Photo of white sugar being poured from a spoon into a bowl
The amount of sugar Guatemala is exporting to Canada has reportedly dramatically increased in recent years. Credit: Mathilde Lagevin / Unsplash Credit: Mathilde Lagevin / Unsplash

Sugarcane production uses large amounts of water.

To get that water in Guatemala, sugar plantations have diverted rivers and drilled wells impacting the right to water for local communities.

Those who have spoken against this, including Abelino Salvador Mejía, have been criminalized for their opposition.

Abelino will be in court again on Mar. 14.

The day before, Peace Brigades International will be creating a space on this webinar for him to talk about his struggle for water justice.

Abelino has stated: “We need people to realize that when they consume sugar, it has an impact on the life of the communities and on the right to water for all.”

Notably, the Guatemalan Sugar Association (ASAZGUA) has identified Canada as the top export destination for Guatemalan sugar. It has reported that 333,596 metric tons of sugar was exported from Guatemala to Canada in 2019.

The amount of sugar Guatemala is exporting to Canada has reportedly dramatically increased in recent years. In October 2017, the International Sugar Journal reported that Guatemala tripled exports of sugar to Canada.

In July 2021, Sugar for Good reported: “Expogranel, located in Puerto Quetzal, is the specialized terminal for handling and shipping bulk sugar in Guatemala, which has positioned as one of the most efficient terminals in the world.”

Puerto Quetzal is located on the Pacific Ocean coast of Guatemala.

The Canadian Sugar Institute has also generally explained that: “Raw sugar is transported by ship in bulk cargo to refineries located at deep water ports in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.”

More specifically, the Chamber of Marine Commerce notes: “Redpath imports raw sugar extracted from sugar cane grown by farmers in tropical countries such as Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador.”

It adds: “It is transported through the Seaway to Lake Ontario and then made into different sugar products at Redpath’s refinery on the Toronto waterfront.”

In April 2019, PortsToronto reported that the MV Cape brought more than 18,920 metric tonnes of sugar from Guatemala to Redpath Sugar.

In terms of amount, FreightWaves reported: “For Redpath Sugar, the shipment aboard the MV Cape would have otherwise required about 300 trucks.”

Sugar from Guatemala has also been exported to Vancouver for many years.

In May 2004, the International Sugar Journal noted the Rogers Sugar Vancouver cane refinery “obtains its raw sugar from Australia and for the past several years, Guatemala.”

In April 2016, Mark Lumley of the Ontario Sugar Beet Growers’ Association told the Senate of Canada: “Right now, we use about 1.1 million metric tonnes of sugar: 50,000 [later corrected to 90,000] of those come from Alberta and the rest comes from mostly Guatemala and Brazil into Redpath in Toronto, or Lantic in Vancouver and Montreal, and that’s it.”

In January 2016, Reuben Jentink wrote: “The sugar is loaded onto ships at the Expogranel sugar loading terminal, responsible for the reception, storage, and loading of all sugar product exported from Guatemala’s Pacific coast at Puerto Quetzal.”

He then noted: “The sugar then travels 3662 nautical miles to the Rogers Refinery’s deep-sea wharf located at the Port of Metro Vancouver.”

Jentink cites an email from Lantic general manager Ted Bowsfield to additionally confirm that: “The raw sugar travels in bulk, usually 25,000 to 27,000 metric tonne loads and is unloaded in Vancouver by two bucket cranes.”

According to Lantic: “The Vancouver refinery can produce up to 240,000 tonnes of sugar per year from imported raw cane sugar.”

Lantic/Rogers produced this ESG Report in June 2021 that says: “Rogers’ raw material sourcing is responsible.”

And Redpath says its “Corporate Social Responsibility Program is an ongoing commitment to continuous assessment of our supply chain.”

Redpath further highlights: “’Sustainably Sourced’ and ‘Ethically Grown’ for Redpath means that our raw cane sugar comes from suppliers who: respect and work towards the highest environmental, social, and governance standards; uphold human rights; have been verified through our rigorous Ethical Sourcing Program.”

There is more to be heard about this situation though.

On Sunday March 13 at 2:30 pm EDT, Abelino Salvador Mejia will speak about the impact of the sugar industry on communities and the human right to water in Guatemala. This webinar will have simultaneous Spanish-English translation.

You can register for this webinar here.

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...