial for the people of the country.
The Minister defended her actions, saying that she wanted to send a message across that the moratorium stood and rosewood is not to be extracted. Since more rosewood has been confiscated recently, it is a question on several minds if the same thing would be done.
“We haven’t decided yet what we will do, because we continue to find rosewood,” Minister Alamilla said. “In fact, there are regular reports and we’re confiscating 20, 30 flitches at a time. So the amount of rosewood we have recovered is increasing almost on a weekly basis. And we definitely need to put something forward to Cabinet for them to consider, so that decision won’t just lie with my ministry,” she said.
The flitches that were burnt were believed to have been prepared for shipment out of the country, probably to China. The person responsible for that illegal business was Hilmar Alamilla, a northern political figure who was issued with a license before the moratorium was put in place. Alamilla’s license has been cancelled and he has been charged for breaching the terms of the concession. The breach of the license was that Alamilla, who is of no relation to the Minister, was extracting rosewood and no one has a permit to extract rosewood.
The Minister is not willing to tolerate any violation of forest policies. Recently forest ranger Charles Rivas was transferred from his station at the Machaka Hill Forest Station in the Toledo District, where he was working for a few years, after there were allegations that he was involved in illegal rosewood operations.
“There were allegations that he was very much involved in the rosewood business,” the Minister said. “Unfortunately, when you deal with the public officers, you have to be very careful about how you manage any allegations brought against them, because you just can’t dismiss them like that. That’s just not how the public service works. So we have taken him out of the area to ensure that if those allegations are true, that we have removed him from Toledo,” she explained.
An investigation into that matter is ongoing. The Minister announced on the KREM WUB morning show that the ministry is revising its forestry policies.