General — 20 June 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Green Tropics pitches $500,000 proposal to break stalemate with Valley of Peace farmers

Lawyers for Green Tropics told Amandala this evening that they have formally pitched a proposal to the group of 33 farmers living in the Valley of Peace area who they last week served with eviction notices, ordering them to vacate the premises by Tuesday, July 15, 2014.

Both sides have, in fact, threatened to launch lawsuits – the company, in an apparent bid to effect the eviction notices, should the farmers resist being removed; and the farmers, to fight eviction and also to seek damages against the company for cabbage losses after a contractor of the company allegedly sprayed their farms with Round-up, causing substantial crop losses.

Andrew Marshalleck, SC, is the lawyer for the farmers, and he told us today that the proposal from Green Tropics, which he declined to disclose, will be considered, because they are trying to find a workable solution that is fair to both sides.

Marshalleck said that the June 9, 2014, letter claiming to be the final eviction notice is actually the first notice that they are aware of.

“It’s a bold negotiating ploy. That’s what it is!” he said.

Emil Arguelles, Esq., and his brother – Mikhail, both attorneys for Green Tropics, agreed to our request for an interview on Tuesday.

They indicated to us that talks have been ongoing between the company and the farmers for more than a year and a half, but talks recently broke down when the farmers could not reach an accord with the company over some negotiating points.

They said that the parties had agreed, in principle, that the farmers would be allowed to stay on the property – but only if they agreed to relocate to one side of the main canal which runs through the farmed area. The company has indicated that it needs to have full access to the canal to water its sugar cane plantation, which is now being planted in the hope that milling could commence next year, 2015.

A compensation package of $2,000 in cash for each farmer was proposed, along with a communal deed to the Valley of Peace Association for 150 acres. However, the farmers – who are claiming squatter’s rights on the basis of occupation since the 1980s – are contending that the acreage they now occupy is 180 acres.

However, the attorneys for Green Tropics note that some of the persons in question could not have been there for as many as 30 years, as they have claimed, because many of them are much younger and some are believed to be in their early 20s.

The farmers had also asked the company to supply seeds and fertilizers – a request to which the company says it cannot accede.

Marshalleck told us that police had served eviction letters on the farmers, but the company has still not asserted which part of their land these people are occupying – if indeed they are.

“There is a chance it is not even on Green Tropics’ land,” Marshalleck told us.

He added that, “[The farmers] have been there so long that Green Tropics can’t really do anything about it at this stage.”

The attorney told us that when Green Tropics bought the property from an Ashcroft company, they were already aware that the farmers were there.

Marshalleck told us that he has put the lawyers for the company on notice that if they do file a claim against the farmers, the farmers will also file a claim against the company, because the limitation period of 12 years for them to have been evicted “has long passed.”

Marshalleck, who described the current dispute as “a potentially explosive situation,” told us that he was retained by Cayo South area representative for the Opposition People’s United Party, Julius Espat, who said at last Friday’s House sitting that, “the farmers are fighting a fight similar to David fighting Goliath.”

Espat noted that the farmers of the Valley of Peace Association supply vegetables to Belize City, Belmopan and San Ignacio.

Minister of Natural Resources and Agriculture Gaspar Vega announced at that House meeting that his CEO, Jose Alpuche, would be meeting the following Monday with the parties, in an effort to reach an amicable settlement.

Following that meeting on Monday, the Ministry issued a statement announcing that the Vice Chairman of the Valley of Peace Farmers Association had announced at the meeting that they would not continue the negotiations and that Green Tropics will have to talk to their lawyer, Marshalleck.

“The Ministry regrets this turn of events, but fully recognizes that it is an option the parties could take,” it concluded.

It explained that several points of agreement were identified but three outstanding issues were identified for further negotiations. A site visit, which was to be conducted on Monday, had to be abandoned due to bad road conditions.

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