How U.S. sanctions targeted a Belize banana farmer, and hurt an economy
By Yeganeh Torbati
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When the United States blacklisted John Angel Zabaneh, a banana farmer and exporter in Belize, for alleged ties to a top drug lord, it did more than just sideline one local businessman from the global financial system.
The action, designed to target only Zabaneh, his alleged associates and their businesses, also dented Belize's banana exports for months from last October, throwing hundreds of people out of work and undercutting a main source of hard currency for the tiny Central American country.
Zabaneh's blacklisting shows the ripple effects that U.S. sanctions aimed at stopping illicit activity such as drug trafficking, terrorism, and human rights abuses can have on the people and industries of economically fragile countries.
Broad U.S. sanctions against entire countries have drawn criticism for impoverishing millions while doing little to hurt those at the top. But Zabaneh's case shows that even laser-targeted actions against individuals and firms -- a strategy the United States is increasingly using -- can cause collateral damage.
Belize's banana crop, which makes up a fifth of the country's exports, faces other obstacles beyond sanctions. Droughts and floods have damaged crops and a further hit is likely after Hurricane Earl swept through the tiny nation this month.
But government officials and industry executives in Belize said Zabaneh's blacklisting -- part of counter-narcotics sanctions aimed at choking off the drug trade in Latin America -- had a marked impact on the country's overall banana exports in late 2015 and early 2016 and contributed to a sharp economic contraction. [Graphic showing banana export trend: tmsnrt.rs/2b8WA97]
A 42 percent drop in banana shipments in the first three months of 2016, stemming from the closure of Zabaneh's farms and the floods, helped drive a two percent drop in economic output in the first quarter, according to the Belize Statistical Institute.
"We're a smaller banana supplier, therefore the economics are very touch and go," said Sam Mathias, general manager of the Belize Banana Growers' Association (BGA). "You reduce our annual volume by a little bit, it does make a big difference." Continued...