Posted: Saturday, April 18, 2020. 10:34 pm CST.
By Hugh O’Brien: The plight of cattle farmers in Belize was on the local news this week and is being well ventilated over social media over the last few days. Despite the publicity it is getting, along with the tireless behind-the-scenes efforts being made by cattle farmers, the Belize Livestock Producers Association (BLPA), Agriculture CEO Jose Alpuche, Hon. Jose Mai, and the COVID-19 Agriculture Committee, to address the problem, there is still no resolution in sight as yet.
For almost 20 years now Belize has been exporting cattle informally to Guatemala. A BLPA checkpoint, supported by Belize Police, is permanently set up at the entrance of the Calla Creek road in Bullet Tree where the Belize officials ensure that the exported cattle meet all of Belize’s requirements, that the cattle are properly tagged for traceability, that the transport and export permits issued by the Livestock Association (BLPA) are in order, and that the relevant fees to BLPA are paid. The cattle trucks then move on to the Calla Creek/Santa Rosa border point where the cattle enter Guatemala as INFORMAL EXPORTS – YES INFORMALLY. Not a problem for Belize, and the Guatemalans do not make it a problem either.
The export of cattle has indeed become big business, and large, medium and small farmers alike benefit from this informal arrangement. Residents in Santa Elena and many villagers in Unitedville, Blackman and Ontario who raise a couple heads in their backyard, small cattle farmers from Bullet Tree and Santa Familia villages in Cayo and many villages in Orange Walk and Corozal, medium sized cattle farmers in Shipyard, as well as large cattle farmers in Spanish Lookout and Blue Creek all benefit from this activity. On average Belize produces 40-50,000 saleable heads of cattle each year, we consume about 10,000 heads locally and we export the rest. The value of the export trade of cattle is now estimated to be somewhere between $40 t0 $50 million per year.
Now comes one Sabino Pinelo, the Chairman of Bullet Tree, clearly with some help from the San Ignacio Police, and with support from some narrow minded politician, carelessly put a stop to this very important economic activity. The cattle buyers were stopped in Bullet Tree and escorted back to the Belizean farms from where they had purchased the cattle and forced to return the cattle to the Belizean farmer. The Bullet Tree Chairman wants to collect a $75 toll for passing through a small part of the village, on a road owned by the Government of Belize. Depending on whether these trucks are coming from Orange Walk or Cayo, they pass through numerous villages and towns on the way to the border for which no toll is paid in any village or should be legally charged except by the Government of Belize.
Me thinks the solution is ONE PHONE CALL AWAY.
The Area Representative, Hon. Omar Figueroa, can MAKE THAT ONE PHONE CALL, put the farmers before politics and tell the Bullet Tree Chairman to stand down. If Hon. Figueroa is seeking to be Belize’s next Prime Minister, he needs to start acting like being the next PM is his goal.
Superintendent Henry Jemott, Officer in charge of the San Ignacio Police Formation, can MAKE THAT ONE PHONE CALL and tell his officers to continue supporting Belize Livestock Producers Association and the cattle farmers the way they have done for almost 20 years and to stand down. And if the Bullet Tree Chairman raises his toll-charging head, break up his check point as no Village Council Chairman should hold any part of Belize at ransom.
And this ONE PHONE CALL AWAY solution, can go as far as the Prime Minister if necessary. The Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow can call the Minister of National Security or the Commissioner of Police and ask them to let their officers STAND DOWN and let the exports continue.
Our cattle farmers have to deal with the COVID -19 threats, they have to deal with consecutive and extended harsh dry weather, pastures drying up and water running extremely low in their ponds and wells. Let us not have their main source of income dry up as well further hurting the economy of Belize.
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