It can’t be said that the move by ASR/BSI to stop shipping bulk sugar to the Belize District, to be handled by the Port of Belize, was made quietly, in the dead of night, and maybe the Belizean public isn’t owed an explanation, but it must be noted that that port lost considerable business, and the many stevedores who work at the port lost a substantial portion of their livelihood.
In September 2019 ASR/BSI began exploring the feasibility of transporting sugar by road to the Port of Big Creek in the Stann Creek District. On the surface, this move by ASR/BSI is in the natural flow of business. Change is constant in this world, and our capacity to respond goes a long way in determining our future. Those who can’t adjust to change fall away, sometimes into oblivion.
Change can come by way of natural disasters, and we and the world are presently going through the greatest change event in generations – the Covid-19 pandemic. Hurricanes, which are common in our region, are great change events, and Hurricane Hattie in 1961 was one of the most potent natural change-makers we have ever experienced.
After Hurricane Hattie wrecked Belize City and Dangriga, Belizeans living in those areas responded with an exodus north, to the USA. There’s a theory that that move north by Belizeans was also orchestrated.
Belize would become a self-governing country in 1964, just three years after Hattie struck, and the man who would become our country’s first Prime Minister, George Price, led the charge for us to relocate the seat of government to an area less exposed to hurricanes. That dream, with massive support by the United Kingdom, became a reality — Belmopan, the new capital of Belize.
After Hattie, villagers in Seine Bight say they were advised to go and live in a safer area of our country, and our leaders created the village we know as Georgetown, several miles to their west. The villagers did not relocate entirely, though; instead they planted their future in two villages.
Some villagers in Seine Bight thought the new leaders of the country were really intent on “tricking” them out of their prime coastland, and we have seen to what lengths the oligarchy in Honduras is going to separate our Garinagu brothers and sisters from their homes on the Caribbean coast of that country.
We don’t believe that was the objective of our first Prime Minister, though. In 1931, he had come within an inch of losing his life when a Category 5 hurricane hit Belize City, and this experience, coupled with the devastation caused 30 years later by Hurricane Hattie, inspired him to lead the charge to build Belmopan, and those experiences probably were also his inspiration for counseling our brothers and sisters in Seine Bight to go and live on safer ground.
We all have to respond to change, and in the immediate wake of the ASR/BSI move, displaced stevedores in Belize City might be best advised to go looking for new jobs in the area where they live, or to pull up roots and go compete for jobs with our brothers and sisters in Big Creek. However, since the change is artificial, man-made, and it has occurred at a time when the relationship between the workers and the management at the Port of Belize has not been cordial, probably the proper first response from those affected should be to ask their political leaders for intervention, or explanation.
ASR/BSI’s decision to ship sugar by road to Big Creek is intriguing, because if just the single factor of transportation is considered, the way it shipped sugar previously should be much cheaper. In the past ASR/BSI shipped sugar from Tower Hill to the Belize District by barge, with one of its barges carrying the freight of eight or ten 15-ton trucks.
Incidentally, the transportation of sugar from Tower Hill would be 50% cheaper if a waterway for shallow draught barges and tugs was cut from the factory at Tower Hill due east to the Caribbean Sea, the cost of such an artery being defrayed by the tremendous increase in value it would bring to the land it passed through.
ASR/BSI is following in the footsteps of Santander, a new producer of sugar in the Cayo District that has been allowed many advantages over the sugarcane farmers in the north. Santander has been transporting its product by road to Big Creek.
Looking at Santander briefly, that company’s operations are near fully mechanized, so it isn’t hiring many Belizeans, which is one of the criteria that must be met for our governments to support foreign investments in the country. The company, apart from its favorable EPZ (Export Processing Zone) status, is being allowed to draw water for its massive operations from the Belize River during the dry season, a time when the priority is for the river to supply the needs of our largest urban center, Belize City.
The water that this company is using helps it to out-produce our small farmers up north, reportedly by up to ten tons per acre. Heavily aided Santander, with robotic labor, development concessions, free use of water, more product per acre, and a much shorter distance to travel to port (by road), has to be a concern to small farmers up north.
Why should ASR/BSI ship its sugar by road to Big Creek, a round trip 150 miles longer than the journey for sugar from Santander? Why have our governments turned a blind eye to the excessive wear these huge loaded trucks cause to our main highways? Shipping BNE oil by truck from Spanish Lookout to Big Creek broke up the highways, but the contributions to the tax base from that high-value product were sufficient to pay for repairs for the damage it caused.
Are our political leaders looking at the big picture? Why hasn’t ASR/BSI seriously challenged the Port of Belize for not investing in bulk storage? Is it proper for the receivers of the Port of Belize to intimate that there won’t be improved bulk storage at that port, a necessity, if the company doesn’t get permission to construct a cruise port at the facility?
Are we sober? Tower Hill sugar bypassing the port in Belize City to go to the port in Big Creek, is like bananas in South Stann Creek bypassing the port in Big Creek to go to the port in Belize City, which isn’t happening, or citrus concentrate in Stann Creek Valley bypassing the port at Commerce Bight to go to the port in Big Creek, which is happening.
In all this intrigue, there’s one party that is laughing their heads off. Whoever owns the Port of Big Creek and the land in the area, they and their financiers must be singing, chi-ching.