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Dec 29, 2021

Sugar Crop Stand-Off Continues

The standstill outside the gates of A.S.R./B.S.I.’s sugar mill in Orange Walk went into a second day.  Members of the B.S.C.F.A., Prime Minister John Briceño himself, and Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai spent the entire day meeting in an attempt to resolve the impasse.  B.S.C.F.A. members are demanding that A.S.R./B.S.I. signs an interim agreement that expires at the end of the 2021/2020 sugar crop in July.  A.S.R./B.S.I., on the other hand, is prepared to sign an interim agreement up to the end of April, as was proposed by the office of the Prime Minister.  But today’s meeting ended without the signing of an interim agreement and the farmers refusing to remove their blockade. News Five’s Paul Lopez filed the following report.


Paul Lopez, Reporting

Day three of the sugar crop at A.S.R./B.S.I.’s sugar mill began with no sugar cane available for processing. Instead, the cane has been sitting outside the compound since midday Tuesday, after the farmers delivering the cane decided to go withhold their product.


Marcos Osorio

Marcos Osorio, Chairman, Sugar Industry Control Board

“The little I know in terms of the delivery of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association is that they were scheduled to meet with A.S.R./B.S.I. around mid day with the objective of agreeing to signing the intern commercial agreement, and with an extension to end of August 2022 and not end of April 2022. According to them, B.S.I. insists that they cannot sign the interim agreement today, therefore information from B.S.C.F.A. is in view of that, they will suspend deliveries until they can get the interim agreement signed.”


That interview was conducted on Tuesday. Only a few hours later, tensions grew outside the compound, as truck drivers began blocking all entrances and exits with their trucks piled high with cane.


Voice of: Santiago Baeza, Power Hits Radio 95.5

“They are blocking the entrance, even from their housing. They are blocking the entrance so that no personnel from B.S.I. will be able to leave. Okay, they will not be able leave if B.S.I. will send his equipment to move his trucks, it would create chaos. If B.S.I. would set up, B.S.I. is setting up their equipment on their side. B.S.I. is setting their heavy machinery on their side, which is okay. They can set up their equipment on their side, which is no problem. I thought they were going to try to move the trucks.”



This morning, the trucks were still blocking the mill’s entrance and exit. The area was also teeming with police officers watching out for further unrest. Meanwhile, over at the Agriculture Post in Yo Creek, just outside of Orange Walk Town, Prime Minister John Briceño and Minister of Agriculture Jose Mai were preparing to meet with members of the B.S.C.F.A., a meeting that would go on for a several hours.


John Briceño

Prime Minister John Briceño

“I just called them to see if they are prepared to, I am trying to see if I can convince them, if they are prepared to accept the, B.S.I., the Cane Farmers Association to accept the thirtieth of April, but they want an extension, that if we do not have an agreement to move it for three more months nuh. So um, I called B.S.I. and see if they would reconsider that. They are saying they have to talk to their bosses, so I am expect a call from them. So, we reconvene at one-thirty nuh.”


The meeting reconvened at around two thirty p.m. One hour later, PM Briceño exited the room once more to provide an update.


Prime Minister John Briceño

“We have been through a long discussion along with the Minister of Agriculture and myself, with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. I have also been in discussions with both Mac and Celestino from A.S.R./B.S.I.  I am trying to find a compromise on the proposed letter that was sent from my office that I sent to both BSI and the cane farmers association. We have made progress, but we believe that we will be able to finalize an agreement tomorrow. So, what I am prepared to tell you now is that the cane farmers’ leaders have agreed that they are going to ask their membership to remove the barriers from in front of the factory. B.S.I. has given assurance that they will not receive any cane for the next twenty-four hours, and that if we sign an interim agreement tomorrow, they will start receiving cane from farmers on Friday at six a.m.”


But, despite the Prime Minister’s personal attempt to cut a deal everyone could agree with, things took a turn outside the sugar mill at Tower Hill.  BSCFA members refused to move the blockade.


Sugar Cane Farmer, B.S.C.F.A.

“No we are not going to move.”


Paul Lopez

“When will you move?”


Sugar Cane Farmer

Sugar Cane Farmer

“We are going to move until we see the paper black and white signed.”


Paul Lopez

“Your leaders is asking you to move sir.”


Sugar Cane Farmer

“We are not going to move until we got that paper signed we are going to move.”


This reluctance prompted a phone call to the Prime Minister to inform him of the decision.


Andrew Westby

Andrew Westby, Chairman, Committee of Management, B.S.C.F.A.

“The message from the farmer, they will not move the blocking of the gate until that interim agreement is signed. Once it is signed they will be willing to move the trucks from here. So that is the message the message they have, so I just pass it on.”


According to Westby, Prime Minster Briceño countered, over the phone, that there would be no interim agreement signed if the cane farmers do not remove the blockade.


Paul Lopez

“How important is it for you to show solidarity with your members in the manner you are doing with your member, because you just left from a meeting with the PM where it seems as if you gave a word that they would move.”


Alfredo Ortega

Alfredo Ortega, Executive Director, B.S.C.F.A.

“Really, we didn’t give a word to the Prime Minister. We said we would be coming and informing our farmers over here, because this is the support we are getting from them. So, we have to listen to them. This is why we went there with their demand on what we are looking for. What we are looking for is that an agreement be signed so that the farmers can deliver their cane at the extension of the crop. That is what we are looking for. We haven’t gotten that as yet, and the farmers continue that they will remain here until that happen.”


Paul Lopez

“The word you are getting is that agreement won’t be signed if the farmers don’t move today.”


Alfredo Ortega

“Well, that is what the Prime Minister said, so we will see. We have our farmers here, and I think that he should remember that because of the farmers and the voters of Belize he is our Prime Minister.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Paul Lopez.

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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