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Spanish Lookout Farmers Up in Arms over Protest at the Border

After three days of protest by Guatemalan truckers traffic into Belize through the western border resumed as per normal this morning. The Guatemalans had parked their trucks at the gate since Monday, blocking the entrance into Belize for other vehicles. It was a matter that needed a resolution fast as a prolonged protest could have possibly brought losses to farmers, particularly in the Spanish Lookout area. The truckers were protesting the high overhead that they have had to bear each time they come to pick up corn for export. Among those expenses were the cost of the Covid-19 test and the cost for a Customs Guard. The role of the Customs Guard is to escort the truckers to their destination to ensure that they do not alight their trucks and to deliver any food or drinks they may need during the loading process. In speaking with an official at the western border we were told that the cost of the Customs Guard, who would follow the trucks in either a private vehicle or taxi, was bore by the truckers. We were also told that the guard was responsible to oversee the operations so that the truckers have no physical contact with the farmers due to the potential transmission of Covid-19. As we noted, the matter was resolved and today the Customs and Excise Department issued a written letter informing the Guatemalans that they are omitting the escort process but that the Covid-19 testing would not be amended. Albert Reimer, who is the Chairman of the Belize Grain Growers’ Association, explained to Love News that the Guatemalans also had a third point of contention.

Albert Reimer, Chairman, Belize Grain Growers Association: “As I understand it there’s two issues. One is that they were required to get a COVID test every time they come into the country regardless how often it was even if it was multiple times a week and the other issue was the time that they were given to enter into the country and load the truck and go back was too little it was a really hassle. It was a great inconvenience and really a big hassle for the farmers to get these trucks loaded on time and to be back at the border on time during the short period of time that they were given and it was increasing the cost and the effort needed to comply to that.”

Reimer goes on to explain how important the trade is between Belize and Guatemala. He further noted that when it comes to corn Belize sends over an estimated fifty million pounds annually.

Albert Reimer, Chairman, Belize Grain Growers Association: “We as a country are very dependent on Guatemalan buyers for our agriculture products especially corn. Belize exports about fifty million pounds a year to Guatemala. We sell about, in corn and other agricultural products we sell about fifteen million dollars of product to Guatemala and that’s fifteen million of foreign exchange every year that we know as this country desperately needs. So anything that hinders these buyers to come to our country, any additional cost that they have to incur to come to buy from us that makes us less competitive and that is coming straight out of our own pockets. That’s just simply economics because if they don’t buy the products from us they’re going and source it from some other country or somewhere else because we have to compete against other sources where these Guatemalans buy. So it is directly out of own pocket, simple economics as that.

The traffic into Belize via the western border resumed this morning just after nine o’clock.