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#500104 - 01/20/15 09:52 AM Sugar Standoff Finally Over
Marty Online   happy
The sugar standoff is officially over - this morning at 11:00 am at BSI Headquarters in Orange Walk - the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association became the third and last association to sign a commercial contract with BSI. So, deliveries of cane to the mill can start possibly as early as next Monday January 26th. At the signing this morning in the BSI boardroom - the mood was cordial, considering how tense and acrimonious it had become over the past two months. There was also relief because the largest growers group which is the still the BSCFA signed on, bringing with it three thousand plus farmers - more than half of the 5,500 farmers in the north. After the signatures were affixed to the documents, the press from the north got an opportunity to speak with the cane farmers from BSCFA and factory owners. Mac McLachlan, ASR's Vice President of International Relations, conceded to the media that both sides have conceded quite a lot in the past few weeks to get to today's signing:

Mac McLachlan, Vice President, International Relations - ASR Group
"When we have an agreement like this, nobody is going to have one hundred percent happiness. Everybody make compromises to get us to this point. I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of us now want to move forward, want to as Mr. Cansino have said before in the past, turn the page, move forward and really get on with the business of discussing what this industry needs to do in order to become sustainable and profitable for all stakeholders, including all caneros in Belize, so I think as far as we move forward, as I say we won't all the be happy all the time, but I think we have a good consensus on the way to move forward."

With the signing of a 7 year contract, it brings to an end over a year of negotiations and two months of serious instability in the industry. There should be peace for at least a year when all sides are supposed to sit down and develop a strategic development plant. After that, if the farmers don't like it, they can opt out after three years.

Cane Farmers Meeting to Accept Contract Historically Short

Today's signing was made possible by a breakthrough meeting yesterday at the Esecuela Secundaria Technica Mexico in San Roman Village, Corozal District. After going back and forth on the commercial agreement - the cane farmers finally, resolutely, and swiftly agreed to sign the agreement - the same one they had emphatically rejected two weeks earlier. What changed? Well, almost everything - and the farmers made it clear they had no time to waste. 7News was there:..

Daniel Ortiz reporting
Once again, the between 600-800 members of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmer Association gathered at la Escuela Secundaria Technica Mexico for the 3rd Special General Meeting in a row.

Knowing that the press would be there, some farmers brought Posters in Spanish, which translated, say "Long Live The BSCFA, Out with the Radicals".

At the head of the meeting, 14 of the 18 branch directors sat with Committee Chair Ezequiel Cansino.

He called meeting to order a few minutes after 10, where the General membership resolved to have the one-item agenda move forward with no interruptions and no unnecessary speaking.

Their Association's CEO, Oscar Alonzo, outlined that although 3,088 members - the majority of the BSCFA membership - already gave their support to sign the compromise agreement the Branch level, the factory owners, BSI/ASR, required a resolution from a general membership vote.

It was one of the shortest meetings ever. We were caught off guard when it ended abruptly only 20 minutes in.

The cane farmers who were there gave almost unanimous support to sign, which now directs the Committee of Management to formally request a signed commercial agreement with the millers.

Ezequiel Cansino - Chairman of COM, BSCFA
"We just came to get an approval from the membership to go ahead and sign the agreement with BSI. We came straight to the point and the cane farmers responded as positive as we expected, we don't have anything else to do today, but only inform BSI and try our best to sign as soon as possible tomorrow."

Mike Rudon, CH5
"You think that what happen here today was the best thing for farmers and the industry?"

Oscar Alonzo - CEO, BSCFA
"Well, it's what was necessary. The farmers need to start the crop and sometimes in any negotiation process, you win some, you lose some. This is not the final thing. Farmers will need to continue to work with BSI and if we need to retreat a bit to advance further in the future, I think that is something noble, I think that is something that is natural."

Ezequiel Cansino
"What happen in the following meeting is that a very heavy campaign was done to not accept that agreement and if we analyze correctly what we saw, all those people that came and voted against this agreement, didn't come here today. We can say that indeed it was a campaign that was done and the same people that accept it today are the same people that accepted the agreement the first time. So, I believe that these people are well aware of what they say and they have accepted that the first time. It's the same people that we have today."

The next hurdle is to try and mill as much of the 1.477 million tonnes of cane product sitting in the ground.

Government Amends Sugar Act – Opposition Rails

And so with everything in place up north - things also had to be put in place in Belmopan. Government went to the House of Representatives today to pass, in one sitting, the bill for an act to amend the Sugar Industry Act. It's a necessary step that should have been made almost 5 years ago when government gave an undertaking to change the Act to make it reflect the constitutional reality - that farmers are free to associate or form any group they wish: they don't have to be members of the Belize Sugar Cane Producers Association. But, before the bill could be tabled, the leader of the opposition lashed out against the government for bringing it to the House too late:...

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"How can we come here today, how can this government come here today to this honorable house, placed before us a bill of such importance, affecting a vital national industry, the sugar industry - placed that bill on our table at 10am, when the meeting is scheduled to start?"

"Again, I appeal to the Honorable Prime Minister to withdraw the bill. Let us have a proper discussion and review of the bill and have an opportunity...."

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"The Leader of the Opposition well knows that there was going to be this house meeting this morning and he well knows that we have to pass this bill today because we need to get the crop underway. A crop that has been delayed Mr. Speaker in consequence of the machinations, bad-mind and sabotage of a number of people including the Leader of the Opposition."

After that early skirmish, the meeting proceeded with Deputy Prime Minister introducing the Amendment to the Sugar Act. He explained what it's all about -while the opposition had its own interpretation:..

Hon. Gaspar Vega, Area Rep - Orange Walk North
"At the end of the day Mr. Speaker, these amendments will ensure that all cane farmers, regardless of their association in which they belong, are equally recognized and respected within the laws governing the sugar industry. I want to be crystal clear on the scope and extent of the amendments being made here today. The amendments before this honorable house, are limited to the obligations of the consent order of the Supreme Court and only that. It now allows for multiple association to be established and recognized under the amendment act. We truly hope that this is the last crop to be delayed in this fashion."

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition "This industry Mr. Speaker, as anyone who knows that is involve in the industry has had a long history of growth and development based on a working partnership, a working tri-partite relationship and partnership, which has have its problems from time to time. No partnership is perfect, but it has worked for the industry. It has served the interest of the industry. It has served the interest of our cane farmers. It has served the interest of the miller and it has served the national interest, the interest of our nation - economy. And that tri-partite relationship Mr. Speaker is of course, the cane farmers - the caneros, the miller - BSI/ASR and the government of Belize. All three of those parties Mr. Speaker, plays a very vital and critical role in ensuring the viability and success of the industry. So, all three partners are vitally important to that partnership and each must be valued and respected."

"That long standing partnership is now under serious threat by no other than this very same UDP government, which has formed an alliance with the multinational ASR to destroy the venerable institution that is the BSCFA, which has served this country for 55 years. What a shame and a disgrace. We all want an agreement. We all want the crop to start, but that agreement Mr. Speaker, we insist must respect our farmers. Must respect them as equal partners in this sugar industry and must value their role, not only today, but today and into the future."

"We hear the Prime Minister back tracking, talking about 'well, we will make sure the BSCFA is preserved and that they will be able have a role, we don't to see the demise.' How hypocritical, suggesting that you are going to preserve the BSCFA when you and your government have been actively working to orchestrate the demise and destruction of the BSCFA."

Hon. John Briceno, Area Rep - OW Central
"Today, I speak as a canero, because I also have cane fields and I have some cane that was not delivered last year because of the problem and I want to see the cane crop to open as quickly as possible, because if we don't open it on time, that cane is going to spoil. And, like me, there are many other cane farmers that did not deliver and lost all their cane last year. More importantly today, I speak for those 5,000 cane farmers who sole life depends on the sugar industry. And I dislike the idea that we are playing politics with an industry that is so vital to our national development."

Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"When the Leader of the Opposition, goes on to say that these amendments are an assault on the dignity of the cane farmers, is he saying that to enshrine a law, the rights that the constitution of this country gives to all cane farmers, somehow is an assault on the dignity of the very people whose rights are being vindicated? It makes no sense. The BSCFA remains in place. There have been those that have gone off on their own to form the new associations. That is not necessarily a bad thing and even if it were a bad thing, this did not happen in consequence of any actions on the part of the government. This happened as a result of the unrelenting campaign raged by the minority in the BSCFA that league itself with the People's United Party, to derail the agreement that had been reached with ASR. And all that they tried to do, all the conspiracies, all the evil plots that were hatched - ultimately, admittedly, after tremendous stress and strain, came to... We now that this agreement signed by all parties and those misfits, those evil doers, have been isolated and hopefully sidelined in the BSCFA."

Rt. Hon. Said Musa, Area Rep - Fort George
"The largest sugar producer in the world has sat by and allowed this company to humiliate, insult and oppress the cane farmers of this country and I accused the government today of being collaborationist with this oppression that has taken place with the cane farmers of Belize."

"Even when he called me senile, I listen to him. Well Mr. Prime Minister, I may be getting too old for this business, I may be, but I am old enough to know that when I see a liar, I will have to point him out. I am old enough to know when I see a manipulator, I have to point him out and I am old enough to know that all their ingenuity and disingenuity that you may come with Mr. Prime Minister will not allow the Belizean people to be fooled."

After the PUP walkout - they walked down the Assembly stairs to address the protestors who had been gathered there since morning. The leader was Audrey Matura-Shepherd - and at its height, the crowd numbered 65. The Leader of the opposition told Matura, who had fought so hard against the same agreement that has now been signed, that the PUP is with them:..

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"We just came out of the national assembly where the government as you know is ramming through legislations today to amend the sugar industry act to effectively destroy the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. Every member in the People's United Party stood in the national assembly of this country and condemn the actions of the government and we express our full and unwavering support for the cane farmers of this country."

A Radical Remedy?

But first, we go back to yesterday's cane farmers meeting. In today's House Meeting, we heard the Prime Minister talk about sidelining the radicals from within the association like Fred Ortega and Javier Keme. Well, yesterday, we heard much the same at the cane famers special meeting.

It happened at about 17 minutes into yesterday's meeting when one of the cane farmers, who was protesting at the meeting, proceeded to name Ortega; Keme; their CEO, Oscar Alonzo; Diody Novelo, a member of the BSCFA's negotiating team; and Lucilo Teck as persons not working for the best interest of the farmers.

It did not get any kind of support from the assembly, but here's that moment when the farmer harshly criticized these members, despite Chairman Cansino's attempt to shut him down:

Cane Farmer (translated)
"I want to ask our leaders for them to stop treating us like puppets. We are not puppets; we are not children. I want to ask them to tighten their belts. And today, we take a position for the benefit of all of us under the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, depending on the results of this resolution. This association can still live on, or it can die. The cane farmers aren't united, Ladies and Gentlemen. Thanks to these persons. These persons have divided us."

Oscar Alonzo - CEO, BSCFA
"We are an association that respects the views and the opinions of all members. That is his view, I respect it okay. The matter is, the cane farmers, the membership, knows what type of person I am, the work I do, the results I bring to them and I do not have anything against that resolution - that's his rights. It's the farmers that decides."

Ezequiel Cansino - Chairman of COM, BSCFA
"We do not have any intention to expel him from the BSCFA. They are members of the association, they are representing their own cane farmers and in the association, we accept the majority of everything. I think that if the majority continues to vote in favor in what we are doing, the majority wins."

Channel 7


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#500132 - 01/20/15 06:54 PM Re: Sugar Standoff Finally Over [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy
Day of Devastation

Over the course of Belize’s battle for self-rule from 1950 to 1981, the sugar cane farmers of our Corozal and Orange Walk Districts became the strongest section of Belize’s socio-economy. The sugar cane industry featured the focused, hard-working descendants of refugees from Yucatan’s Caste War who had come to Belize in the second half of the nineteenth century, and then the British multinational, Tate and Lyle, invested in a new sugar factory at Tower Hill in the Orange Walk District around 1963.

The political circumstances of the Tate and Lyle investment are very interesting, but they are almost never discussed. The nationalist People’s United Party (PUP) Leader George Price had been in open battle with the colonizer British in 1957 and 1958. In 1957, the British sent Mr. Price home from London in disgrace, and then in 1958 the British arrested and charged him with sedition, for which he was acquitted in the Supreme Court of British Honduras.

By 1959, however, the atmosphere had changed somewhat, as Mr. Price announced that he would seek independence within the British Commonwealth, and the British gave Belize the gift of the MCC Grounds in 1960. In 1961, the PUP won 18 out of 18 seats in the first general election under the present Ministerial constitution. Tate and Lyle came in 1963, and then the British granted us self-government in 1964.

Tate and Lyle and its new Tower Hill factory created an economic boom in the North. Belizeans began to flock north from the other Districts. The old Belize Estate and Produce Company (BEC) sawmill which had dominated the skyline in Belize City, the population, administration and financial center of the colony, began to lose importance as the forests of British Honduras were being depleted. With the coming of Tate and Lyle, the economy of Belize essentially changed from a forestry base to an agricultural one.

It has been said that the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) is 55 years old. This would make the BSCFA older than our self-government. By comparison, there was no electricity union, no telecommunications union, no water and sewerage union, no teachers union 55 years ago. Only the waterfront union remains from that era.

The makeup of the sugar industry, including the Belize Sugar Industries (BSI) and the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) at the top, is a matter that requires serious, historical research. That is because there has been a lot of party and personal politics involved in the sugar industry, there has been a lot of corruption, and there has been a lot of waste and inefficiency. These things were never examined and detailed, apparently, because there was enough money being made by everybody, and so the sugar industry remained Belize’s economic strength, and the cane farmers, who had once been lowly refugees here, became surrounded by an aura of self-reliance and power.

What happened on Sunday morning in San Roman represents a devastating blow for Belize’s national pride. A month ago under great duress, with American Sugar Refinery (ASR) holding back the commencement of the sugar cane grinding season and thus holding growers up to ransom, the cane farmers in the BSCFA voted to accept an agreement basically on ASR’s terms. Two weeks ago, however, a veteran activist cañero named Lucilo Teck waved the flag of resistance, and brought the attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd to explain to the cane farmers that the Government of Belize had the power, in fact that power was mandated through the Sugar Industry Control Board, to set a date for the grinding season and instruct the factory owners, ASR, to begin operation. Whereupon, the cane farmers voted enthusiastically in general assembly to reject the ASR agreement they had previously accepted under duress.

But then the Prime Minister of Belize used his office to intervene on the side of the company, and allowed political operatives to divide the unity of the BSCFA. Two more cane farmers’ associations were quickly formed, which rushed to sign the ASR agreement, and the badly wounded and desperate BSCFA fell into line on Sunday morning in San Roman. The cane farmers of Belize had been smashed by international investment capital.

At the beginning of this essay, we pointed out to you that our cane farmers became the strongest sector of Belize’s socio-economy over the course of Belize’s battle for self-rule. The cane farmers are symbolic of the Belizean grit which made Belize’s independence possible. In their villages in Corozal and Orange Walk, the cane farmers had not been softened by the British colonial culture of the population center. The cane farmers did not embrace the flashy American culture which came after independence and mentally colonized Belize’s urban centers. They had remained in their Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association, had retained many of their traditional values, and it was in the BSCFA general assembly that they had always gone to work out their differences and make their decisions. At least, that’s how it always appeared to us down here in the media capital.

Well, the BSCFA had become locked in combat with ASR. ASR won a temporary victory, but then the cane farmers fought back with a Teck/Matura Supreme Court injunction. At that point, the Prime Minister of Belize, himself desperate for the grinding season to begin, went against BSCFA and with ASR in order to break the impasse. The fact of the matter is, cold talk, that he went against his own Belizean people.

It may be that time will establish that this was a courageous decision made on principle by Prime Minister Barrow because of terrible exigencies. What time will surely tell is whether this agreement was a good deal or a bad deal for cane farmers, and it is on that basis that Mr. Barrow will be judged. For now, all we know is that our Belizean cane farmers, who were legendary because of their unity and strength, have been broken, publicly. And what nationalism means is that when our cane farmers are broken, the rest of us Belizeans are also broken.

Power to the people. Power in the struggle.

Amandala

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#500248 - 01/23/15 10:02 AM Re: Sugar Standoff Finally Over [Re: Marty]
Marty Online   happy

Starting “La Zafra”

The sugar cane harvest season, known in the north as "La Zafra" will start on Monday January 26th at 10:00 am. That date was agreed to today at a meeting of the Sugar Industry Control Board, known as the SICB in Orange Walk Town. The meeting of stakeholders is the one usually held before the start of any season.

But today it was a very full room because there were two new associations at the table to represent the farmers groups that emerged after the splintering of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. They are the Corozal Sugar Cane Producers Association and the Progressive Sugar Cane Producers Association.

The association representatives along with BSI and government, filled the room at the SICB office in Orange Walk Town while the government appointed Chairman Gabriel Martinez sat at the head of the table with the Minister of Agriculture Gaspar Vega, and Junior Minister Hugo Pott.

In the end after about two hours of consultation, they agreed to open the season on Monday. As it turns out that is only two days later than last year's crop start - which was also delayed. The farmers hope that now they can grind the 1.3 million tonnes of cane that is out there in the fields - but that will depend on the weather. If the heavy rains come late like they did last year, they can possibly grind all the cane - but IN THAT CASE experts say the season would probably go to the end of July. If the rains come heavy in May or June as they normally do, there will be big losses for the farmers and the factory.

And more than just agreeing on a crop date, today all the parties signed statement of commitment to come up with a Strategic Development Plan for the industry in a year. This states the investment and the undertakings of all sides going forward as they prepare for changes in the global sugar industry - which will see European beet sugar competing against Belizean cane sugar in the European market.

Work has also commenced on the sugar roads where one million each will be spent in Corozal and Orange Walk.

Channel 7


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