In the post-World War II, nationalist era of Belize’s socio-politics, the cane farmers of the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts have proven to be our country’s most effective fighting force. They are usually unified, focused, and courageous.
We say that so as to say this: the cañeros do not need any support from us at this newspaper. But, we expressed that support editorially a couple weeks ago. The reason we expressed that support is because we are Belizean nationalists, and whatever is good for the cane farmers is good for Belize.
When this newspaper was established in 1969, the sugar cane industry had been experiencing boom years. The electoral politicians who depended for support on the cane farmers were very territorial about their constituencies, and in 2013 they still are. In Belize City, the media capital of the nation, we don’t know as much as we should about the history, the nature, and the function of Belize Sugar Industries (BSI). It served the Corozal and Orange Walk politicians’ interests to keep the rest of the country relatively ignorant about the sugar industry. Still, as the media, we must accept the ultimate blame for our ignorance.
The precise nature and function of BSI became a matter of national concern last week, because how could four senior executives of the BSI parent company, American Sugar Refining (ASR), fly into Belize for a meeting last Tuesday with cane farmers when the Belizeans on BSI’s board knew that the cane farmers had explicitly and publicly declared that they would not be attending that meeting? The charade of having BSI/ASR executives pictured on national television in a boardroom waiting for cane farmers’ officials who did not show up, did serve the possible purpose of presenting a human face for ASR and suggesting that the cañeros were being intransigent. Whatever.
The BSI/ASR Tower Hill sugar factory was supposed to start grinding cane delivered by the Corozal and Orange Walk cane farmers on Monday morning, November 25, but this will not happen. This is a bad situation. The company, the cane farmers, and the country all start losing money immediately. The company and the cane farmers have entered the land of dispute. The company has started making money off the sugar cane waste – bagasse, by burning it to generate electricity to sell to Belize’s national electric company. The cane farmers say, we grew the cane which became bagasse, and we want a piece of this new action. The company says no. The result? No sugar cane deliveries, no sugar cane grinding.
For all these years, the BSI dons have never felt it necessary to face the Belizean media. We will never forget the terrible accident of 1971 when Belizean athletes Gilroy Buller, Kyrle Turton, Errol Clarke and Charles Leslie were burned to death on the Western Highway. BSI escaped without legal responsibility for that accident, and paid not a cent in compensation to the victims’ families. You have to understand, then: we have a bone in our throat where BSI is concerned.
With our bias admitted, we submit in conclusion that a burden of proof in this dispute lies on BSI’s shoulders. It is for sure that at some point the dispute will be settled. It is up to BSI, we think, to make sure it is settled sooner rather than later.