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Import Impasse

This year, just before we loaded the container for shipment, one of our board members donated a small Honda motorcycle, and we purchased another used motorcycle for our use in Guatemala. We noted the items on our shipping papers and all seemed to be in order. Seemed is the operative word in this situation.

We had no idea there was anything wrong until the container had arrived in the port of Guatemala, Puerto Quetzal. The customs officials noted that the titles of the motorcycles were not with the documents. A few worried calls located the documents still in the file with the shipping agent. Somehow they had not made it into the packet that was necessarily to be sent with the ship. We corrected this and sent the documents by overnight express.

Then the real problem surfaced. There is a law in Guatemala that has been on the books for a long time which provides that no vehicle can be imported that is more than 10 years old. We knew of this provision, but it had never been enforced in the years we have been sending trucks and machinery to Guatemala for our use. Times have changed as we soon learned. They refused to allow the motorcycles into the country.

They gave us choices: ship the container back to the USA; abandon the container at the port; or cut up the motorcycles under government supervision so they could never be driven on the roads.

We offered to pay extra duty. The answer was no. We told them they would not be sold. It didn’t matter. We begged. They said their hands were tied. We offered to give them to the Ministry of Health. They said no. We offered to give them to some other agency that could use them. They said no. The motorcycles would not be allowed into the country.

We could not abandon the container or ship it back to the USA. We need what is in it to do our work. There was no choice.

Valuable lessons are by definition expensive. We will only need to be taught this lesson once. We are thankful the other trucks and vehicles we have sent did not meet the same fate as the motorcycles.

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