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The Citrus Products of Belize Limited - CPBL -commenced delivery of fruit last week - but the Citrus Growers Association - which represents about 400 growers is not participating.

They object to the opening of the plant and have suspended delivery of fruit because they say CPBL is acting illegally - by opening before agreeing on a price with the farmers.

Now, to understand just how strange this is, you'd have to recall that the Citrus Growers Association owns what should be controlling interests in CPBL - except they don't control the company.

That is a tangled tale of corporate intrigue - but the bottom line tonight is that the factory is in operation - and the single largest growers group - representing the most small farmers is not participating.

We went to Belmopan and CPBL in Pomona today to find out why:..

Jules Vasquez reporting
Today the CPBL factory at Pomona was taking delivery of grapefruit as normal - but it was not a regular day - because the factor was opened under protest from the Citrus Growers Association which represents that majority of the growers.

They held a press conference in Belmopan at the George Price Center to say they will demonstrate against the factory's opening.

Eccleston Irving, Chairman CGA
"That the growers who are the CGA along with industry stakeholders and Belizeans who are standing up to end white collar corruption in Belize have join to demonstrate starting tomorrow."

Anthony Chanona, Former Chairman, CGA
"The demonstration is to make noise in no in certain manner that we are upset with this crisis."

They are protesting the opening of the factory without proper consultation - as is legally required with the harvest committee.

That means they have not arrived at an agreed upon price - and the disparity between CPBL's price and the Growers is huge:

Henry Anderson - CEO, CGA
"When you have a factory in which you are the majority shareholders and this is the purpose for the demonstration you'll seek to open without even sitting down and discussing the first price with you and when the government or the ministry is allowing that to happen essentially what you are doing is creating a precedent where the factory dominates the growers. A lot of growers are essentially saying they prefer to ensure everything is done properly than go and take their fruit in and not be sure how much they are going to get paid."

And the difference is millions of dollars:

Eccleston Irving, Chairman CGA
"For grapefruit it's around $900,000 and for orange it would be a little over 5 million. That's the preliminary numbers."

And while the growers make their demands, they also stand to make a loss:

Anthony Chanona, Former Chairman, CGA
"At a terrible cost there is anxiety among our members. They want to harvest, people want to work and they see trucks of fruits going in and its putting the CGA by design chaos at a terrible disadvantage almost as to suggest we are preventing growers from making money. It is at a terrible cost to the members of the association to see this dysfunctional arrangement happening before their eyes and now we are telling them not to participate. It puts us at a distinct disadvantage."

So far only four members of the citrus growers have delivered - there are over 400 members - and they hope there will be a show of force tomorrow:

Denzil Jenkins, Director CGA
"We are calling on all the growers to support us in the demonstration that we are going to have tomorrow and for the rest of the days that the demonstration will be held. We are calling on the government of Belize to respect citrus growers."

Henry Anderson - CEO, CGA
"We are not going there to incite anything and just remember who the owners of the factory are. We will not like one of our growers or one of us to be murdered like what happen in the sugar industry. That was a situation that could have been avoided."

They are also asking Government to a meeting on Wednesday

Eccleston Irving, Chairman CGA
"Tasks the Honorable Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture to meet with the CGA committee of management on Wednesday morning October 31st, 2012 at 10am at the CGA conference room to work with us in finding a amicable solution to our concerns and above and arrive on a definitive course of action that will end the crisis in the citrus industry."

We noted that three PUP representatives from the south and a former UDP Representative were at the event, ostensibly in support of the CGA.

We asked CEO of CPBL Henry Canton for comment but he declined. CPBL reports that up to Friday it had received 40 thousand boxes of grapefruit in its first two days of operation - which is not optimal but satisfactory.

Today Belize Citrus Mutual sent out a release. This si the other growers group that has far fewer farmers numerically - but much larger farms and more yield - in short, it represents the big growers. They welcomed the opening of the factory last week and today's release says that CGA's call to suspend deliveries is quote, "completely ludicrous�.since citrus farmers have tens of thousands of boxes of ripe grapefruit."

They add that the only thing which should determine when the factory opens is quote, "the availability of adequate mature fruit." The Citrus Mutual release also says that "The (CGA's members) only produce 30% of the fruit produced by the entire industry while CPBL does 25% and Belize Citrus Mutual's farmers produce 45%."

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Belize Sugar Industry aligns its new management with ASR

On October fourth, Belize Sugar Industries and American Sugar Refining Limited issued a joint release announcing ASR's successful purchase of seventy-eight point six percent of the B.S.I. group at a cost of sixty-four point eight million US dollars. And now that ASR has paid off B.S.I.'s debts owed to ING Bank and the Government, the transaction according to ASR is now complete and they will begin to align B.S.I.'s operational and business systems with those of A.S.R. There have been changes in management: Joey Montalvo is no longer Managing Director, but retains title as C.E.O. of the B.S.I. Group responsible for the implementation of the overall organization's strategy and the policies of the Board. Paul Hough, who was the Group's General Manager, becomes Chief Operating Officer, ensuring that operational targets are achieved. Former Deputy General Manager and Finance Director, Belizario Carballo, is now the Chief Financial Officer of the BSI Group. Belizario will be responsible for the Group's financial, marketing, internal auditing and corporate matters and will take a lead role in industrial relations and public relations.

Channel 5

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Citrus Standoff Continues - Today CGA Protested

The standoff in the citrus industry continues tonight. The Citrus Growers Association - which represents 400 small farmers continues to suspend deliveries of product to the processing plant.

They say that the convention and the law was ignored when the plant unilaterally opened last week Wednesday.

And today - they protested against the CPBL - which - again is a company the CGA holds majority interests in - but, obviously, it is not a company they control.

And that's really what today's protest was about - which inevitably drew comparisons to a similar protest in February of 2010 which drew thousands.

As we found out in Pomona Valley today - the crowd wasn't quite that. Jules Vasquez reports:

Jules Vasquez reporting
Today, 275 growers - large and small and their employees - crowded under a tent in an open area near CGA Headquarters to hear two hours and twenty minutes of speeches that went right through lunch.

The speakers ranged from familiar faces but also included the Belize Coalition for Justice, a journalist turned advocate and a former minister who last the lost election.

Nancy Marin, Belize Coalition for Justice
"We are to stand with you, we ask you to remain united, follow the leaders, they are doing a wonderful job."

Luis Wade, PLUS TV - Journalist/Advocate
"So I ask you today is it your company?"


Luis Wade, PLUS TV - Journalist/Advocate
"You don't even know. I'll ask you again, is it your company?"


Luis Wade, PLUS TV - Journalist/Advocate
"Do you have majority shares in it?"


Luis Wade, PLUS TV - Journalist/Advocate
"Why did you decide to keep majority shares - because you wanted control. Do you have control?"


Luis Wade, PLUS TV - Journalist/Advocate
"Some of you aren't sure yet."

Melvin Hulse, Former Area Representative
"I cannot, will not, do not will never support what a minority has power over the majority. To me that is the bottom line and this is what this is about."

Will Maheia, Belize Coalition For Justice
"Ten years ago we had over 1,000 small farmers, today we only have 450. Something is wrong and I am glad to see that Mr. Hulse was here. I want to know if he was elected if he would have been here today. I am calling out the elected officers, the elected area representative. Are they here today?"

There were no current elected representatives at today's event - but there were certainly enough speeches, we counted over a dozen - and when they were finally finished it was time for the protest.

We can't say whether this Halloween getup for the CEO of CPBL was a Halloween caricature or an effigy - but it seemed to get the point across.

Special teams of police were on standby at the Valley Community police station

But they wouldn't be needed because these tractors - already dressed up for the day would not be used in the protest - Police disallowed it.

So the protest would have 300 or so participants marching with these signs - dozens of them - each with its own particular spin on the CGA message - which was that they should control the CPBL processing plant.

And that's where the protest was headed down the half mile to the CPBL headquarters - with reggae music as their marching music - the crowd seemed there but not boisterous in the least.

And as a sign of their good natured spirit - they didn't throw stones; they raised their hands and prayed in Spanish and English when they walked past the processing plant.

As they marched grapefruit deliveries rolled by on the same highway - operations at the plant were still going.

It was secured by a cordon of barrels and a line of police stood guarding the entrance. The crowd seemed hardly interested in challenging them - except for a brief glancing skirmish:

Anthony Chanona, Former Chairman, CGA
"That factory belongs to the Citrus Growers Association. We call out on Banks to respect the rights of the growers."

Geovanni Brackett - President, COLA
"This belongs to the people and we will no longer sit back. Who owns it?"

Crowd (a few people)
"The Citrus Growers Association."

The police wanted them to keep moving and they did - indicative of the conundrum where they were protesting against their own property, their own asset:

Denzil Jenkins - Director - CPBL
"The idea of this demonstration is not to punish the growers of CPBL. CPBL as a company which we own majority shareholding in. We are about to punish CPBL or to do anything that is going to be detrimental to the employees of CPBL. We haven't got any problem with them. We are making a stand - we are standing before CPBL. I am a director of CPBL."

Jules Vasquez
"You can't go in there."

Denzil Jenkins - Director - CPBL
"When I want to go in there, there are all kinds of red tape to get inside there. Now when the directors of Banks on CPBL board - when they come to Belize a red carpet is as it were laid down for them from the International Airport to right though here. They go right through walking, gliding on a red carpet and there is a welcome. I hardly want to come here because the workers have been program - they look frowning at you. I am a director here."

Eccleston Irving - Chairman - CGA
"Our right are not been defended and the rights of other people are being defended who are minority shareholders."

Jules Vasquez
"How long will you suspend delivery?"

Eccleston Irving - Chairman - CGA
"It's up to the growers. The growers will be the one to say when they want to come back Jules. We are not going to tell the growers what to do. We take instructions from them. I could tell you the growers have wanted to protest and we are the vehicle to ensure that it is orderly and that we do things properly. At the same time we are sending a signal to the majority shareholders that enough of this."

"How effective is this activity in your assumption?"

Eccleston Irving - Chairman - CGA
"Any kind of protest is always effective because we live in a culture where people are suppressed - where people are muzzled."

"The last time you had about 3,000 people. Now you only have 300 - that time they didn't do anything about people coming out here, they didn't respond. Do you expect that they will this time?"

Eccleston Irving - Chairman - CGA
"What is happening is that there is a different strategy we are appointing now - you notice that the demonstration is over 4 days. It's not a one day demonstration, then we have broaden the coalition of people that supported us." "We are built because of the first demonstration, people are noticing our cause and we are built on that positive effect."

And while it is unclear to us whether they are building on success or losing ground, they say this is a last stand

Eccleston Irving - Chairman - CGA
"Ladies and gentlemen the nonsense that is being talk out that's its big men who grow citrus - that's craziness. A lot of big farms I know ten years ago produce 400,000 box of fruits and producing 50-60 boxes thousand now. I know a lot of medium and small growers who have step up to the plate who have doubled their production. We are those people voices; they are not there to be saying this to the media and everything out there. What is being said out there is false. Now ten years ago we had 1,000 growers in this industry close, now we have 450. I am telling you this stand is to save 300 of those growers."

The crowd marched past the plant two times and then hung it up for the day. They say they will be back tomorrow.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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Chanona Says Ministry Is Wasting Words

Tomorrow is also the day that the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture is inviting the leaders of the Citrus Growers Association to a meeting in Belmopan to discuss what a statement today calls the Ministry's quote, "vision for the future of the industry."

For the CGA that vision has to exclude the current Ministry CEO Jose Alpuche. They called for his removal today based on an email, which was circulated in February of this year - right after the election.

It comes from the advisor to the Prime Minister Allan Slusher and refers to Jose Alpuche and discusses quote, "the orderly and equitable dissolution of the CGA."

As you can imagine, this is anathema to the existing CGA so fire was abundantly burned on him today. And past Chairman Tony Chanona also burned righteous fire on a statement issued by the government this morning.

It says, quote "The unilateral factory opening should not occur again and all parties should be properly consulted." Chanona called it a waste of words - while Denzil Jenkins was more circumspect:..

Anthony Chanona, Former Chairman, CGA
"Mr. Jules Vasquez showed me a press release from the government of Belize. There has been too much talk, those words are meaningless. The Prime Minister, the highest office in this land, whom we have entrusted full authority to govern as majority in the House; a man who has said he is nationalistic. A man who says he wants to wheel out corruption and wants to do right and I believe him, I believe the Prime Minister and that's why I am confused because what he is saying and what he is allowing to happen is a controversy of fact."

Denzil Jenkins - Director - CPBL
"While it's a statement that his words - I would say that it is a statement words in the right direction. The minister I understand is having a meeting with us on Wednesday in Belmopan."

"What has happen - the unilateral opening of this factory which was illegally done against the citrus act. This is not against what the people in Belmopan have said, it is against the law. We are expecting that a that meeting we are going to see some bones put into those words."

Tomorrow's meeting will also discuss prices; as CPBL is expected to present to growers a first price submission for oranges on Wednesday 31st October.

Negotiations on those prices will follow on Monday 5th November with CGA at 10:00 a.m. and at 1:00 p.m with Belize Citrus Mutual. From there, all parties are to meet within a month to advance the dialogue.

Channel 7

Joined: Oct 1999
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PUP Says They Support....(Nobody!)

And there is one more word on citrus tonight, and it comes from the Opposition. Today, the Opposition Party, the PUP held a press conference where they touched on a number of issues.

Here are some of the recommendations they made about a solution to this dispute which has now grown larger.

Hon. Francis Fonseca, Leader of the Opposition
"As we meet this afternoon the citrus industry is in chaos and the citrus growers association has called for a protest and shut down in the south. The industry is mired in litigation and this UDP government inaction and failure in meaningfully engage as a good fate partner in bringing the parties to the table in an effort to resolve the ongoing stalemate has put the future of this critically important industry at risk."

"The citrus industry contributes some 22% of Belize's major export earnings. We must ensure its continued growth and expansion. In this regard we call on all the parties involved to set aside individual agendas and put the interest of the industry and Belize above all else. Existing laws governing the affairs of the industry must be respected and adhere to if not this will lead to further chaos. Any proposed changes to the acts governing the industry must be arrived at through consensus and dialogue and not through unilateral government action."

"Any effort to dissolve the citrus growers association must be rejected. Growers both large and small have a vested interest in the future success and growth of this industry neither is dispensable."

Channel 7

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[Linked Image]


Just as another season for the harvesting of grapefruit and oranges is poised to kick off, unresolved conflicts within the citrus industry are spawning a new wave of protests at Pomona Valley this week. Members of the Citrus Growers Association (CGA) are planning to stage two days of protests outside the Citrus Products of Belize Limited (CPBL) on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 30 and 31, to send a message both to their Bajan counterparts and the Government of Belize that they are not happy with the status quo.

The protest, scheduled to start at 9:30 a.m. in front of the factory, is being led by citrus growers, who were the ones who applied for the permit to protest, said CGA chairman Eccleston Irving.

Asked what they hope to achieve by the protest, Irving told Amandala that a group led by Anthony Chanona, a citrus grower who once served as mayor of the capital city, Belmopan, is saying that this crop should not begin without the necessary particulars of the ongoing crisis with CPBL being settled-particularly its relationship with Banks Holdings of Barbados, the minority shareholder of CPBL. Irving said that CPBL still does not have a substantive chairman, as Julian Murillo, the newly appointed chair, has been limited to only overseeing board meetings.

Growers are saying they want to be respected; they want to ensure due diligence is followed and that if any changes are made in the industry, they are agreed to by all parties, Irving added. He said that the central issue today is the governance structure of CPBL.

The last major industry protest was held in February 2010, when CGA members protested for the removal of three then CPBL directors: Dr. Henry Canton (CEO of CPBL), Frank Redmond, and Mike Duncker.

Today, Canton remains the CEO of the company, although CGA, the majority shareholder of CPBL with powers limited by its partnership agreement with Banks Holdings of Barbados, continues to contend that Canton's termination stands. Redmond and Duncker are no longer sitting on the board.

This time around, CGA members are protesting in the hope that they will get the attention of Banks Holdings, who they want out of the industry. Last time, Banks reps responded to the CGA by saying that they were not at all moved by the protest, which, they gathered, was supported largely by migrant workers and a small number of growers misguided by half-truths.

The ideal situation now, said Irving, is for Banks to resell the shares to the CGA.

"They are willing to divest," Irving told Amandala, adding that they have drafted a letter of intent, which came out of a meeting in Miami earlier this year, but which they have not yet been able to fine-tune.

The other issue that had "vexed" growers and shareholders was the issue of the trademark for Caribbean Pride, over which the parties have an intellectual property dispute, Irving indicated.

The latest and most current issue on the table, though, is the price of grapefruit. The factory opened last week, when it began receiving grapefruit from growers at the price of around $8.000 a box. However, CGA contends that the price formula was not properly fixed, and that the offer that growers should instead be getting is more like $13.00 a box-over 60% more.

Tomorrow's protest is not just to get the attention of Banks Holdings. Irving said that they are also calling on the government to intervene, to ensure lawful operations in the best interest of all the parties.

Irving said that whereas at least 25 of their members produce grapefruit, nearly all have heeded the call to stand down and only four of their members continue to deliver fruit to the factory.

Whereas CGA has said that it is opposed to the current grapefruit price, which they claim represents an underpayment for their fruit, a rival citrus association, Belize Citrus Mutual (BCM), said last week that they have accepted CPBL's first Fruit Price Submission (FPS) for the 2012/2013 crop year for grapefruit, subject to a review with CPBL. The association also welcomed the opening of the factory on Wednesday, October 24.

That was the same date that representatives of both organizations, as well as the company, CPBL, met with Government officials, to try and chart a way forward.

Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Agriculture, Jose Alpuche, told Amandala that he thought they had made some "good faith" progress at last Wednesday's meeting. He said that at the opening of the factory last week, citrus growers could not have a singular voice on the pricing issue. Therefore, the proposed grapefruit price, said Alpuche, should have been discussed today, Monday, while orange prices to be submitted on Wednesday should be discussed on Monday, November 5.

Alpuche said that at last week's meeting, he spoke to the CGA reps about the reports he had received that a protest could ensue this week, and he urged them to hold off on their protest. The CEO said that he is surprised that the growers are continuing with the protest, despite his call for restraint.

At the heart of the dispute, said Alpuche, is the control of the citrus processing factory. However, he said, it is privately-owned and Government does not intend to intervene.

Last year, Prime Minister Dean Barrow personally engaged the parties in an attempt to help ease tensions in the industry. He made some inroads, but the situation has since regressed.

Last Thursday, said Alpuche, Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega made a good faith attempt to broker talks, and he had committed to meeting again within three weeks.

A major forward step which the parties made last week, said Alpuche, was agreeing that the current citrus act needs to be changed to reflect the Supreme Court's constitutional ruling, but regulatory issues are as much as the government can help resolve, he indicated.

Alpuche said that he is very well aware that things have been brewing in the industry for a long time, but a protest won't solve the current industry problems.

He told us that he is restating the call he made last week for growers to exercise restraint, as he does not want any incident or anyone to get hurt.

"I really do hope that level heads can prevail," Alpuche urged.

Amandala was advised last week that in addition to tomorrow's protest, CGA members were also contemplating blocking the factory's entrance. However, the association has made no such announcement.

In a statement issued today, BCM, which claims 45% of citrus production, said, "We also appeal to the Government of Belize to ensure that the business of the delivery of citrus can continue to take place in a calm and peaceful environment without any interference from those who might attempt to disrupt the processing of citrus under the guise of farmer demonstrations."


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