For several weeks now a group of residents in the west Lake Independence division, in the vicinity of the Chetumal Street/Lake Independence Boulevard project, has been in battle with private landowners who claim title to tracts of property in the area. Already several families have been relocated to the village of Cotton Tree in Cayo District and others are being offered their own leased properties as soon as they have been identified. But a few are still clinging on, saying their ties to the area run deeper than simple occupation. Their homesteads represent years of hard work, sweat and occasional tears and cannot be given up that easily. Today squatter resident Bernarda Rivera hosted reporters in the area and shared why they continue to fight on.
“Not that this is looking so beautiful, the Minister wants to take our land away and issue it to his people, to his cronies, to his relatives, to his employees. These are the people that he wants to issue it out to. Of course, he wants to give it out to the rich people because they will be able to put up mansions, put up big houses. We are poor. We have little now but we can have a lot much more in the future with the assistance of our Government. Just as much as they help everybody else, they can help us. It has been a struggle, it has been a very hard struggle for us. Parents, children families together, it’s a lot. A lot more to just squatting.”
The squatters we spoke to say they no longer trust area representative and Minister of State Mark King. Rivera accuses him of deliberately withholding the map of the area authenticated by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Lands Department, as part of his plan to replace the squatters with his own supporters.
What we did, we got our information together and as we went along, we discovered that since October 2014, 2-3 months after the map was authenticated, he personally took applications to lands department for his people, for his cronies. So actually he is applying for our land in other people’s name. So what is his plan? This is what is his plan. His plan is for the people to sit on this land. He has said it over the news, sixty Plus families have to move but we were not really registering what he was trying to say. He is trying to say that he will not move us. He will not, because he had issued out our land to other people. So who will come and move us? The new owners with the titles. That’s why he has us sitting here relaxing meanwhile Belmopan do their work, he has us sitting here. So that two days from now, a year from now, three years from now … that’s why he asked us for two years time. He knows that Lands department will not bring them out like that. he ased us for time. The Minister have been buying time by lying to us, by betraying us, by fooling us. But he can’t fool us anymore.”
Another squatter, Patricia Lopez, shared her plea not to be relocated. .
“If he knew he would take us out of the place, why did he bring dirt for us to work? We back dirt with shovel buckets and filling land. Now he sees the place looking good, why didn’t they come when this place looked like the bush behind use here? everything was like that. Now he sees that everything is clear, everything is clean and now he is finding us to take us out. I don’t think it is right for him to take us out. We have suffered a lot. All of us back here. We are just asking him to please, we don’t want them to relocate us, we don’t want them to take us out from here because this is all that we have for now.”
Rivera says the squatters’ group has obtained legal representation and is seeking an injunction to stop any relocations or sales of land in the area. In a release issued earlier this week from Minister of State King’s office, the Minister repeats the official zero tolerance position of the Lands Department and Government of Belize for squatting and promises that, quote, “These Belizeans will be given land elsewhere under the Lake I Land Amnesty Program to ensure that they own a piece of the Jewel. The application process is underway to find land to assist these residents to a safe haven as was done in the Cotton Tree cases.” The release reiterates that those officially without land in the division must apply through the Minister’s constituency office for access, assuring that “What we have indicated will eventually happen.” But the squatters we spoke with today, who showed us their identification papers labeling them as Belizeans, say they have been pushed around at both the Minister’s office and Lands Department office in Belmopan and will seek another way to protect what they say is theirs.