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Sep 5, 2014

Stann Creek Residents Protest House Meeting Over Land Issues

While things inside the House of Representatives were relatively tame today, comparatively speaking, there was a very vocal protest outside the House. About one hundred villagers travelled a long way from the southern communities of Silk Grass and Santa Cruz to draw attention to issues affecting them. The numbers were small but their voices were loud. The issue which brought them to Belmopan this morning is land. Our news team took a break from the House proceedings to hear their story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

These villagers from the small communities of Santa Cruz and Silk Grass are trying to get the attention of their leaders in government. Each community has different concerns over one most precious commodity…land. In Santa Cruz, where there is a duly elected Village Council, residents are concerned about a surveyor who has shown up and is surveying lands allocated for public use, supposedly on instructions from the Ministry of Natural Resources.

 

Rodwell Ferguson, Area Representative, Stann Creek West

Rodwell Ferguson

“The Commissioner told us that he will suspend the survey. So when they went back to the community, they say the surveyor again. So they tell the surveyor, we just came from the commissioner and we heard this thing has been suspended. He said he got no directive from the commissioner, so he continued. Anyway, the following day, the commissioner called him and asked him to seize and desist from surveying. But lo and behold, we thought everything was finished when one week after, the caretaker, Melvin Hulse went on Plus TV and said that he will pursue with the survey at a certain portion of the green area and the purpose of the survey is to provide a lot for a fire station and a lot for a library and three parcels that will be sold commercially. Under our village council act, each village has a right to constitute itself into a lots committee and forward to the Minister for approval. No lot in any community should be issued without the consent of an elected Village Council.”

 

The villagers are awaiting the intervention of the Commissioner while the survey continues. In Silk Grass the issue is more critical. Just before elections one hundred and sixty one lots were leased to residents. Government changed, and since then those residents have allegedly been unable to make payment on those parcels because they are told they weren’t registered.

 

Rodwell Ferguson

“From 2007 until now, they keep going back and forth to the lands department to try and pay their rent because they want to build their houses. But now they are more critical because coming January of next year, their leases are going to be expired so they are fearful that if their leases are expired, then they will not be able to lease or it will be given to somebody else. If you interview the chairman of Silk Grass, he will tell you right now, there are people who are living in this site who have title to those same lots who are not the original lease holder. But if the lands department does not have anything in the system, how come a given individual can go and get a title on a particular piece of lot in that particular portion of land.”

 

Solomon Andrews, Chairman of Silk Grass

Solomon Andrews

“The people try to go in and pay the leases and they can’t pay the leases. In 2008, we had some lots that were distributed, over a hundred and sixty lots. When the people go in to pay for the land, they can’t pay. And if you can count from 2008 to 2014, the grace period is near; it’s five months away to let the lease get expired. And so that is a concern for my villagers them that their land could get canceled because they can’t go in and pay for their leases.”

 

According to Ferguson, the Commissioner has assured him that the matter has been resolved, but there is still no visible sign of any resolution. The people are afraid that they will lose their parcels of land.

 

Claudia Salinas, Resident of Silk Grass

“I am one of them that have the land. I only make the foundation, but I can’t continue because they say they wah take the land from we because we noh di pay. But we want go pay, but the land noh register in the system. More than ten times, from 2008 and we done deh 2014 and they noh do nothing to try help wi.”

 

Solomon Andrews

“I think they should listen to the people because these people are legal, the land get surveyed legal and they have the documents and I think they should listen to the people of Belize. I think they should.”

 

Claudia Salinas,

Claudia Salinas

“Mr. Melvin Hulse seh who blue dehn noh wah register and dah about one hundred and sixty lands weh deh back dehand lotta people di build dehn house, but some, we stop because dehn say dehn wah take it away from we.”

 

Mike Rudon

“So you start build yo foundation and then yo stop…”

 

Claudia Salinas

“I noh continue yet because dehn say they wah take it from we. And then dehn di wait fi make the lease expire and then dehn wah try give it to somebody else.”

 

There are other concerns from residents. In Santa Cruz, a community of more than one thousand residents, there is no school. Children have to travel miles on the road to surrounding communities and it is dangerous. Today the voices of these villagers from both communities were heard. Only time will tell if anybody really listened. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

The matter was brought up in the House today following the protest. Senior UDP Minister Michael Finnegan stood to point out that UDP caretaker Melvin Hulse does not run the government, and they will look at the situation and take whatever steps that are necessary. 

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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