Rosewood ‘pays’ when minister’s away

The government of Belize announced  Tuesday that it has put in effect a 19-day amnesty on the sale or export of the rosewood that were illegally harvested.

The government, via press release, said, “The Ministry [of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development] has decided … to allow the sale/export of the already harvested rosewood over the period 8th – 26th April, 2013 to avoid the complete loss of value.”

The release is, however, silent on what exact revenue arrangement will be employed. That is to say how will the income from the sale be invested.

It is also silent on who will be doing the selling and exporting, leaving most to assume that the very same persons from whom the flitches were confiscated would be able to regain the confiscated product and trade it themselves.

Another unconfirmed but also controversial report in the media suggests an equally troubling possibility: that GOB may do (or at least supervise) the selling and the exporting of the wood, but then will share the proceeds evenly with those who had illegally harvested the wood.

It should also be noted that the amnesty took effect while the Minister of Forestry, Lisel Alamilla, and her Chief Forestry Officer, Wilbur Sabido, are out of the country.

On Monday, Plus TV News reported that thousands of board feet of the precious timber were being trucked away from the Forestry Department’s compound in Belmopan, reportedly by Valencia’s Trucking, an Orange Walk-based company, owned by businessman Wilbert Valencia.

The hauling away  of the timber also continued onTuesday, when two 40-foot containers, stacked with harvested Rosewood, were also allowed to leave the compound.

Valencia, when asked about his company’s involvement in the transporting of the rosewood flitches, said only that he had a contract to haul the precious cargo, but did not say to where and for whom.

The containers had been taken to the Forestry compound, after two shipments, one belonging to Kambokin Enterprises and another company, were intercepted in Benque Viejo and stashed by Belize Engineering Ltd.

The entire fiasco has  evoked sharp criticism from members of the community, including Environmentalists and community activist Will Maheia and Citizen’s Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA)’s president, Geovannie Brackett.

Maheia said he is putting his condemnation of the Ministry’s decision in writing and sending it off to the Ministry, demanding an explanation.

Brackett has described what has happened as a ‘knife in the back’ situation.

Brackett said, “The timing of this amnesty – with the Minister and Chief Forest Officer out of the country – is beyond suspicious.”

Brackett to say that  the ministry appears to be legitimizing the trade of rosewood. A fact that is “to the detriment of the people of Belize and contrary to their expressed wishes.”

COLA suggested to government that it should not allow the rosewood exporters “to reap profits from these legitimized sales.

“Instead, these profits should be put in a special fund for a rosewood replanting program to plant new rosewood to replace those lost.”

After the amnesty period expires, it will, however, become more difficult for any trading or exporting of rosewood.

The government press release stated that “at the sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) a decision was taken to regulate the international trade of rosewood and that harvest and export of rosewood from Belize will fall under the CITES regulations.”

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