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Dec 1, 2014

Still no Resolution in Sugar Industry Crisis

Up north… Approximately one thousand cane-farmers from Orange Walk and Corozal attended the Annual General Meeting of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, held on Sunday in San Roman, Corozal. All association matters, including financial reports, complaints and elections are dealt with at AGM, but in this case, the crisis in the industry is priority. And it is a crisis, because one week before the optimal date for the start of the 2014 crop season, there is no agreement between B.S.I. and the B.S.C.F.A.  Every day of delay after December eighth will cost both the farmers and the factory. But while both parties are in agreement on that crucial point – it is the only thing they do agree on. So what exactly is going to happen this week? Well that’s what our news team went to San Roman to find out. Mike Rudon has the story.


Mike Rudon, Reporting

On Sunday, it was like déjà vu all over again. About one thousand very vocal cane-farmers in one place! All of them need the crop to start on December eighth. All of them stand to lose if it doesn’t. Some of them are willing to start the crop now and deal with negotiations after, and others are more militant and want to force B.S.I./A.S.R. to bend to their demands. Nothing ever changes where this issue is concerned.


Cane Farmer

“All of us live in a time of television. All of us have seen the international and local news. Just look simply at the demonstration in Cayo when they had a problem. There are six thousand cane-farmers here in Corozal and Orange Walk. Let us have a demonstration before December eighth when they are saying for the crop to start.”


Cane Farmer

“I am a cane-farmer. My family has about one thousand tons of cane. I’ve just invested twenty-thousand dollars in fifteen acres and I hope that the management in Orange Walk and Corozal will sit down and negotiate with the factory. Because if the Prime Minister has promised that he will support the cane-farmers, then we have to have confidence that he will do so…because I don’t want to have another demonstration, because I don’t want them to kill anybody else. What happened? The person was killed and he can’t come back, and it didn’t help us. We prefer better that you all sit down on Monday and that the crop start.”


Cane Farmer

“I personally, can’t be stubborn. The rich come from God and the poor come from God, and on this morning we want to hear solutions, ladies and gentlemen. What is the solution for me, personally? I am going to take my cane, even if you all don’t want to. When the company opens its gates, I am going to take my cane.”


Like we said, none of those sentiments have changed. So what has? Well on Friday the B.S.C.F.A.’s Committee of Management and eighteen branch directors met with Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega. The impression coming out of that meeting was positive.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow [File November 28th, 2014]

“Government congratulates the B.S.C.F.A. and commends the B.S.C.F.A. on the position that has now emerged. Which position in our view represents a fair and indeed compelling basis on which negotiations can now take place between the B.S.C.F.A. and B.S.I./A.S.R..”


Oscar Alonzo

Oscar Alonzo, Chief Executive Officer, B.S.C.F.A.

“The positive thing which came out of the meeting is that the Prime Minister has given his support to the Association, and has said that he will go to A.S.R. to tell them, look, the B.S.C.F.A. can be flexible, so you need to sit down with them and negotiate as soon as possible. But the Prime Minister also indicated that if we don’t reach a compromise – on an interim agreement or any agreement – the government can’t do anything.”


Another thing that has changed is that while the Committee of Management and the eighteen branch directors have conducted meetings with PM Barrow and DPM Vega, the negotiating team elected to do so on, behalf of the cane-farmers was not invited to those meetings. And that’s a sore point for the farmers.


Diodi Novelo, Cane Farmer

“If we take the words of the Chairman, everything is okay. But now we take the words of the Prime Minister when he spoke to these directors….and I don’t know where he got the idea, but he said…now it’s my turn to convince B.S.I./A.S.R. where the cane-farmer association is being very flexible, and where an agreement can be signed as soon as possible. Cane-farmers…that is what we want to know. Because I wasn’t there at the meeting, but I understand that what was discussed was ownership of the cane, they discussed the acceptance of fifty-one cents and they discussed the signing of an agreement for seven years when those are the same conditions that you all have told them that you will not accept.”


Ezekiel Cansino, Chairman, Committee of Management, B.S.C.F.A.

“As the Committee of Management, we had a meeting with the eighteen directors, and they said that the cane-farmers had voiced that they need to start the crop, and they need the intervention of the government, so on that issue we accepted the invitation of the DPM to be there with him with the eighteen directors, and just like I said I didn’t go there to negotiate anything with the DPM. I simply went and affirmed to him that the cane-farmers are will to start the crop, and we need a date as soon as possible to start the crop.”


There are five main points of contention – ownership of the cane, the payment for bagasse, the length of time of the agreement, the continued existence of the Sugar Cane Production Committee and the ability to resolve disputes in court.


Ezekiel Cansino

Ezekiel Cansino

“We will have to negotiate in these points for us to reach an agreement, whether it is today, tomorrow or next year. It is on these points, that we are stuck, where we can’t go backwards nor forwards. We have to negotiate these points, and on these points B.S.I. will have to be flexible, and B.S.C.F.A. will have to be flexible. It is not that we are going to give in completely. It is not that we are going to say yes, yes B.S.I. we are going to give you ownership of the cane.”


So that’s basically where it is at this point, with a growing sense of urgency of course. Next week Monday is December eighth…a day most certainly on the minds of many cane-farmers. Mike Rudon for News Five.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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