In the past, PlusNews has highlighted Village council land issues in the Ranchito and Xaibe Villages in the Corozal District, as well as in the village of Cotton Tree in the Cayo District. Today we take you south to the Stann Creek district. Santa Cruz village is located right at the roundabout on the southern highway at the junction with the Placencia road. It is a rapidly developing village due to its location; a stone throw away from the South’s largest farm system at Maya King, and it is only a few miles from the Placencia Peninsula. Several large businesses are going up in the area and land prices are beginning to soar.
Last week Sunday, August 10th, surveyors appeared in the Village and, without the knowledge or the support of the village council, began surveying two huge parcels of land in the middle of the community; land community leaders say that is desperately needed for the community’s own development. The lands, according to the cadastral are areas that have been reserved for green spaces and community buildings but the survey is being done to convert the community land into private properties.
We travelled to Santa Cruz and spoke to several villagers who had gathered at the makeshift community center. We spoke first with Vice Chairwoman Hilama Robles.
[Translated] “What we are doing is protecting those areas that they are surveying, so that they do not sell them. Those areas have been reserved to the community for parks and health centers or for a school. It’s for anything that is necessary for the entire village. So we are trying to ensure that it does not happen.”
Louis Wade – PlusTV
“Did the Village Council give permission for the survey of the public lands?”
“No, at no time, not the Council nor the people who live in this village. We are against all of this, because it is an injustice that they want to sell everything.”
The Village Council claims they were not consulted in any way regarding the permission to survey; a decision that requires a permit exclusively from the Ministry of Natural Resources. The council then visited the Ministry of Natural Resources in Belmopan that Wednesday, August 13th, and thought the issue had been resolved.
“On Wednesday, four members of the Village Council went to Belmopan, and to the Lands Department, to speak to the officials about the land. [An official] attended to us. He told us that that was not right, because it was a green area set aside for the public for a park, or some other village area. He said he was going to speak to the surveyors to suspend all activity.”
But 24 hours later, the surveyors and Mr Allan Pandy, who claimed to be an assistant of Caretaker Melvin Hulse, returned to the community and continued their surveying efforts. A confrontation ensued between the Village council and residents on one side and the surveyors and the UDP Caretaker’s assistant on the other.
[Paraphrased] “When Mr Pandy came off the bus, he approached me. He cussed me. He told me to go away. He said a bad word. He said they are the ones who rule here, because they are UDP, and they could do what they feel like with the place.
So I tell him, ‘No obscene language, because we don’t cuss to you, so you’re not supposed to cuss to us. If you come with respect, we will respect you too.’ That is what I told him.”
“Miss Hilma is a part of the Village Council, so she told the person, the surveyor, that she’s part of the Village Council, and he called the Police, and said that that has nothing to do[with it], because they have a black and white paper from Belmopan, that they have to do that, they could do that.”
Santa Cruz Villagers were more than willing to speak to our journalist, as they say that they were also in support of the village council’s decision to develop the green areas for a much needed health center, a school, and a park.
“We asked them why they do that, because it’s part of the green area for Santa Cruz, and we don’t agree with that. They said they would continue. They continued to do it. This is my concern, Santa Cruz Village need that green area because it’s for us. Also, they have another piece by the site of the tower, and they surveyed that. It’s a decision for the villagers that they want it for a school.
[Translated] “Another reason why we are fighting for the area that they are surveying is because the well for the village is there. That is the water that we all drink, and if they sell that land to make more houses, the water can become contaminated. An epidemic can easily spread, and that is what we want to avoid.”
According to village council vice chairperson, Hilma Robles, the surveyors appear intent to continue and complete the survey, because they have been given the all clear by those in power.
[Translated] “When I confronted them on Wednesday, the representative for Mr Hulse, who was placed as Caretaker by the Prime Minister, he told us that they can do whatever they want, because they are the Government.”
PLusNews has every intention to follow up on this story with the Ministry of Natural Resources and will keep you posted.