General — 05 June 2015 — by Kareem Clarke
Santander settles w/ Valley of Peace farmers

VALLEY OF PEACE, Cayo District, Thurs. June 4, 2015–Over 30 farmers from the Valley of Peace area in Cayo were granted ownership of 160 acres of land at a location next to the Santander farm in Belmopan since last Saturday, May 30.

The goodwill gesture came after months of negotiations that took place in the wake of a crop dusting exercise that was carried out by Green Tropics, a subsidiary of the Santander Group, in March of 2014 which resulted in the alleged destruction of close to half a million dollars’ worth of vegetables belonging to the Valley of Peace Farmers Association.

The farmers filed a lawsuit in response, but later received an eviction notice from the company which maintained that the crops were planted on its titled land.

The matter went all the way to the Supreme Court, but now, the two parties have made amends and those 31 farmers have been gifted with their own titled land on the same property, not far from where they had originally settled.

A press release which was sent out by Santander on Tuesday of this week noted that the land (150 acres plus a 10-acre buffer) is valued at BZ$320,000, and is more than double the 43 acres of land the farmers originally occupied.

Apart from surveying and clearing the property, Santander also created access to a water source for the farmers to start growing their crops.

The farmers were still occupying the 43 acres of land belonging to Santander at the time of the handing over, and thus, the company decided to give them an additional $66,000 to partially cover the expenses of relocating to their new lands.

The company’s release also added that Santander has committed to pay the stamp duty on behalf of the association in order to facilitate and expedite its acquisition of the land title, which will be handed over at an official ceremony later this month.

Santander said that one of the main reasons for the donation is their acknowledgement that the company and the Valley of Peace farmers will now be “neighbors for life”, and as a result, both sides “have committed to moving forward as partners in the community.”

The handing over took place between CEO of the Santander Group, Jose Rodriguez, and president of the Agricultural Association of the Valley of Peace, Ever Blandon, and was witnessed by 22 of the 31 farmers who are slated to benefit from the arrangement.

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