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Jan 15, 2015

N.T.U.C.B. Pledges Support to Farmers

Even as the start of the sugar cane crop seems inevitable, the chaos within the industry continues unabated. Tonight, there is much to report—both from the farmers and the factory, which includes the signing of agreements with ASR/B.S.I.  But we start with a midday press conference hosted by the National Trade Union Congress of Belize. They were joined by B.S.C.F.A. members Alfredo Ortega, Javier Keme and attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd. But it wasn’t a sanctioned B.S.C.F.A. event, just an opportunity for the N.T.U.C.B. to jump on board with the farmers, even though by all appearances the ship has sailed. Mike Rudon was at N.T.U.C.B. headquarters and has that story.


Mike Rudon, Reporting

It was a packed room which gathered at N.T.U.C.B. headquarters this morning – unionists galore. They were there to lend support to the cane farmers who believe they have lost a protracted war against the multi-national ASR/B.S.I.. Alfredo Ortega maintains that the reason they have reached to this point, where farmers feel they must sign the agreement under protest, is because of Prime Minister Barrow’s decision to withdraw his support for the B.S.C.F.A.. That decision, says Ortega, broke the backs of the farmers.


Alfredo Ortega

Alfredo Ortega, Director, Orange Walk Branch, B.S.C.F.A.

“The farmers, many of them said in many branch meetings, that they have no choice in that moment but to sign the agreement as is because if the leader of the nation is not prepared to help them…if the leader of the nation is not prepared to take care of the cane farming community…he is not prepared to look after the Belizean people, then we are cornered, and the only choice we have is to sign, and the farmers said that they will be signing, but they are not happy with the way it is.”


But happy or not, the bottom line is that they are now signing on. Of five thousand five hundred registered farmers, the B.S.C.F.A. claims to have gathered signatures from over three thousand who want the crop to start…desperately need it to start. So while the session today was spirited, the painful reality is that it doesn’t appear to serve any significant purpose where the cause of farmers is concerned. The N.T.U.C.B. is offering moral support, but while that must warm the hearts of farmers, it doesn’t do anything for their pockets. For all intents and purposes, the battle has been lost.


Marvin Mora

Marvin Mora, Second Vice President, N.T.U.C.B.

“The only way you would sign an agreement that is not beneficial for you, is if you are put in a position where you have limited or no option, and that is the reason why the Trade Union Congress had to intervene. This is a matter that will have tremendous effect on the economy of this country, and we represent the workers of this country and their best interests, so we have absolutely no option but to come to the defence of the farmers, with moral support, with whatever knowledge we can garner among our members to help them in their plight.”


Audrey Matura-Shepherd

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Attorney

“Unfortunately, the intentional misinformation served its purpose, for which I send a resounding congratulation to our Prime Minister and to his government, the Deputy Prime Minister, B.S.I., ASR, SICB…they have effectively showed us how they can work together against the people. Now I am hoping that the people will show us how they can effectively unite on common grounds and move the country forward.”


So with that said, there seems to be little recourse for these farmers. They are unhappy and passionate about their cause, but they too have run out of options.


Javier Keme

Javier Keme, Finance Committee Chairman, B.S.C.F.A.

“My heart is really paining. The only thing I regret is that the head of the organization, the B.S.C.F.A., should have started – and I blame myself as part of that – to embrace the support of the B.N.T.U. and the N.T.U.C.B., two years ago when we started this negotiation. That is a mistake that we are paying for it. If we should have embraced the support of the N.T.U.C.B. two years ago, we would be in a different position.”


We note that today the B.S.C.F.A. issued a press release in which it made clear that the opinions expressed at the conference are not those of the Association…which demonstrates that that organization may yet be a casualty of the unhappy resolution to the protracted impasse. Mike Rudon for News Five.

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