One of the exotic beauties of Belize is Rosewood belonging to the genus Dalbergia, highly valued and richly hued timber with brown and dark veining. Rosewood grows wild throughout Belize but is especially abundant in the southern Toledo District. The rosewood lumber is strong, dense and heavy and takes an extremely high and brilliant polish that is almost glass-like. Its color ranges from orange, to deep red and brown with dark and cream colored veining.
Cheaper grades of rosewood are used as high quality flooring and as veneer for cabinets and furniture. Furniture made from solid rosewood is expensive and can command many thousands of dollars for simple items such as office desks and corporate conference tables. Due to its high density and hardness, the wood produces a clear musical sound when struck and is used in marimbas made in Belize and Guatemala. It is also used to make guitar bodies and frets.
Blocks of rosewood lumber are used to make chess sets, hunting and knife handles, and turned wood objects such as bowls and wood carvings.
The rosewood trade in Belize has become controversial in recent years because of uncontrolled exploitation by well-connected smuggling rings controlled by Belizeans, Chinese and Taiwanese nationals. Belize has an open-door policy for Chinese and Taiwanese immigrants and this has contributed to nationals of these countries immigrating here and gaining control of large segments of the business sector – especially food and dry goods importation and distribution.
And of recent exportation of high-value raw materials such as marine and forestry products. They are now big players in securing loads of rosewood for export to Asia where they are converted to high value products, some it exported to the U.S. for use in the manufacture of musical instruments and as furniture for corporate offices, according to research by local media.
Responding to cries of protest from Belizeans in southern Belize and conservation organizations, the Belize government has been reluctantly reining in the exploitation of this endangered forestry species starting in 2011. But these have been half-hearted measures, as even though moratoriums on the harvesting and export of rosewood have been signed into law, smuggling with the active collaboraton of politically connected operatives has continued relatively unhindered.
The minister responsible for forestry was quoted in a broadcast interview this month:
“Minister, do you believe there is corruption within the Forestry Department that allows for some of this rosewood to be here?”
Hon. Lisel Alamilla – Minister Of Forestry
“I am certain that there is corruption within my ministry. The difficulty is proving it. This is why the message is also meant for my staff to understand that when I give instructions they must adhere to it.”
The rosewood scandal has become so pervasive that after a shipment worth some U.S. $200,000. was intercepted by vigilante villagers and the media near Golden Stream, Toledo, Minister of Forestry Lisel Alamilla decided to send a message of desperation. On 11 January 2012 she personally incinerated the entire shipment. Previously confiscated shipments of rosewood have always managed to disappear from secure government facilities – presumably boosted by smuggling rings determined to get their property back.
Rosewood souvenirs can be found in most Belize art galleries. The rosewood bowls are very beautiful and in high demand by tourists. Care should be taken when purchasing rosewood items, especially bowls. Some rosewood items that have not been properly kiln-dried tend to crack when taken to northern climes due to changes in humidity. This can lead to a big disappointment for the buyer. Getting a warranty from a reputable art gallery is recommended.