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#507943 - 10/01/15 06:09 AM Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600
Marty Offline

Johnny Zabs Can’t Meet Payroll

John Zabaneh, He’s not been in the news for almost a year and a half since he granted an interview to 7 News in which he complained that the Drug King Pin designation that the US Government placed on him in August 2012 was destroying his businesses.

Well, it appears that his prediction is slowly coming through. Mayan King Banana Farm, his mother’s banana company, located in South Stann Creek, is one of the largest Banana operations in the south, and it hires anywhere between twelve hundred to 2 thousand employees in the high season.

But, right now, the company is struggling, and the drought, has been destroying their banana crop as well. The company would have normally been able to weather this storm and keep all its employees paid by an overdraft facility - but, you can only get an overdraft form a bank, and because of the Kingpin designation, no bank will do business with Zabaneh.

So, today Maya King – the biggest Banana farm in Belize couldn’t meet the over two hundred thousand dollar payroll for its 1200 staffers. And now the farm is at risk of laying off 600 of its employees. This evening, Zabaneh, who claims to have taken a hands-off approach at the management of the company, explained the difficulties to us. Here’s what he had to say:

John Zabaneh

"This year has been substantially different, the drought continued even worse than the normal drought period. High, high temperatures and because the prices are lower, a lot of us could not afford to irrigate properly. And even irrigation does not make up for rains. But we still with probably the lower cost and we have to be buying diesel; a lot of these farms and say most if not all the farms are affected by this drought. To the point I would say it’s like a Hurricane hitting the industry; to that level. We are not even making 50% of the payroll. The difference between the other farms and us is a big difference. Because where they are able to access banks for over drafts and loans; and this is how in the past this company had gotten through these rough times. Over drafts, loans, so forth and it’s all the banks; including DFC, Social Security. We have dealt with all these banks at some time or the other even in times of Hurricane. And the brought us over. So that's where the difference is between us and the other farms. We're in quite a sticky position where since we cannot do that."

That interview was conducted very late this evening, and our news team arrived back shortly before news time. We’ll have more for you tomorrow from Zabaneh when you’ll hear him discuss what he’s been trying to do to get the drug King Pin designation removed by the US Government. Plus we’ll challenge the new manager and ask him if he is simply being controlled in the background by Zabaneh and his family, just so that it appears that Zabaneh is no longer the man in charge.

Channel 7

#507973 - 10/02/15 06:02 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Maya King’s Misfortunes

In last night's newscast, we showed you a small portion of our interview with John Zabaneh, one of the leading personalities behind the biggest banana farm in Belize - that's Maya King. In that conversation, he was discussing how his mother's company has been struggling to make payroll because they have been negatively affected by the drought.

Well the Maya King company along with Zabaneh have been blacklisted by the US State Department under the Kingpin Act since August 2012 by US Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control. The OFAC accused Zabaneh and 2 other Belizeans of working for the Sinaloa Cartel and "El Chapo" Guzman, who's been on the run since July 11, when he escaped from a Mexican maximum security prison.

With that "kingpin" designation banks can't afford to do business with Zabaneh or Maya King. No bank means no overdraft facility and in a drought that means Maya King can't find the over two hundred thousand dollars it needs to pay its 1200 employees. And so, the farm managers are considering laying off 600 or more workers. Our news team traveled to South Stann Creek to find out for ourselves what's happening in this important company. Daniel Ortiz reports:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
Mayan King Banana Farm is one of the biggest banana operations in the south, employing an average of 1,200 workers who are kept on staff. It is a major contributor to the economy via the banana industry.

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"It is one of the larger farms. I don't know what in sequence; 1st, 2nd or 3rd. But it's right in there. Totally living here on the compound we probably have over 2,000 people dependent directly on the employment provided by Mayan King, the management Meridian and the labor force varies according to the productivity. At different times of the year we have, more. Different times of the year, less. But it always, it's never below 600-1200. Sometimes maybe 1300."

But, in the same way that this year's drought has devastated the Corn farmers in Orange Walk south, the banana growers in the same difficult financial position.

John Zabaneh
"Usually the drought period is 2-3 to maximum 4 months of the year. We did have a drought for that period but it got extended up to just recently and it was just at the wrong time. In the past we could have managed normally, probably just breaking even. But that was because the drought was done at the second half of the year. It's usually raining already. So we don't have to irrigate. Irrigation is probably the highest cost. This year has been substantially different. The drought continued even worse than the normal drought period. High temperatures and because the prices are lower, a lot of us could not afford to irrigate properly and even irrigation does not make up for rains. I would say it's like a hurricane hitting the industry. For that level, we are not even making 50% of the payroll."

So, how exactly has the lack of rains affected the banana production? Well, according to Zabaneh, Mayan King's bananas have not been maturing properly due to the lack of water. There are tonnes of rejected bananas, that normally should have been export, dump truck loads, that they've had to give away.

John Zabaneh
"The quality - the hand start to curl up. The size don't grow to the minimum size that they want to take. Fyffes demanded a bigger banana than usual. It used to be 6 and I think now they want it at 7 and a half. Now we could not even make the 6, much less the 7 and a half. So it just goes to show you everything just start snowballing. There is not enough tractors, there is not enough trucks to efficiently discard the reject bananas, take them away. There is not enough."

"For the day we are throwing away - if you were to come tomorrow we take you to a packing shed for you to see the excessive quantity of bananas that is being thrown away. Well I don't throw it away. I remove it from the sheds and I take it to the villages, to the towns and dumped it out in a football field or an open space and people go and get it and take it home to eat. That's what we do with it."

Daniel Ortiz
"Those are bananas you would ordinarily been selling right?"

John Zabaneh
"Yes. Absolutely. We here should have been exporting between 25,000-27,000 boxes per week. We are down to 12,000. That's the difference and that's the magnitude of the problems. It's not tractors. Normally it's with tractors and small little trailers that we throw away the rejects, cuts and so. Now it's dump trucks. We are using dump trucks and they are not enough."

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King Banana Farm
"Bananas is an extremely unforgiving mistress, that if you drop your guard, if you just a couple of weeks that you do not on the game, it is extremely difficult to rebound and continue to have a good production."

But in this case, the managers say that they and the employees have done their very best to make sure that crops of bananas successfully grew and matured. There was nothing they could do to mitigate the damage of the drought, and so now they are considering laying off hundreds of workers.

John Zabaneh
"We are forced, the only next thing we could do is to reduce the labor force to meet our income and it's going to be substantial. It's at least 50%. We have to cut down our cost by at least 50%."

Jose Gonzalez
"Shrinking the workforce is a measure that we are also considering. It's on the table. But we want to leave that for the last resort, because obviously we don't want to affect individuals and as Mr. John has said, that some individuals are aware that that might be a measure and so we love to see that the comrade of the workers says look I am not sure if it's me you will cut, but even its not me, I prefer to take a reduction so that we don't lose people. And that beautiful. Usually those things are reserved. But we love to see that and obviously it touches our heart and we have to take that heavily into consideration."

Daniel Ortiz
"Has that gone over with the employees? Obviously they are losing revenue, they are losing a source of income."

John Zabaneh
"I have half the money to pay them and we are seeking the other half from family (I am still working on that) loans and going around with the hat out. That's what I am doing right now."

Is Johnny Zabs (Still) The Moving Hand Behind Maya King

As you saw in our story, a significant part of the problem is the fact that the commercial banks have a strict policy of staying far away from Zabaneh.

For the past 3 years, however, Mayan King Banana Farms has been under new management, contracted by Zabaneh's 88 year-old mother Myrtle Sheeran. Zabaneh says that for that entire time, he's been keeping away from the company, and the only control he has is the authority that his mother has granted him as her representative. It's a complex situation in the leadership of Mayan King, and we asked them to explain it to us:

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"We are crying out to the banks to give us a break. I am sure OFAC designation did not intend. They are being overly protected of themselves. We need an account. The designation talks for itself. Read it. American citizens, American companies. If that be the case I am wearing a hat right now mark Nautica. Nautica should be in trouble. If that was the intention. That's an American company and I am wearing a used shirt, what's it says "Rider." I don't own Rider. Rider is an American company."

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King Banana Farm
"The main sector that is giving us the cold shoulder is the banking sector and initially when we approached them to see if they could sanctioned the agreement and actually engage us in banking relations. They number reason for denying us was for the fact that they were afraid that they would lose their banking relations with the US banks and in an ironic twist of fate, they still ending us losing it for other reasons and so we have not really engaged them now post their crisis, because we believe that they have their hands full right now."

So, even though he's been employing a hands-off approach, his shadow still looms over the company. A perfect example of that effect was back in June when the Social Security Board's Investment Committee approved a loan of 3.5 million dollars to Merdian Enterprise and Diverse Investments. As you heard, Meridian is contracted to run her Mayan King business, and she reportedly also has interests in Diverse Investments also. Eyebrows were raised in suspicion that this loan was made, simply because of the ties of Myrtle Sheeran to her son, John Zabaneh. That connection has also caused the banks to cut ties with Sheeran, and so while we had the opportunity, we asked Zabaneh if he ought to have distanced himself completely from all her interests while he sorts out this "kingpin" designation. Here's how that conversation went:

Daniel Ortiz
"What role do you play in Meridian? Who's managing the companies? What role you play apart from being the spokesperson? What managerial responsibilities? What financial responsibilities do you have to these companies?"

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"Well as I mentioned, Meridian was given a management contract. I represent my mother and I will represent her until she dies or she choose otherwise and who don't like that, too bad. Too bad. It's her that will make that decision to remove me."

Daniel Ortiz
"Mr. Zab, you seem to be the problem. Why don't you step back and leave these companies alone completely. Divest all your interest from it so that they can try to rebuild their reputation and someday managed to get in good standing with a bank that will allow them to get past these difficult portions. You are the anchor."

John Zabaneh
"That's where we are at."

Daniel Ortiz
"I am saying that you are the anchor."

John Zabaneh
"I am here because today because yesterday I was called by Mr. Vasquez asking me about these problems that we have. That's why I am here. I have an office upstairs and I was told why don't you go into my office. I said I haven't been in there for 3 years. Why should I go in there now? I don't want to go in there. I am here because you all requested me to be here to answer questions. That's why I am here."

Daniel Ortiz
"You are saying ordinarily you have nothing to do with this company?"

John Zabaneh
"I leave it to management. I represent my mother. My mother doesn't have anything to do with management. Because we still have to live and I don't think OFAC intended us to die or dry up. We still have to live and this belongs to my mother still. But it's a management company."

Daniel Ortiz
"But what if the suspicion is that while they are the paper managers, you are the managers and you are the moving hand. Then you can't divorce yourself from the problems that the company has."

John Zabaneh
"That's not the case. This company is run by the management which is them here and below them they have captains, they have what they called charge hands and that's the sequence of management. If you go into my office you would probably see dust and cobwebs all over the place."

Daniel Ortiz
"They believe and since the rest of Belize believes that even though you say it is not true, how do you convince them otherwise. Because you represent your mother, you still have a vested interest."

John Zabaneh
"Unfortunately it's the other way around. I am guilty until proven innocent. Your assumption and this is what you are saying and really that's the way it seems."

So, what about these new managers who have emerged in the wake of the Zabaneh's blacklisting? Is that by design, and are they only placeholders inserted as the leaders of Maya King on Paper? That's what we asked Jose David Gonzalez:

Daniel Ortiz
"The perception is that your company, the management company Meridian, is simply set in place as sort of a figure head. You all don't really have any management authority. You are just set there as the person on throne to appear as though you are the ones in control. But really Mr. Zabaneh is the moving hand in the background. Is there any truth to that at all?"

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King Banana Farm
"Not at all. Let me explain to you the extent of the relationship with Mr. John Zabaneh. Mr. Zabaneh grew up on these lands. We can't just discard him completely. He has very intimate knowledge of the lands in this area. He can tell you that for instance, something that plays a big role in the farms is PH value of the land and he can tell you specifically and he has shared this with me that a few hundred yards from the river, is a certain PH. A few hundred yards more, it's higher and so and so. That's just one example. 20 years. You really can't discard 20 years of intimate farm experiences."

"Whenever here is alterations to the terrain, whenever there is changes to the vegetation, if we need to knock down trees etc. we must consult with the individuals that represent the true owners. Whenever there is alterations to the buildings, renovations to the packing sheds which are fixed assets, we cannot claim authority on that. So that is the extent that he contributes to us."

Daniel Ortiz
"They are convinced as he has said that he is the personality in charge of this company. How do you try to gain your confidence beyond that suspicion?"

Jose Gonzalez
"I wish it was simple adherence to the policy that he who writes the cheque or he who pays the money is boss. But the tradition is there, to think that Mr. John is behind everything, behind us and all that. And it's hard to convince, because it's a perception. How do you remove a perception from an individual? It's very difficult. I would have to bring an individual, have him sit here with me at the desk, look at the way we run the business and see whether there is absence or there is presence of Mr. John Zabaneh and that's not practical. We hope that as we engage them further and as we continue to prove ourselves, we have a track record of 3 years now of doing solid business with them. We are hoping that they will see that. Sadly, the banks which are like I said the sector that is least likely to work with us - sadly they don't have a vested interest on investigating or in finding out. They just have to go with hunches. If they wanted to they could. They could call up the big vendors and say who has your relationship with Meridian? Are they prompt? Have you see anything? Have you heard anything? Have you ever seen Mr. John come and negotiate on their behalf? Have you heard them say you have to check with Mr. John? They could do that. Those vendors who are our true testimonials for our way of doing business."

Daniel Ortiz
"Do you have any personal connection to Mr. John which would merit what people would perceive as loyalty? This man do so much for me and that is the reason I am here. Is there any such connection to Mr. John?"

Jose Gonzalez
"Not at all. I see Mr. John as who he is. I think he is a very important man down south for what he has contributed. I think what you could say I have for him is great respect. Just like I was taught to respect my elders and especially achieved elders, individuals who have built things and contributed positively. So to say that I have a blind loyalty and that's the reason I am here - that would be absolutely nonsense."

John Zabaneh
"If any of these companies are ever found in wrong doing. I would have to say that I would be responsible."

Coming Out From Under Kingpin Designation

So, since John Zabaneh is still important to the company, both for his 20 years of banana farming experience, and as the final decision maker appointed by his mother, Myrtle Sheeran, what is he doing about the blacklisting from the US Government?

Well, he told us that he's working on trying to convince them to remove it, and he feels that he's making incremental progress:

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"The problem that I face is because the US says this, everybody believes. And I have a previous reputation. So makes it worse. I have been made a scapegoat for all the wrong doers in Belize. I have been made a folklore. Everybody believes. Even my attorneys believe this is so. I contacted US attorneys to deal with this thing, because it's in the US that this thing has to be dealt with. They want a million dollars advance and why you think? A man that is second in command to Chapo Guzman, a million dollars is small change. So they start off believing this bull and then I just said to hell with it. I don't have it and if I have it I don't have it to give away. So I am dealing with it directly and personally. I'm in connection and I am saying this to the world. Every will be hearing what I am saying. I am dealing and communicating directly with Washington and OFAC. And I as I am sitting here answering your questions, if I had any connection with Chapo Guzman or any of his kind, hearing this I would be in deep ____. I can only tell you I'm in communication with Washington and I am hoping that someday soon I will get and invitation from them for an interview. To sit in front of an investigative team. They have indicated to me that I will hear from them soon concerning the personal meeting."

Daniel Ortiz
"And if that personal meeting, if they call for that in America, would you go given the risk?"

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"I have told them yes that I would. Even though everybody tells me that. I have nothing to fear brother."

This afternoon, we tried contacting the Banana Growers Association to confirm Zabaneh's assertion that other Banana farms have suffered financial losses due to the drought, but we were told that the Chairman was busy in a very important meeting in Big Creek. We tried again this evening, and couldn't reach him by phone. We'll try again tomorrow.

Channel 7

#508130 - 10/09/15 06:03 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Can Government Help Mayan King?

Today the Prime Minister also commented on the situation at Maya King Banana Farm in south Stann Creek. As we reported, the farm owners have hit a financial brick wall: due to the drought, they don't have enough earnings to pay their farm workers; and because of former owner John Zabaneh's kingpin designation - no bank will do business with them so they can't get an overdraft facility. Today the Prime Minister said government can't help an individual farm:..

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"Government did try to help, but no bank in Belize will deal with him. He has tried to find a way around it by having nominees to operate the company and you will know that the Social Security Board, notwithstanding whatever pitfalls might have been present, agreed to lend that company as significant amount of money to assist with fertilizer and with other things. So in that sort of a way, government will want to help any large company that is struggling. Government does not though have any kind of bail out pool of funds to deal with a situation like that and I don't anticipate that anytime soon you would see that sort of a development taking place. Certainly on an industrywide basis as we did with citrus. We will always be ready to intervene. I don't know that I can tell you we will ever reached the stage where we will simply be in a position to provide bail out monies to any particular private sector company."

Channel 7

#508398 - 10/20/15 06:14 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Maya King Farm Shut Out, Shut Down, Opens Soup Kitchen For Jobless Workers

Last week we told how the Maya King Farm was abruptly cut off by the Banana Growers Association - who has decided that it will no longer buy bananas from the biggest farm in Belize. That's a deathblow for a farm that was already on life support. The issue is that Fyffes international was helping Maya King with some bridge financing during lean months of low production. But John Zabaneh told us that Fyffes was helping - and we reported it. That's what apparently set off alarms in Ireland where Fyffes is headquartered. And that's because of the Kingpin designation that the US put on John Zabaneh - who, even though, he's no longer the beneficial owner or point man at Maya King, is still affiliated with the farm. It seems that bot even Fyffes - the biggest importer of fruit in Europe - can afford to do business with any company that has the kingpin taint.

And so, that severing of relations forced the immediate shut down of operations at Maya King, causing the loss of hundreds of jobs for all the Maya King Farm workers. Today, Zabaneh told us that Maya King has been forced to open a soup kitchen and offer free lunches, as well as corn and beans to keep the workers fed. Zabaneh says the affected workers and their families - which is over a thousand persons - will protest against Fyffes for causing them to lose their jobs without even a days notice.

Channel 7

#508449 - 10/21/15 07:08 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Fyffes ends imports from Belize producer over drugs link

Fruit importer Fyffes has stopped buying bananas from the biggest producer in Belize because of its links to a local businessman named by US authorities as a drugs kingpin.

Fyffes confirmed yesterday that it ceased buying bananas from Mayan King in Dangriga, Belize, because Mr Zabaneh has been acting as a spokesman for its owner, Meridian Farms, which is in crisis following a drought.

“Given recent developments where John Zabaneh appeared to speak on behalf of Meridian Farms, Fyffes immediately ceased purchase of bananas from the farms in question,” it said in a statement yesterday.

It added that the Banana Growers’ Association, the local body through which it buys fruit from the Central American country, had confirmed this to the Meridian group of farms.

Under the country’s Kingpin Act, the US treasury department in 2012 named Mr Zabaneh as a narcotics trafficker with ties to Mexican drugs baron Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, his Sinaloa Cartel and Colombian suppliers.

The Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act bans US citizens and organisations from doing business with any person or company that the authorities identify.

Mr Zabaneh has always denied this but failed in his efforts to get the treasury department to lift the designation. He has admitted that he was convited of a minor “marijuana-related” offence in the US during the 80s, but also claims that he learned from the mistake.

Fyffes said it severed links with Mr Zabaneh and his interests in 2012 when the treasury department’s office of foreign assets control named him under the legislation.

However, the Irish company reinstated Mayan King as a supplier after the growers’ association assured it that Mr Zabaneh was no longer involved in it and a company unconnected with him, Meridian Farms, had taken control of the business.

Fyffes yesterday dismissed local media reports that it had given financial aid to Mr Zabaneh or the farms, which suffered poor harvests this year as a result of the drought and are struggling with cash flow problems.

He told a Belize news channel days ago that Fyffes had offered bridging finance to help him bail the operation out of its current difficulties.

Mr Zabaneh was not available more recently when journalists attempted to contact him to question him on the news that Fyffes is no longer buying from the Maya King farms.

Fyffes also denied that it is providing direct support, such as soup kitchens, to the workers. Local media estimate that 1,200 people work on the banana farms.

Mayan King is responsible for around one quarter of Belize’s banana exports. The Banana Growers’ Association acts as the sole exporter for the fruit.

Meanwhile, Fyffes said yesterday that it is spending $30 million on buying 2,500 hectares in Central Americ that will boost its capacity to supplies melons in the US . It is also buying a Costa Rica banana farm for $15 million.

Fyffes said that it has closed to its defined benefit pension scheme to future accruals and liabilities with a once-off €20 million payment. The move will add €1 million a-year to operating profits. The payment was €10.5 million more than the pension-fund deficit on the balance sheet at the end of June.

Irish Times

#508465 - 10/22/15 04:31 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

The Rage Against Fyffes

On Monday, we told you about Mayan King Banana Farm had to open a soup kitchen to keep hundreds of workers and their families fed. That’s after the Irish multinational fruit distributor, Fyffes, decided to cut off Belize’s largest banana farms for it’s connection to John Zabaneh, who still facing the drug kingpin designation from the US Government.

That’s a deathblow for this company which can hire anywhere upwards of 1,200 to 2,000 workers, and which comprises approximately 25% of the country’s banana industry. The company was already struggling to stay afloat after being devastated by the drought.

To appreciate why the sudden embargo from Fyffes affects Mayan King, you first need to understand how Belize’s banana’s are sold. The Banana Growers Association has an exclusive contract with Fyffes which means that all the banana exports - from all the Belizean farms - are sold to them and exported to Europe. So, because Fyffes refuses to do business with Maya King, that farm has nowhere to sell its product. It was already losing millions of dollars, and now, all their bananas that have been harvested, and all the bananas growing on the company’s farms, will go to waste.

The investment is being flushed down the drain, but worse than that is the loss of jobs that 600-800 workers. They are the breadwinners of their families, and today, we got an opportunity to meet a few hundred of them. Our news team only just arrived back in Belize City, and we’ll have the full story for you in tomorrow’s newscast. Tonight, however, we have a short excerpt of that coverage for you. Here’s what the workers had to say:

The company’s entire workforce and all their families, which number over a thousand, will go to Independence Village in South Stann Creek to protest tomorrow.

Channel 7

Meridian Says Fyffes Reacted Hastily in Ending Business Relations

For some time now there have been the talks of the United States of America buckling down on persons who may be affiliated with the drug or human trade and in the last few months we have been seeing just how powerful the USA is as there have been disruptions in the financial sector in Belize and now, the banana industry is in a crisis situation. John Zabaneh, who is a spokesperson for Meridian Enterprises and son of the owner of the company, 80-year-old, Myrtle Sheran, was fingered by the US as a drug kingpin and with the US cracking down on these persons and their businesses, Fyffes was forced to withdraw their business from Meridian Enterprises. We asked Gonzalez how he felt about the reason behind the collapse of their partnership with Fyffes.


“It is not justified. It is a knee jerk reaction to a hunch that their legal department has but yet they forgot to put on the scale, the legal opinion with an economist opinion as well as a PR opinion because obviously the economist would say, if you displace thousands of people out of their livelihood, your shares will drop steeper and the PR sentiment would be the same and so they would have calculated their response and do it in a professional and sociable responsible manner by ceasing to purchase but with a time frame that would allow individuals to go on with their lives.”

Communication Shuts Down Between Fyffes and Meridian Enterprises

The group of persons gathered in front of the police station in San Ignacio earlier today is nothing compared to what is expected come tomorrow afternoon at the Big Creek Port in southern Belize. As we told you yesterday, there are over one thousand workers who have been forced to stay home since last Thursday following the fallout between Fyffes, the international banana Distributor Company and Meridian Enterprises of Belize. It is indeed a very grave situation as not only the men and women are out of a job but the communication channels between both parties have been completely severed with no room for negotiations. Jose David Gonzalez is a Director at Meridian Enterprises and he told Love News that he has made several attempts in reasoning with the international distributor.


“All communication channels have been closed with Fyffes in Europe. So the only speck of hope is that the message tomorrow of the people will resonate across the pond and into Europe and public sentiment and public opinion will force them to give these people a transitional period of at least six months so that they can plan for the rest of their lives and so that they can have funds saved enough that they can move to greener pastures. I personally wrote them a letter saying to them that my wish was that the headlines would read “Meridian Enterprise loses fruit buying contract from Fyffes”. I did not want the headlines to read, “Fyffes ends contracts and displaces thousands of banana workers”. I was very happy to pack my bags and move on and let them install another management team of their liking but they did not respond and so honestly I gave them ample opportunity to find another course of action that would not cause this collateral damage in the form of human beings losing their livelihoods.”

Meridian Enterprises Not Mayan King Farms

In our previous reports we have been mentioning the name of the company, Mayan King Farms; today, however, we got clarification from Gonzalez as to the relations between Meridian Enterprises and Mayan King Farms.


“Mayan King farms are practically dormant and the only reason he has chosen to not de-register that company is that he strongly believes that if he does that he will actually be validating the claim that the Americans have on him. So he is actively pursuing the de-listing of himself and that company from the King Pin List. So Mayan King is dormant, it’s still in existence but that’s his company. Meridian Enterprise has a management contract with the asset owner which is Mrs. Myrtle Sheran and she is an eighty year old lady and whenever I have to negotiate for capital investment projects she has chosen him to validate my decision because obviously I can go to her and say, ‘Mrs. Myrtle, I need to build another packing shed and she will be like, do you have to David?’ But if someone is there that can validate then I would never be accused of taking advantage of an eighty year old lady.”

The demonstration of the workers at the Big Creek Port is scheduled to take place from 2pm – 4pm on Thursday afternoon. It is the hope of the workers that the international stakeholders will see how this move by Fyffes has left over one thousand families without any source of income.

John Zabaneh – His Role with Meridian Enterprises

So, just what is John Zabaneh’s role at Meridian Enterprises? We asked Director Gonzalez to explain.


“Mr. John Zabaneh is the spokesperson for his mother who is the true owner of the assets and land. His involvement is limited to the things that are not in my contract scope or mandate and they can be cataloged into one group which is capital investments. Whenever we have the need to invest in big infrastructure repairs, enhancements or if the land needs to be altered in terms of expansion: deep drains, felling of trees etc. we must go back to the table with the land owner or the asset owner to get the blessings before we proceed. John Zabaneh does not partake in the day to day operations, he does not go into the package sheds and we have ample individuals who can attest to that. Both Fyffes as well as the BGA have a number of people patrolling the packing sheds making sure the quality is there and they have never ran into Mr. John Zabaneh giving orders or anything like that. He has other assets and investments in the area so he takes care of those but in terms of banana production he does not get involved with the day to day operations.”


#508497 - 10/23/15 05:57 AM Re: Maya King Farm Will Lay off 600 [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

700 Maya King Workers Protest Against Fyffes

So, that frustration you saw culminated with a protest this evening in front of the main office of Banana Growers Association in Independence Village. We counted some 700 Mayan King Workers, their spouses, and their children who showed up to demonstrate just how many people are being affected by the decision that Fyffes has made.

Marching with them was John Zabaneh and his other family members, and he told the press why he decided to show up, even though he's not been directly involved with the company for the past 3 and a half years:

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"First of all I just want to make it very clear that I'm not out here to defend either Meridian, Mayan King - not even myself. I'm here on a compassionate support for these workers you see behind there. Most of them I know for so long. 30 or more years and I have a feeling for these people. I have compassion for these people. For me this is an emotional thing here. My family has bent over backwards, frontwards, sideways, in every way possible to try to appease Fyffes. I am not in control of this company. Meridian, My family employed when OFAC designated me. My family appointed a new company to manage the company for over 3 years since I've been designated. Now all of a sudden Fyffes find something wrong with dealing with Meridian. They've been dealing with them for over 3 years and all of a sudden something is wrong. Could they possibly believe that the Americans don't know that they've been buying those bananas? Why all of a sudden this type of action? And besides, it's not about me. I may find a way to move on along and my family, but what about these people? - From hand to mouth. The day that they are out of a job, their kids here in uniform, they cannot sent them to school hungry?"

Daniel Ortiz
"Have you considered selling?"

John Zabaneh - Spokesperson, Mayan King Banana Farm
"Let me just say that there are a number of farms for over 15 years that are on sale. The banks will not finance banana farms. And it may be that they want us to sell and we would bend over. My brother is right over there and I have another one around. This is family and they are also involved in this. But it is a no option, because simply where will that customer comes from? There are a number of farms, probably 6, 7 or 8 that's been on sale for the past 15 years and still cannot be sold."

Fyffes issued a statement quoted in the The Irish Times Newspaper which says, quote, "Fyffes confirmed yesterday that it ceased buying bananas from Maya King in Dangriga, Belize, because Mr Zabaneh has been acting as a spokesman for its owner, Meridian Farms, which is in crisis following a drought.

Given recent developments where John Zabaneh appeared to speak on behalf of Meridian Farms, Fyffes immediately ceased purchase of bananas from the farms in question," end quote.

The Southern Blues At Maya King

Last night, we had a small clip of our visit to Maya King Farm after 6 days of absolutely no production. The Irish company Fyffes International, abruptly terminated all business arrangements with Maya King because it wants to put distance between itself and John Zabaneh, who still has the Drug Kingpin designation.

That forced an immediate, no-notice shutdown of all operations at Belize's biggest banana farm since Fyffes is the sole purchaser of all Belizean bananas for export. Apart from the demise of this lucrative company, and cutting off production from a full quarter of the country's Banana industry, the Fyffes embargo on Maya King forced the immediate termination of hundreds of workers.

They're angry and jobless. Yesterday, they told Daniel Ortiz why they want Fyffes to reconsider:

Daniel Ortiz reporting
This is the company's Packing Shed #25, one of 4 facilities belonging to Mayan King Banana Farms. The purpose is to prepare fully grown bananas, that have been picked off the trees, to box them for export.

The final destination is Europe where Fyffes will market them. Normally, this packing shed - like the other 3 - would be bustling with activity where just under 100 workers should have been washing and sanitizing the bananas, and packing them into boxes to transport to the BGA. At Mayan King of about 600-800 workers are usually hard at work from about 8 a.m to 5 p.m. on the weekdays to produce boxes upon boxes of exportable bananas at all 4 sheds.

Miguel Monroy - Packing/Field Manager, Mayan King
"We use to do 1,500 - 1,600 boxes for each packing shed and the 4 shed are working 4 days a week. 1,500 per boxes per day is 4,600 boxes per day and that is what we produced."

Daniel Ortiz
"How much does a box of bananas cost?"

Miguel Monroy - Packing/Field Manager, Mayan King
"Right now the price is very low, about $14 per box. In January it goes up to $20 per box."

Daniel Ortiz
"That's several thousand dollars that you are losing because no productivity is happening today right?"

Miguel Monroy - Packing/Field Manager, Mayan King
"Definitely. Lots of money is losing."

To be more specific, that's approximately 84 thousand dollars per day being wasted in non-productivity. But, since Thursday, it's been like this shut down, and forlorn, a foreshadowing of what may come since the company is in danger of going under.

Miguel Monroy - Packing/Field Manager, Mayan King
"On Thursday when they told me, I got a shock when they told me that everything is closing down, because they are not taking any fruit from us. Right away I had to call the captain and I told him no packing, no work. And he ask why and I told him that is the message that I got. Up today I don't know what is happening because hundreds of people are in the compound and we are feeding all of them."

There, meaning the Maya King Housing area, where we found a few hundred of employees frustrated, emotional and ready to demonstrate against what they believe is the injustice being committed against them. They suddenly find themselves out of a job.

Their children cannot go to school because the parents cannot afford to send them, much less feed them.

Leonora Rol - Banana Farmer, Mayan King
"I have children here and we want food for our children and I want them to give back all our jobs."

Joseline Carolina - Daughter of a Banana Farmer
"Our father need to work and we want to go to school and that is not fair because we need things for our school and if we don't go to school, that is not fair. Our father needs money to pay our school."

Carlos Villanueva - Banana Farmer, Mayan King
"We are starving. Everybody needs their job. Watch how many children are here already. Everybody want their job, so please."

Amelia Tzar - Banana Farmer, Mayan King
"We need our job. That is important. We need the job. This is not right. We need the job, because lots of people are not eating."

Marcos Bac - Banana Farmer, Mayan King
"Please I need a job."

Teodolfo Cho - Banana Farmer, Mayan King
"Men and women are right here. You could see a crowd of people. They need jobs. I need a job."

General Manager Jose Gonzalez says that he and his employees were blind-sided by the severity of Fyffes actions.

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King
"I want to retract or to go back 3 years ago when things were really hot for Mr. John Zabaneh. That was the time that they designated him as a king pin and obviously everyone was paranoid to deal with him - everyone. Myself included obviously. But at that time Fyffes did not put this drastic measure. They did not call up this drastic measure of cutting us off completely. It's really baffling that 3 years later, when everything has cooled down. I mean you have not heard his name. Now they are paranoid that okay, we have to cut ties and so it doesn't add up. We can speculate basically that they might have ulterior motives and they are just really washing their hands by saying oh Mr. John Zabaneh is king pin, so we can't do business. But like I said, it does not add up and it does not compare to what they did 3 years ago when things were really bad."

The company's staff is hoping that the rest of the world will take notice of their sudden suffering, shake their heads at Fyffes International, and that they will get a international black eye. That, they hope will force their hand in rolling back this sudden embargo.

Daniel Ortiz
"Are you all worried that you will never recover from this?"

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King
"It's getting to the point of no return. I think practically speaking we are still about 2 weeks from that point of no return. Every day that passes that we do not take care of the bananas represents probably a week of recovery time. I would say within 2-3 weeks it's going to be monumentally difficult to recover the farms. The only last hope that we have is that this message of this atrocity towards to the people will resonate around the world, because if there is one thing that a multinational corporation like Fyffes fears, that is the devaluation of their shares and so if this message hopefully is picked up by other media nationally and internationally, preferably the European area, I think that will have to give in to public pressure to do the right thing. Because honestly the right thing and it's a no brainer - the right thing should have been look Meridian, we can no longer purchase your bananas, because of Mr. John Zabaneh's involvement, you have 6 months to wind down operations. That is the responsible and ethical and socially responsible and I mention that because Fyffes is a big champion of socially responsible practices and in fact they are a member of ETI, which stands for Ethical Training Initiative. Honestly those organizations should really peep in here and see that they are not practicing what they are preaching."

Until such time, the everyone involved in Maya King can only look on. Right, now, it's tough for the bosses, seeing the employees suffer blamelessly.

Miguel Monroy - Packing/Field Manager, Mayan King
"This is the hardest days in my life, because I really have to try talk to the people so that they could understand the situation that we are in. Let's get together and have them understand. I don't them to be mischievous in the farm and things like that. Because that is the first thing that people think, 'I'm hungry and so I am going to do something bad out of the way.' That is what I try to talk to the workers and also the workers respond well up to now."

Jose Gonzalez - General Manager, Mayan King
"We are fine. We are big boys. We can take the lick. But the individuals, it's just sad."

Channel 7

US scares off Fyffes!

Today, a demonstration was staged in front of the offices of the Banana Growers Association, the exporter for Fyffes, in Independence Village, by hundreds of workers of Meridian Enterprise Limited, located in Mayan King Village. These workers, their families and other sympathetic supporters were protesting the recent move by Fyffes, an Irish multi-national business, to sever its business relationship with Meridian Enterprise—a decision which means that they are now out of a job, and suffering through no fault of their own.

Fyffes has said that its decision follows reports that John Zabaneh, whom the United States of America had designated as a “drug kingpin” in 2012 over alleged ties to the Sinaloa Mexican drug cartel, has been connected with Meridian Enterprise. Zabaneh had formerly operated a banana business under Maya King Ltd.

When the US stamped Zabaneh as a “drug kingpin,” that opened the door to sanctions imposed by what is arguably, at this time, the mightiest nation on earth, and poor countries like Belize are virtually helpless against its sanctions, fair or not.

The US’s Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act prohibits individuals, even if they are from other countries, from conducting business with individuals declared by the US to be drug dealers, or companies associated with such individuals, or suffer the consequences, which can be harsh, as many individuals and companies have found out.

Simply put, US authorities can freeze these persons and companies’ assets in US banks or other monetary institutions connected to US banks. If other countries’ banks can’t do business with US banks, the consequences are dire, especially if the countries are poor and financially dependent on US banking services.

In a nutshell, Fyffes are afraid that they may themselves come under sanctions by associating with “lepers” such as a company whose owner has been stamped “drug kingpin,” even if no proof has been offered by the US, and even if it’s a different company, under different management.

Changing the name from Mayan King to Meridian Enterprise, and putting the business under new management, is apparently no protection from US officials.

At the demonstration today were the principal and teachers of United Community Primary School, (UCPS) who took off the afternoon to give their support.

Anthony A. Zuniga, principal of UCPS, said that the school’s population is about 800 and he believes that about 150 of his students will be directly affected by this US embargo on Zabaneh.

Zuniga said the children, whose families had migrated to Belize to work in the banana sector, have been in tears since their parents told them that they will have to relocate to Guatemala, El Salvador, or Honduras—the birthplaces of their parents.

“This entire situation will have some adverse effects on our school, economically and population-wise.” Zuniga added.

Jose David Gonzalez, the Director of Meridian Enterprise, told Amandala that Mayan King was the former trading name of Meridian Enterprise.

Gonzalez said: “The contract to purchase banana is with Meridian Enterprise. Mayan King was actually a previous management company for the assets that belong to Myrtle Sherran, the 80-year-old mother of John Zabaneh.”

Gonzalez furthermore explained that, “Meridian Enterprise manages the land assets of Myrtle Sherran and John Zabaneh is Myrtle Sherran’s official spokesperson.”

Gonzalez added that Zabaneh has been in communication with Fyffes, which had come to their aid during the recent drought. Additionally, Zabaneh, acting as the spokesperson for Meridian Enterprise, told a local media house that Fyffes had offered financial assistance.

According to an article in the Irish Times dated Friday, October 23, 2015, it was the revelation that Zabaneh was acting as a spokesperson for Meridian Enterprise which has caused Fyffes to immediately sever ties with Meridian.

Fyffes dismissed the allegation that it has offered financial aid to Zabaneh or the farms. It claimed to have severed ties with Zabaneh since 2012 when the US Department of Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated Zabaneh as a “drug kingpin” under their US Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act, which prohibits individuals from conducting business with drug dealers or companies associated with such individuals. However, the Irish company continued to do business with Meridian Enterprise.

Gonzalez said that it was on October 15 that the devastating news was received in a letter which stated that Fyffes would no longer be conducting business with Meridian Enterprise.

Gonzalez said about two thousand people are being affected. Everyone living in Mayan King works on the banana plantation.

Gonzalez added that they have workers living in other villages such as Santa Cruz, San Roman, Santa Rosa, Maya Mopan and Georgetown, who are depending on their company.

Amlie Tzir, 28, is married with three children, and her family is only one of hundreds affected by Fyffes’ decision to stop doing business with Meridian Enterprise. Tzir has been living on the banana plantation at Maya King Village 13 years now, since she got married.

Tzir said that her husband works as a captain on the plantation, while she is employed making the strings that are used for tying the bananas. She said the situation is a sad one, since the couple, who have three children, have been left without jobs.

She expressed hope that Fyffes would resume its business relationship with Meridian Enterprise, adding that Meridian Enterprise provides housing for its workers on the plantation and the workers only need to pay $30 a month, making the arrangement cheaper for them to afford.

Gonzalez said, “The Banana Growers Association signed an exclusive arrangement with Fyffes, and so we have no other recourse than to sell to Fyffes, since they have a monopoly operation in our country. Gonzalez did not want to reveal the actual amount his business earned for the year from selling to Fyffes, but admitted it was in excess of 10 million dollars.

Gonzalez said that he has made efforts to reach a middle ground with Fyffes, but to no avail. Meanwhile they have opened a soup kitchen and are providing food for their workers.

Gonzalez said, “I can honestly tell you, in my opinion, that Mr. John Zabaneh is just a pawn that the Americans are playing in this region. They are master chess players and they are very good at sleight-of-hand, and they make you look at the left hand while they are doing something else with the right hand; that is just their way of doing things. I honestly believe within 5 to 10 years the truth will come out, because we are living in an age that no secret can stay hidden long enough.”

According to Irish Times, Zabaneh has confessed to being convicted of marijuana-related charges in the 80s.

Gonzalez said, “Whenever you pick a scapegoat, you have to make sure that scapegoat is not that clean, because you want your story to be credible; that is why they actually choose him. I believe we have reached irreconcilable differences with Fyffes; nevertheless, we will see what our legal recourse is in terms of damages.”

The situation is serious for Meridian Enterprise, since they are not even able to get a bank overdraft because of John Zabaneh’s kingpin designation; no bank in Belize is willing to do business with them.

However, the Belize Social Security Board (SSB) recently approved a multimillion-dollar loan for Meridian Enterprise, SSB’s chairman had confirmed to Amandala, citing the fact that collateral for the loan was being put up by Sherran and not Zabaneh, although he was known to help administer her estate.



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