REPORT #163 Jan 2000

Produced by the Belize Development Trust

I'm not sure how one could categorize the contrabista profession with development issues. I know it plays a part, but in Belize it is usually so minor and insignificant as to be ridiculous.

The Mexicans probably curse the Belize government regularly, for Belize has been a source of contraband for Mexican smugglers since the 1500's, when they fell under the Royal Charter of the Monarchy in Spain. Tariffs were stiff in Spanish controlled Merida. Yet British Honduras has supplied Mexican smugglers for centuries with things, like Scotch whiskey, European perfumes, fine linens, Australian margarine and other things. Belize still caters to this trade today. The difference is, that goods going out of Belize are "legal". The fact that the Mexican buyers throw away the paperwork when they cross the border is irrelevant to Belmopan. Always has been and always will be.

Yet, nowadays it is a two way street. Sometimes items are smuggled into Belize from Mexico. Again, they are "legal" re- exports in Chetumal, but the Belizean buyers simply throw away the paperwork and smuggle them home. The Belizean market for Mexican smuggled goods is too small, to really bother anyone. The amount that can be carried, smuggled and sold is too trivial to bother about most of the time. Usually, the merchants that import milk run out and then it becomes imperative for a man with relatives and small children to make a trip to Chetumal and buy a boat load, or car load of milk and smuggle it into Belize. Maybe, if he is lucky he can sell enough to relatives to pay for his gasoline costs.

What is alarming, is the attitude of the Customs people in Orange Walk. The northern districts have been infamous for years for our crooked colonial police forces, but to read in the newspaper the Reporter of December 19th, 1999, that Customs agents are acting in a criminal manner is very disturbing.

Governments create contrabandistas! Usually through excessive high taxation. If you have siphoned gas out of a car tank into a container for use in another vehicle, you know that liquid will try to seek it's own level of balance. Like the siphon hose, the smuggler simply tries to equalize the balance, when there is a distortion of excessive taxation. Or lack of prohibited supplies.

The following letter raises the specter of a government customs department that is out of control. Criminal in nature in a violent way! It is bad enough that Belizeans have to deal with a crooked colonial police force national system. That customs officers are also now turning to violent criminal acts is outrageous.

To the Editor of the Reporter, on Dec. 19th, 1999.

On December 7th, between noon and 3:30 p.m., I was on the San Lorenzo sugar road to visit a person whom I had contracted to cut some palmetto. My Maroon Nissan pick-up with licence plate OW-C 6388, was parked on the sugar road because I could not drive all the way to where the person lived. I left a friend in the vehicle to take care of it while I was gone.

When I returned I found that my vehicle had been trashed and vandalized. The friend who I had left to take care of it told me that some people came up in a white Hilux Toyota pickup truck with a RED LIGHT on top. The GOVERNMENT blue and white license plate was 1305.

My friend hid when he heard the pickup approaching and heard a shot. He sat still in the bushes and watched as a member of the Customs Department vandalized my pickup. This is not the first time that something like this has been done. It has happened to other members of Orange Walk town as well. I have more than a dozen people who can testify that my life has been threatened. These people have harassed me and my family. They come around honking their horns early in the morning and then leave laughing.

There is one Customs female officer in particular who tells people whom she "thinks" are smugglers and that she would shoot them.

Customs officers do a number in Orange Walk town. Once they slashed all four tires of a man's pickup; dumped sand in the engine and started the ignition to ruin it. These things are not only unfair, they are criminal in nature.

I would like to know what the head of the Customs Department is going to do, but most of all, what is Mr. Jorge Espat, the Minister going to do? I know that he wants the job done, but he has to know who are doing the job and how they are doing it.

signed: John August What would you do as a cabinet minister? What would your reaction be? Should he fire the customs officers concerned? Hire some of those new hungry graduates from the Colleges and University who are trained for nothing else but salaried jobs in government? Should the behavior of customs officers be above reproach? Is this behavior, if true, going to breed violence and murder? Probably! Is suspicion grounds for persecution?

Canada in today's news is prosecuting some USA tobacco cigarette manufacturers. It seems that Canada has a policy to protect their young people from the bad effects of cigarette smoking and nicotine drug addiction, has thus heavily taxed imported American cigarettes. The USA companies have been tied to cigarette smuggling rings, taking cigarettes by the semi- trailer truckload across the border illegally to sell in Canadian markets. The Canadian government is incensed. The cross border cigarette smuggling got so busy, that rival gangs were shooting up each other and hi-jacking trailer loads of different companies.

Back in the 1980's I had a Houston, policeman on holiday in San Pedro offer me $20,000 USA a load, if I would take the MV 'Winnie Estelle' up to New Orleans and run cigarettes between Missippi and Texas for him. It was a sideline business of his, in which he explained he ran cigarettes down farm back roads across the state lines, avoiding state taxes using semi-trailers. Sometimes they lost loads to the police, but he said nobody was policing the inland waterway. I refused of course, being the honest fellow I am. ( hrrmmph!)

In Orange Walk town, I side with the people accused and terrorized by Customs agents acting solely on suspicion. If you cannot expect your government officials to obey the laws, then government itself loses respect. The agents of the law must be above reproach, or they are not fit to act on behalf of the government. It is abuse of the uniform and office and not to be tolerated, no matter the suspicions.

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