SETTING THE STAGE FOR ELIMINATION OF THE SMALL CANE FARMER
Sunday, May 17, 2009, a “mock” meeting was held in Santa Clara at the
Escuela La Mexico. It had been scheduled for 8 am. Bus’s and truck
loads of attendee’s continued to arrive at the gathering. Attendance
was just over nine hundred by 10 am, when the CEO called the meeting
to order. The gathering increased to between twelve hundred (1200)
and thirteen hundred (1300) people by noon.
Topic of the meeting: Quality Improvement Program (QIP), a document
that was drafted by Tate and Lyle proposing the reallocation of the
Fair Trade Funds, from the farmers, to a bank account that would be
controlled by a board made up of 6 members, with only one being a
representative of the Cane Farmers. Yes, there was basis for this
drastic measure. The continual and brazen theft of the funds
appropriated to the Belize Cane Farmers Association has been a widely
known fact for years. A group of farmers joined forces 2 years ago to
create a new organization in an effort to stop the run away train of
disappearing money. This non political group, The United Cane Farmers,
was started in May of 2007. They have been patiently waiting for
their chance to be heard in the Supreme Court since July of 2007. The
group is represented by Atty. Hubert Elrington. The suit is a
constitutional matter. The Sugar Industry Control Act is not in
accordance with the Constitution of Belize. These same issues were
heard over a year ago for the citrus industry where a judgment was
issued in favor of the citrus farmers. The case awaiting a hearing
for the cane farmers has been continually postponed, the most recent
time having been scheduled for April 8th, 2009, but was postponed
again on April 7th, when the court decided to commence their Easter
Holiday early. Atty. Elrington informed us that they were rescheduling
the case for October. In desperation we went to the office Atty.
Cynthia Pitts, who suggested that we go to see Ms. Flowers at the
Supreme Court. While the file could not be located, they did tell us
that they would reschedule the case for the 9th of June. Mrs. Flowers
told us that she would call, should the file be found, to respond to
our questioning the reasons for the more than a dozen postponements
over the 2 years that we have been waiting to be heard. The United
Cane Farmers cannot be recognized until the Sugar Control act is
formally declared unconstitutional by the court as it states that only
the Belize Cane Farmers Association may be recognized. We are praying
that the court will allow this hearing to move forward, at long last,
on the 9th of June, 2009.
The St. Francis Credit Union with over 1300 cane farmers in their
Corozal Office and The United Cane Farmers with over 1400 cane farmers
out of their Orange Walk Office, have been waiting to serve the
farmers both educationally and financially. With people right in this
country that have been running accountable and transparent money
management practices for 30 years, why would we not consider this
option for our cane farmers, rather than allow Tate and Lyle to take
over the control of funds meant to help our farmers? Mr. Vincent
Canul, a cane farmer himself, and the manager of the St. Francis
Credit Union has spent the past few weeks trying to help the farmers
understand this document, requesting the CEO, Mr. Carlos Maguna, have
it translated into Spanish so the farmers could read it. He wrote a
letter to Fair Trade, inquiring about the intent of the upcoming
allocation, (eighteen million dollars over the next 3 years). He read
the letter of response from Fair Trade, into the record. It stated
the first 3 years were for the farmers benefit, not for BSI or for
Tate and Lyle. Only in the 4th year of this program would financial
help for BSI come into play, grossly inconsistent with the QIP
proposal drafted by Tate and Lyle, that was being presented at the
meeting. At the meeting a cane farmer, Doris Diaz, took the
microphone to remind Carlos Maguna that many of the cane farmers do
not read English and while there were many requests over the past
weeks to have the document translated into Spanish, this request was
never addressed. It would not be fair to expect them to vote on
something that they have no knowledge of.
While the Farmers that do read English, drafted some amendments to the
proposal that would make it more palatable for them to accept the
takeover, they were ignored by the CEO, Carlos Maguna who stated
several times during this meeting that this was not open for
negotiation, it was a “take it or leave it” situation.
Many farmers spoke in opposition to the proposal, all with good valid
points. The crowd was against it, most everyone was shouting NO.
They openly discussed that no one had been paid in the BCFA for the
past month because they were broke. It came to light during the
meeting that the GOB had given them $120,000. a month or so ago. It
was stated on the floor that Mr. Carlos Maguna had taken $20,000. for
himself. He did not dispute this allegation, he responded that “QIP
was the topic of the meeting, not Mr. Maguna”.
Ms. Theresa Maguna took the microphone and questioned the CEO, Mr.
Carlos Maguna, about the wisdom of putting the dire financial
situation of the Belize Cane Farmers Association above the health and
welfare of the cane farmers themselves, due to the current restriction
of large gatherings that has cancelled many scheduled events over the
past few weeks. We have 6000 cane farmers in the north that were
invited, to this meeting, yet the permit was requested for a maximum
of 300 people?
Dr. Michael Pitts, Director of Public Health Services, stated that he
had allowed the meeting to go forward based on the CEO’s assurance
that there would be no more than 300 people at the gathering and that
the meeting would last no more than 1 ½ hours. He would make sure
that health inspectors were at the meeting, instructed to disburse the
gathering should the attendance exceed 300 people or run longer than 1
½ hours. None of these assurances materialized.
During the lunch hour they decided to bring the matter to a vote.
This prompted the disgruntled crowd to get up and walk out of the
assembly area, heading over to the tamales and coca cola that was
waiting there for them.
We were all astonished at what followed the exiting of the crowd.
They continued to call the names of the branches and asked for a
showing of hands. They then read into the record a number that was
plucked out of the air, with no regard to the minuscule number of
hands showing in the arena. Several of us were standing there
counting hands. None of the numbers read aloud were consistent with
the extended arms. They stated that based on the Sugar Industry
Control Act (which is the unconstitutional act that is being contested
in Court), that with a 5% quorum, they are allowed to move forward,
regardless of what 95% of the farmers want. All of this carefully
planned and executed scam took place within just a couple of minutes
and they were announcing the unanimous vote of the farmers. We still
can not believe what took place. It is inconceivable that this could
happen in the 21st century, and it was done by their own piers,
because they were in such desperate need of money.
The meeting was just a stage show – the commitments and agreements had
already been signed. When this came out, the crowd asked to be
included on the content of these documents, but these documents
conveniently had not been brought to this meeting.
I must say that this was the most finely tuned, carefully crafted and
expertly executed, plan to deceive a crowd that I have ever been
privileged to witness since I saw the movie “The Sting” staring Paul
Newman and Robert Redford, about 30 years ago.
The Cane Farmers deserve to be heard in an honest democratic manner.
This mockery needs to be investigated and Fair Trade needs to be
appraised of our Un Fair Practices.
Thank you for any assistance that you might be able to render to the Farmers.
Progresso Village, Corozal District