The cane farmers’ strike is over ... it took 11 days for a resolution to finally be reached between the Government, the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association and Belize Sugar Industries, but that is what happened this afternoon in Orange Walk. According to association C.E.O. Carlos Magaña, they have been in talks since Monday and the breakthrough came after one today during a meeting called by acting Prime Minister, Gaspar Vega. At the meeting were representatives from the Sugar Cane Farmers Association, Belize Sugar Industries, the Sugar Industry Control Board, and Minister of Agriculture Rene Montero. The agreement is that the Core Sampler will go, but that other measures to ensure quality will be put in place with cane being delivered to the factory once more starting on Sunday. Magaña, in a phone interview, told us what the plan is for the way forward.
Carlos Magaña, C.E.O., B.S.C.F.A.
“The plan has to do with technical assistance, very tight technical assistance, at the field level. It will take—it is an issue that has to do with timeline that will be implemented. We will definitely have to work with extension services personnel and in that manner, the extension personnel will be the focal pointers so that we can be able to sustain quality.”
“Who are these extension people?”
“We will be working with extension people from the Sugar Industry Control Board, whose focus will change and the farmers will note a change in their responsibilities so that we can run into this. It will not be the normal responsibilities that are being done on a daily basis by the present field officers of the SICB. They will be the first one. Then the Association will be bringing in some other officers to match them. We had—also the government will be giving us personnel towards extension services. So we will have sufficient individuals who will be dealing on a day-to-day basis with the cane farmers, giving them technical assistance. That is number one, and that one can be put in an immediate manner.”
“Then we will have to work with the whole rehabilitation process of the cane fields. That will take some time, because it has to do with the different varieties of cane that will be needed for the different areas where the sugar cane is being planted. We have areas that are being—what we call highlands—those are the ones that will be cut at the initiation of any crop. Then we have areas in the lowlands, and those are being used at the end of the crop. So all this is going to take time before we can go through all this mapping and selection that is being done. It is a plan that has to do with a long-term basis.”
“What happens immediately?”
“We will be working with group leaders. The group leaders are the people who are the ones who deliver the sugarcane to the factory. They are going to be very focal in this. The group leader is going to play a key role in delivering mature cane, in delivering fresh cane, in delivering cane that is free of extraneous materials that can also affect quality of sugar being extracted from the cane. We want to say to the farmers when you go on Sunday—because we resume on Sunday—that the Core Sampler physically will not be there, but it’s already in the legal process and everything for it to be physically removed.”
“How will testing for quality be carried out?”
“The issue here is since there won’t be an individual payment, it will be the same method of payment that we utilized last year where everybody gets the same payment across the board. The control measures will be set on the field. The farmers will not be able to deliver any kind of sugar cane. The sugar cane will need to be mature, they will need special permissions to deliver that mature cane and that’s why I’m saying it may sound a little complicated, but it is not.”
“One of the conditions for ending the strike was the removal of Mr. Acosta. What is the situation with that?”
“I really wouldn’t want to comment on that one right now. I think that the focal point was the Core Sampler. We were able to have that complete agreement between all stakeholders and therefore that has been agreed. The other ones will be dealt with accordingly.”
At a hastily called press conference this afternoon, B.S.I. Finance Director Belizario Carballo said he was pleased that they have been able to reach a resolution which will allow the season to resume.
In related news, just hours after the agreement was reached, the man whose life was taken during the strike was laid to rest. 44-year-old Anastacio Gutierrez, who died on Monday, was buried in his home village of San Victor in the Corozal District. A post-mortem on Gutierrez’s body was conducted on Thursday and according to Dr. Mario Estradabran, the official cause of death is asphyxia by trauma due to gunshot wounds to the neck, face and chest. The bullet that killed Gutierrez apparently entered the chin, went through the neck, into the chest and lodged in his back. Police are currently checking the calibre of the weapon, but the bullet is believed to be either a 38. or 9. millimetre.