Florencio Marin, Sr., the savior of the sugar industry?

The long-retired senior statesman has been engaged by the government to advise the SICB in the ongoing sugar industry negotiations, the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Jose Mai says there is no one more experienced or knowledgeable about the sugar industry. PSU Chairman Dean Flowers calls it a “slap in the face” to young civil servants.

BELIZE CITY, Wed Jun 1, 2022

A number of eyebrows were raised when it was reported that former PUP Cabinet Minister and father of two current Cabinet members, Florencio Marin, Sr., 80, had been hired to serve as an adviser to year with the Government of Belize, specifically to assist the Sugar Industry Control Board (SICB), to negotiate a new trade agreement among sugar cane growers represented by the Belize Sugar Cane Farmers Association (BSCFA) and the company that processes and exports the cane, Belize Sugar Industries Ltd (BSI). That deal is due to expire on July 31, 2022, roughly two months away, and at present the industry is held together by a shaky interim deal, signed by the parties in January this year following a stalemate that had threatened to derail the sugar harvest.

Notably, the interim agreement currently in place was a hastily concocted arrangement that required the mediation of the Prime Minister and Minister of Agriculture after a stalemate in negotiations between BSCFA and BSI delayed the start of the sugar harvest. in December. It was initially hoped that earlier this month the two sides would have finalized the terms of a new trade deal before the scheduled January 2022 expiration of the deal that was previously in place. But the BFSCA had insisted that the agreement’s revenue and cost sharing formulas be changed in the new agreement so that farmers could get a bigger share of the revenue, while the ASR/BSI had insisted that , considering the millions they had invested in updating production processes, such a concession was one they could not afford. Both parties refused to budge, resulting in a one-week postponement of the start of processing the harvested cane. During this period, BFSCA members used their trucks to block the entrance to the ASR/BSI plant, and even after the interim agreement was finalized and operations resumed, relations between the two parties were still tense – and there were threats of legal action. by BSI and other northern sugar grower associations for losses they allegedly suffered as a result of the standoff.

Interestingly, when the interim agreement between ASR/BSI and BSCFA was signed – allowing milling to start in early January, AMANDALA in an article dated Wednesday 5th January 2022 said: “Joining the Prime Minister in efforts to negotiate a truce between the parties were other representatives of the northern region, Florencio Marin, Ramon Cervantes, Ramiro Ramirez and the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Jose May. The BSCFA chairman told local media that their involvement had accelerated the process.
This article also noted the continuing bitterness in the relationship between BSI and BSCFA, when it stated: “The company, in a statement issued on December 30, said: ‘BSI does not tolerate illegal tactics and threats of violence aimed at to obtain concessions from the mill. There is no place for such a tactic in a modern sugar industry. This will only damage the credibility of the whole industry and call into question whether in such a volatile atmosphere it will be safe to operate the plant.

With the stakes as high as they are, experience and expertise will be essential in striking a balance that ensures both sides are ready to continue playing their respective roles in generating sugar export revenue, which are so essential to the well-being of the economy. , and the Prime Minister, the Hon. John Briceño, and the Minister of Agriculture, the Hon. Jose Mai, when faced with questions about whether to hire someone with such close ties to the Cabinet, has publicly stated that he believes Marin, Sr. is the person best equipped to save the very sugar industry. volatile.

During Friday’s remarks, Minister Mai said: “Mr Marin is a well-respected and well-known gentleman in the sugar belt. He has long had friends and people who respect him in the sugar industry. The sugar industry in the North is currently in a very difficult situation because of the new agreement that farmers and millers have to sign, and there is a lot of tension. I think bringing in Mr. Marin, as a respected person and a very experienced politician, would provide some kind of resolution to this conflict, so to speak, between the cane grower and the association.

Prime Minister Briceño, for his part, said Marin’s inclusion in the process could actually keep the parties at the table for future negotiations.

“Everyone knows that Florencio Marin is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to BSI sugar cane grower relations. We had December 28, 2021, we had a farmers’ strike and they closed the factory for almost a week or so. The factory claims to have lost around $1 million. Farmers have probably lost the same, and we believe that at this critical time when farmers and BSI continue to negotiate a trade agreement, it is important that we can have someone who can talk to both parties and keep them going. together without fighting,” said Prime Minister Briceño. (Notably, prior to the signing of the interim agreement, sugar cane growers had marched to the prime minister’s home and demanded his resignation.)

The Prime Minister said he has asked Marin, Sr. to serve as an adviser who will facilitate negotiations at a very critical time, when both sides (BSCFA and ASR/BSI) are on edge. And a note from the Ministry of Agriculture dated April 26 would confirm that such an arrangement was made with the senior sailor.

“We don’t want another strike to happen. We don’t want the cane fields burnt down, and you know, we have a sabotage. We want to make sure that the sugar industry, an industry that directly impacts the people of the Orange Walk North and Corozal District, an industry that directly impacts our 5,000 sugarcane growers, that we can keep things calm, that we can keep the two sides together talking at all times, and hopefully for next year or so that he can help us move this industry forward,” said said Prime Minister Briceño.

Members of the United Democratic Party, however, condemned the decision to hire Marin Sr. (the father of Attorney General Magali Marin Young and National Security Minister Florencio Marin, Jr.), who would be paid $36,000 for his one-year term. UDP chairman Senator Michael Peyrefitte mentioned during his remarks to reporters that while he respects the veteran statesman, he doesn’t think he should be paid $36,000.

“I have a lot of respect for him, but one, I don’t think he needs thirty-six grand; secondly i don’t think you can keep hiring people like that especially the father of two serving government ministers in the face of you telling civil servants they can’t get their raises back you can’t institute a policy five dollar minimum wage. You cannot in this environment hire the father of two ministers to work in the sector,” Peyrefitte said in an interview with local media.

He added: “I don’t think it’s necessary for Mr. Marin to earn an extra salary. Why can’t he, in the goodness of his heart, with all his experience in the sugar industry, come and offer his services free of charge as a friend of the government and as a friend of the people of Belize? »

Hon. Agriculture Minister Jose Mai, however, said Marin Sr.’s involvement will be key to the success of the process.

“I think that will make a difference, leading him to try to resolve the situation within the sugar industry at the moment, by thinking outside the box a bit, you know, someone who can dialogue with the farmers, You know. There are 5,300 cane growers, and I don’t know if you’ve ever attended a cane growers meeting, it gets really tough. So Mr. Marin has this type of diplomacy, gentleness, and people respect him for who he is and what he has been in the past,” said Minister Mai.

With only two months to go until the current interim agreement that unites the industry expires, and no sign of talks to reach a new trade deal that suits both parties, Marin. Sr. will have his work cut out for him.

Florencio Marin, Sr. served as Deputy Prime Minister under the Father of the Nation, Rt. Hon. George Price, and as Leader of the Opposition during Rt. Hon. Manuel Esqivel’s tenure as Prime Minister. He was active in Belizean politics from 1965 until 2008, when he retired, and was succeeded by his son in the Corozal Southeast constituency, where Marin, Sr., had been undefeated for more than 40 year.

Today, the President of the Public Service Union (PSU), Dean Flowers, in his remarks on the matter, said: “Like most Belizeans, the Public Service Union was surprised to see this recommendation coming of the CEO of the Ministry of Agriculture. It would seem that these types of hires suggest that we don’t have competent public officers within the civil service to provide the type of guidance needed by these technical officers.

Flowers added, “There are many qualified young people who I am sure have submitted their applications on the Ministry of Public Service platform to fill any position, vacancy maybe in the ministry. of Agriculture. This is an insult to the Belizean public and it is a disrespect to the young voters and the young population of this country by this administration…another insult…”

During an interview, Prime Minister Briceno confirmed today that there has been an increase in the price of sugar cane. “As we know, the price in the world market has improved, increased,” the prime minister said. He shared that he received a letter stating this yesterday. “The price has gone up and things are looking good for our farmers and hopefully we can continue this upward trend.” PM said

Rachel J. Bradford