Monday, May 31, 2010

Melchor, or “No Whiskey Allowed”

We just learned something else about Belize the hard way, to the detriment of our wallets. We had to get a few items that we knew were more available and/or cheaper in Melchor, just across the Belize border in Guatemala. So, Janet, Julio, Tom and I decided to take the day on Friday and go shopping. We bought all the things we needed, like clothes for Janet and Julio’s kids, plus a few things, and decided on the way out to pick up a few bottles of liquor, since as far as any of us knew each person crossing the border is allowed a liter of alcohol, and most of the hard liquors are far cheaper in Guatemala than they are in Belize. So, we bought a couple of bottles of tequila, and a bottle of Jack Daniels for Marjie and Chuck.

Throughout the day, we had been putting everything any of us bought into a knapsack Tom was carrying, and as we picked up the last few items, we each just grabbed random bags. We all headed through customs together, and were shocked when the customs agent grabbed the bottle of Jack Daniels, demanded to know whose it was, and said that she was confiscating it. Tom claimed it, and she took his passport and wrote his name in a ledger. Tom asked if he was in trouble, and she said no and smiled, but when he asked if he could have the bottle back to return to the store or exchange, she said no, once customs seized it, it was theirs. Then, she turned us over to another customs agent, who proceeded to go through every bag in the knapsack – and wrote us up a bill for $40BZ in duty. We were a little surprised, to say the least, since it was also our understanding that clothes, which was what the bulk of our money was spent on and were the only items she asked about prices, were duty free. But, apparently not, and even when we explained that what Tom had was from the four of us, not just him, they didn’t care.

We’re not exactly sure what the deal was. About the Jack Daniels, they said that whiskey, beer, and soda cannot be imported from Guatemala to Belize, but there aren’t any signs anywhere explaining that and Tom couldn’t find it on the Belize Customs website. We’re also not sure why we were charged so much duty on clothes, although we suspect that our skin color may have had something to do with it, and since they thought we had money to blow on liquor, what’s a few more bucks to customs. We don’t know if the fact that it was Friday had anything to do with it, and who knows what parties were planned for the weekend. Or, maybe it was just our turn. We’ve heard horror stories from other people crossing the borders into Belize, and we’ve always been quite honest about what we have and what we’re doing, and have never been hassled until now. We’ll probably continue to be honest about what we have, but the next time we’re told that some random item is illegal, we’ll know to keep it in our own hands so we can try to get our money back from the vendor before customs seizes it.

1 comment:

David Gottfried said...

Hmmm, let's see, you're clearly rich people from the United States, they are clearly power hungry bureaucrats from a "developing" nation looking to push you around and take money from you because they can! I have a funny feeling that they took that bottle of Jack home.