Mayan King, the largest banana producer in Belize, abruptly ceased operations in October when the Irish fruit company Fyffes stopped importing Mayan King bananas due to fear of economic sanctions from the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). In 2012, OFAC designated Mayan King owner John Zabaneh a Drug Kingpin under the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) for his alleged connections to Mexican fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and associated Colombian drug cartels.
Despite the installation of a managerial company, Meridian, Fyffes informed Meridian that they will no longer be buying bananas from them. Meridian, who was already struggling to meet payroll, were left with no other choice but to inform their workers that they have no work for them. The workers are incensed and desperate, 700 of whom took part in a peaceful protest at the Big Creek Port at the Head Quarters of Fyffes and Banana Grower’s Association.
Mayan King farms are is responsible for around one-quarter of Belize’s banana exports, and the Banana Growers’ Association acts as the sole exporter for the fruit. An estimated 1,200 migrant farm workers and their children from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, who work on the farms, now face an uncertain future. Most have nowhere else to go in Belize or their home countries if Mayan King remains closed.
Photo: Mark Aumann