BGYEA held a demonstration in the City of Belmopan today. President of the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association; Nigel Petillo led the crowd around the ring road this morning by singing his version of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song. The group of approximately 100, followed behind carrying flags of Belize, and placards, chanting “Land for the needy and not for the greedy” After having gone around the ring road the crowd gathered at the foot of the National Assembly for a short rally. Plus news spoke with President of the organization; Nigel Petillo who told us more.
Nigel Petillo – BGYEA:
Why we are out here today, is that we’re hoping out Government hear us. We’re hoping that the people of this country hear us. For decades now, both Governments have been mismanaging our resources, not only the Lands Department, there’s corruption all around the beard. The people of this country have a roll to pay. The Demonstration is not just directed at the Government, this Demonstration is directed at you, the citizens, you the past generation, and the future generation.
We’ve been around the country at different communities, different media stations, creating an awareness, that not only you di go through it, not only you frustrated at the way things di go on the Lands Department, not only you see the corruption what take place there, all of us. So here’s the reason we need to come together. So today, we have representatives from different communities throughout this country, representing here, bringing their story.
the man who has organized an initiative to clean Belize’s Western border; Wil Maheia was also present and he says that he’s in full support of BGYEA.
I’m supporting BGYEA and all other civil organizations that fighting for the rights of Belizeans. As Belizeans we have a duty to look out for each other, and it is every Belizeans right to own a piece of land. We should not have to belong to a political party, or know a Minister, or know somebody in Government, before you can get a piece of land. Every Belizean is entitled to a piece of land, and that’s basically what we’re fighting for. Tjis is the kind of action we need, so that people could get serious in Government, and really deal with the land issues for the Belizean people.
Activists such as Geovanni Brackett, President of Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA) joined in on the cause. Brackett says that COLA stands against the Governments practice of taking Belizeans through a tireless process for a parcel of land.
Geovanni Brackett – President COLA:
It’s unfortunate when Belizeans, poor Belizeans, and probably in the words of the Minister “not ordinary people”, abnormal people so to speak, can’t get a decent land for a decent Belizean price. When Ministers can sell to their relatives, and use the slant, the popular political theme “I make no apologies,” they can sell to their relatives for a dollar and fifty cents and so forth per acre, while we the grass-roots people have to pay a thousand dollars per acre. That is not only inhumane, it is injustice. It is unjust. That is what COLA is completely against. We completely reject the whole notion from the Government, to put BGYEA and Harmonyville and people of this country through a ridiculous, tireless process.
Dangriga’s Mayor; Mayor Gilbert Swaso spoke with Plus news and he says that protocols at the Lands Department need to be revisited.
Mayor Gilbert Swaso
I firmly believe that the issue of lands is a critical issue. I am here representing the Council and the residents of Dangriga because we too, like BGYEA who we are in solidarity with, have issues thet have impacted us, as it related specifically to land. We must do things with protocol. We must do things with procedure. If only a few will benefit, then I believe that is not the way to go. So we stand in solidarity with BGYEA, because the land issue is something that needs to be regularized throughout the entire country, and it is also relevant to the respective municipalities.
Swaso was not the only one to come up from the South. Resident of Mango Creek; Emilio Zabaneh says that he stands in solidarity with BGYEA as he himself has been given the run around by Lands.
Emilio Zabaneh – Resident of Mango Creek:
The whole country seems to be going through the same problem with the Lands Department. I stand in solidarity with poor people, regular grass-roots people, who demand accountability and transparency from the government, especially inside the Lands Department. I’ve experienced the frustration myself at the Lands Department. I don’t think the system was designed to work the was it’s being run. So, that’s why I’m here supporting BGYEA and all the grass-roots Belizeans.
while several persons came out and showed their support for the organization; one can say that this morning’s turnout was not overwhelming. BGYEA has a following of at least 1000 persons and today’s showing was not even one tenth of that total. We asked Petillo if he was pleased with the numbers. Here’s what he had to say.
Nigel Petillo – President BGYEA:
I tell you man, at least one thousand Belizeans get one land from we. A thousand Belizeans at least should be here. That give me the opportunity to say again, this is all part off the dependency and separatist regime. Belizeans have been threatened that if you come out here, you’ll get victimized. That’s not the first time we know Belizeans fear to participate in certain things, because the lee small job what they got, the lee small income they have, could be taken away. We know of cases where this Government give you land, the next one take it away from you. We know that people scared to be out here. So the numbers, that no issue to we, [but] to the Government. They are the one that act blind as if there are only a few people. Oh only those people have issues with lands. They know it’s not the way it goes. Today we made the bold step to say we are start to demonstrate, So this is just one event of many series of events to come.
Geovanni Brackett and Wil Maheia also commented on today’s crowd. Brackett says, he believes the next march needs to take place at the Lands Department if the Government takes today’s one lightly.
Giovani Brackett – President of COLA:
From COLA perspective, if BGYEA is ready, and I thing they are, the next march will be through the Ministry of Natural Resources. You can quote me on the record for that, because when they stop listening and turn a deaf ear, then that’s when we need to stop talk and to go to direct action. I mean, we need to carry the march through the ministry of Natural resources, until they get the sense.
The protest culminated shortly after 1pm this afternoon.
Numerous supporters of today’s protest shared their stories of being treated unfairly when it comes to land. Today’s demonstration by BGYEA was prompted by frustration which they say was being fuelled by the Lands Department’s inability to facilitate members of the organization with their land titles. Mayor Gilbert Swaso shared his story with us.
Mayor Gilbert Swaso:
There are several, but I can mention a specific case. There is one land in particular that is within the 66 feet off the North Stann Creek River. Thst land has now been transferred to a private individual. That same particular land was a park, for and on behalf of the residents of Dangriga, and this Ministry, the Ministry of Lands, has taken that land, transfer it to a private owner, That’s a bad president.
Mayor Swaso related another story to us, where another parcel of land which had been previously designated for a park is being subdivided into lots by the Lands Department Branch Office.
Mayor Gilbert Swaso:
Similarly, there is another plot of land that was reserved to be parks and playground. That land at this present moment is now being sub-divided by the same Ministry of Lands, through the Stann Creek District Lands Committee. They have opted to divide that same land, without any due respect or regard the Council, nor the people of Dangriga, to give out to their own UDP operative.
Mayor Swaso was not the only one with land concerns today. Plus news spoke with a resident of Independence; Mr. Angel Sho who says that his lease of 16yrs for 30 acres of land has been cancelled.
Angel Sho – Resident of Independence:
When I gone and try pay fi me lease, they tell me that for me the lands closed down. That’s the year the UDP gone in. So I went to Mr Hulse. Mr Hulse never want to listen to me, and told me to go pay, he say nobody cancel it. I gone. Nobody want accept it. They tell me that it closed. If I want it, I have to apply for it. I gone to Marsh. The same thing Marsh tell me. He say just go pay. But the people that they are in the office, they don’t want to accept it.
According to Sho he was never given a reason why his lease was cancelled and the Department of Lands has stopped accepting his payment for some eight years.
Angel Sho – Resident of Independence:
[I have] 30 acres of land. I have about 13 acres of oranges cultivated. I am shipping dat di factory. We have coconut wha I di sell wholesale and everything, cane, pineapples, everything. I am still working [the land]. I said regardless of what they do, if they want to give me back, they give me. If not, well when I dead I will not clear the land. I will leave it. I just di work it like that now. One of the things that I see that I really need papers for it, because my son then tell me better look after it. I never questioned [why they cancel the lease]. All the lady tell me, she said Mr Sho your lease cancelled. if you want it back, you have to make one application and apply for it back again. I have paid my payment for the lease. [I don’t continue to pay it, as] they don’t want accept it from then. From since then, they no accept it no more. So I stop. That’s about eight or nine years now, so I no pay again, because I just leave it, until I hear about this land business, then I start and think about it.
Sho says that when he heard about today’s protest by BGYEA, he saw it as an opportunity to come and stand in solidarity with the organization and voice his story.
Angel Sho – Resident of Independence:
That is what my plan is, to get the property now. That is my intention. But if I can’t get it, well maybe I will just have to loss it. I see some surveyors and they went there. They put them pegs, and they leave that aside. So nobody tell me nothing again. I have me next neighbour, Clatilda Sho, I think he have the same problem. So I don’t know what he’s doing about it. I just mad about it and I just leave it, up to this date now.
We will be telling you about another land situation that’s developing in Blackman Eddy in tomorrow’s newscast.