Corn, it’s the grain used to make corn tortillas. But recently, most tortilla factories in the country have adopted various environmentally friendly ways of doing tortillas; that includes the elimination of processing and washing the grain with different chemicals to make the corn softer to mill. In fact, most tortilla factories have diverted to the use of Maseca which is corn flour. One such tortilla factory is Popular One-Stop Tortilla Factory located on Angel Coral Street. An irate Domingo Perez, who operates Popular One-Stop Tortilla Factory, told The San Pedro Sun that he is preparing to close his tortilla factory as early as next week. But, why are they closing? According to Perez there is little, if not any Maseca in the country. “I will need to inform my customers that as of Sunday, April 27th, I will need to close because there is no Maseca in the country.”

Popular One-Stop Tortilla Factory is considered the largest tortilla factory in San Pedro Town and is the one largest consumer of Maseca in the country. While it is a situation that worries the Perez family, it is also a cause for concern because should Popular close down, it would mean that the island would be short of almost four thousand pounds of corn tortillas for the week. It would have horrible trickle effects on several restaurants and local food stalls that depend on corn products for certain meals. Moreover, it would see over six employees without a job and their families cash strapped.

Frank Redmond is the owner of Bell Myers, the company that has been exporting and importing corn products to and from Belize for over 10 years. When asked if he had any knowledge about the Maseca shortage, Redmond told The Sun that six weeks ago, the new government administration cancelled his license to import Maseca and reissued it to another importer. “Yes I am aware of the Maseca shortage but the government has refused to give me the permit. They gave it to another importer. The new importer is telling us that one; we cannot supply you right now and two, the price is going up by 30 percent which I find terrible.”

When asked what effects might the current situation have on the local consumer, Redmond stated that, “It is horrific. You cannot give a license to someone who has no idea of the market. And how can you just increase the prices. Does this mean that the importer will just raise his prices without worrying about the consumers in San Pedro or other parts of the country?” In speaking with The San Pedro Sun, the Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Economic Development, Yvonne Hyde stated that she has confirmed that Maseca products are expected to arrive in the country by end of this week. In addition, she commented that corn mills in Belize have committed that they will have supplies ready in excess of what Belize normally consumes in one month.

Since Redmond was no longer given the import license, who actually received it? Hyde refused to comment but Redmond readily responded that it was Vega’s Import of Orange Walk Town, “The importer is Vega’s import,” he exclaimed.

Our investigations reveal that Vegas’ Import is owned by German Vega, the brother of Deputy Prime Minister of Belize Gaspar Vega. When asked about the cancellation and issuance of license to Vega’s Import, CEO Hyde said, and we quote, “I have no comments on the issue of license; it’s a government discussion.” Popular One-Stop Tortilla factory has been in operation for 15 years.