Rosewood Amnesty: GOB Giving Green Light To Those Who "Ran Red"
Last night PLUS TV out of Belmopan broke the news that thousands of board feet of confiscated Rosewood were on the move from the Forestry Department Compound in the Capital. Valencia’s trucking out of Orange Walk had been hired to haul the logs – where to, no one knows for sure. But late this evening, Government sent out a release saying that it has a plan for all that Rosewood – and it’s a controversial one.
Forty minutes ago, the Government release was issued; it says, quote:
“The Ministry of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development has decided to allow the sale/export of already harvested rosewood over the period 8th – 26th April, 2013 to avoid the complete loss of value.”
The release does not say who will benefit from the proceeds from the sale, if it will derive to government, or to the red-light running exporters, or whether, as some sources suggest, it will be shared.
According to our information, Government at one point entertained the plan to act as seller and export the Rosewood, presumably to China where it fetches top dollar. Under that plan, Government would then receive the proceeds of those sales - and this is the controversial part – then share that money in an even split with the companies it was confiscated from – companies such as Kambokin that had two twenty foot containers confiscated from a compound near the customs department in January of this year. Again, that is just a report, and the release gives no indication of what the revenue arrangement will be – in fact, it lends itself to the interpretation that the owners – form whom it was confiscated – will be doing the exporting.
But whatever the case, the highly unusual development is sure to raise many eyebrows and excite some level of public outrage because basically it would giving a green light to those Rosewood dealers who’ve been running red’s since the Rosewood moratorium was put into effect 13 months ago.
This 19 day amnesty on Rosewood exports will allow all those exporters who have illegally extracted Rosewood during the moratorium to bring out their fitches from where they’ve been stashing them and rush to have them exported during the amnesty period. Apparently, as the PLUS TV footage shows they will also get back all that Rosewood which was confiscated. There is no word at this time on whether the amount confiscated at the Benque Viejo border will be included in this lot – since that was forfeited to the Forestry Department three weeks ago.
We await further details on this very unusual decision by government – a decision which seems to bear the heavy influence of politically well-connected Rosewood dealers.
It should be noted that after the amnesty they’ll have a harder time exporting Rosewood since it has now come under CITES protection – a level of international scrutiny that even Cabinet connects cannot so easily overcome.
When minister’s away, the Rosewood Kings getaway
The harvesting of rosewood is illegal and there is a moratorium in place since March sixteenth, 2012, but that has not stopped the highly lucrative trade to markets in China, where there is a huge demand for the precious hardwood. On Monday afternoon, confiscated flitches of rosewood held at the Forestry compound in Belmopan were loaded in two containers. By this afternoon, the containers were moved from Belmopan but its destination has not been confirmed, nor who ordered its release and that is raising eyebrows. News Five’s Isani Cayetano went looking for answers today.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
The departure of two, forty-foot containers of rosewood flitches from the Forest Department in Belmopan at midday is raising more questions tonight than it has yielded answers, since the media caught wind of movement on the compound on Monday afternoon. The cargo is presumably the contents of a sizeable confiscation on February seventh, involving fifteen thousand board feet of rosewood belonging to Kambokin Enterprises. That import, a twenty, as well as a forty-foot container, was seized at the Western Border, where it was being housed by Belize Engineering Ltd. The shipment was subsequently relocated to Belmopan. There the logs remained under security until they were loaded by a team of workmen into containers owned by Little Belize Exporters Ltd., a concern registered to Orange Walk businessman Wilbert Valencia. When News Five spoke with Valencia by phone earlier today, he told us that he was only contracted to remove the lumber from the Forest Department’s compound. Who authorized the taking away of the rosewood is still unclear and where it is destined for is another matter altogether. In the past, Valencia has conducted business with customs broker Raul Cawich for logistics pertaining to the export of rosewood. Cawich has disavowed any knowledge of the freight or its accompanying paperwork, stating instead that he has not been contacted by anyone, including Wilbert Valencia, for the job. In the absence of Forest Minister Lisel Alamilla and Chief Forestry Officer Wilbur Sabido, who are both out of the country, News Five attempted to get a comment from Chief Executive Officer Dr. Wendell Parham but we were told that he was in a meeting. Similarly, we tried contacting Deputy Chief Forest Officer Marcelo Windsor to find out about the suspicious transaction. He too was unavailable for comment. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.