Illegal Squatting in Belmopan, creek buffer chopped down

Illegal squatting has intensified in Belmopan within the past few months. One particular Belmopan neighborhood is up in arms as several homes have sprung up within reserved areas near the Mount Pleasant Creek in the Belmopan Heights area . The creek runs behind the last street, Doyle’s Delight street, in East Piccini Extention . Homes in the area are supposed to be protected from potential flood waters by a thick buffer of trees that used to line the creek. However, almost all day within the past couple of months, neighbors can hear trees being cut down and heavy hammering occurring. Plusnews flew its drone over the area to see the extent of the encroachment. To our surprise, most of the southern part of the buffer is gone  and in its place are cleared lands where construction of wooden homes is happening. We also did a walk through of the area, where we came across about 9 houses, some better built than others, but none there for more than four months and most within the last few days. The trees that used to be filled with Howler Monkeys that could be heard by residents of the Doyle’s Delight area, are gone. Garbage and raw sewage are now being discarded in areas where there used to be beautiful fern and fauna.. After Plustv posted pictures of the squatting on social media today, residents expressed outrage and are demanding that authorities do something.

 

The Hispanic squatters we spoke with off camera told us that they received permission from the Belmopan City Council to build their houses in that location but that is highly unlikely. Today, we called the City Administrator and by 4 o’clock this evening,   Area Representative John Saldivar , the Deputy Mayor of Belmopan, the City Administrator, several City Councilors, and the OC of Belmopan police were all out in full force visiting the area and did a thorough walk through. They stopped and talked to the squatters and took down their information. At one point, the squatters encircled the Area Rep, trying to justify their being in the area. However, looking at the map, it was soon confirmed that the entire area cleared and now occupied is in the reserve. City Administrator Ralston Fraser spoke to us on site and told us that as soon as they were made aware of the situation today, they began to act.

Ralston Frazer, City Administrator: Someone earlier this morning brought me some pictures that apparently PlusTV had aired by Facebook or tv or some other means. And when we looked at it, myself and Mayor Belisle immediate move was that this was worse than what the typical person was saying. We went over to RECONDEV, we see them as an experienced institution in these matters so we sought some council from them. Got in tough with the minister as well. Lemme just say where the minister and the mayor is concerned, the geographical location for both their constituency is exactly the same, the city of Belmopan. So we joined together with the police. Our next move will be Immigration and whatever other entity that needs to be a part of this effort. The aim is not to get at who we perceive to be Belizeans or non-Belizeans, that’s not the issue. The issue is that we have gone from far too long in this country, all over the country where the rule of law where acquiring a piece of land in not adhered to. We are determined for that not to get out of control. 

The City Administrator told us that by Monday the squatters will be served with a 14 day eviction notice. He also told us what happens after they get that notice.  

Ralston Frazer, City Administrator: 

You know as I understand it, back then, whenever that refers to, the trees were and in the midst of the trees, and I don’t know that anybody had gone bearing their directions through the trees and so forth, but it was exposed; I think there was an aerial documentation from PlusTV and I think that is when it became very clear that this is something that is not just being discussed, this is for real and so immediate actions had to be taken. In no way am I avoiding your question because I agree, this has been thoroughly surveyed in the beginning, maybe if we were exposed to a drone earlier it would have prompted the authorities to respond earlier. So I give it that. But you know what, then is then, tomorrow is promised to no one and now is now. We are dealing with it now and again I challenge you guys to follow us on it and make sure we follow through.

 

SQUATTING FOOTAGE 2]When the first sounds of constant power saw usage and trees being felled in the area were heard several months ago, the Belmopan City Council was informed. One neighbor explained to us that he personally walked the area with Mayor Belisle and a Department of Forestry personnel several months ago to ask for something to be done about the clearing of the buffer. At that time, there were no homes there as yet. Today, there are about 9 houses and 4 foundations. We asked City Administrator Ralston Fraser why nothing was done from the early stages of clearing the area.
Ralston Frazer, City Administrator: Single highhandedly, I’m not able to say what conclusively will happen, but the course of action I believe should be taken from henceforth, as you said, they’re going to be receiving a letter of notice letting them know, as if though they don’t, letting them know that they are squatting. I think they’re well aware as you would have heard them admit it. All of us face the same peril, we all want a piece of land, we all have the notion that we are Belizean and therefore we are entitled to a piece of Belize, and that’s fair, but there is a way to get it. If those who are serving you is not complying with the way to get it on either side, whether it be the government side or the squatter’s side then the rule of law has to come in and it has to be applied. The first step that is going to be made is going to be that letter served. If they are responsive to that, then fine we have no problem. I do need to bring this to your attention though, what will we do with these people? I don’t think that it is a responsibility of the state to do anything with – and I hate to use the term deal with these people – but we know that people don’t fall out the sky and where they land, they squat, they come from somewhere. So they just need to return to that legal location where they were and make the proper application. In this case, the books tell me that no legal application will suffice for where this is taking place because there’s a national legislation that speaks to that limit where the creek is concerned. And on a social level, this is an area that is highly flooded in rainy season, and guess who they’re going to call when they get flood out? (You guys) Yeah, and that doesn’t make any sense. We’re telling you that this floods, and restricting you from being there isn’t because we don’t want you to have a piece of land, no, but you need to be safe, and if you consider your safety don’t settle there. Workout some other way, legally I hope, to find somewhere else to settle, but this is not the place.

While the eviction notice will be served, residents of Doyle’s Delight Street are banning together to remain vigilant in raising the alarm to try and ward off any more illegal clearing and burning of the buffer by illegal squatters. 

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