In the past couple weeks the issue of illegal rosewood extraction has literally exploded into the public consciousness. Illegal rosewood shipments have been confiscated by Government, but to date, no one is in prison for the offence against our Belizean patrimony; in fact, no one has even been taken to court for the matter, and the Belizean public has not been told why.
Confiscated rosewood has disappeared out of a Government compound, and no one has been held accountable. Hon. Lisell Alamilla, whose portfolio includes Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, has publicly burned a number of confiscated rosewood logs to show her determination to put an end to the illegal trade, but the “burning” question remains as to why no one is in prison for the crime.
Today, officially, the Forestry Department and the Customs Department “are investigating the origin of a 40-foot container containing approximately 28 tons of rosewood flitches which is being held by the Belize Customs Department at the Belize-Guatemala Western Border. The container was being brought into Belize via the Western Border on Wednesday, January 16, 2013.”
The information to Amandala is that 380 pieces of rosewood are being held at the Customs Department at the Western Border in Benque Viejo del Carmen.
The press release adds that the Forestry Department “is working with its counterpart in Guatemala and is awaiting confirmation on the origin and legitimacy of the rosewood material. Guatemala has imposed a restriction on the exportation of rosewood in the log forms (flitches), sawn wood and veneer sheets.”
This particular rosewood situation differs from the others that made news over the past few weeks. This situation is not a bust on the wood, but rather the transfer of a container of wood being delayed until the arrival of documentation to confirm the place of origin of the wood. The container did come from Guatemala; that fact is not being disputed. The issue in question, is from where exactly did the wood come?
There is a suspicion that the wood was extracted from forests in Belize, and was, to avoid trouble due to our moratorium on the product, transported to Guatemala, and brought back to Belize to look as if it was shipped from Guatemala.
Lorian Frazer, Customs Clerk One in the investigations department of Customs at the Western Border, said that he was aware of the illegal extraction of rosewood in Belize, and when he found out what the contents of the container were, it was decided that some documentation was necessary. Frazer said he reported to work after the shipment came in yesterday, Wednesday.
“Yesterday a trailer came into the compound from Guatemala and they requested it to be transferred into the shipper’s container because it came in a trailer, from a Guatemalan trailer,” he said.
Frazer said that it was not an unusual request for foreign shipments to be transferred to Belizean containers.
“Normally cargo that comes in Guatemalan trailers are transferred to some local trucks because foreign trucks aren’t allowed to go into Belize, unless they are specialized cargo, and since this shipment is destined for, or intransit, when the shipper’s container arrived and the Guatemalan trailer loaded into the shipper’s container so that the trailer could return to Guatemala,” he said.
The container of wood is being held at the border in custody of the Customs Department until the shipper presents certification of origin for the wood. Frazer said that there is no timeframe given to shippers to present such a type of documentation.
“The protocol would be, well he’s basically on his time,” Frazer said. “If he doesn’t produce what we’re asking, then his shipment doesn’t go anywhere. The shipment is within his interest. The goods just won’t go if they don’t meet what we’re requiring.”
Frazer said that he does not know who the shipper of the container is. He said that the container arrived and they just honored the request to ship it. The only information on the invoice for the container is where the shipment came from, where it is going, and what the contents are.
For the readers who do not know how a broker operates, a broker doing transshipment must receive a manifesto for the shipment entering into Belize and produce an export-entry permit. However, for an intransit shipment, a permit is not always necessary, because Belize is not the final destination for the goods. That was the case in this situation, with the container being transported. The final destination stated on the invoice is China.
Policarpio Manzanero was the broker responsible for the shipment after it arrived at the border. Anwar Hegar was the employee for the broker present at the border to take the shipment.
“My responsibility is getting all the merchandise here to be imported into Belize legally,” Hegar said. “So we have to do the paperwork for everything. We need to get the invoice and the cost of departure and the export-entry from Guatemala, so we can start to do our paperwork for the process for everything to be legal, so everything could be duty paid into Belize.”
Hegar said that when he went in to Customs, he informed the officers that he was there to pick up a shipment of lumber and when asked what type of lumber, he said rosewood. He said that he only knew what information was already told to him about the shipment.
“I really can’t say too much, because yesterday, I came and the truck was parked in the compound and when I came here the trucker, the Guatemalan trucker, he came in and gave me the papers for processing the paperwork. So that’s the only thing I could tell you,” he said.
Hegar said that after being told that he could not take the shipment, he contacted Manzanero in Belize City, who said that he was going to tell a person, only identified by the name “Cawich,” that a certificate of origin was needed in order for the shipment to be cleared.
Hegar said that he did not know the name or location of the company requesting the shipment, other than it is a Chinese company. Hegar said it was his boss’ first time working with the company. He said that he had shipped other type of woods before, but that it was the first time he saw a shipment of rosewood.
“Back in the years, a gentleman was bringing in lumber, but not like this,” he said. “It’s already chipped into pieces, but not like this. This is the first time we’re dealing with this and we’re trying to get everything legally so it could come into Belize.”
Hegar said that he did not have permission to provide any contact information for either Manzanero or Cawich.
Frazer said that the wood being held at the western border will neither be shipped to China nor taken back to Guatemala. It cannot go back to Guatemala because it has already been declared by Customs, and it cannot go to China until it is proven by proper documentation that the wood is not from Belize.
It is only hoped that the wood will not go “missing” from the Customs compound before the authorities find out where the wood really came from. Frazer said that the persons charged to look after the wood must be trusted to ensure that that will not happen.
“The property is manned by watchmen and Customs are here 24 hours; the gates are padlocked, so I guess you have to base it on the people working, the integrity of the people working,” he said.
According to the invoice that came along with the shipment, the wood was intransit heading for exportation to its final destination, China. It has been said that the rosewood is in high demand in China. It is also believed that most, if not all, of the illegally harvested rosewood which has been found before in Belize were for shipment to China.
Yes, there have been several busts of illegally harvested rosewood. Yes, Minister Alamilla has made her statement against the illegal harvesting of the wood by burning hundreds of pieces of rosewood that were found just last week. However, the question still remains, who is behind all of this illegal rosewood harvesting? And to add to that, could this container of rosewood be the set of wood that went missing from government property in December 2012? If the rosewood at the Western Border turns out to be rosewood from Belize, how did the wood get to Guatemala? And how much more wood is probably over the Guatemalan border waiting to be shipped as if it came from Guatemala, in an effort to evade the official Belize moratorium on the harvesting of our precious rosewood?