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Nov 6, 2014

The Split at Caye Caulker Under Dispute

Caye Caulker is an island fast realizing its tourism potential, second only to the larger San Pedro but growing. Perhaps the main attraction for tourists on the island is an area known as the split, a natural division caused by Hurricane Hattie in 1961 and enhanced by dredging. It’s officially listed as Emerald Point, and this amazing piece of Belizean natural beauty is actually owned by an American, Dan Nichols. There is a bar and recreation area on Nichols’ land at the split which is rented by a Belizean, Immer Perez, and operated as the Lazy Lizard. And that’s where today’s story starts. Perez is being evicted by foreigners who claim that the property has been sold to them, but he contends that it hasn’t been sold, and his contract is valid until 2018. It’s become nasty, and the establishment has been closed down since November first. Mike Rudon headed to the split this morning and has the story.

 

Mike Rudon, Reporting

Since land issues are by nature complicated, we’ll try keeping this simple. This is the area under contention – the Lazy Lizard operated at the split and the land surrounding it. Immer Perez is the proprietor, and has been since 2008, on a contractual rental basis. His contract was recently renewed in 2013.

 

Immer Perez, Owner, Lazy Lizard

Immer Perez

“I have my contract right here with me stating right here when I get the contract – 2013 June first, and 2018, May thirty-first my contract is over.”

 

But owner Dan Nichols told Perez a few months ago that he had sold the Split, and that Perez would have to vacate the premises. Perez says that the property has not been sold, so his contract is being breached.

 

Immer Perez

“It says as well that the property has to be sold for me to get a ninety day notice and the property is not being sold…not being sold because it has a caution on it. The JP knows that what they are doing is wrong because he is the power of attorney for Dan Nichols’ properties here in Caye Caulker, and he should go over the contract and read it carefully.”

 

The JP Perez is referring to is Javier Novelo, who has power of attorney for owner Dan Nichols. On Monday, Novelo and some others who are allegedly the new operators at the Split broke into the Lazy Lizard and removed all Perez’s items from his bar and store-room.

 

Immer Perez

“On Monday, five minutes after twelve midday I was going to Belize City to have a meeting with my lawyer, and I took the twelve o’clock San Pedro Belize Express ferry, and not even five minutes after I took the ferry the JP and these other three guys that you can see on the cameras that I have, came in and broke my locks and took my stuff. You can see the JP just telling them go ahead with his finger, go ahead and break the locks. It’s a shame to say this…you have Belizeans trying to work hard to go up, to live a better life, and then you have foreigners who have just come here like these guys coming, breaking down these locks and saying that they have more balls than we Belizeans…something is wrong with them.”

 

The guy you see here in the surveillance video cutting the locks with a grinder and breaking into the establishment is Peter Schmidt, seen here on this picture. He is being helped by another man identified as Robert Cain. The Justice of the Peace, Javier Novelo, is also caught on video inside the establishment. That matter is in Police hands, since it is breaking and entering and a criminal charge. But let’s get back to the split – where Perez says he has invested nearly two hundred thousand dollars in the past few years.

 

Immer Perez

“This place was in a mess…a mess. The water in front, facing the east side or facing the reef was way up close to the big building. I had to put a seawall and refill it with my savings. I took my savings and I started to fix the place, the property, because every time we had a bad weather coming, a little tropical wave or tropical storm, it would erode more and more. On the east side of the property facing the reef I filled that up and put boulders in front of the sea wall and filled it up with sand. On the west-southwest of the property, I filled that up as well. And that took me two years now.”

 

Perez also built a new bathroom at a cost of twenty-five-thousand as well as a deck around the property where tourists can hang out and sunbathe or, as these locals and foreign visitors are doing, catch some snappers. We got the impression that Perez knows he’ll have to go eventually, but he wants it to be on what he says are fair terms.

 

Immer Perez

“What I want is to get paid for the rest of my contract and for the days that the business is closed, so my lawyer will deal with that for me with them, if they have any lawyer, or with the owner himself. The owner is supposed to be coming this month, I don’t know which date, but he is coming this month. That’s what he told me the other day when I spoke to him and he said he wants to negotiate.”

 

Charles Rubio Jr.

Charles Rubio Jr., Treasurer, Caye Caulker Tour Guide Association

“It is a shame, because I have known Immer for so many years running this place, and he actually saved my son’s life when my son was drowning a year and a half ago. And sometimes I pass here in my boat and he would be dumping loads and loads of sand in this place, putting in infrastructure, making it nice. This place wasn’t like this many years ago.”

 

Miriam Magoon

Miriam Magoon, Hair Braider

“He fill the whole place up, because the place wasn’t really nice for tourists to come lay down on the ground and stuff. He built the seawalls, made it nice and neat for people. He put the foundation so they can lay on and stuff. He is a nice guy, and I don’t want them to take away the split from him at all.”

 

Apart from the illegal breaking and entering, Perez’s liquor license was also revoked, since it is in the name of owner Dan Nichols. So the business is effectively closed, though Perez isn’t going anywhere just yet. Mike Rudon for News Five.

 

On the matter of the entry into Perez’s establishment, we confirmed with Police sources that those persons had no authority to do so and broke the law. Caye Caulker Police are awaiting instructions from the Coastal Executive Officer to arrest and charge those involved. Other than that, the fate of the beautiful piece of property known as the Split on Caye Caulker will be decided by attorneys.

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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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