Finally, A Breakthrough At Tower Hill

All this week, we've been taking you to BSI's Tower Hill Factory. The season started with optimism on Monday morning but by Tuesday evening - it had been blocked by cane trucks from the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association.

Tonight, we can report that those cane trucks have finally been moved - after both sides agreed to a compromise this evening.

The best information reaching our newsroom tonight is that Prime Minister John Briceno finally managed to facilitate a breakthrough today to end the blockade of the entire industry.

The Prime Minister had allegedly been promising the farmers to come through with this intervention since yesterday, but we are informed that his efforts finally started meeting success this morning. That's when the millers, ASR/BSI, agreed in principle to an interim agreement that will extend all the way to August of next year.

After a review by the attorneys for both sides, they agreed to the final draft. We are informed that the leadership of the BSCFA made a request that representatives of ASR/BSI meet them at the entrance of the Tower Hill compound for the signing of this contract.

Reportedly, that request was denied, and instead, the millers requested that farmers remove all of their cane trucks that have been blocking delivery operations for several days now. Then and only then would they send out their signed copy of the interim agreement to finalize the process and get signatures from the BSCFA leadership.

Late this evening, those trucks were removed, and in the presence of police and ministers of government, the BSCFA leaders signed the contract, which officially ends the stand-off.

Tonight, there are small victories to celebrate all around, as we enter the New Year Holiday weekend.

Next, the BSCFA gets to celebrate their multi-day protest as a victory, since they were able to oblige the millers to move from a hardline rejection of an interim agreement to a newly signed document.

But, among the losers are the 3 smaller cane farming associations whose membership will suffer losses due to the day in a fight that they had no involvement in or control over. Next, we understand that the millers feel bruised by the outcome because basically, they were strong-armed into the interim agreement. We understand they relented out of concern for their staff's safety in this unrest, and concern for stakeholders and their investment, which is rapidly depreciating. We understand that the Ministry of Finance also signed an indemnity letter for the BSCFA in the event that the other associations or the millers want to sue them for loss of revenue due to the one week delay.

Knowledgeable persons have shared concerns with us about the quality of the cane in the ground, as well as all those tonnes of cane that have been sitting in those trucks for days now.

Behind the BSI Breakthrough

At the top of our newscast, we told you how the blockade of the sugar industry has been ended. That's after millers, BSI/ASR, finally signed an interim business agreement with the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association. That temporarily ends their latest dispute which led farmers from the BSCFA to set up a blockade of all the entrances and exits to the Tower Hill compound.

This disagreement caused the entire industry to be shut down for several days. But, due to the intervention of the Prime Minister and his team, the two sides entered a sort of wary truce late this evening.

The farmers have removed their trucks, and the industry should restart in a few days. This evening, after the document was signed, and the stand-off was ended, our colleagues from CTV 3 got a chance to speak with Agriculture Minister Jose Abelardo Mai:

Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture
"Prime Minister took the lead on this matter. I supported him of course being minister of agriculture and we had the support of the ministers in the North. We also had the support of our great friend, Minister Eamon Courtenay who was behind the scenes, but was very influential in the breakthrough. So I thank all of our colleagues in cabinet who I know had been really attentive to what was happening and to the cane farmers, the cane farmers are very hard working people, their frustration levels were high. I think that in the end dialogue paid off."

"Any promises had to be made for any of the parties in order for them to be this breakthrough?"

Hon. Jose Abelardo Mai, Minister of Agriculture
"Of course, I think there was some communication was sent to BSCFA indicating that there may be intention for the mill to probably sue for damages caused by this demonstration. But our prime minister made a commitment to the farmers that the government would definitely intervene on this matter and this would not be the case. So that promise was done by the prime minister, the farmers are satisfied. I think that if we are to move forward, we cannot continue in this type of litigation and battling each other. We are in this together, we are joined at the hip here both the miller and the farmers. So, I think that we have to learn to live with each other."

It is expected that the mill's operations should resume in the next few days = once the boilers can be brought back up to speed, and cane deliveries can resume.

As we trace the trajectory of this dispute, we note also the exemplary conduct of the police who did not provoke the cane farmers but simply maintained the peace including through direct mediation from the Commissioner of Police. There had been bloodshed and clashes in the past.

Channel 7

Last edited by Marty; 01/01/22 04:53 AM.