Having received their primary demand – a meeting of the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA)’s full membership for this Sunday, January 4 – attorney for farmer Lucilo Teck and Association executive Javier Keme, Audrey Matura Shepherd, awaits the result of the meeting before moving forward with a potential injunction and order of writ of mandamus compelling the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB) to order the crop to start. Friday’s planned hearing was adjourned for a date to be determined.
According to Audrey Matura-Shepherd, while the injunction is dependent on Sunday’s events, the writ is not; she disputes the seeming powerlessness of Government on the issue as she presses for an urgent hearing.
“The mandamus we will not withdraw, unless the Sugar Industry Control Board does what the law mandates it to do and fix the date, and fix it and put it in the Gazette. Then there’ll be no need for mandamus.
However, my client Mr Teck is concerned that even if we withdraw the mandamus, because they have disputed, the Government and the Board and the manufacturers, have disputed what that section means, he is prepared if necessary to go to court, and just what he has stated that the conclusion of the court says now what does that section mean? Not every year will we go through this, and we cannot allow anyone to further use that provision to hold the cane farmers at ransom.”
As for news on Friday that the home of Association CEO Oscar Alonzo, in the San Lorenzo Housing Site, was burnt down, Audrey Matura-Shepherd could not confirm any relation to the ongoing rift in the Association and industry. Combined with reported threats to opponents of the agreement to burn down their cane fields, she issued a plea for unity on the common cause of getting the best they can.
“What I think is more concerning to me is that I have gotten calls from key farmers who have been opposing the agreement, and have been opening the eyes of the other farmers, that they are being threatened hat their field will be burned. I think that’s very concerning, and I hope that it’s untrue, that it’s just idle talk, simply because what the farmers who are opening the eyes of the others, it’s not to hurt the other farmers.
Those who accept the agreement as it is to give up their rights, right now they’re saying that, but when the benefit comes they will benefit as well. All I can ask the farmers is don’t be divided along your differences. Please don’t make your party politics come out. That’s not important. Be united on what we agree on, because we all have differences.
The definite issue that they unite on is that they want the best price they can for their product.”
Audrey Matura-Shepherd told PLUS News that farmers are responsible for planting their own cane, and she does not see how BSI/ASR can argue that they have any ownership in the product if all they are responsible for is milling and selling sugar cane products such as molasses and bagasse for which they pay the farmers, not the stalk itself. If it is true that BSI has always owned the cane, then there is no reason for the season not to start. She added that BSI has tried to hoodwink farmers to believe they are not giving anything of value while attempting to take over how cane is accepted in terms of quality. It is for this reason that farmers are being given the information they need to make the right decision on Sunday, an exercise in which Audrey Matura-Shepherd is participating and says the result of which she will accept if it goes against her clients.
“Everything we are saying we translated into Spanish, and we’re issuing the information and text to them, so that they know. They have the right to know.
At the end of the day, if the farmers believe that they want to give up their rights, I will not be upset. It’s their decision. We just need to know that they’re making the right decision after all the information.
We’re not going around telling people how to sign or how to vote, contrary to the other parties telling people how to vote. No. We’re telling them get information. Let that weigh heavily on your mind as you have the right information, and make the right decision in your interest.
I think an individual interest has to be something that you recognize what’s good for you.
It’s their livelihood. This is how they live, sugar cane. They have to be the ones who want to know and get information, and then talk..
One good news I have for them is that the different branch chairmen have since been calling meetings between today and tomorrow, at which I am speaking and taking information and giving them copies of the law.”
The meeting is slated to begin at 9:00 a.m.