Sugarcane Farmers Block Philip Goldson Highway in Protest

Sugarcane farmers have taken things up a notch by blocking vehicles from traversing a portion of the Philip Goldson Highway in the Corozal District. Meetings from the weekend carried over to this morning, but when negotiations failed, upset and anger stepped in.  By two-thirty this afternoon, the portion of the highway, in front of SIRDI in Buena Vista Village, was blocked.  Vice Chairman of the BSCFA, Alfredo Ortega, told the media, this evening, that he was unaware of what the farmers had planned. 

Alfredo Ortega, Vice Chairman, BSCFA: “Some of the leaders were caught up as myself behind the scenes that we didn’t know that this movement would happen so fast. So at the same time we understand the situation with the farmers and that’s why we have been calling the attention because as you know we have ministers here and we have the police around and well we have to be very respectful to what we are doing but never the less we understand the cry of the farmers and we are there to support because at the end of the day they are our leaders and they are our boses and we have to work within what they bring to us so that we have to respond on their behalf. As I said the Minister of Agriculture is here and he is seeing what is going on. He listened to the cry of the farmers this morning so he is well aware on the cry of the farmers. So we know that maybe today there might not be a position to reach in something positive but there can be a compromise that maybe as of tomorrow things can happen. Because the farmers want to deliver their cane but nevertheless we cannot do it in the fashion that BSI wants our farmers to deliver. Well the sentiment out there of the farmers is that they have started this movement and they are prepared to be until a resolution, a positive resolution, is met.”

Reporter: But blocking the road means that farmers from other associations won’t be able to deliver their cane, isn’t that going farmer against farmer ?

Alfredo Ortega, Vice Chairman, BSCFA: “Exactly well that is the message that we want our leaders to understand that it is not right, it is not just that the mill is with their gates open and the other associations are delivering and our association is not delivering that is why we have been calling the attention of the ministers to understand that this only creates a problem where it can turn nasty that it can be farmers against farmers and we don’t want to reach those points because we understand very clearly how hard a farmer has to work but we have seen that ASR/BSI gives a damn about it. They want us to be one against the other using that slogan that is there divide and conquer and we have seen the operation from them and they continue with that because they don’t want to come to the table and negotiate something with us. We are not asking for anything that will make them lose or whatever as they have mentioned. We want that justice be done that our farmers can get really what should be a good payment for their cane and also BSI make their own money. That is what the farmers are looking for so we clearly understand where we are at this point and our farmers are prepared to do what it needs to do for ASR/BSI and our government to listen.”

For a portion of this evening, both the Agriculture Minister, Abelardo Mai, and the Police Commissioner looked on as the buses and other vehicles stood still on the blocked highway.  Just before five o’clock this evening, Minister Mai addressed the farmers, pleading for cooler heads to prevail, and for the highway to be cleared.  The crux of the entire situation has to do with the absence of a commercial agreement.  As it stands, the BSI/ASR has placed an open agreement on the table; the BSCFA has rejected that offer, and wants an interim agreement for one year.  BSI/ASR has rejected the idea of an interim agreement, and has now countered that with a 3-year commercial agreement.  In the end, the BSCFA has refused the counter, saying that it would tie them to non-negotiable terms.  All this has led to the slow start of the sugar season crop, and a protest that has potential to explode.  Police Commissioner met with the farmers late this evening, with the hopes that the highway would be unblocked.  At a quarter past five this evening, another round of talks began involving the Police Commissioner, the Area Reps of the northern districts, and the remainder of the Northern Caucus.  By news time tonight, the meeting had not concluded, the blockade continued / was cleared, and vehicles were free to pass.  Our team remains in Orange Walk at this hour where they are gathering the latest on this sugar impasse.

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