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Feb 9, 2018

Customs Sets Contraband Ablaze in Yo Creek

The flow of contraband items from across the northern border is brisk. It’s big business, though risky, for contrabandistas to illegally bring in tons of items via various transshipment points. Two items which Belizeans have a huge appetite for are cigarettes and beers. Today, the Customs Department destroyed a stock of these items, among other confiscated goods, with a retail value of approximately two hundred thousand dollars. It’s a drop in the bottomless bucket that is the Belizean black market.  The destruction took place up north, where the department faces the most challenges in stemming the illegal trade.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The destruction of an inventory stock of contraband items smuggled from border communities in the north, is more a symbolic effort than it is a practical means of stemming the illegal importation of goods into the country.  The exercise is being carried out by branches of the Customs and Excise Department in the Orange Walk and Corozal districts.  On display are eight hundred and sixty cases of Mexican beers, along with several hundred cartons of cigarettes, among other confiscated items.  The haul has been brought here to this remote location in Yo Creek Village to be destroyed.


Abimael Sanchez

Abimael Sanchez, Enforcement Unit, Customs Department

“What we are doing today is destroying items that the Customs Department’s Enforcement Unit from both Orange Walk and Corozal have intercepted between basically since July of last year to December of this year.  These are the items that are deemed to be confiscated and we are now doing a destruction.”


It is nigh on to impossible to quantify or calculate the value of all uncostumed items being trafficked from neighboring communities such as Botes on an annual basis.  It is safe to say, however, that this cache of goods barely scratches the surface of the illegal multimillion dollar operation.


Abimael Sanchez

“Our valuation system allows a value of about two hundred thousand Belize dollars for these items that are being destroyed today.”


Isani Cayetano

“Which represents only a fraction of the total number of items that are coming through the country from this particular area on a daily basis, correct?”


Abimael Sanchez

“Correct.  Unfortunately, that is correct.  This represents a small amount of what is actually coming in.  The area is huge and resources are limited, but it’s still something that the department is doing on a daily basis, you know.”


In an attempt to arrest contrabanding, the department has seized twelve makeshift canoes used to ferry illicit cargo across the waterway that separates northwestern Belize from Mexico.  It is one of several measures being taken.  Be that as it may, the effort fails to put a dent in the black market enterprise.


Abimael Sanchez

“I think that sensitization of the public and just an education campaign would help in having persons realize the negative impact that these commodities.  Basically everyone gets affected, not only the businesses that produce beers and soft drinks.  It’s a trickledown effect and everybody gets affected.”


Isani Cayetano

“Is it fair to say, however, that with the introduction of a new sin tax last year that it has only served to spike the flow of contraband items through the northern portion of the country, seeing as though we’re looking at cigarettes, we’re looking at alcohol and soft drinks?”


Abimael Sanchez

“That would be a fair comment, yes.  People tend to smuggle items that the duties are higher.  It is possible that that is what is causing so much beers to come in and cigarettes, like you mentioned.”


As far south as Belize City, cases of Corona and Modelo beers, as well as various brands of cigarettes, can be found for sale under the table.  The ubiquity of such items is perhaps a direct result of a new local tax regime on alcohol, cigarettes and gambling; collectively known as a Sin Tax.  Yo Creek is a hub for the transshipment of contraband.


Abimael Sanchez

“Yo Creek is just the village that we are in right now, but it’s farther north that the actual village that services this area is Botes.  We have San Victor and opposite San Victor is Obregon, and those are the areas that most items originate from, Mexican items.”


Strangely, this seizure of items which also includes flour and milk, did not produce a single bottle or case of top shelf alcohol, although it is well known that Black Label, Absolut Vodka, Winston and Benson & Hedges also come through this corridor.


Abimael Sanchez

“Whiskey and liquor and stuff like that, we didn’t have any luck in intercepting.  Those items would mostly be on the highways.  For the December operations we spend most of the time in the back areas, in these hotspot areas and I guess that is why we didn’t have much or any interception of liquors and items that you mentioned.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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