There is news of a major land dispute involving former CEO in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Agriculture, Beverly Castillo, who has resigned to contest the seat of Belize Rural Central in a convention for the United Democratic Party (UDP).
It is alleged, however, that before she left office in November, the Lands Department canceled the lease of Belizean-American Bernadette Pickwood to Block 16, Parcel 2127 located in Belama Phase 1 at the corner of Albert Hoy Avenue and Chetumal Boulevard, and the land was subsequently transferred into the names of Beverly Castillo’s mother, renowned educator Maud Williams, and her son, Marvin Castillo.
Pickwood was preparing to lay the foundation for her retirement home when she learned of the transfer. The new owners have even gone so far as to prepare to lay concrete over the $30,000 worth of piles Pickwood set down in the property. But Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin has ordered a halt to the work with an injunction granted in court on Monday afternoon. Attorney for the Pickwoods is Audrey Matura-Shepherd.
“When my client found out abut that, she was totally devastated and then she got in touch with me. We have done everything behind the scenes; we are going public because this is the last draw. We’ve written the Ministry of Natural Resources, we have put a caution on it; we have written Ms. Williams and Mr. Castillo to tell them to stop. But as we speak, they are trying to now cast the beams over that pile. In this country, you hold office and the first thing you think of is to trample people, and not only trample them. You take the land and you give it to your own relative because you don’t have shame. I wave for those people because I don’t know how they sleep at night. My client never got any notice; that is an injustice and it’s a pity that we have to end 2013 when such a note and to think that the former CEO intends to be a politician running for office; I just have one thing to tell her: You are starting with the very wrong foot. Reconsider your action and give back my client her land”.
Ms. Pickwood’s brother, Bernard, has expressed his sister’s extreme disappointment, saying that she was very distraught over the turn of events and will fight her hardest to get the land back, because she believes she cannot be compensated.
Ms. Audrey Matura Shepherd
“It’s unfortunate the response we got from the Ministry of Lands. After the first letter we sent was that we can wait until the new year to discuss compensation or a new land, but i think they missed the whole point. This is beyond compensation and new land; this is an abuse of office; this is a conflict of interest; this is a violation of our laws and I wish I can find a provision that makes everything they have done criminal because I would love to see some of them behind bars. They’ve gotten away with it too long. It is at all levels; it is not only the ministers. I have called the lands Commissioner to cease and desist on the action. There is no CEO; he is the acting CEO. I have written him as well and we have copied the Prime Minister’s office into it. I have copied the Attorney General, but I guess they want to end the old year with a bang”.
For their part, the Castillo/Williams family has reserved comment. Reached by the Amandala newspaper, Mrs. Maud Williams asserted that her documents are for title, not lease, but insisted she would not comment further, leaving the matter in the hands of her attorney, whom she declined to name. As for Attorney. Sheppard, she told us what is next.
“We will fight it because it is wrong. I don’t care what they say they have to do. The law is clear. If the Lands Department felt that my client violated any covenant of her lease, the National Lands Act states that one of the first things they had to do was to then send out to my client a notice of their intention to terminate her lease, tell her why and give her reasonable opportunity to go to defend her position. That never happened. The records show that on 1st November, her lease was cancelled and on that same day, it was transferred to Maud Williams and Marvin Castillo Jr. Now, we have tried to go through the process. We know that the Lands Department have issued an urgent call for it to be converted from lease to title, but we will fight it”.
The injunction is for 28 days, to run into January. The original lease was granted in 1991 for a thirty-year period but there are reports that no rent was paid, which the family asserts was cleared up.