BIG FALLS, Toledo, Wed. June 3, 2015–About 150 villagers of Big Falls, a village of about 3,000 residents, met in their village on Sunday, May 31, pledging to “overthrow” the alcalde of their village, Regino Hernandez, over a series of allegations which have been lodged with the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA).
Lindley Ramclam, the chairman of the village, told us that he has no issues with the alcalde, whose purpose, he said, is to maintain law and order in the community according to the traditional system, while the village council, which Ramclam leads, is tasked with looking after community development.
PGTV shared a video clip of the meeting with us, in which villagers are alleging that the village council had received $20,000 from Central Government but has not properly accounted for how the money was used. Also, a woman complained that the alcalde doubled her fine when she challenged him about why he was charging her $30, allegedly for telling a lie.
The TAA, which has received a slew of written complaints, has consequently triggered a process of investigation which will ultimately reveal whether the complaints against Hernandez bear enough substance to prompt them to seek his removal. However, we were advised by Pablo Mis, representative of the Maya Leaders Alliance, an affiliate of the TAA, that the process is quite involved and the ultimate removal can only happen after a properly convened meeting at which the villagers themselves would vote on whether they want Hernandez to be removed as alcalde.
We spoke with Hernandez, the alcalde, about the allegations against him, and he said that they are false. He told us that the complaints against him started coming to the fore only within recent weeks.
The alcalde told us that a restaurant and bar owner in the village who has been insisting on opening his establishment beyond midnight, the time approved on his license, has been stirring up people in the village who have also been fined by the alcalde, in an attempt to have him removed.
According to Hernandez, the establishment is located near a nightclub which has a license permitting it to open until 2:00 a.m., and the owner of the nightclub has protested against the owner of the restaurant and bar, with whom the alcalde said he has had to speak on several occasions.
Hernandez, who served as second alcalde before he became first alcalde three months ago, said that some villagers whom he has fined have been accusing him of being “chancey…”
He said that ironically, one of the persons who has accused him had brought several people to his court for infractions such as breaking bottles and disrespecting the bar owner, and they were fined. The fine, he said, for such infractions ranges from $20 to $50 for an infraction. When we asked him what is done with the funds, he told us it is held by the alcalde for use in the village. All fines should be documented in the alcalde’s logbook.
When the TAA met yesterday, they were expecting Hernandez to bring in his alcalde logbook, which would document details of cases he has had with villagers, including those who have accused him and persons said to be “rogue law enforcement officers” of abusing their power by levying bogus charges against them “to silence them.”
While we were told that Hernandez was instructed via letter to submit his alcalde logbook at yesterday’s TAA meeting, Hernandez claimed, when we spoke to him today, that he was not invited to the meeting, so he did not go.
Mis said that apart from reviewing the alcalde’s logbook, the TAA executive would also give the alcalde an opportunity to verbally answer to the allegations, and they may also visit the village to speak with residents about the issues and complaints raised.
“If a community strongly says that the alcalde is not capable of carrying out his responsibilities or if his behavior flies in the face of their expectation for the office of alcalde, the village may say, ‘We need to change him,’” explained Mis, but he said that such removal would need be done properly through a public meeting.
“There are some serious allegations and people in law enforcement are also implicated in the process,” said Mis, adding that some of the disputed cases, for criminal offenses, are currently before the PG Magistrate’s Court.
We understand that some complainants have retained their own attorney to challenge what they claim is an abuse of power and authority by the alcalde, who is also a special constable. There are also uniformed police officers in the village who are assigned to help maintain law and order.
Lindley Ramclam, chairman of Big Falls Village, thinks that the protests calling for the removal of the alcalde, and calling out the village council for the use of $20,000 which was received from Central Government, are being engineered because the village leaders went out publicly to Battlefield Park, when the Caribbean Court of Justice heard the Maya land rights claim in April, to say that they want individual titles and that they do not support communal land ownership.
Ramclam said that on April 22, they led a delegation from Big Falls to protest at the Supreme Court, and he thinks that what has been unfolding over the past two weeks is linked to that protest.
“We know somebody is fueling the situation right now,” he told us.
Hernandez, the alcalde, said that he has checked with the district magistrate and with personnel from the Rural Development ministry and was told that the TAA cannot remove him. He said that an alcalde can be removed if they have committed a serious crime, such as killing or stealing.
We asked Hernandez if he plans to seek an audience with the TAA, and he told us that he will wait until after their community meeting on Sunday.
According to Ramclam, chairman of the village, they are expected to meet at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday, June 7, 2015, at the Big Falls Community Center.
The main topic, he said, will be the issues raised about the alcalde. They will also discuss village council achievements and individual land titles. He told us that most villagers in Big Falls already have their papers, but some villagers have no land documents.
According to Mis, the final outcome of the TAA’s investigation would be reported to the Ministry of Rural Development.
Ernest Banner, Coordinator of Rural Development, told Amandala that he has asked the rural development officer in the district to meet with the persons in question. He said that they plan to document and investigate the complaints, and they do plan on meeting with the Toledo Alcaldes Association, as well as the alcalde and other concerned parties as a part of those investigations.