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Jan 4, 2018

Chairman Backtracks on Land Grant in Unitedville

Michael Juan, chairman of Unitedville Village in the Cayo District, is in a pickle tonight. One of his villagers has complained that his land appears to be unfairly being taken away from him and squatted on while he is in the process of securing it at the Lands Department. Omar Cruz was surprised to find during the Christmas holiday period that someone had erected a structure on the property and cleared and sprayed it without his knowledge, much less his permission. Juan has promised to fix it, but how quickly? News Five’s Aaron Humes traveled west to find out.

 

Aaron Humes, Reporting

Unitedville is a small enough village that its chairman, Mike Juan, can leave on business to Orange Walk and be safe in knowing that no one will break into his residence through these wide-open gates. But it is not small enough that he will be able to avoid the creeping distrust that residents like Omar Cruz are expressing in his handling of land grants. Cruz says the chairman allowed someone – he doesn’t know whom – to build on land he says Juan knows Cruz has interest in, then denied it.

 

Omar Cruz

Omar Cruz, Land Owner

“I asked him if he knew about my land. He said, ‘No, I don’t know anything about your land.’ I told him that the neighbor that is beside my land there told me that you were there when they were building up the structure. I went to him and I approached him and told him, ‘They say you were the one that told them to go ahead; I even heard that you sold them the land, and the person told me that you tell them that I, [Mike Juan], was the one that sold them the land. [He said,] I have no transaction with that.”

 

While Juan was out of the village today, we did speak to him by telephone. He made no comment on the specific allegations but did ask for another date to issue a response face-to-face. But according to Cruz, who has documentation in at the Lands Department for the property, Juan already knows he made an error. He admitted as much to the former village chairman and a Justice of the Peace, Kent Gabourel, who told us that the chairman is one of a few officials who must approve land requests – once the groundwork has been done.

 

Kent Gabourel

Kent Gabourel, Former Unitedville Chairman/Justice of the Peace

“Over the Christmas holiday, Mr. Cruz called and told me that somebody is building on his property at the back there. But after that the chairman called me too, because me and the Chairman have a good relationship and he always tries to keep me informed of what is happening. He said that he made a mistake and the person is on the wrong property. So he will deal with it so that Mr. Cruz can get back his property.  The Chairman would know who the property belongs to; he would do his research and see if the land is a free land to lease and he would give you a recommendation along with the area rep or the person who is in charge of the district, because basically sometimes you wouldn’t use the area rep, you use the caretaker of the area and they would give the recommendation. First you do the groundwork and if the property is free then the chairman has the right to [recommend.]”

 

In the case of Unitedville, those persons would be Juan, the P.U.P.’s Julius Espat and the U.D.P.’s Ralph Huang. But in any event, the three lots side-by-side along a newly opened road near the village cemetery are still Government property. The area had been surveyed at least a decade ago but the completed plans were not passed on due to the surveyor’s death. The Lands Department has requested villagers to conduct a new survey of the property to speed the process along. Cruz is hoping to retain this piece of the village for his children’s future.

 

Omar Cruz

“I want him to tell whosoever is on the land, or building on the land to get the structure off. I don’t want any more problems; I am living here peacefully and I don’t want to get upset.”

 

And with reports of more grievances, the showdown in Unitedville over this most precious natural resource will continue, hopefully without unnecessary conflict.

 

Omar Cruz

“There are more complaints about him doing that, the Chairman; there’s a lot of complaints that he’s taking away people’s land.”

 

Kent Gabourel

“We all know land is a very delicate thing and we know what land could cause, so for me I would rather it happen in a peaceful manner that Mr. Cruz would get back his property and if he speaks with the Chairman, he should work along with them.”

 

Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.

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