US Kingpin Rule Affects 1000+ Banana Workers in Southern Belize

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Updated: October 20, 2015

Yesterday we told you of the Mayan King Farms and the financial dire straits that the company was in until the international banana distributor, Fyffes, kicked in and began lending financial support to the company as they were going through hardships due to the recent drought and the subsequent challenges in having the growth of the bananas meet the international standard.  Well, the financial assistance has been withdrawn after the UK Company learnt of John Zabaneh being labelled as being a part of the drug trade business.  It is an unfortunate situation as Love News understands that about one thousand workers have been put out of work since last Thursday.  We spoke with Minister of Labor, Godwin Hulse on the matter.

GODWIN HULSE

“I am aware of it and it’s a very unfortunate situation but as I understand it that has to do with the United States designation under the Kingpin rule of the John Zabaneh investments; as there have been limits, nobody can do business with them and it is my understanding that Fyffes that was buying bananas from that farm through the Banana Growers Association has announced that it will discontinue buying any bananas from that farm.  So that poses a very serious problem for the industry and of course the workers there. The owners, nobody can strong arm them.  They will have to, as I understand it, dispose in an arm’s length, clean transaction that particular asset and then new owners would be certified but as long as, I understand it, the present owners are there they are de-certified and that is why these people are in such dire shape.”

 

Meanwhile, one employee, who is concerned over feeding her children and meeting the basic financial needs, spoke to us via telephone expressing her concern over the situation.

EMPLOYEE (Translated from Spanish to English)

“We are here fighting to eat because we don’t even have money and I don’t know exactly what the problem is why they have left us without work and I have children and they are here suffering with me.  We don’t know what the problem is; one boss says one thing and another boss says something else, and then we don’t know what happened exactly, what was the motive to stop. The boss is helping us a bit with food…but, the truth is that one does not only need to eat, but the children’s education and other things that one needs and that is why you work; but, exactly, we don’t know what is the problem.”

According to the worker, they will be traveling to Mango Creek in an effort to see how they can get their jobs back.  Meanwhile, the families are living on the bananas that are being disposed of.

EMPLOYEE (Translated from Spanish to English)

“Thursday, we are going to see if we are going to fight something there to see if they would give us the job again, because I don’t know exactly what is happening, if it is that the enterprise that was buying the banana does not want to buy it anymore… Suddenly, that might have been the reason to stop the shipment and all the workers, we are here waiting and asking God for them to give us back the job and that they continue buying the banana from the boss so we can continue working.  We are going to Mango Creek, all the workers will be going there. They are informing us that until Thursday because all of us wanted to go tomorrow, but, tomorrow it won’t be possible because of the weather.  So, in order not to risk our lives, we are going until Thursday… Right now all the people are just eating banana from the farm, because we don’t have groceries, we don’t have anything and the ‘supermarket’ is giving us nothing. Because the supermarket closed and in no other place they are giving us food, because the people that have their businesses know that if they don’t give us back our job, if they don’t continue buying the banana, they know that we will not have how to pay.”

While Minister Hulse agrees that it is an unfortunate issue, he added that there isn’t much the Government of Belize can do but that it is an issue to be handled by the owners of Mayan King Farms.

GODWIN HULSE

“There is not much the Government can do. I personally, when the whole issue had come up about a year and half ago, I intervened from a labor perspective and spoke with everybody concerned, including people in the Treasury Department of the United States, the US Embassy but the Kingpin Rule as it is called is a very strong ruling and it affects those persons who the United States determines to name and therefore no banks will do business with them, no financial transaction can happen with those companies and if you can’t do financial transactions then you really are in a straight jacket. So at this time I don’t think the Government has any plans to do anything about that and time is very short to deal with that, it has to be of course the owners who decide to dispose of their assets clean and fully as I understand it.”

Love News tried contacting John Zabaneh for comment this evening but he was not answering our calls.  We will keep following this story as it develops.