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May 17, 2011

Bridging the divide; poverty and middle class link at river front

Since March of this year, a community of squatters has been setting up houses in an area where the government is building a bridge that will span the Lake Independence area to Belama Phase Two.  The police soon moved in and evicted the squatters but the south side of the Chetumal Bridge is now swelling with more unlawful tenants looking for a free space. The issue of land aside or the lack of it, there is another huge concern looming in the north side community. They fear that they will fall prey to the prevalent crime wave across the bridge.   News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

Forty-one year old Gilberto Carillas is a first-time homeowner.  Alone on his property he is balanced atop a high wooden crossbeam, busy constructing the roof of his plywood address.  Like others in this area the former canero turned butcher is squatting on government property.

Gilberto Carillas, Squatter

“I get this land more than two years ago.  Well I just come and I see like how all them people build their houses and that’s why I started to build my one.  Well the problem is [that] I don’t want to continue with the rent right.  I have my son to send to college this year and I try to save that money eena fu he college right.”

The parcel Carillas is occupying is situated along Fabers Road Extension, a stretch that is being built to connect the north and south sides of Belize City near mile three along the Belize River.  More importantly the artery will drastically reduce the commute for motorists accessing both Northern and Western highways.

Irvin Nicholas

Irvin Nicholas, Resident of Belama Phase 2

“It is a blessing for me because I have a son that lives at four and a half miles on the Western Road and to go to him I’ll just cross the bridge and reach there.  Now I’d have to go way around and go that way right.  If I’m visiting my next son that lives in Port Loyola I would zip over and I go.”

Despite the relative ease of access residents of Belama, particularly those who live on Chetumal Street are already complaining.  They are concerned that the issues currently plaguing communities across the river will find their way over to their neighborhood along with the new bridge.

Emmanuel Ampomah, Resident of Belama Phase 2

“To me it’s good and later on too it’s bad for the neighborhood in this area because if they put this bridge at this junction it’s better to get the police booth from over there and bring it to this junction because all of the Mahogany [Street] boys will be starting to steal from people.  They will jump up to come to this area or come and disturb people here.”

At the heart of the problem is a socioeconomic divide.  On one side of the bridge is a residential area developed and inhabited primarily by the city’s upper middle class.  On the other is Gungulung, a scattering of low income houses built by squatters.

Emmanuel Ampomah

“All what I need is a piece of land.  If they come and tell me like how I have to move this well I don’t know, maybe they could help me to move this too because I done spend lot of job [money].  You know it’s hard to, like how I buy this, it’s hard right now to get that money to build something but I try to do my best because like how I told you I don’t want to pay more rent.”

This vicinity has been designated for commercial development by government.  On March thirty-first, the unlawful tenants here were up in arms when they were evicted off land they had illegally surveyed and settled.  The police were called in and mayhem subsequently ensued.

Felipe Martinez, Evicted from Home (File: March 31st, 2011)

They call us squatters and soh and we just try to use a piece of land that we find up that is government land. We tried to use the land, but find out the land to make us go to the government and try to apply to survey because we willing to get wah lee piece of land fi we Belizean pikney because they di grow up.”

Since then the Ministry of Works has forged ahead with the project.  The quarter mile tract has been bulldozed, cleared and dumped.  But regardless of those developments squatters continue to claim individual plots.  A quick glance around shows signs and other markers indicating ownership.

For Alma Valle, who will find herself living at the foot of the bridge upon its completion, the outcome of the project will be bittersweet.

Alma Valle, Resident of Belama Phase 2

Alma Valle

“Actually [in] past years we had some thieves coming from the bridge side and getting into the houses and stuff.  So that was why we were thinking that this wasn’t a good idea but eventually what happened is that when you look at it it’s something like a development for the country noh.”

The paving of Fabers Road Extension and the construction of the Chetumal Street Bridge is still in the works and it remains to be seen whether government will act on squatters who continue to defy its orders by settling in the area. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

Construction on the road leading to the bridge began in March of this year and the project is expected to be completed by early 2012.

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9 Responses for “Bridging the divide; poverty and middle class link at river front”

  1. Middle Class says:

    Forget about this bridge which is a good idea-UDP is not only Pro Poor-it is anti middle class-where is their help-they pay taxes and on time, they provide jobs, they pay trade licenses, consume more gas, pay more gst income tax etc-do they have to commit crimes as well to get a break or incentive? Slowly we are noting that UDP is anti Spanish

  2. BZNinCALI says:

    Emmanuel, which of one your relatives from Mahogany St. is breaking into your neighbors homes in Belama & selling their ill gotten goods to the other neighbors? Stop stereotyping your country men.

    We can walk from one end of Belize City to another in less than two hours & as long as we focus on geography without addressing what ails us as a country, we will remain at each others throats. Instead of allowing squatters to build substandard tinder boxes, If there is a Planning Department, implement the plan you have. Piss people off & not allow what will become a main drag to become a hole people fear they will never come out of if they dare to venture in. Building affordable homes for the working poor & lower middle class is not too much to ask & a much easier way for one neighborhood to merger with another without the social upheaval that comes with allowing people to squat & build whatever they want, wherever they want.

  3. rod says:

    get the squatters out come on gov. do unu job fu once damm this tha one useless gov.

  4. Sugar says:

    Mr Belama phase 2….”cow no business ina harse gallup” leave the belizeans to fight and struggle for a piece of land. Maybe U can go back to your country of origin and fight for your piece of land there.

  5. Belize says:

    Everyone have the right for a piece of land. Discrimination is so high in this country thats why all this killing is happening. Northside and southside thing needs to stop. Who is supplying the Youths of our country with the guns. The same city’s upper middle class people from across the bridge. ……………..

  6. Ocaso says:

    This type of situation only serves to underscore the entrenched and growing inequality in this country. In the first place, if the squatters absolutely must be moved then they should be compensated with cash or land – not penalised for trying to make a better life for themselves and their children.

    To the residents across the bridge who fear a crime wave I say this to you: look at the deeper issue; until the societal ills of poverty, nepotism, unemployment and discrimination are seriously dealt with, it will be only a matter of time before crime creeps into your little corner of the Jewel, bridge or no bridge. Ask the Mennonites or the people from San Pedro or Belmopan. My point is that just like the irritating smoke affecting us, the problem will only be solved when the flames are quenched at their source.

  7. Grant says:

    Sugar, there are very few countries where citizens are ‘entitled’ to a piece of land. You buy it, or rent.

    Squatting is stealing, which seems to be OK in Belize, from top man to bottom.

  8. Ricky Malthus says:

    What I see is fear on all sides. The solution is an economic one just as the problem is an economic one. But I cannot tell you how to solve it because your government, the Chamber of Commerce, and certain media stalwarts have already engaged and adopted the recommendations of the Galen and Crooks reports as asanine and inane as they are. So stew in your fat of ignorance and immaturity.

  9. Kay says:

    Nice really nice…now if only the criminals would stay on their side of the bridge we would all be one happy bunch! When the officials wanted this bridge their excuse was EASY ACCESS whose “easy access” were they thinking??? The Commuter’s or the Criminals??? This bridge is like opening a hole in the cement wall of one’s home so that the rats can get in much easier.

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