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Feb 11, 2016

Fruta Bomba Bids Farewell to Belize

One of the biggest industries up north is the papaya industry. It provides employment for hundreds, but the future of the industry is bleak tonight because Fruta Bomba and its subsidiary, Belize Food Packers Limited are closing shop and moving to more profitable destinations in the region. This week, the Ministry of Agriculture was advised of the impending closure. And that news is causing consternation among the employees that will be left jobless. News Five’s Duane Moody reports.

 

Duane Moody, Reporting

After operating in Belize for over two decades as one of the biggest employers in the north, the main papaya producer in Corozal is closing down and exiting Belize. That’s the news coming out of the Ministry of Agriculture today following a verbal communication on Tuesday.

 

Jose Alpuche

Jose Alpuche, C.E.O., Ministry of Agriculture

“Government was verbally informed by the C.E.O. of the company two days ago, on Tuesday evening, on the ninth; that they had taken a decision to close operations in Belize and that they were hoping for a smooth transition and that the wind down of the company’s operation in Belize should be between three to six months. They’ve stated that they’ve never been able to recover fully from the 2007 hurricane—hurricane Dean—and that they’ve been losing money since then and it has come to a point where they are exiting Belize.”

 

In 2007, the papaya industry was destroyed by Hurricane Dean, a category five hurricane that devastated northern Belize and Mexico. Millions of dollars in investments were lost. But three years later, the industry was reportedly on the rebound, exporting a hundred thousand tons of Caribbean Red Papayas weekly to the U.S. and Canada.

 

Henry Warrington

Henry Warrington, Operations Manager, Fruta Bomba [File: August 10th, 2010]

“We only export a small amount of fruit as compared to Mexico for example but it’s a highly risky business.  It’s a good business, it can be lucrative but at the same time it’s very easy to make financial losses.”

 

Fast track to 2016, almost nine years after the natural phenomenon, a total of two hundred and fifty-one persons employed by Fruta Bomba and its subsidiary, Belize Food Packers Limited; will be left jobless. On Tuesday, the laborers that work the fields, process, pack the delicate fruits and transport them to the secured markets were told the earth-shattering news – the company is downsizing before completely pulling out from Belize in the next three to six months.

 

Voice of: Martin Escobar, Employee, Belize Food Packers Ltd.

“Basically now it is official that six month now, whoever will stay will stay and who will go will go. And the rest will have to do most of the job until it’s done, for six months.”

Duane Moody

“How many persons work here?”

 

Voice of: Martin Escobar

“Right now, about fifty, but now it will stay less.”

 

As it is, the investors only pay its laborers a minimum wage, which is U.S. one dollar and sixty-five cents an hour in Belize. Raul Pott makes only ninety dollars weekly, but is the breadwinner of his family. The twenty-six year old has been working with the company for eight years and now he is desperate.

 

Voice of: Raul Pott, Employee, Belize Food Packers Ltd.

“We got a meeting this morning and the boss said that the papaya will shut down in six months, but next week about nine or ten will get fired because we don’t got no more work to do.”

 

Duane Moody

“You’re one of those persons that won’t last the six months?”

 

Voice of: Raul Pott

“Not really sure because the boss says he will evaluate next Friday who works and he will decide who will stay or who will get fired.”

 

All indications are that the investors will now be operating out of Guatemala and the Dominican Republic, where the minimum wage is U.S. thirty-three cents per hour, even though there have been many concessions made to the company.

 

Jose Alpuche

“In addition to Belize, they have been sourcing papayas elsewhere. The C.E.O. of the company says to us that they’ve been sourcing fruits from Guatemala and from the Dominican Republic. So we are suspecting that is where they will source their fruits from in the future. The issue of Brooks Tropical and Fruta Bomba, they have enjoyed an EPZ status; they’ve enjoyed fiscal incentives, they’ve been granted all the economic space that could be granted to any company for them to operate.”

 

Inevitably, with the close of the papaya sector, which is one of the two agricultural industries that employs residents in Corozal, the workers and their families will be displaced in these tight economic times.

 

Voice of: Raul Pott

“We get fired and not today or tomorrow we will get a job; we need to look for one. And you’ll need to leave your family and look for job far because right yah, yon oh got no job.”

 

Voice of: Martin Escobar

“We cannot do nothing about it, but the truth is that after this we have to decide to look for another job. Can’t do better. Corozal only depends on cane, papaya and Free Zone nothing else.”

 

Jose Alpuche

“We will of course try to see whether there is any scope for the assets of the company to be sold, but that’s a private holding of that company so we can’t force anything. But we have already discussed with the C.E.O. the possibility of a sale—whether it be for papaya or any other economic activity—we are hoping that that is an option.”

 

Duane Moody for News Five.

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3 Responses for “Fruta Bomba Bids Farewell to Belize”

  1. Moses Benguche says:

    capitalists. its all about the money. Too bad. Maybe the government can take it over and keep the operation going. How about that> invest some petro caribe money.

  2. Al says:

    The same way how “foreign investors” can come in and BORROW money from me, you, us, through Social Security, the SS can loan to government to keep the business going for the sake of belizeans. Then again…….

  3. Spike says:

    With the way things are going in Belize these days, this news really isn’t a surprise. (U.S. banks are de-risking and getting out, several shootings each week, tourists being murdered, rampant fraud and corruption within the GOB (Lands Dept.), etc., etc.) Vacation to the Jewel anyone?

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