In June, 2010 the Supreme Court delivered a breakthrough decision affirming the ancestral rights of thirty-eight Mayan villages in the south. That decision allows the Maya communities to log and bars the Forestry Department from intervening until the wood leaves the communal area. Containers of the wood are being shipped primarily to China; each container fetches about two hundred thousand dollars. The Maya Leaders Alliance is against what they consider the rape of the Toledo forests. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Rosewood is a highly expensive wood that is sought after internationally to build high-end furniture. And in the south where natural resources are plenty and people are poor, Rosewood forests are being assaulted for a few dollars. On Saturday, the Forest Department unloaded an illegal shipment of Rosewood Zericote from the Port.
Marcelo Windsor, Deputy Chief Forest Officer
“In this case, the customs department called us in—that they had some four containers that did not have any forestry certification; meaning that there is no inspection that was carried out and they wanted us to confirm whether the applications; that is the supply control forms were the same as what was in the containers. We proceeded on Friday and we found that contrary to what the forms did have, we actually found that we had approved the exportation of black poison wood and these were actually rosewood and zericote. So the forest department proceeded to confiscate the material. We’re still awaiting for the exporter to come into the office and for us to proceed with the illegalities of this later on.”
The form essentially says that the exporter Guoming Lee of Northern Lumber Company at number one Victoria Avenue in Orange Walk was exporting Black Poison wood to Shenzen City in Guangdong China.
“If Mister Lee doesn’t make an appearance, what happens then? Do you charge him? What happens?”
“Well firstly, the material is the property of forest department. We’ve actually confiscated that. Mister Lee will have to come into the office and we will decide what charges we will be bringing against him.”
“Does this affect his license or his operation as an exporter of wood?”
“Definitely I would say yes. In regards to the export of rosewood and zericote, as I said earlier, the forest department is trying to regulate the process. With this now, we have to be more vigilant with regards to those shipments.”
Chief Forest Officer Wilbur Sabido says the department is trying to regulate the extraction.
Wilbur Sabido, Chief Forest Officer
“What we request as a Forest Department is that there be adherence to the Forest Act which is the act that governs the actual extraction of timber—whether it be from private or public lands—that there be a license requested and issued by the forest department which legitimizes basically the logging operation. And also in terms of the transportation of the material once it is extracted through that legitimate license; that anytime material is being transported through public roads that a waybill accompany that particular material. In the sense that the waybill will essentially include what species is on the vehicle that’s transporting the material and that there be an estimate of the volume and as well who it is being bought from and who it’s being delivered to. In this particular instance, it didn’t fulfill the basic requirement of certification—that the material comes from a legitimate source confirmed by the forest department through a license nor did it have the forest department stamp that it requires.”
“Mister Sabido, but if this exporter did all the proper paperwork, this rosewood would have been exported?”
“If the gentleman or the exporter had provided all the legitimate licenses or documents, then certainly it would have shown that in this particular instance the rosewood would have been cut or extracted through a process that had been sanctioned through the forest department.”
“What would an exporter have to gain by lying? By just changing the name of the wood; what would they have to gain?”
“Well first of all in terms of the value that was reported to the supplies control board or directorate of foreign trade, there would need to place an estimated value of that particular material that is in that container. Meaning that int he case of rosewood, probably the value would have been higher and the tax associated with that value would be higher. Now it begs the question: Why conduct illegal activities versus legitimizing your activity and probably receiving a green light for anything that you want to export? Certainly it has to do with the return on investment that legitimate businesses usually get which is one hundred percent.”
Tree cutters from at least seven Mayan Communities extract Rosewood and are paid as little as three dollars and seventy five cents for a wood that is extremely valuable.
“This is roughly about twelve or twelve by eight which gives you something about one hundred or more feet and if you sell that at local market value, it’s something like three hundred and forty-five, three hundred and fifty dollars. So it does have a significant value here. And at the export market, you can actually get about six to seven times more what you actually pay locally.”
Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.
Cutters hail from the villages of: Crique Sarco, Midway, Sunday Wood, San Benito Poite, Corazon, Otoxa and Laguna.