Belize made its first export of cattle to Guatemala in February 2017. Since then there has been an informal passage used via Bullet Tree Village, Cayo District, in getting the hundreds of heads of cattle over to the Peten area. Within the last week, however, challenges arose as it was reported that the Village Chairman was blocking the passage of the cattle unless a fee was paid to him. Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse gave some clarity on this informal export passage as well as explaining that the blockage in passing the cattle via Bullet Tree Village came from the Guatemalan authorities as well as the Chairman.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture: “The reason was that it was informal and it kept going, there was no revenue coming to government there was no GST nothing so it kept going. However during this period of emergency it was not the ministry to say per se or the village who stopped it. Initially the BLPA because they were having some difficult with the Guatemalans and so they did not want to continue. That matter was raised in a meeting that he had, a meeting of what we call monitoring committee on which Honorable Mai sits as well, that matter was raised and the chairman Mr.Wade explained that the BLPA people did not want to deal with it there was difficulty with the Guatemalans so that’s where it really started. Then apparently that seemed to have been cleared up and they began to try to send it again and at that point in time I understand the people in Bullet Tree were in arms about it passing through their village but the truth of the matter is and the facts are that when government looked into it and we had to do so officially there was communique between the Ambassador to Guatemala from Belize His Excellency Alexis Rosado and I also spoke to the Vice Minister responsible and all the occasions it was made clear by various contacts that the Guatemalans would not turn a blind eye to that exportation through that area and in fact actually prevent it, that is what we have been told by the officials over there. They have closed their border there were issues in the Department of Peten in fact the Department of Peten was not even allowing other Guatemalans to enter Peten at all there was some apparently mini riots in some of the villages neighboring the border. So the Government of Belize then is hard pressed to sanction what the Government of Guatemala has communicated they would prevent, it is not an official crossing, it is not an official border point and so we in effect would be sanctioning what would be amounting on that side to an illegal operation.”
This situation has posed a major problem for the livestock producers in Belize and puts them at risk, once again at losing revenues especially with the upcoming drought. Hulse explained that he, along with CEO Jose Alpuche are in dialogue with their Guatemalan counterparts and the Belize Livestock Producers Association to have cattle exportation resume.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture: “We did that on the 17th of February 2017 when our first legal shipment went when I first became the minister responsible for agriculture and we sent a legal shipment through the border point so that’s been established already. When we contacted the minister, my CEO and myself spoke with him he said the importers on that side need to apply for their permits so that they can then begin to import the animals through the proper established legal route. In that regard we have advised the BLPA and we have the other parties that they should initiate that process so that we could start to get the animals moving through that proper route and that is where we are on that. So the Government of Belize and Cabinet discussed this in depth and look at all the angles but when it came to the fact that the Guatemalans themselves are saying that they’re not going to allow it then that dies right there. It’s not that government is – what we’re saying is let’s do it formally Guatemala and Mexico and there’s a provision to do it formally as well I had visited with the Mexican Minister Vialobos and took a whole delegation including BAHA and the now Deputy Prime Minister Hugo Patt accompanied us and we worked out the arrangements to be able to do that as well to Mexico of course again it has to go formally. So we’re pushing and we will move every stop to make sure that it can go properly formally and they can continue. Well we have an agreement you know, we have an agreement with Guatemala how this is done, a clear written agreement and so we just have to follow the protocols. This was as I said done before it’s not as though during this pandemic now we’re just going to engage the process of formally exporting we did it before and the farmers discontinued and it and it’s my understanding from the BLPA was on that other side the importers had difficulties with some of the fees that they had to pay and that sort of thing and so it’s easier if you, to coin a word it would almost be reverse contraband things coming through an informal border point to our country this is going into Guatemala from an informal border point.”
While the Bullet Tree Village passage is being eliminated and a more formal system is being sharpened, Love News asked Hulse who was once the Minister of Rural Development, if the Village Chairman acted within his authority to block the cattle and to implement such a fee.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture: “There’s nothing to handle, there’s nothing that’s gonna pass so there’s nothing to handle. I was not part of that discussion with him and so it’s only been reported t me what their request etc were but because we’re not going to use that route that is a shut down route it’s not an issue.
Reporter: But being the former Minister of Rural Development does the village chairman have that right to stop such a process and implement a fee ? Is that within the purview of his authority.
Hon. Godwin Hulse, Minister of Agriculture: I don’t think so. I don’t think so but I think perhaps it needs be put in a different position. My understanding is that they were complaining about the trucks passing through and messing up the village roads etc and that somehow some accommodation can be made in that regard but as I said we’re not using the route so that dies.”