Who is benefiting from the Xate contract?
Turning to the controversial Xate trade; they are the leaves from Three Chamaedorea species of palm tree. The leaves are highly valuable in Europe and the United States sought after because of their lovely appearance in floral arrangements. The palms harvested primarily in Mexico and Guatemala; and to poor peasants who earn up to five U.S. dollars a day, they are literally money to pick up off forest floors. In 2007 alone, over four hundred million stems of xate were exported to the U.S. and Europe. But overharvesting in Guatemala has resulted in Xateros illegally crossing into Belize’s Chiquibul National Park. The incursions have been a particular irritant so why has the Ministry of Agriculture allowed a foreign company, Eco-Green, to set up a Xate operation in the Cayo district? The media was not invited to Wednesday’s launch, and it was very difficult to get hold of the government press office’s recording of the event. When we finally got a copy today, the recording raised more questions than answers. It is not known if any locals share a partnership in the company but word to News Five is that a Cayo businessman was given permits and accompanying licenses to harvest xate. But just prior to Eco-Green’s appearance, the businessman’s license was cancelled and local interests close to one minister and an area representative were given the green light to invest in the new business venture.
Rene Montero, Minister of Agriculture
“Eco-Greens Company Limited will be involved strictly in the harvesting, packaging and the export of Xate leaves to the U.S. and Europe. It’s very important for this area, Cayo Central which I represent, and also to Belize because it has the potential of becoming a major foreign exchange earner and most importantly it will create jobs, especially women living in this area. We see this industry as growing and we see it as a great, great industry for Belize, similar to the citrus, the sugar and bananas. It can grow as long as we practice sound management practices, sustainable management practices. I think that we can sustain it so it can be a major income earner for Belize.”
Carlos Rodriguez, President, Universal Greens, USA
“We have been involved in this business in Guatemala and in Mexico for thirty-one years and we got involved with Belice because we found out that Belice had the product also and so now we are involved in Belice. It is also a product that is one hundred percent natural. As you can see behind us, the girls have no machinery; it’s all natural. They pack it, we roll it in paper and we ship it to the United States. In the United States we put it in water and we package it to different customers for different parts of the country and Europe.”
“We always to try to see if we get employment for women and you know that this industry will mainly, about seventy-five percent of the workers will be women. Right now we have about seventy people employed, about forty doing the harvesting and about thirty people here doing the packaging and selecting, getting ready the leaf for export.”
“We will spend approximately two million U.S. dollars in advertising and the restructure and the teaching of the people of how to process the product, package it, and send it abroad. We will employ in Belize around a thousand employees in Belize alone.”
“Government will be collecting revenue in terms of the royalty being paid to government and because previously all the Xate—about ninety percent of the Xate used to be harvested illegally and taken over to our neighboring countries. But now Belize will benefit from this vital natural resource that we have here. We will be able to harvest it and we will as Belizeans will be able to benefit from it.”
It is said that even up to a thousand people will be employed, so the question that follows is who gets the job; Guatemalans? News Five attempted to reach Montero today but we were told he was unavailable.