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Mar 23, 2011

Disharmony in Harmonyville; residents meet at police station

Representatives of the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association and squatters from Harmonyville descended on the capital today. The discord between them has been brewing for some time over who gets to own property at the new community at Mile forty one on the western highway. Today, it went up a few notches when they went to a meeting with the Minister of Natural Resources in the capital. It follows Tuesday’s detention of activist Nigel Petillo by the Belmopan police when he went to make a complaint.  The squatters have also complained that BGYEA representatives have destroyed the crops and property they have invested in. The two groups got testy even though this morning’s meeting was quick and produced results. News Five’s Marion Ali was in Belmopan and filed this report.

Marion Ali, Reporting

The meeting among the Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega, representatives of the Belize Grass Roots Youth Empowerment Association, BGYEA, and former police sergeant, Erwin Munoz representing the squatters at Harmonyville was not the only event of the day.  The squatters were present in full force, camping out under a tent outside of the Ministry of Natural Resources’ building.

Some of BGYEA’s representatives gathered on the steps of the building while three others went into the meeting.  It lasted for less than an hour, but by the time it was over, the squatters had already made their way over to the Belmopan Police Station where BGYEA member, David Barnett, was filing a report against one of them who he alleges had threatened him on a previous occasion.

Police officers were dispatched to the location where the crowd was previously seated and they escorted this man, a squatter, to the station to deal the matter.  After about an hour the complainant and accused came walked out.  Barnett said that the complaint followed the alleged incident on March third.

David Barnett

David Barnett, Member, BGYEA

“He was digging a hole. I told him that he was digging the hoe lint he wrong spot—even if the land was his—cause he was digging the host outside of the pillar and he was suppose to dig inside. So the guys flipped the script on me; he was talking English first, he filled the script and said that he only talk Spanish. Immediately Mister Vanzie started to talk to him in Spanish and explain to him the procedure of getting land in Harmonyville.—that this area yah done surveyed, we done issue out is area already and it is impossible for you to get it. For one you have no house here, you have no evidence that you were here. A week after, after this he came out with a machete at me and he said in Spanish that waving his machete that he would chop me or something to that effect.”

Barnett said he didn’t proceed with any charges against the squatter but simply asked the police to explain to him that BGYEA has been given approval to carry on with surveying the area, even if it means going through crops or farms that the squatters have already invested in.

Gaspar Vega

As for the real meat of the matter, the status at Harmonyville, the Minister obliged us an interview and share the government’s perspective on the situation.

Gaspar Vega, Minister of Natural Resources

“The people that already had investment on the land; let’s say farming, we gonna ensure that if they suppose to get a lot or two, they get it in that area that they made a development. Those people that came afterwards and also have made a development, we’re gonna make sure that they keep those lots, but it was clear that everybody was suppose to get one acre. And the rest of people that will be getting lots, new owners, we gonna raffle them.”

Nigel Petillo

But the idea of a raffle is not a good one for the distribution of the land in BGYEA’s view.

Nigel Petillo, President, BGYEA

“From the initial stages, last year February when we went out there, we went right away and start identifying land. If you were interested in this piece of land, alright make it available, start cleaning the land, start investing your money on the land, start fencing, start planting. So I explained to the media, we already know our people who are in place, who are investing on those land; likewise, we know those who have been settling as well at Harmonyville. Ministry of natural Resources along with members of BYGEA recorded not only by names, but by GPS reading of the twenty two homes that were out there present at the time. From then, we have done our own research and find out that there were another fifteen farmers who were farming independently out there apart from those who had homes out there.  The Minister wants us to draft up a barrel system where you just put in all the names and you just barrel them out and we are saying that that won’t work. The same concern have been passed by the other people on the other side who are saying that they have their settlements already and they don’t want to see that raffling out their name, Jules end up with mi house and mi plant and whatever they have done.”

Gaspar Vega

“The government is gonna be assisting or subsidizing fifty percent of the survey so that we can get it done quickly which amounts to two hundred dollars per lot.”

Nigel Petillo

“The question of the four hundred dollars, the people who paid in full already, we want to address that Sunday at our meeting. I am inviting the media to come out because there is a lot of other things at Harmonyville that needs to be done. So I want to ask the committee how do we deal with this. Do you want back all your money or we do it together as a committee, put that up in an account for you and whenever we need to address water, roads, buffers and whatnot maybe we could deduct it as we go. That’s something we can try out. That’s me speaking independently—I am not talking for BYGEA, I am not talking for the boys, it’s just an idea and hopefully Sunday when we dash it out, we have better ideas and suggest and opinions and we move together as a community.”

Erwin Munoz

The representative for the squatters, Erwin Munoz did not give any on camera comments and after a back and forth between him and BGYEA representatives at the police station, BGYEA executives decided that since they have found him to be acting in bad faith and because he also owns property elsewhere, they will ask the rest of the membership at their public meeting this Sunday whether they should remove him from the list of applicants at Harmonyville.  Munoz, who has admitted that he too is squatting on land at Harmonyville, could not be reached thereafter for comment.  But BGYEA President, Nigel Petillo, spared no words.

Nigel Petillo

“Mister Munoz was a member of BGYEA all the while. He have a piece of land there that he already identified for himself where BYGEA concern is ok. And to find out today that he is working against this movement, I think there is something serious that we need to look into that.”

While Munoz was not available for comment, this Mayan woman originally from Punta Gorda who is also a squatter, was willing to tell us that she supports BGYEA’s initiative.  Graciana Choc says she ended up at the location after failed efforts to get land at other places in the country.  But the recent conflict between the two sides is discomforting for her.

Graciana Choc, Squatter, Harmonyville

Graciana Choc

“I hear that long, long time deh start to fight. But how I notice, Mister Petillo he never tek the land with nobody, he just demand that he needed for them to pay. That dah when the police man and Mister Petillo they reach dah mi house and they tell me that if we could pay that alright, but we couldn’t pay we have to move all ah we. So that’s why I noh wah move back mommy. I noh got wah good house, I got wah simply house. But my land first until I could see what I can do with my house. So that’s why I mi gone pay.”

While it is the view of many of the parties involved that the conflict between BGYEA members and the squatters is the result of political influence, Minister Vega doesn’t agree.

Gaspar Vega

“All I would want is for this to be finished and for us to go through the process without any hard feelings because at the end of the day, all these people will have to live together and we noh want this crowd noh like dah crowd. We want everybody to be able to live in harmony.”

The two sides met this afternoon with Lands Commissioner, Wilbert Vallegas, to go over in detail the issues brought up with the Minister in this morning’s meeting.  Marion Ali for News Five.

Another public meeting by BGYEA is planned for this Sunday at Harmonyville.

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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22 Responses for “Disharmony in Harmonyville; residents meet at police station”

  1. BZNinCALI says:

    Mr. Vega, there are already hard feelings. Too many people want something for nothing & if we allow the loudest & most threatening to bully their way in, what we will have is an enclave with the potential to be lawless because they have learned that laws/rules only apply to the meek.

    It would be interesting to find out of Mr. Munoz rented his other properties & moved unto this site to establish squatters rights because he believed he would not be challenged. If that’s the case, it is greed pure & simple. Is it possible he has made arrangements with some of these people to share title after it is issued by the Government? Something smells,

    As much as I appreciate what Mr. Petillo is doing, I still question why anyone is giving property to people who cannot pay $400.00 to get the land surveyed & title transferred. Where will they get the money to develop their piece of paradise?. Nigel, the escrow account is a good idea, refunds should only go to the folks who are automatically disqualified for some reason like they already own Real Estate.

  2. Disgusted! says:

    Whethr what I say is misinterpreted or offensive to anyone who reads these blogs is far from the fact of the reality that something needs to be done about this situation before it eventually escalates to slaughter and bloodshed! The people who developed this place and settled there should not be subjected to the bullying of Nigel Petillo and his conniving thugs. Ms Graciana Choc confirmed my accusations when she said that she was approached by “Petillo and the police” and threatened that she will be banished from the land if she couldn’t pay. My God…… these b@$%ards have no compunction at all. It’s obvious this woman is dirt poor and only want a piece of property to live a simple life before she dies and leave it behind. Again I ask, why are these people given the power to do ministerial work. What is the real agenda behind this whole circus. I maintain what I said yesterday with apologies to NO-ONE!!!!!!!

  3. mylegacyb4mypeople says:

    If people here cannot see that this whole mess is caused by the government then I hold my peace on this government loves to see their people fight with each other so they can remain divided they do not want this Harmonyville thing to succeed as a matter of fact they don’t want harmony with the people period, imagine Miss Choc coming all the way from PG because she was unable to get land there, I think that it should be mandated that all Belizeans should own a piece of land there is more than enough land for that to happen but no, the government don’t want that they want to use the land as a carrot on a stick to buy the people’s vote and that applies to both political parties. Remember, My Legacy B 4 My People.

  4. Janet says:

    Ms. Graciana Choc is a born Belizean she is entitled to a piece of land – I believe that all the other squatters who are not Belizeans they should be given only an acre of land as was stated. Looking at it if they are not Belizeans they are entitled to nil – zero. They should be thankful. One of the immigrant stated that he had cut 8 acres of land and that is what he wants – what the hell is wrong with him most of us “Born Belizeans” cannot even get a house lot to live on. DISGUSTED: If you want to sympathize with these people why don’t you give them a piece of your land if you have any. I believe noone will have the power to remove them and you will be happy.

  5. E says:

    First of all Nigel Petillo is not bullying anyone, he is just trying to do the right thing in accommodating people to be able to have land. There’s nothing wrong in what he is trying to do. Squatters are just people who are feisty enough to just go and settle into Government’s land without proper acquisition rights. Mr. Petillo is even doing them a favor of just asking them to pay up the money for the survey just like everybody else so that the land can at least be under their name. If you go there and ask those people to show proof of proper documentation for those lands, they have nothing not even a lease. These squatters should be happy that at least they would own an acre of land in their name through BGYEA. Some of them are even undocumented themselves, which in that doesn’t give us the right to subject them to mistreatment which so far no one is discriminating them but they are too feisty you just can’t go to another country which is not yours and claim land for yourself without the proper procedure. As we have all stated before that whatever work has been done in those land by the squatters that they should be compensated for their service in them. That’s the way the law works.


    This whole thing has turned into a big freak show. Nigel was preaching all over the place for Belizean and their birth rights “TO OWN A PIECE OF LAND”. The disharmony here is that Nigel doesn’t seem capable or smart enough to define a Belizean when he sees one. How can he claim to be fighting for poor Belizean when he is busy deciding who is a Belizean and who is not. That entire system seems to be sustained by corruption and greed.
    Unless he meant Belizean defined by Creole descendants only, cause it seem this whole Nigel clan is consisted of the “CREOLES” of Belize.

  7. Disgusted! says:

    Why don’t you K!$$ My @$$ JANET! I

  8. Elgin Martinez says:

    Erwin Munoz is a double agent look out Nigel.

  9. Storm says:

    To “Disgusted”:

    Firstly, Mr. Petillo and his organisation aren’t “thugs”; to call them that when they are doing what they have been legally enabled to do in regard to that parcel of land is, in and of itself, contributing to the creation of unnecessary tension in regard to this situation and that is something that should not be tolerated by any fair-minded individual concerned about this situation and the implications it could have for the future usage of land in Belize.

    And secondly, Ms. Choc’s situation demonstrates why people, in the future, *need* to follow the laws that exist in regard to land usage and why an investigation into the background of these people are necessary, as the circumstances involving the origin of these squatters are not clear. So, to generally repeat the point that I made yesterday: if it’s discovered, from whatever investigation that may take place, that there are people squatting there who are illegally in Belize, then, those who are must be removed from the premises and must be dealt with in legally correct manner, and, as for the rest that are Belizean citizens, then, maybe the current government can arbitrarily impose a solution that would resolve their issues in a manner that is amicable, although, the imposition of such a solution and the way it could be imposed could involve some anguish for them.

  10. Janet says:

    Disgusted: If I honour your request will I be granted a piece of land? Step up.

  11. Lucas says:

    If you have a small leak in your roof and not take quick action, sooner rather than later, water will be pouring ina your house. If the issue at Disharmoniville had been delt with when it first surfaced as a potential problem, we would not have this headache now. Problems are delt with before they get out of hand. The same thing happened with Santa Rosa, Barrio San Juda and the illegal Guatemalan Settlement at Grano de Oro in the vicinity of Millionario just to name a few.
    Now; If I have not made it clear, let it be now. I do not care a bit if my Belizean Maya Brother wants to live under a cohune tree in the jungles of Toledo but, ANY OTHE BELIZEAN FROM ANY OTHER PART OF BELIZE, SHOULD AND MUST HAVE THE RIGHT TO PITCH HIS TEND UNDER THE COHUNE TREE NEXT TO MY MAYA BROTHER AND HAVE THE RIGHT TO EAT AS MUCH COHUNE FRUITS AS HE WANTS WITHOUT FIRST HAVING TO GET PERMISSION FROM SAID MAYA BROTHER. This Belizean Maya sister as any other Belizean also have the same rights and I request, expect and demand that her rights be respected and if not, the Mayan Community are in order to make an uproar and would have my full support. HAVING SAID ALL THESE, I HOPE AND PRAY THAT THE SITUATION OF OUR MAYA SISTER AT HARMONIVILLE BE AN EYE OPENER TO THE MAYAN COMMUNITY. EL RESPETO AL DERECHO AJENO ES LA PAZ (Don Benito Juarez).

  12. B groovy says:

    ????? why don’t Petillo and the leaders of the other squatters meet together with the proper gov.authority to air their differences…..personally I think politicians r exploiting the situation…Illigal alien are not one colour, right Mr Petillo…….

  13. superman says:

    Hey, wait a minute!!! I want a piece of land too!!!!!!!
    Dean B.

  14. Disgusted! says:

    Point taken STORM: And like I said yesterday, I am defending the legal Belizeans who took the incentive to toil when the land was swamp and mangroves and developed it to settle there when no-one else thought to do so. Again, I am not condoning nor suggesting that illegal squatters are entitled to any perks and preferences. Pleeeeeze understand my point. I am defending the poor Legal Belizeans.

  15. Sandra Kolly says:

    i would like to let them know that who all are applying for land out there, must be aware that if you already have land you will not be granted land for the last say is at the lands department, as soon as they punch in your social security number that will let them know how much property you have an these people are not saying it an i know of people that have already pay an was never notify, that is one that i know they are mis-leading the people. some people really need a piece of land an some have too many an they just get to sell which is sad. so people out there open ur eyes.

  16. fureal says:

    Let me put my two cents in the activities that are happening at Harmonyville. I am a Belizean that never did support the move at that place. It is important that people’s fundamental rights are protected no matter. Why is it that someone has the ability or financial backing to own properties in this country is penalized for that? By allowing people like Nigel Petillo and his crowd to walk in and come strong what is not theirs. This could happen to anyone; the minute a few Nut Head think that you don’t need your land will come in and claim your land. Cho, that is WRONG and ILLEGAL. Noone can’t claim squatters right without being on the property for over 12yrs. The situation there is cause by this GOB for entertaining those people so deal with it the best way you could but not at the scarifice of tax payers money.

  17. corf says:

    I don’t see what the big deal is. People have been squatting in Belize from the beginning of time and its a damn shame that that is the only other way to acquire a piece of land if you are not Mrs This and Mr that. Even for the illegal immigrants that will squat, eventually they settle and have kids in Belize which means it is the right of the child to be the deed owner of that piece of land. Like I said yesterday, when these lands were nothing but bush and swamp,no one was interested in it these people put their hard work in it now all of a sudden because the work is done (free labor) ,they trying to take it away. My lazy @$$ Belizeans get on my nerves. They want everything ready made for them placed in a gift box wrapped in ribbons.@ Disgusted..I totally agree buddy!

  18. Storm says:

    To “fureal”:

    Mr. Petillo and his organisation aren’t “nut heads” and didn’t come that parcel of land and “strong what is not theirs”, They only went there after the government granted them the right to develop that parcel of land, so, instead of blaming these people for doing what they were legally enabled to do, blame the government for creating this unfortunate situation in the first place. Also, If you were to ask me what can we learn from all of this beyond the fact that people must follow the laws that exist in regard to land usage in the future, I would say that a serious land reform programme must be carried out in order to permanently resolve this problem.

    To “corf”:

    The “big deal” here is that there are squatters on what is, essentially-speaking, a parcel of land that has been given to an organisation for developmental purposes by the government. Thus, in order to resolve this situation, the government, as I have said before, must:

    1.) do an investigation into the backgrounds of these people;
    2.) remove those who are illegally present in Belize from the premises;
    3.) find an amicable solution for those who are squatting and are Belizean citizens by way of an arbitrary solution.

    I believe that this is the only way to prevent the further degeneration of this situation into something that can be used by demagogues who do not mean well for Belize to create even more unnecessary discontent at a time wherein the general situation of the country isn’t all that great already. And, as to your point about squatting and its role in Belizean history, I understand that. However, if Belize is to become a country that is highly developed, then issue of squatting and its relevance to land usage is one important factor that must be dealt with by the government in an appropriate manner, because, if this continues to be tolerated, then, what’s going to happen if, for instance, somebody wanted to build a factory in some part of the country and if they were given the land by the government to fulfill this goal of theirs? They might end up running into problems with that parcel of land because there are people who are squatting on it and are doing whatever it is they want to do and that might drive that person away from using that property, potentially costing thousands of Belizeans a another way to make ends meet and to lift themselves up to a level sustenance that many are envious of those in the industrialised countries for.

  19. FYI says:

    people like disgusting ‘disgusted’ are the type of people that want to move this country backwards. This thing has nothing to do with racism. Do you realize that 50 % of the members of BGYEA are of Mestizo and Mayan decent? and the rest are a mixture of all the other ethnic groups…so before you open your big mouth next time know the facts don’t guess or ASSume. This is a BELIZEAN THING and all the BELIZEANS who are squatting out there are entitled to a one acre plot just like every other Belizean. fair is fair!!!!! I am certain from the way you speak you have never even been out there to see what is taking place thats why u talk lone foolishness…or u mussy done have a lot of land thats y u dont care about the ‘have nots’ … i am so glad that your idiotic opinion doesn’t count so all you can do is keep on hating…if u feel like it makes you a better person. The good thing is that no one gives a $hit about your opinion ….. GREAT JOB BGYEA >>>>POWER TO THE PEOPLE ALWAYS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  20. FYI says:

    Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope…build(ing) a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
    Robert F. Kennedy

  21. Hopeful says:

    I am a 32 yrs old woman – Belizean, with a little educated and with NO land. I have been denied land many times – reason being there is no land. And, when I heard of BGYEA – my hopes soar. I can guarantee you this – there are very, very poor people involued in this movement. I personally know of one. He said from the beginning, “I no hav money fu pay $400.” He is now one of the proud owners of a an acre. How he paid? He worked hard at making baskets, and when he got $5 or $10 he went to pay his survey money. If that is not called dedication and ambitioin, then I don’t know what is. Yes, he has a hold bunch of receipts but he now can enjoy the fruits of his labour.
    I admire that man! And we, you and I should follow his example.
    And, I believe we as Belizean should stand together. Be trendsetters. And, if you have a better idea than your neighbour, then share it. Hopefully, that one idea will make Belize a better place!

  22. louisville,ky says:

    It is unfortunate as it is disheartening to see some in this forum use the situation at Harmonyville as racial football. No one should be allowed to squat on any property in the hopes of taking might and make right, least of all someone that is living illegally in the country.
    The government needs to stop playing politics and find an amicable solution to this problem before it escalates to bloodshed. I don’t think the man on the street have to remind them of what could happen when land disputes are not settled speedily.
    Again let me applaud and support what Nigel and BGYEA have undertaken as all the people in authority at lands department do,is play games. From the Minister all the way down.
    Big up BGYEA!!!!!……LEAD on…..Nigel.

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