The Men & Women behind the founding of the Caribeña Producers Cooperative Society Limited
Thanks to a Jesuit priest named Father Marion M. Ganey, the Colony already had a strong credit union movement and several other types of cooperatives, including 16 agricultural producer’ cooperatives, as well as a Department of Cooperatives and Credit Unions that regularly provided training in cooperative formation. Father Ganey had even spoken to some of the fishermen of Cay Caulker about forming a cooperative during the 1950s and had, during the same general period, assisted in the formation of a strong credit union on Ambergris Caye. Father Ganey talked at length with Alfredo Alamilla, San Pedro’s alcalde, about establishing a cooperative in San Pedro. Neither the fishermen of Ambergris Caye or Cay Caulker were yet persuaded.
In the late 1961, several San Pedro fishermen approached the other fishermen of Ambergris Caye in an effort to form a cooperative. Leaders included Alfredo “Fedo” and Octavion “Tabito” Alamilla, Jeminiano “Jemi” Aguilar, Ovidio Guerrero and Tomas, Felipe and Seferino Paz. They had previously tried to stir up interest in a cooperative, but had been defeated by the generations-old tradition of independent fishing or fishing with a small and trusted crew, usually family. Only 20 fishermen initially agreed to form the cooperative and notified the Department of Co-operative of their intention. Butwhen a representative of the Department of Co-operative arrived to explain the government requirements, many of the fishermen were too drunk to attend – thanks to “free” rum provided by the single owner of the two companies then purchasing lobster from Ambergris Caye for export to the USA.
Nevertheless, a cooperative was organized in 1962, the first organizational meeting taking place on July 15th in a patch of grass between Daddy’s Club and Blake House. The first Board of Directors elected at the organizational meeting were Jeminiano Aguilar, President; Allan Forman, Vice President; Octavio Alamilla, Secretary; Wilfrido “Fido” Nuñez, Treasurer; and Seferino Paz, Director. Octavio Alamilla served as General Manager, as well as Board Secretary, When Caribeña built a processing plant a short time later, Prisiliano Gomez was hired as the first Plant Manager. Members’ shares were sold for $60 apiece. Further meetings were held to work out details and, after 8 months, $1,800 had been collected. The group was assisted by Peter Hancock, an American engineer who had immigrated to Ambergris Caye in the 1950s and ran a coconut walk north of San Pedro. Among other activities, he drafted the cooperative’s by-laws and consulted with government officials, in part because the organizers were not comfortable with their English skills. Additional fishermen were attracted to the cooperative because of their respect for Hancock and the founders.
Caribeña Producers Cooperative Society Limited was at last registered in March of 1963 with a roll of 50 members.
Lower left corner: Father Ganey, Peter Hancock, and Hon. Alexander Hunter.
Cultural Liaison Officer (NICH)
Courtesy San Pedro House of Culture
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