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Oct 22, 2015

Banana Workers Protest Against Fyffes for Pulling the Plug on Meridian

In the banana belt in Big Creek down south, banana workers came out in the hundreds to protest last week’s termination of a contract between Irish-based Fyffes International and their former employer, Meridian Enterprise. Fyffes has announced that it was cutting off Meridian because of banana grower John Zabaneh, who was sanctioned under the Kingpin Act three years ago. The cancelation of the contract led to the loss of jobs and a contraction of twenty-five percent of the industry. News Five’s Isani Cayetano has this report.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The banana industry, one of several agriculture-based commercial enterprises in southern Belize, is bracing itself for a serious hit.  Irish multinational Fyffes, a fruit brand most closely associated with bananas, has pulled the plug on doing business with Meridian.  The immediate impact is a loss of employment for over eight hundred workers.

 

Miguel Angel Monroy

Miguel Angel Monroy, Field Manager, Meridian Enterprises Ltd.

“Dis da wah surprise to all of we. We don’t know from where this come from. That’s why we are here to find out what happen. I di work in Meridian Enterprise Limited for the past thirty-two years, from 1982 and I get wah real surprise last week Thursday, the fifteen, when Fyffes say I never take another box of banana from Meridian Enterprise Limited. And all of we were surprised and we called the captain and tell him noh work  because if we noh sell the banana we cannot get money to pay unu.”

 

In the wake of the abrupt termination and the resulting mass layoffs, the company is doing all that is possible to support its former staff, providing meals and other assistance.  The effort nonetheless, is simply not enough.

 

Charlie Rodriguez

Charlie Rodriguez, Former Employee, Meridian Enterprises Ltd.

“I noh have work and I noh have something to eat. My family noh have money and I noh have money. I have to work but no work. I want to work because my family needs something fu eat.”

 

As if Meridian wasn’t already battling the effects of a recent drought, the sudden decision by Fyffes to cancel the existing contract with the company is a death knell.

 

Jose David Gonzalez

Jose David Gonzalez, Director, Meridian Enterprise Ltd.

“There is no other recourse that was given to us. We had a sudden notice of no longer being able to purchase our bananas. So it is basically a ripping of the contract and our bananas are no longer being able to ship out. And so we feel that it is an injustice to these people because we were unable to give them notice to prepare themselves and these are the salt of the earth. Their finances are very tight. Right now, as it stands, we only owe them about six days of pay which we should be able to pay them tomorrow. But six days of pay is not enough to uproot your families and move them to where you can find a job.”

 

This afternoon, close to a thousand protestors, men, women and children descended on Big Creek where a demonstration was being held.  The consequence of the cancellation is far-reaching.  According to Charles Zabaneh, the loss will be in the millions.

 

Charles Zabaneh

Charles Zabaneh

“It’s a big investment; it’s a really big investment and it is millions of dollars for the social security, workers, everything. So yeah, it is really a big loss. And I just think that they should have given notice—a six months or five months notice—that the people know where they could go. It is really bad just to shut it down. They should have done it three years ago, but they are still working because they didn’t want to work with Mayan King. So my mother put it in a next company, the Meridian and they were working good. They were working good and then all of a sudden…it is really bad. But I really believe that Fyffes wants to move out of this country.”

 

The history of this rather difficult situation dates back to 2012 when the U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned banana grower John Zabaneh under the Kingpin Designation Act for alleged ties to Mexico’s most powerful drug gang, the Sinaloa Cartel.

 

Jose David Gonzalez

“Three years ago, the Americans put a Kingpin Designation on Mister John Zabaneh as well as Mayan King Limited, which was at that time, the managing company for the assets that actually belonged to Miss Myrtle Sheeran, who happens to be Mister John’s mother. So at that time, it was a very critical point because honestly, everyone was scared of what was going to happen and everyone was paranoid as to what was going to happen. But the curious thing is that even at that point when things were really hot, Fyffes did not pull out suddenly like this. They actually informed them that they were not going to be able to continue to buy their bananas, but they needed to put a plan in place that they were going to be able to sanction and continue doing business. But they did not interrupt the purchase of the bananas; they continued to take the bananas. They just said look, put a plan in place and that plan was actually in the form of Meridian Enterprise. A business partner of mine and I came down and we looked at the situation and we took over the management of the assets from Miss Myrtle Sheeran.”

 

Businessman John Zabaneh told the media this afternoon that while he and his family can move on with their lives and their businesses, the impact will be felt on the economy, as well as the employment sector.

 

John Zabaneh

John Zabaneh, Banana Grower

“I just want it very clear that I am not out here to defend either Meridian, Mayan King and not even myself. I am here on a compassionate support for these workers you see behind here. Most of them I know for so long…thirty or so years down, ten years…and I have a feeling for these people; I have compassion for these people. For me, this is an emotional thing here; just look at the kids. This is not about me anymore. I have been used and misused and lashed by the media and by Fyffes and by everybody, by BJ. But the sufferers of all this is what you see behind us here.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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2 Responses for “Banana Workers Protest Against Fyffes for Pulling the Plug on Meridian”

  1. venus says:

    what the reporter fail to mention is almost all these migrants are registered to vote in Belize`s election. Arrangement has already been made for some to travel to Guatemala to vote in their election this weekend and return to Belize for next weeks election in Belize.

    This will force these migrants to squat on private lands in southern Belize in order to carve out a substance living. They are fully aware of the authorities poor enforcement in removing them from lands they squat on in Belize. Squatting will increase considerably thereby depriving Belizeans of lands they presently own. Others will turn to a life of crime in order to survive

  2. MNHG says:

    AND A CHANGE OF GOV WILL MAKE ANY GOOD?
    THINK THE PUP WILL PAMPERS THEM ALSO AS THE UDP IS DOING NOW FOR A VOTE?
    PLEASE HELP US THINK, WE HAVE LIMITED TIME, WHICH GOV SHALL WE VOTE FOR?

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