Headline — 10 June 2014 — by Kareem Clarke
GOB unpopularity fuels support for BGYEA rally

Citizens of all hues filled Battlefield Park to show support for “Rod of Correction”

Friends, supporters and concerned citizens from all walks of life and all corners of the country came out and gathered at the historic Battlefield Park today to show support for the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) and take a stand against an array of perceived corrupt practices being perpetrated by the present UDP administration. Included among them were supporters of the umbrella organization ROC, the “Rod of Correction” – a new entity formed to “lash” Prime Minister Dean Barrow’s uncaring administration.

Revolutionary messages, which carried themes of solidarity and persistence, echoed from the rostrum as several invited guest speakers, including union leaders and activists, stressed the need for good governance, equality and a desperate need for the abolishment of corruption by the country’s political officials.

Amandala was on the frontline, and we spoke to several of the speakers who, although they represent a diversity of interests and national issues that are presently on the front burner, all share a similar concern: that the current United Democratic Party (UDP) administration is not working in the best interest of the country, particularly in the area of accountability and transparency – the buzz words of the platform on which the current government was initially elected back in 2008.

BGYEA president, Nigel Petillo, was satisfied with the turnout and described it as a historic day. He said, “Today is a historic day. The unified message is about development. Different issues are being represented by different individuals and organizations to get their voices heard. It [is] not just a BGYEA issue or about planting corn or the buffer; it’s about getting the attention of our representatives and sending that one unified message that we have you working for us and when you don’t, this is the result: We will gather, demonstrate and have rallies, but we’re hoping that GOB [the Government of Belize] sits down with us and discusses all the issues that we are protesting against. The plan from here on as [Rod of Correction] ROC is to address issues as they come. I cannot complain about the turnout; people took their time out to be here and we are represented by different sectors of the community, because it is not just an individual fight.”

He refuted allegations that the Harmonyville issue is strictly a BGYEA concern, and maintained that it is not about any individual, but about the development of that entire community.

He also reminded the press that the present situation they are in, was preceded by constant efforts on their part (BGYEA) to dialogue with GOB to get their attention on the issues they are faced with at Harmonyville, but they were repeatedly told that they were “on their own” over and over.

Petillo maintained that the buffer is part of the 1,322 acres of land that they got from GOB; however, GOB is trying to make it seem that the issue is over a different piece of land.

Luke Palacio, the National President of the Belize National Teachers Union (BNTU), told us about the origin of the new movement known as the “Rod of Correction (ROC)”, and why it is important for Belizeans to come together and stand up against corruption.

“This is the beginning”, he stated, “The ROC is an organization that grew out [of] a meeting last Thursday at the BNTU office, and we believe that the showing today is in order. BGYEA organized it, and we as the BNTU, have said that we will be addressing national issues. We have been able to point out the injustice that has been done to BGYEA by the government because buildings and fences go all the way to the highway in the area where BGYEA wants to plant, and they [GOB] don’t consider those areas a buffer zone, so we need to stand up for Belize and today we are standing up not only for BGYEA, but for the future of this country, and unless we the Belizean people decide that we are going to do something about what is wrong and all the injustices that are happening, then we will lose our country sooner rather than later.”

As to the next step for ROC, he stated, “We will have to sit down now and discuss because when we conceived the idea, we had a concept of what it is that the national issues are; the issue now is how we flesh out and get the details as to how we are going to address those, so you will be seeing more of ROC; there will be subsequent meetings, and we will keep you up to date.”

Vice President of the Pharmacists’ Association of Belize, Marisol Melhado, and others from the association, also came out to show their support, and said it is important to show solidarity because they were also there when the Rod of Correction (ROC) was formed.

“We had been in touch with the NTUCB from the start; it wasn’t our first meeting with them; we had already been strategizing with them from way before. As long as we are able to come out and show solidarity on national issues, then we will do so”, she stated.

When we spoke to Christina Coc, of the Maya Leaders Alliance, she complained about the illegal logging being carried out in the Toledo District, which continues unabated.

She mentioned, “The illegal logging of rosewood is continuing at the hands of people that we don’t even know. When our alcaldes try to bring these activities to a stop, officials from the Forest Department and BDF intervene and take away the evidence. We are autonomous people, we manage our land, but because of the government’s interference, they have no recourse for those logs; they can’t even come back and tell us what is happening.”

Wil Maheia has also been advocating against illegal logging in Toledo for some time and said that he was satisfied with the show of support.

He said, “I think it’s time for Belizeans to unite and stand with each other, so I want to congratulate the founders of the Rod of Correction for bringing those groups together so that we fight for a common cause. Supporting BGYEA is a great idea for us to show unity because we are being taken advantage of and abused. The crowd is satisfactory to me, and we think this is the beginning of something big. Belizeans are intimidated because government uses intimidation tactics to scare us, but we have to get rid of that mentality and stand up for our rights.”

Guillermo Marroquin, the president of the Valley of Peace Farmers Association, brought out approximately 150 people, and spoke of how important it was for them to come and be a part of the rally.

“We are just trying to make a point that we are here together along with BGYEA and everybody else because we are the voices of Belize”, he told us.

The Valley of Peace farmers are currently in negotiations with Green Tropics in order to get compensation for a substantive amount of their crop that was destroyed by crop dusting, but noted that the company wants to pressure them to agree to an unfavorable agreement which will not work out in their favor.

Despite the assertion that the farmers are squatting on Green Tropics’ land, Marroquin declared that they are not, and don’t plan to come off the land, especially since they have been toiling on that land for over 20 years.

Giovanni Brackett, of the Citizens Organized for Liberty through Action (COLA), questioned the GOB’s motives.

“We have lands on which immigrants are illegally farming, but when legitimate citizens want to plant on a piece of land, Government comes down on them like all hell is breaking loose. They put an injunction on BGYEA for planting corn, so we are out here because the government of the day is sending the wrong message, telling Belizeans that they [GOB] don’t do anything when immigrants plant, but when we want to plant, we get hammered from our own government officials. So then, who is the government representing – us or foreign interests?”

Dylan Reneau, of the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB), and one of the founders of ROC, told us, “There’s been a history of political abuse in this country and certainly it has impacted the various issues, such as land rights, morality and health, so we will take our collective voices to address them, but there needs to be all like-minded people with hands on deck to achieve what we need to achieve.”

At its height, the crowd numbered in the vicinity of 350 people and according to the members of ROC, there are plans to conduct similar rallies in the near future.

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