Plus TV investigates land disputes in Cotton Tree Village

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Last week a man by the name of Rudolph Tucker, locally known as “Rasta”, reported to the media that he wants justice for the demolishing of his two houses and the removal of his title to a piece of land in the Cotton Tree Village, Cayo District, where he claims he has been living since 1995. The villagers of Cotton Tree have joined their voices with Tucker, saying that some land issues in that community are unjust, unlawful and downright corrupt. They called PlusNews to air their concerns that they say have fallen on deaf ears as, according to those we spoke with, these types of dealings are nothing new in the community.

Emanuel Pech has the story

A group of residents from Cotton Tree village have come to the aid of Rudolph Tucker who says he had title to a piece of land, but on instruction the lands department, his house was demolished . The villagers claim that it is not the first time such an action has been taken and they are now tired of it so they are speaking out.  Ruben Hernandez, a resident of the village, and the one shepherding this movement, took me to the site where the alleged demolition of Tucker’s property took place.

vlcsnap-2013-10-04-08h02m51s66Mamfredo Barra – Resident [paraphreased]

That happened a couple of months ago.  That’s why we came forward to say that enough is enough, and we just need to settle things in the right way, before somebody gets in trouble. 

 

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Ruben Hernendez – Resident [paraphrased]

They broke down three houses before.  Now, when we see the “Rasta” brother, he had this property for many years.  Why this man came from nowhere and broke down the poor man house?  The whole village is vexed.  The man had the title for the place.  We are asking the Government, please do something for this man here.

Now as in most controversies in Belize, politics appears to be involved. It must be noted that the Cotton Tree Village Council is a PUP one. Now according to the council members we spoke with, most of these land issues seem to point back to the UDP candidate who ran but lost to the current PUP chairman. Council members say they want to know who appointed Gabriel (better known as “Daniel”)Castillo as the lots committee of Cotton Tree without the knowledge of the village council.   

vlcsnap-2013-10-04-08h18m48s200Oscar Otero – Village Chairman [translated]

What he does is check for properties in the Lands Department, because there is a corruption there also.  He is checking which lots are without title, and if it already has a title then they put another title on top.  They’re moving titles and selling them.  

 

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Apolonio Rodreguez – Vice-Chairman [translated]

The village elected us to represent them in the Village Council, but our representatives don’t pay attention to what we want for the village.  This is why we’re standing up, trying to do what’s best for the village.

 

vlcsnap-2013-10-04-08h31m26s99Resident:

I don’t know who appoint him to be a Lots Committee member, but he’s representing himself as a Lots Committee Chairman.  We usually form a Lots Committee.  The village never formed a Lots Committee.  He appoint, but we want know who appoint him to be a Lots Committee.  The Chairman doesn’t know anything about it. 

However, as in everything, there are two sides to a story. So we sat down with Gabriel Castillo who told us that the villager councilors have it all wrong.

vlcsnap-2013-10-04-08h34m55s135Gabriel “Daniel” Castillo – Land Broker

Thirty years I have not been working for anybody.  I do my own personal thing to survive in my life.  I do not do things which are illegal, outside of the law.  What I do is consultancy in the Lands Department, meaning that I assist people in getting their purchase price, I assist people in getting their titles, I assist people in getting their leases.  That’s what I do for my living.  I do that honestly, legally, at the Lands Department. 

What exactly transpired with the demolition of Rudolph Tucker’s house? The villagers had told us that Mr Castillo had hired innocent, unsuspecting villagers to do his dirty work which caused them to get in trouble with the law. Gabriel Castillo told us his version of the story.

Gabriel “Daniel” Castillo

I hire these people for clean the land, which is a title land.  This is a title land.  I was given the job to get it clean.  The land was a property land. I have no fear in carrying out the job that I was put to do.  So we broke down [the house].  The following day after breaking down the place, the Police came and they intervene into the situation, and they carry one of the workers to the Police Station.  I was summoned to the Station.  I want to the Station and I showed the title document for the particular piece of land. The guy was released.  That was the end of it there. 

Another issue that the cotton tree people brought up was the parcel of land by the Old Tomorrow road which they suspect is being surveyed to issue to people outside Cotton Tree. They believe that if that is so, it is all Mr Castillo’s doing. However, according to Gabriel Castillo, he is not the one to respond to that since he is only a consultant and has no say for the Lands Department.  

Gabriel “Daniel” Castillo

For me to say anything in regards to that would be wrong on my part.  Even them, they’re wrong in dealing with whatever things they don’t know about.  If we want to discuss anything about lands issue, which has been surveyed by Government or whatever it may be, check with the lands department, not me.  I don’t work at the Lands Department.  I’m just a consultant in dealing with issues with lands and stuff.   

The villagers say they are resolved in getting the attention of the government to address and clarify these issues. For Plus News, I am Emanuel Pech.

The villagers showed us clear signs of land clearings, apart from that of Tucker’s, which included the dismantling of existing structures. But according to Castillo, he has never accepted contracts from the Lands Department where squatters are involved. As for Rudolph Tucker, we tried to get in contact with him, but were unsuccessful.

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