Over 22 families met at the village community center in Valley of Peace today. The meeting was arranged by a village councilor and the chairman of the village lots committee to address some of the land issues the residents have been dealing with in that community. The current land dispute is over some 100 acres of land in block 19 in the area of Young Gial where over 20 families say they have been farming since 2004. They say that they applied for the land at the Ministry of Natural Resources Lands Department and were told they would have given each Campesino 15 acres. However, according to the families, they have now learned that the one hundred plus acres they have been working, have since been sold right from under them. WE spoke to President of the Valley of Peace Maya armers Group, BArtolo Cruz.
Mr Bartolo Cruz, President, VOP Maya Farmers: Today, we had a very important meeting it was held to discuss our farmers and our community concerns including the land that has been taken from the people from the outside. We as a Maya Community are very strong and united and we will not be tolerating these kinds of nasty works that are being done by lands. So we’ll be asking the Land’s Department to take a look at it and maybe try to help us because these poor people, they deserve the land you know and we will not allow somebody else to come from outside and take the land from us because we work very very hard to clean these lands.
Fem Cruz, Reporter: Mister Cruz so you’re telling us that there are farmers here that actually work the land for over 15 to 16 years and there land have been taken away.
Mr Bartolo Cruz, President, VOP Maya Farmers: Right that is true. At first these lands were Jungles, they had to fall down these big trees with axes, at those times they didn’t have any chainsaw you know it was very hard so we deserve the land.
Fem Cruz, Reporter: So this meeting will try to help you guys move forward.
Mr Bartolo Cruz, President, VOP Maya Farmers: Right.
The Village Councillor, Mario Lopez, says the woman who purchased the property got it without consultation with the council.
Mario Lopez, Valley of Peace Village Councilor: I am here today in this meeting in support with the Maya Group, and not just with them but also all the farmers in the Valley of Peace that are experiencing the same problem. One of the problems that we are having is that companies from outside Belize are coming in and buying the land, but they do not go through the process of approaching the Village Council or the Land’s Committee, they go directly into the Land’s Department, they pay and suddenly they have a title and the people that maybe had a lease had it canceled. They have been working for many years, from since the valley of Peace has been established and now they are losing their farms. For example we had the case with mister Sebastian Ical where he has been working for 18 years, recently on Monday a police officer showed up to his farm, throw away his pesticides, broke his pump, and you know these are injustices that we are facing in this village and we are tired of going through all of that.
Fem Cruz, Reporter: So they are moving him from the farm?
Mario Lopez, Valley of Peace Village Councilor: That is what they’re trying to do but it will not be easy. We are very united, we are strong and we are determined in this cause.
The Valley of Peace Maya Farmers Group says that they depend on the land for their day to day survival . That group is comprised of about 50 Maya members who say they followed the process afforded by law which is through the village council and the lands committee. They have worked the land on the recommendation of the Ministry of Lands and their leaders. They have visited the Lands Department 20 to 50 times over the years to regularize the status of their land . However, they say the Lands Department turned them around year after year and then eventually gave someone outside of the community permission to survey and purchase a parcel of land that the community members were farming to feed their families. One of the members of that group is Pablo Shack.
Pablo Shak, Valley of Peace Farmer: Well we are one of the farmers and my name is Pablo Shak and we are going forward and we are working hard on this farm and we are not going to leave ourselves. We are working hard to find our solution and that is everything that we are fighting for. We don’t like this corruption, we don’t like this government is doing to us. We are working hard and we are working strong and we want to get our solution so I want our Prime Minister Mr Dean Barrow to look on this problem that is happening, and that is what I’ve got to say.
We will have more on this story in Monday’s newscast.