There’s a volatile situation brewing in the north where hundreds of acres of cane fields are under threat. Since Monday, surveyors have been in the San Juan area where cane fields, up to four feet high and ready for harvesting, are being slashed to the ground. Government, it is claimed, will be building a road and re-distributing the farmers’ land without their consent and in some instances, compensation. For background on this developing story, we start with a promise from the Prime Minister on Independence Day. News Five’s Andrea Polanco reports.

Dean Barrow

Dean Barrow

“We have also secured, by way of an amicable arrangement with a company called Belize Distills, another parcel of land enough to give one thousand house lots to Belizeans in the Orange Walk district. We will now turn to each of the other Districts and will acquire whatever is needed to continue addressing, in a sharply accelerated way, the cry of our people for land.”

Andrea Polanco, Reporting

When Prime Minister articulated those words in his Independence Day speech, the caneros in San Juan Village in the Orange Walk District say they didn’t know that their livelihood would’ve also been taken away. According to residents, in the past couple of days, GOB has seized their land they have been farming on. Huge acres of cane fields are under the first phase of development. The slashing of sugar fields has commenced, which translates to a loss of income to the caneros:

Adrian Mendez, Cane Farmer

“What is really affecting us at this time nuh is the way the land is being taken away from us. I think that government supposed to be very responsible to come and talk to the people, face the people, advice us or tell us well, you have so much time to harvest this land or next time or so much time you have or when we come back you supposed to done vacate. Or not to make no investment inna the land because the investment we do government nuh subsidize we fi nothing. My piece that was affected is from my sweat. I nuh get no money from no one just from my pocket to the cane field and fi mek it be destroyed like that in that fashion.”

Andrea Polanco

“So you’re supposed to be harvesting in a couple of days but all your crops destroyed?”

Adrian Mendez

Adrian Mendez

“I have about two acres that I have in product that I suppose to reap this coming crop. I suppose about roughly sixty tons of new cane, not a second cut, new cane and I am losing big money, money that I put out there and I will not get nothing outta it.”

Andrea Polanco

“What would you estimate your loss to be?”

Adrian Mendez

“At the cane price as how it is given this season is roughly three to four thousand dollars gone.”

Andrea Polanco

“So how will you make up for that?”

Adrian Mendez

“That is very hard fi mek I answer to you. How I wah mek up fi that if what I put there is the last I have? Because resources I nuh have.”

Jorge Briceño

The land being cleared out, from all accounts in the community, will be for redistribution as house lots and community projects. According to the P.U.P. Orange Walk North Standard Bearer, Jorge Briceno some eight hundred lots will be distributed out, affecting numerous farmers:

Jorge Briceño, P.U.P. Standard Bearer, Orange Walk North

“I was told and I was shown and maybe the government can justify this but I was told that they will put a building in the lowest part of this land and as you can see this land has wide hills here and they are going to put it where the they will spend tons of money because they have to fill because the water reaches up to about chest height.”

Andrea Polanco

“And Mr. Briceno, I think one of the things to note is that this area belong to a number of different farmers, it isn’t just one farmer being affected here?”

Jorge Briceño

“Yes, these are hundreds, I think approximately two or three hundred people are being affected like this. As far as I know about the lots there, there are about eight hundred lots being given so it’s a lot of people gonna be affected. He’s talking about building a new village here with schools and streets and lights and new infrastructure and he can’t even maintain the infrastructures that we have right now.”

Isabel Cardenas has been farming cane here for eight years. Today his one point five acres of cane lay flat on the ground. Cardenas says that he was approached with an ultimatum for his land, which he accepted, but in retrospect this canero says he got a bad deal:

Isabel Cardenas

Isabel Cardenas, Cane Farmer

“Mr. Aragon is from NEMO and he says the Government buy this from Petro Jam, so he says this is for the Government. And he offer me many times, the last time he come he tell me that this is the last time he coming and if the Government want he will pay me something and if the Government want they will not pay me nothing so at the last moment I nuh mi got no more what to do nuh so he offered me two thousand.”

Andrea Polanco

“So, give us the value of your crops destroyed here?”

Isabel Cardenas

“Well this year they pay seventy two a ton so I used to take out fifty tons here so that is about three thousand five hundred.”

Andrea Polanco

“So that is just one crop because you’re expecting more crops. Approximately how many?”

Isabel Cardenas

“Yes, this cane field can give about six crops more.”

Andrea Polanco

“So where do you go from here Mr. Cardenas? What do you do next?”

Isabel Cardenas

“Well, I have to go speak with an evaluator because I am not content with that two thousand nuh suh I weh continue.”

Briceno says that government action’s is a serious blow to the sugar industry at a critical juncture:

Jorge Briceño

“This is hard work, hard labour and I think that having the Deputy Prime Minister and the Acting Prime Minister right now of this area, he should be out here, talking to these people, trying to settle with them, negotiating with them, and trying to give them a fair deal so that they can continue working and living and trying to save the industry.”

Andrea Polanco

“If all of these should be destroyed, this of course would amount to thousands of dollars?”

Jorge Briceno

“Yes, you’re talking of at least ten thousand tons of sugar cane here. That’s a lot of sugar cane fields gonna be destroyed here with an industry that really, really needs every single ton of cane, every stick of cane we need in this industry to try to help B.S.I. to stay in Belizean hands and save the industry for the cane farmers of Orange Walk.”

Andrea Polanco

“Okay and these of course are crops that are to be harvested by the end of this month?”

Jorge Briceno

“Yes, by December most of this crop is ready to go to into for production at the sugar factory to turn into sugar and they’re not even gonna get the opportunity as you can see here to do that. We’ve been told that the government has instructed the GSU to be out here, because we have seen them here so they have to get an order from somebody to be here and they are going to be coming out with machinery to open roads. You open road, you destroy crop.”

And according to accounts from farmers since Monday the surveying has commenced on the land. We tried to get a closer look at the other fields, but were prevented by armed forces identified as the ADU along with the police. Reporting for News Five, I’m Andrea Polanco.

Briceño says that going forward the caneros are considering a peaceful protest and legal action.

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