While the entire agriculture sector is taking hits from every corner, one specific issue we highlighted in yesterday’s news had to do with the cattle exporters in the Cayo District. As we reported, the exporters are being blocked from passing through Bullet Tree Village allegedly by the village chairman, Sabino Pinelo. The report is that the chairman wants to implement a $70 fee for which he has no authority over. Love News understands that in a meeting with the Agriculture Taskforce, Pinelo stated that he would not be backing down and that he has the support of the police officers in that area. The Belize Livestock Producers Association (BLPA) had made recommendations on behalf of the farmers to the Minister of Agriculture, Godwin Hulse for him to discuss in today’s Cabinet meeting. Our multiple attempts to reach Hulse for an update have been futile. We did, however, contact the Area Representative of Orange Walk South, and member of the Agriculture Taskforce, Jose Mai, for more insight on the situation. He stated that while Minister Hulse has not responded to him as yet, concerned farmers have been contacting him.
Jose Abeladro Mai, Agriculture Task Force Member: “On the 20th of March I think it was three truck loads of cattle were being exported. The executive director I think her title is was present when the Chairman of Bullet Tree Stopped the three truckloads and said “You cannot cross.” and they said but why ? Then I think they still attempted to try to cross and then the chairman called the police. The police came and then from what I’m told that it was stopped and the three truck loads of cattle were then escorted back from Bullet Tree to Belmopan and all the way to Orange Walk; this is where the problem began. We’ve never had a problem for twenty years more than twenty years we’ve never had a problem from the chairman. Nobody was telling us exactly what was the problem, some were saying “Oh it was the health of the people that was at risk.” and others were saying that the chairman was attempting to charge a fee but we didn’t know it was only yerisoh. We had to get to the bottom of it. We went to the meeting and low and behold the chairman said that he believed that he has chairman can charge a fee. I asked him what was the fee and he said something – for example he said “75$ per truck.” Now the problem is that I think the chairman was assuming authority which does not belong to him. The Village Council Act is very clear, it tells you what is the responsibility of the chairman and the village council, it tells you where their authority begins and where it ends. So when you stop a vehicle from passing through your village that’s illegal, you cannot stop anybody from passing through your village. Two, to attempt to charge a fee is another offence in my view so the chairman in my view has acted illegally, unlawfully by stopping the vehicle and attempting to charge.”
Mai also stated that, if the cattle exporters are allowed to continue, it would be a win/win situation. He explained that the Guatemalans have plenty of mouths to feed, and as such, would benefit largely from Belize surplus of livestock, which would in turn help to alleviate the storage problems. Mai also mentioned that the Agriculture Ministry is looking to meet with the authorities from Guatemala. However, Mai feels that this is the wrong path to go down.
Jose Abeladro Mai, Agriculture Task Force Member: “I understand that they had given instructions to the CEO to meet with the Minister or Vice Minister of Agriculture in Guatemala and Peten, all what they are doing is stirring up an ant nest that we don’t need. Because Guatemalan had had no problem for twenty years, they know it’s happening, they accept it’s happening everybody is making money off it, everybody is happy. Our health status is excellent, we have a good health status for our animals, Guatemala put their procedures in place we have our procedures on this side everything runs smoothly. It is just now that because one chairman has decided to want to impose a fee and it stops and it’s a shame. What they’re doing now in Guatemala and negotiating with this and that is fine to the midterm and long run it’s fine we should have done that a long time ago they had twelve years they never did it; now at this critical point in time they will want rush do it. What makes you believe that what you did not achieve in twelve years you will achieve in two days?”
We will continue to follow this story by seeking responses from the agriculture officials.