SOUTH STANN CREEK, Thurs. Oct. 1, 2015–At least 600 workers from the Maya King Banana Farm, the largest banana farm in Belize, are at risk of losing their jobs because of a combination of extreme weather and their boss’ bad reputation on the international scene.
Maya King is located in South Stann Creek and is owned by Myrtle Sherran, 88, but is managed by her son, John Zabaneh, 60, and hires close to 2 thousand employees in the high season of the banana industry.
But, right now, the company is struggling because of the drought that has affected the entire agricultural sector of the country. And even though the rains seem to have started, according to Chief Meteorologist, Dennis Gonguez, “It would not have made a difference with banana if the rain, in the first instance, was not sufficient to bring the crop to fullness for the international market standard.”
But even under these unusual circumstances, normally, in such a situation, the company would have been able to weather the crisis and keep all its employees paid by means of an overdraft facility.
But such an option is no longer available to Maya King, which cannot access the overdraft because of a “reputation” that has been hanging over John Zabaneh since 2012, when he was listed by the US Treasury Department Office of Foreign Assets Control as being a “King Pin”. Since that time, banks in Belize, afraid of losing their correspondent banking relationships with banks in the United States, have turned down all of Maya King’s applications for financing.
The company attempted to bypass the “reputation” obstacle by hiring a new management company, a private managing firm called Meridian Enterprise, run by director Jose Gonzalez. However, this adjustment in management has not satisfied the banks.
This week, Maya King was not able to meet the over two-hundred-thousand-dollar payroll for its workers, and it now faces the difficult decision to lay off at least 600 of its employees. In explaining the position they find themselves in, Zabaneh has commented, “This year has been substantially different; the drought continued even worse than the normal drought period.”
“We are not making 50% of the payroll, and therefore may be forced to send home half of our staff,” he told 7News.
Zabaneh pointed to the fact that because of the “King Pin” designation that was placed on him in August 2012, he has been blacklisted by all the banks and lending institutions in Belize, and, unlike other farms, he is not even able to access loans and overdraft facilities.
“The difference between the other farms and us is while they are able to access banks for overdrafts and loans, Maya King has not had that access. We have dealt with all these banks at some time or the other, even in times of a hurricane. And they brought us over. So that’s where the difference is between us and the other farms. We’re in quite a sticky position, where since we cannot do that,” he said.
Zabaneh told 7News tonight that he “has been made a scapegoat for all the wrongdoers in Belize,” but said that he has been in contact with Washington, trying to plead his case.