Meanwhile outside of the house was a protest by a handful of cane farmers and their supporters; estimated at a bit above 50. Also there were members of National Trade Union Congress of Belize and members of third party Vision Inspired by the People, who showed up in solidarity with Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association.
Attorney Audrey Matura-Sheppard addressed the accusation made by the Prime Minister that Attorney Matura-Shepherd’s advise to the farmers to go to court was misleading and a waste of the farmers’ time.
“How can it be a waste of time, when the that cases that we’ve tried to have too have been denounced by the Government and on complete lies?
For example: When we went to Court to get the permission for mandamus, when I was at the General Assembly, I never told the cane farmers the day we go to court, there and then we will get the ruling. I told them we had to a permission stage, and that we were asking for the Court to hear the matter by the Tuesday or the Wednesday. However, we got the hearing on the Friday, and I told them at the permission stage, we would ask for the entire case to be heard within ten days. We did all of that at the Court.
It is Mr Rodwell Williams, Senior Council, from out of the law firm ‘Barrow and Williams, the same Prime Minister’s law firm,’ that stood up and fought against the matter being heard quickly, and then he was supported by Mr Michael Young, Senior Council, who represented BSI. Those two teamed up against us and said, ‘No, we don’t want it to be heard quickly.’ My only question to that is, if you’re so sure that the case will go nowhere, them why you don’t want to hear it quickly? Well, quickly embarrass me them! Quickly have the court denounce that the step I took. Have a ruling against me, and embarrass me. That’s what their intention is, but the reason they can’t do that is because a mandamus can mandate a public entity to do their lawful act, which is to set the grinding season.”
Since the hearing of the case is all the way in February, and with Monday’s bill passing, Audrey Matura-Shepherd was asked what bearing the mandamus would now have.
“The mere fact that there’s a sitting right now, to change these very sections that the Prime Minister has already said in his Press Conference was not the law, speaks volumes to the fact that what he said was not true, because if it was true he didn’t have to come to the National Assembly today, because he said the law had already been changed and the Act had already been repealed.
If that was true, why are they here sitting today. So I am here in their face, so that history exonerates my position, and their conduct here today exonerates my position.
There would not be the need for a writ of mandamus, if at the end of the day the grinding season is set, and there’s no hearing. But the case was always more than just a writ. For a writ of mandamus we needed to seek permission, but these were other declarations and Constitutional claims we wanted to make in that same order, but for those you don’t need permission. So then you just included those.”
While the debate over the new legislation was ongoing in the house, the protestors outside held a small rally. Here are some of the highlights of that rally.
“Vision Inspired by the people is going to continue to support them in their struggle. We feel that it is too long now that the Sugar Industry has been in this situation, where every so often there is a contention. After fifty years, we feel that there must be some kind of arrangement where Government considers how it’s going to empower the citizens by helping them out to, at least, get back control of this industry.
“When I go and I buy your sugar, and it say ‘Tate and Lyle’ in the U.S., I’m paying four dollars a pound for your sugar, and how much are you getting? Pennies! That has to stop, guys. You don’t need the E.U. Let me tell you. we can take care of ourselves and we need to start taking care of ourselves, and stand up with each other and stop this nonsense.
E.U., keep your Fairtrade money, and let’s take back the factory. Let’s produce our cane, and let every cane farmer benefit from his hard labour!
The Opposition exited the House during the debate, and PUP party Leader Francis Fonseca addressed the protestors outside.
“This is a dark day for Belize, a dark day in our history, as we recorded in the National Assembly. This will be a part of Mr Barrow’s legacy, the destruction of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers’ Association, and possibly the destruction of our Sugar Industry.
So we have recorded that on your behalf, in the National Assembly today, but we also say to you, even on this dark day, there is hope if we stand together, if we work together, if we fight together. We are here to stand with you, the cane farmers of this country, one hundred percent.
They attacked you all in the National Assembly. They attacked Miss Audrey, of course. They attacked Brother Fred Ortega. They attacked you all and called you all sorts of names. We did what we could to defend you, and defend your interests, and defend the national interest, but we know that you are strong people.
So you can depend on our support. We will fight with you and stand with you, brothers and sisters.”