The current division in the sugar industry has as much to do with its future as it does with the role of the Government, which has so far tried to avoid using a heavy hand. But disaffected cane farmer Alfredo Ortega, who was singled out for personal criticism by Prime Minister Dean Barrow during Thursday’s press conference, is not taking it personally. He brought the matter around to how much more the P.M. can do on the ground, by meeting with the farmers and hearing their concerns.
“As the Prime Minister mentioned my name and other names that were agitating. I think that if the Prime Minister has a very good advisor, and the Prime Minister would go down North and talk one to one to the farmer, he will get to know what the situation is, what is the plea of the farmers, and it seems to be that he is not prepared to listen to the cry of the farmers. He is not prepared to see what is the suffering of the farmers.
We are not agitating any badness. We are not agitating anything that would create an unruly situation within the cane farming community. All what we’re looking for is that the farmers get benefits out of sacrifices that they are doing within the production sector.
But it seems to be that our Prime Minister is not prepared to do so, in ngetting more benefits for the Belizean people.”
Alfredo Ortega says the Prime Minister should employ compassion in addressing the issue, reminding that the farmers are risking their livelihoods as well.
“We understand the situation with the farmers, that they’re in need of finances. They’re in need of money. That is why we have been asking [for] the crop to start. That is where we thought that the Prime Minister would come on board and listen to the cry of the farmers, because if the Prime Minister would have listened to the cry of the farmers, instead of going against the Association, instead of finding what badness is happening, or if he wants to put that anything is doing mischief within the Association, I think his pushing should have been to find a way how we can come together and start a crop and let us continue the negotiation.
But it seems to be that he is not prepared to do that. In the other hand farmers are in a difficult financial situation at this point in time, and the same way the Prime Minister announced close to December that he would be paying the mortgages of many homes, I think in the same way the Prime Minister could have said, ‘Well look, there is PetroCribe money, so let us put aside a little bit for the farmers, so they can hold on.’ And if he’s not prepared to do so, then he should come and find a way how crop can start, so that the farmers can have finances coming in on a weekly basis.”
However, attorney Audrey Matura Shepherd says the Government is the source of the problem.
“Let’s make some things very clear. I have no control about the manoeuvring of ant Government or any entity who wants to crush the farmer. Yesterday’s Press Conference was a clear indication that the lines were drawn, that there are three people or three entities against the cane farmers, and the common denominator of those three entities is clearly the Government of Belize.
The Government of Belize is part owner of BSI, so when they sided BSI, they are siding with themselves. The Government of Belize is the one that appoints the Sugar Industry Control Board, so when they side and refuse to have the Sugar Industry Control Board carry out the law, again it’s the Government of Belize that is behind that. And then the Government of Belize in its own standing yesterday, to the highest office that we can find in governance in any government administration, made it clear that they drew the line and said they will not go with the cane farmers, as a matter of fact, proudly announce that they have met with ASR and we’ve had said about meeting with the cane farmers.
So, clearly that’s an indication that lines have been drawn and that the cane farmers now, can expect anything against them to divide them, anything against them to discourage them, anything against them to bring them down, to force them into agreements. That is beyond my control.”