Prime Minister Dean Barrow dropped a bombshell at last Wednesday’s press conference when he declared that Cabinet had given its support to the sugar cane farmers of the North represented by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) in their fight with sugar producer Belize Sugar Industries, Limited (BSI) over a payment for usage of bagasse the fiber-like material culled from the processed sugar cane. At the same time, however, he warned that both sides must come to the table to negotiate for the good of the nation. Today, he and Deputy Gaspar Vega followed up by meeting with the BSCFA at the Biltmore Hotel. We spoke to him afterward.
“All I would say is that we will now have to meet with ASR; we had already indicated to their local agents that we want such a meeting. Mr. Montalvo said, because of the Thanksgiving holidays, he was not able to get in touch with the central authorities; he would have an answer for me by close of late today, as to how soon that meeting can take place. We will take to ASR the position which we had in fact stated at the press conference and which we repeated to the farmers today and see if on that basis, we can bring the two sides together for face to face negotiations”.
And not even the Prime Minister knows how those negotiations will go.
Hon. Dean Barrow: “I don’t know; it all depends on how far we get with ASR.
Hon. Dean Barrow: “They’ve said that they are willing to start…that there is a desire to start, but that whether they actually start will depend on what happens between ASR and the government at the meeting we are trying to arrange”.
For the farmers, nothing has changed. Here is Mr. Alfredo Ortega, the BSCFA’s vice-chairman.
“Once more, the Prime Minister reiterated his position as he did when he did his press conference that he full support the farmers in regards to the issue we have with the bagasse and he reiterated it today along with his Minister. So, he is saying that we have the full support of the Government of Belize in our regards. He is saying that he is going to be calling on ASR so that that can be set when to start negotiations”.
Reporter: “So, are you in principle prepared to start the season while still having this dispute in which the government supports you, but are you prepared to say, let us start the season and we continue to work towards receiving money for bagasse?”
Mr. Alfredo Ortega: “Not at this point. At this point what we are looking is to have a commitment from ASR-BSI where we will be looking forward in these negotiations. The Prime Minister had agreed that he will be seeking ASR to come to the table and start negotiations. From thereafter we will see what meeting will be”.
A meeting is e xpected later this week after which the two sides, if ASR agrees, will meet without Government input.