Posted by: southernbelizeexpertise | August 12, 2011

Hoist upon their own petard

The extract about extraction below is taken from the Channel 7 News bulletin of 11 August.In our last post I began by talking about bay leaf palm and ended up touching upon rosewood. The italics below are my own comments.

“The issue of Rosewood extraction in Southern Belize has been exciting public opinion in the Toledo District for some weeks now.

The Maya Leaders’ alliance issued a statement today saying that there is, quote, “rampant extraction of this very rare species with no intervention from the relevant authorities including the Forest Department.”  When the Mayan Leaders’ Alliance complains about lack of  intervention from the relevant authorities” one has to remember that they have spent the past three years in court trying to prove that the government of Belize has no right over these lands and is therefore not the relevant authority. If the government is not the relevant authority then presumably the Maya Leaders’ alliance is and it is up to them to demonstrate leadership and control the lands they own and manage.

Of course, the wrinkle in this is that Land Rights Case where the Ministry of Natural Resources is limited from making stipulations upon land considered to be maya communal property. So – the Mayan leaders alliance claims that Forestry personnel have been telling the Maya people that it is their lands (sic) and therefore they can do whatever they want including extract rosewood without a license. The leader says business owners then come and buy or credit these logs at anywhere from $3.50 -3.75 per board foot – with the Forest Officer who then stamps these logs.

So what do the Mayan leaders have to say about their own people facilitating the rosewood plunder? We quote: “our communities have been manipulated to leap for this rash economic opportunity and in these ever challenging times – How can we blame them?” End quote.

The release does close by saying that, quote, “Finally, we encourage the Maya people to stand up and realize that you are selling out too cheap.” So it is perhaps not that they are extracting the rosewood at all that is the problem but that they are selling it too cheaply.

This is a wonderful example of a group cherry picking those aspects of citizenship they find amenable. A supreme court decision established their rights to the land and they do not accept the government’s right to tax timber extraction. When the government desists from licensing, taxing and stamping , those very same people ask the government to step in and stop it. You cannot have it both ways.  No doubt the same people who claim ownership of land and refute the government’s right to tax will want to take advantage of Belize’s healthcare system and social security and any other benefits on offer.

The Maya Leaders’ Alliance have talked themselves into this corner and should now start showing some leadership. Being a leader is a responsibility not a social status with privileges attached.



  1. And this is an example of a biased reporting, without understanding the difficult history and no less difficult nowadays for Maya of Belize.
    They are impoverished people, who can not afford more than at best a few years of education for their children, because the government wants them to pay for it. The same government gives left and right licences for logging and oil searching and extraction to newcomers with deep pockets, bribing the government. Especially the forestry department has a reputation of being notoriously corrupted.

    Maya Leaders Alliance is what it say it is: an alliance of Maya LEADERS: those most conscious – iften more educated Mayas. Many Mayas lack education and means to get it – and they observe daily how they are mistreated by their own government and by “new colonialists”. So no wonder they use those resources they have access to. You want to eat – and so do Maya. Only in Belize it is far easier for you to accomplish that, than it is for Maya. And yet you feel selfrightous in moralizing about their imputed “bad behavior”. Toledo would be much better off without “friends” like you!

    • I was not aiming for impartiality but expressing an opinion. As for whether Toledo would be better off without me, you would need to ask the Mayan staff and families who are supported by our business which offers employment that would otherwise be unavailable.
      I am not sure that understanding a nation or community’s history will necessarily shed much light on how they should act today. We are talking about a practical problem here: the mass extraction and export of raw lumber. Would you ask the Belize government to step in and stop the destruction of this resource? Should the Mayan Leader’s alliance step in and stop it? Should the villagers themselves as the stewards of their natural resources on communal lands act to conserve the rosewood? Or should they carry on as they are doing now?
      Today’s news bulletin highlights the issue once again
      “The controversy over commercial exploitation of southern Belize’s limited stock of Rosewood has been raging for months. And now, the Ya’xche Conservation Trust has called on the Prime Minister to issue a moratorium on all harvesting of rosewood, and to formally re-instate the necessary legislation that will prohibit the export of raw rosewood timber.
      Ya’xche is asking him to keep the moratorium in place until the Forest Department and/or Ya’axché has completed a thorough assessment of rosewood stocks in Toledo.
      The letter to the PM points to two years of steadily increasing harvest of rosewood from community lands in Toledo – fueled by demand for raw timber from China. Ya’xche says it has evidence that small trees less than eight inches in diameter are now being extracted – which suggests that rosewood stocks have already reached a critical level, and could become locally extinct.”
      I would be more interested in your opinion on the issue than your opinion of me.

  2. The unsustainable harvesting of rosewood is, indeed, a problem.

    Whether a solution proposed by Ya’xche is the best one is, however, questionable.

    SATIIM, another organization in Toledo working with the Maya, has initiated a sustainable forestry initiative, which gives the villagers income for sustainable logging in communal lands of various species of trees, including some rosewood. An initiative, financed by the World Bank, that the GOB, in a vendetta against SATIIM, tried – unsuccessfully – to starve for money.

    SATIIM now started cooperating with Rainforest Allience to get these sustainable enterprises in Maya Villages certification of sustainable harvesting, which allows them to get better prices for their lumber and lowers the temptation of unsustainable harvesting of scarce species.

    SATIIM also aims at expanding sustainable forestry to other Maya Villages in Toledo. A major obstacle, however is an action of GOB to appeal a decision of Belize’s supreme court, which last year affirmed Maya’s ownership of communal lands.

    Still unsure about their rights and in a desperate need of income, some villages succumb to a temptation of harvesting rosewood unsustainably, now, when they see a demand for it.., and simultaneously see that GOB granted yet another a permit to a US oil company – without their permission – to cut more seismic lines through STNP and on their communal lands. These seismic lines open up their lands to incursions from Guatemala for the purpose of poaching, illegal logging, perhaps even drug trafficking.

    A government moratorium won’t solve the problems created in a large part by government policies. It could only increase the burden of trying to enforce the moratorium, the burden which will to a large extent fall on NGO’s like SATIIM and Ya’xche, managing the protected areas in Toledo.

    (I believe you are aware that GOB does not pay for this protection: international donors to Belizean organizations like SATIIM and Ya’xche pay for them.)

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