“Bigger than us,” says Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido
Police today reported on yet another rosewood bust – this time it was four locals and a Guatemalan who were nabbed in an operation in which they were hauling a tractor-trailer loaded with rosewood, despite a moratorium which has been in effect since 2012.
The problem is one which under-resourced Belizean authorities have been ineffective at checking.
“It’s bigger than us,” Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido told Amandala today, adding that these appear to be very organized operations.
Sabido said that the latest bust solidifies their suspicion that there is a clandestine operation to illegally harvest rosewood and smuggle it to Guatemala, destined for the China market, where the prized wood fetches a premium price.
Today, police in Independence Village, Stann Creek District, reported that they had visited an area in the Maya Mountain Forest Nature Reserve, where five men were detained for unlawful possession of a forest product.
Police said that 1,500 board-feet of rosewood were loaded onto a blue Ford tractor, and they proceeded to confiscate both the tractor and the rosewood.
They arrested in the operation Pablo Ramirez, 38; Ernesto Choc, 25, a Guatemalan; Martin Coc, 34; and Javier Coc, 18 – all living in Trio Village. Shane Coleman, 26, of Independence Village, was also arrested and detained with them.
Sabido told Amandala that they believe the rosewood was logged in the Trio Village area, near the forest reserve. He noted that one of the men had previously been fined $500 for illegal logging, but this time around, the Forest Department would ask the court to impose both a fine and jail time.
Sabido said that “you would really have to be living under a rock” to not know that a rosewood moratorium is in place.
He said that authorities in Guatemala, who have also been cracking down on illegal rosewood operations there, have been trying to identify where their rosewood is coming from, and indications are that Belize rosewood is being smuggled over the border to Guatemala.
The Chief Forest Officer stressed the need for relevant authorities to step up their surveillance efforts.
Currently, the Forest Department is embarking on an on-the-ground assessment of rosewood to determine the extent of the current stock. He said that the assessment is now being done in the Boom Creek and Barranco area.
This means that at least for those locations where officers are on the ground analyzing the situation, there is increased presence to deter illegal activity. However, the Department hopes that alongside the assessment, they would be able to hire more workers.
Sabido said that they have now received approval to hire more forest officers and they will be looking at the applications on file to select persons to fill those posts. He said that he is encouraged that many young people have applied.
Sabido told us that this is the first major rosewood bust after the Deep River bust in 2013. He recalled the most recent report of illegal logging of rosewood in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, but noted that by the time Belizean authorities could make it to the scene, the Guatemalans had already escaped with the logs.