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Oct 27, 1999

Libertad Cane Council elections to be monitored

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On October nineteenth, Florencio Marin, Minister of Sugar Industry felt it necessary to invoke his powers and appoint members to the Patchakan and San Narciso Branch Councils of the Corozal Division of the Belize Sugar Cane Association. The action was taken after a group of association members protested the elections claiming ineligible farmers tried to vote. According to Marin the protest was followed by some hostile threats towards Jose Cawich, the executive secretary of the Belize Sugar Cane Board, which forced him to suspend the elections. Although Marin says the appointments were made in accordance with the Sugar Cane Farmers Association Act, members accused the Minister of hijacking the association. They also claim Cawich rejected the rules governing the elections of Branch Councils when he called off the elections. Last Week the cane farmers went public with their side and today, Marin held a press conference of his own at the Radisson Fort George Hotel. Marin says the Belize Sugar Cane Board met in Belmopan on Monday October twenty-fifth to review the complaint by the Cane Farmers Association. As a result, an independent member of the Board, Luis Carballo was appointed to supervise the impending Branch Council Election at the Libertad Branch. That election is scheduled for Sunday, October thirty-first. It was also concluded that Cawich did not exceed his authority at the Branch Council Elections. Marin says the majority of the association members support their position and that they have evidence suggesting the protest was politically motivated by a few opposition supporters.

Florencio Marin, Minister of Sugar Industry

“And we are ready to move forward just like I said. This industry is at its crossroads of existence, either we do what is necessary today or we will not be able to compete in the international market. The sugar industry has survived for long because we have about sixty percent of our production to market on preferential guaranteed markets. Today the World Trade Organization is putting pressures on all this support policies that agriculture gets and sugar is no exception. So that is where we are and that is why the government of the day has focused. The focus of this administration is not on political control of the cane farmers association. I said earlier that this administration’s focus is on introducing policies that will achieve efficiencies. Political control, we are not interested.”

Marin says they are prepared to consider holding elections in Patchakan and San Narciso once stability in these troubled areas has been restored. Meanwhile the board has appointed a working group chaired by Joseph Loskot, an independent board member, a representative of the Sugar Cane Association and a crown counsel. They will undertake a review of the rules governing Branch Council Elections and recommend measures to improve the general conduct of elections. Furthermore a bill for the Sugar Industry Act was recently presented in the House of Representatives. It seeks to strengthen established institutions for the better management of the industry. The proposed law also seeks to provide increased support to cane farmers.

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