Is BSCFA prepared to split up?

On Thursday Prime Minister Dean Barrow cited the Supreme Court’s previous order to allow multiple associations of farmers in the sugar industry, saying that as a result there is no legal bar to individual branches of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) agreeing to break away and sign the Commercial Agreement with BSI/ASR.

On Friday we got reaction from two BSCFA branch chairmen, who are in direct opposition on this issue.

But first we take a look at a statement released by Attorney Audrey Matura-Shepherd on behalf of her client farmer Lucilo Teck. In the statement Attorney Matura-Shepherd cites the court order, which, despite the Prime Minister’s statement on Thursday, is not a court order but a consent court order, which meant that the parties involved agreed to settle an agreement without hearing the case to completion.

The undertaking was supposed to change the law by removing BSCFA as the sole representatives of the farmers, but the law was never passed. The release also said that “if indeed the Prime Minister, believes that the BSCFA is unconstitutional, then how is it possible for no other than the Prime Minister to be meeting with an unconstitutional entity, and wanting such unconstitutional entity to enter into a commercial agreement with BSI, which is part owned by the Government of Belize?  Why would the PM entertain meetings with such unconstitutional entity and how would he expect such unconstitutional entity to enter into a valid commercial agreement?”

Now on to comments of the branch chairs on this matter. First we hear from the BSCFA’s Chairman of the Committee of Management and head of the San Estevan branch, Ezequiel Cansino, who says his fellow farmers have been pressuring him to allow the breakaway. He says that as long as the delay continues in the start of season it will become more difficult to resist.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-10-07h23m50s255Ezequiel Cansino – Chairman of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association

“Well, it’s very difficult of me. At least I will try the last time to keep the BSCFA as united as possible.”

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Reporter
“And that is difficult at this point?”

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Ezequiel Cansino
“Well it’s very difficult for me.”

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Reporter
“Do you see the association breaking up? It almost seem inevitable.”

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Ezequiel Cansino
“If we are supposed to wait the six weeks more, I think that it’s definitely that we will break up. But if BCSFA acts as quick as possible, maybe we might have a possibility to reunite and get stronger. The consensus of the cane farmers [is] to stay together and sign the agreement as soon as possible.”

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Meanwhile, former chairman and current head of the Orange Walk Town branch, Alfredo Ortega, says he has been getting the same calls, but is less inclined to bend to those wishes.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-10-07h59m35s197Alfredo Ortega – Chairman of the Orange Walk BSCFA

“Well, this move has been tried many times by BSI.  It started from 2005, when some farmers brought the Act to the Court for the unconstitutional part of it, that BSCFA is the only association that is there for the farmers.  BSI have been up many times for this.  They have found this now is a very good opportunity for them to use their weapon to happen.  They have been joined by the Government of Belize to do so. 

Yes. it can happen, but [on] the other hand we are asking the farmers to maintain united, because if we don’t unite, what will happen [is that] many of us will turn to be slaves, many of us will turn to be workers, and them more advantage will be taken to those that remain.

The advantage would be more bigger to them.  The disadvantage that they will have, being owners of their land, being owners of their product that will never more exist.”

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As far as Audrey Matura-Shepherd is concerned, it is job done in terms of putting the matter on a legal footing. She reminds of what the farmers will lose if they buckle now.

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vlcsnap-2015-01-10-07h17m03s27Audrey Matura-Shepherd – Attorney for Lucilo Teck

“In relation to the other entities that are waiting, clearly some people are taking it personal.  But let me tell you, [do] you know why a society is democratic?  [It’s] because enlightened, educated, brave people take a stance against injustice. 

It is an injustice for any farmer, whether they belong to the Association or not, to enter that agreement, absolutely giving up ownership of your sugar cane, without getting anything else in return, would be unethically immoral and really a bad business practice for you to enter into.  But that’s each person’s decision.

Sadly, this issue is bigger that just our case.  This issue goes to the heart of whether or not we have a democratic society, and if Belizeans will be able to distil the issue for what it is, and stand with each other on principle, for justice, social justice.  That’s the kind of justice we want, apart from the justice in the courts that we’re seeking.”
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