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Dec 16, 2008

Battlefield Park trees “limbed” for vendors, homeless relocation

Story PictureThe historic Battlefield Park has been a meeting place since 1638 and it is where Labour Activist Antonio Soberanis and several political parties gathered in the heart of downtown Belize City when the labour movement was fighting for employment for workers in the 1934 and 1935. Over the years the Battlefield Park has continued to hold a place of importance in the life of the city. But today, if you are a city resident, you would have noticed that the greenery has disappeared and that the park is bare. The age old trees were traditionally dressed up for Christmas to brighten the city and the park was the venue for the city’s Christmas Tree. This year there will also be no Christmas tree and instead the City is constructing stalls for street vendors. News Five’s Jose Sanchez asked Belize City Councillor, Wayne Usher, why the council was cutting down those trees.

Wayne Usher, Belize City Councillor
“We are cooperating with the Ministry of Works who is doing the main thoroughfare, Albert and Regent. As you know, it has been bantered about in the press and other quarters for a while; the paving of Albert and Regent but for us to do that, we have to relocate the people who do commercial work on the sidewalks and the taxi drivers themselves. So we stared with those on the sidewalks and we have to relocate those vendors elsewhere.”

Jose Sanchez
“That’s because parking will be only one side?”

Wayne Usher
“No, no, no; it’s to make sure that the space is cleared for the hot tar to be rolled out. In the interim, we are moving the vendors as a start and they have to have somewhere in this vicinity, they prefer, to be removed to.”

Jose Sanchez
“Will this be a permanent move or temporary?”

Wayne Usher
“Absolutely not permanent; it’s a temporary thing. If you noticed, in the background you’ll see some wooden structures. The fact that they are wooden like that shows that they are not permanent. A temporary move off the sidewalks into the park so they can continue their commercial activity, earn money, especially at this time of year and clear the sidewalk so the work can continue.”

Jose Sanchez
“I noticed that you cut down the old historic trees?”

Wayne Usher
“Well, I want to clarify that a bit. If you notice, the trunks of the trees are still standing. We haven’t cut down, per se, we have limbed the trees. We need to get that right.”

Jose Sanchez
“But no leaves are there, why is that done?”

Wayne Usher
“Because of public health concerns the bird droppings would then get in the food prepared by the vendors. They sell mostly food stuff. From a public health stand point, you cannot have both together; the environment has to be conducive to selling food and if we put them in the park temporarily or for one hour, you can have bird droppings in their food so we had to trim the trees, we haven’t cut down any trees.”

Though Councillor Usher took care of the problem with the pigeons, Battlefield Park is also a place where many of Belize City’s homeless sleep. Because they would also be displaced by the vendors, the Belize City council says they have a plan to relocate the homeless.

Jose Sanchez
“Do you expect the vendors to sell with the other smells in the park?”

Wayne Usher, Belize City Councillor
“Good question; the answer is that we’ve had a meeting yesterday with all the stakeholders. We’ve been trying to deal with this homeless situation for over six months now. We had an emergency session yesterday because we have to move forward with our plans and after all the discussion I am happy to say that we had a break through yesterday. The homeless will be invited to go over to Gann’s Rest House on the canal side. The Salvation Army and ourselves have worked hard at it and have what we call a soft opening of Gann’s Rest House, not a real official opening. But they will welcome and accommodate those people who hang out here in the park over at Gann’s Rest House and at that rest house we will provide food, clothing, shelter, a bath and entertainment for those who stay in the park. We this morning we started an information campaign with all of those people in the park. We’ve had them psychiatrically evaluated; we had a psychiatric nurse. So we are doing all of this with due process.”


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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