BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 14, 2015–The ongoing infrastructural development that has been occurring on the fringes of the Lake Independence area known as “Gungulung” near Holy Emmanuel Street Extension has led to the displacement of multiple families of squatters who had been residing on lands which turned out to be owned either privately or by the state.
We were told that about 60 families have either already been, or stand to be, affected, and while 11 of those families were relocated a month ago by Lake Independence area representative, Hon. Mark King, there are several others who live under the threat of being displaced from the homes that they built from scratch.
One of those squatters went to the media on Tuesday to complain that based on their research at the Lands Department, King has allegedly recommended land leases for his employees and close friends for the same parcels that have been partially developed by the squatters.
According to Bernarda Riviera, King has not given any recommendations for land in the area based on the premise that an authenticated survey of the said lands has not yet been completed.
She said, “Many people go to his office…He says to us ‘I cannot do anything, because I don’t have the map.’ He cannot issue a recommendation letter because he don’t have the numbers. He cannot give us any kind of comfort because there is huge development going on and his words are that the Government of Belize will not allow him to issue the land, until the buildings are completed, because they need to do the development first.
“But what happen is that we went to Belmopan and we got a copy of the map. This map has been authenticated from July 2014. [Now], you are telling me that all this while, this map has not been authenticated? That this map does not exist? So what have you been telling me all this while? You have been lying to me. You have been lying to your people. You have been lying to the whole community saying it is not ready, when you were fully aware that this map is ready and that this map exists.”
Riviera further explained, “What we did, we got our information together and as we went along, we discovered that since October 2014, 2-3 months after the map was authenticated, he personally took applications to Lands Department for his people, for his cronies. So actually he is applying for our land in other people’s name. So what is his plan? This is what is his plan. His plan is for the people to sit on this land. He will not move us. He will not because he had issued out our land to other people. So who will come and move us? The new owners with the titles? The Minister has been buying time by lying to us, by betraying us, by fooling us. But he can’t fool us anymore.”
For his part, King has maintained that the lands in that area are all privately owned, and that there was no land available in the area, so the squatters need to get used to the idea that they will have to move.
King, who is incidentally the Minister of State in the Ministry of Human Development, earlier this week issued a press release in which he referred to efforts at alleviating the squatting situation in Lake Independence.
He said that so far, 10 families behind the project line have been relocated, 8 of them to Cotton Tree Village in the Cayo District.
The release reiterated that “squatters must prepare to be relocated as the Government, through the Lands Department maintains a zero tolerance policy for squatting.”
However, King added that these Belizeans will be given land elsewhere under what he calls the Lake I Land Amnesty Program.
He promised to continue with the program until everyone in the constituency has received a piece of land.
In the release, he asked everyone without a piece of land to go to his constituency office and apply to start the process.
In an interview with the media yesterday, Wednesday, King asserted that presently, he cannot give any land in that area because the map is just being finalized, but when that process is concluded, he will make lands available for his “people in Lake-I”, and not Riviera and her colleagues, whom he described as “PUP operatives.”
The squatters, who maintained that it is not about politics, have since called on Prime Minister Dean Barrow to intervene and find a solution to their predicament, and today, when he was pressed about the matter by reporters, Barrow declared that he was not aware of the particulars of the situation, but promised to look into it.