Features — 13 June 2014 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“There is a code of complacency in our country and we must not fall into it and there is an air of invasion over us and we must repel it and be the victors over the evil and the evildoers.” Audrey Matura-Shepherd June 12, 2014

I felt proud on Saturday June 7, 2014 to stand with my brothers and sisters in Battlefield Park to show that there are still in our midst those not afraid to stand up and not cowered under a rock. It need not be the masses but just a few good men and women, and I am honored to have stood with them. However, what I have found most amazing is how un-enlightened many are about the plight of BGYEA, and how having an injunction against them has already cast a notion of wrong on their part. I now know that it is out of sheer ignorance that our people have jumped to that conclusion and so I am duty bound to explain what is an ex parte interim injunction.

The mere word ex parte means in the absence of the other party, so simply put, the hearing to grant an injunction was done without the other party knowing and being there to defend him or herself. Also it is called an interim injunction because it means that it is an order stating you must do or not do something in the meanwhile, until the Court has time to hear from both sides. So when this is done a great burden is placed on the party making this “secret” application, unknown to the other party, to provide full and frank disclosure … again, simply put, they must tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help them God!

The Court in granting an interim ex parte injunction is hearing only one side of the story and has to consider if based on the complaint there is an issue that can be tried as a case in the court of law – that is, whether there is a triable matter that the court will have a chance to listen to and make a final determination. The Court has to also consider if compensation for any loss the interim injunction caused, would be enough to remedy the situation, should it find that it erred in giving the injunction without hearing the full story. But in so taking this chance, the Court asks the applying party, in this case the Government of Belize, to give an undertaking in damages. Damages means money compensation it would be liable to pay should the Court determine it was misled in giving this injunction.

The final thing the Court needs to decide is, where the balance of convenience lies – that is to say, would it be just to grant the injunction and stop an activity, or not to stop it and thus not maintain the status quo. Now remember, the Court is applying this test at a time when they are only hearing one side of the story, but they will get to hear the other side.

The other side

So as this issue became news, the people of this country only heard one side too, and many fell into their usual vice of condemning without hearing the other side. That is not what the Court did. Rather the Court weighed what was told to it, and in the meantime, held back things to maintain the status quo, but set a new date so it hears the full story and re-evaluates the situation.

I invite the people of this country to evaluate the situation and don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t be judgmental because the brain behind this innovative communal living vision in Harmonyville, comes from some black brothers and sisters who dare to grow dreadlocks, or because they do not fit in the mainstream…. Or worse yet, because they are dare to say they want to work the land, till the soil, seek investment and build a model community. The idea may seem foreign to our people where we are so engrained in this concept of “crab ina bucket”!

I invite readers to stop and think how we do not feel their rage at a big foreign entity like Green Tropics being able to silently buy away land from under the feet of hard working farmers, whose first generation came here fleeing civil war from neighboring countries and whose crops feed the entire Belmopan area … our same politicians and public officers who undermine them. Where is the justice in denying them just over four hundred (400) acres of land so as to sell to Green Tropics over four thousand (4,000) acres for a mono-crop that will be exported to a foreign market, instead of allowing the 10 percent of that to remain in the hands of farmers, who plant seeds, not greed … and who now will remain displaced and without a source of income … how I do not hear your blood boiling and your cries of war sound out?

Can my people not see that land distribution is equivalent to wealth distribution? There are two “happy brothers” well placed in the UDP party; they get so many appointments I don’t know how they get the work done. They are known to acquire Crown land in areas you would not expect them to, but because they know from inside information where development projects such as bridges, piers, terminals, etc. will be built, they quickly get the said land in their name or company’s name and turn around and re-sell to government for a more than handsome price as a means to rob the national treasury … but I do not hear my people’s blood boil to overflow in their veins.

Yet so many have the audacity to judge BGYEA. It is on those indiscriminate acts that injunctions should have been placed …

Divide and conquer

That place now being called Harmonyville, I got to know it through a now deceased former colleague, Oswald Young, whom I met as our driver in Belmopan during the early nineties when there was a PUP administration. I would say he started St. Matthew’s Village and encouraged all of us at the then GIS (Government Information Services) to get a piece of land there and he would facilitate it. He was a diehard PUP and an avid campaigner for his party and was instrumental in facilitating many immigrants getting papers, land and votes. I saw it first hand and he and I would have some nasty debates and heated disagreements, but what he did earned votes. What I proposed would not have, because I wanted equity. His party wanted political longevity. So I saw where our lands were used as pawns for votes then some 25 years ago and I saw where a PUP administration facilitated it. But things have not changed, because I am today also seeing where a UDP administration is likewise facilitating it.

So I never got my piece of land in St. Matthew’s because while I cleaned it and cleared it, an illegal immigrant eventually squatted on it, and unknown to me my lease was cancelled and he got title … I was young and did not fight it … I was wrong then and so today I fight it to undo my failure to have recognized that my fight for equitable land distribution should have started from then!

There are a few squatters at St. Matthew’s, many still at Harmonyville, and as an election approaches these squatters know just what to say and do to get that title in their hand to the disadvantage of the rest of us who will never stoop to those lows. This surely creates resentment, and truth be told, I remember that after all Mr. Young did for those immigrants above and beyond his duty as village chairman, one day he was outnumbered by them and they unceremoniously voted him out of the chairmanship … he died from a cardiac arrest … I say he died from a broken heart. The village became predominantly Hispanic and they enjoy a bounty that is now being denied to our born Belizean brothers, who are not immigrants, but want a piece of land to settle on and plant corn!

How come no government ever put an injunction on St. Matthew’s Village? How come those people squatted, did not pay for survey of the area, did not have to fight for infrastructure and utilities, yet our BGYEA brothers have to forever fight to get what immigrants got on a platter? So where is the equity? I say if our taxpayers’ money can facilitate the immigrants whom we clearly welcomed to our country, why can’t it facilitate our black Rasta brothers and sisters and all the shades of people in between?

This issue divides us, because the immigrant population would never come out to fight for BGYEA to enjoy what they already have. And if BGYEA brings to anyone’s attention the disparity of treatment it gets as compared the immigrant population, they will be called racist and the two groups will remain divided.

But the immigrants from the Valley of the Peace are learning that there is always a bigger immigrant in town. The Mayan people already knew that. So when the farmers of the Valley of Peace and the Maya of Toledo stood in Battlefield Park in solidarity with BGYEA, I was proud because I realized that they know that only united they can fight the corruption of land distribution, the corruption of land inequity, the corruption of land tenure. If we do not unite we are already conquered!

Simple facts

In judging BGYEA, its leaders – Nigel Petillo, David Barnett, Cadet Henderson, Jr., and Kirk to name a few, I call on Belizeans to learn some undisputed facts: the wool has been pulled over your eyes when you believe that the fight is about a road reserve buffer … that is not fully true because by the Government’s own policy, a buffer adjoining any highway is only to be 20 feet. The areas of which the Harmonyville people have been displaced range in some areas from 128 feet to 254 feet in others. Their community has been placed behind this so-called buffer, so for whoever they are reserving those prime front lots must be special, very special well-connected interests … maybe even Ministerial connections. So as I looked at the map and realized what was done to these guys – it reminded me of the saying, “If you black – you go dah back!”

Another fact people need to know is that BGYEA did not squat on the land, and have paid for their portion. Ask, how many immigrants so politically favored did the same? There are many facts I would want to share but time and space today will not permit. However, I leave my readers with this final one … the so-called buffer that is horizontally lined in front of Harmonyville and which parallels the highway, impedes access to the landowners of Harmonyville who will always be deemed trespassers until either they or the government can build the road needed to access their land!

God bless Belize!

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