BELIZE CITY–The Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) and the Government of Belize remain locked in a legal dispute over the rights to use the Harmonyville “buffer zone,” an area that BGYEA members who reside in the surrounding territory wanted to use to plant corn, but for which Government has taken them to court, claiming that the area is a road reserve.
After the government’s side had failed to abide by two court orders for mediation, the parties were ordered back to the mediation table yesterday, Monday, by Supreme Court Justice Courtenay Abel, who expressed disappointment that the court-ordered mediation was not used to try to resolve the dispute.
Following the court hearing this morning, some members of BGYEA and residents of the Harmonyville community explained what is happening on the ground.
Speaking about other farming communities that have been settled by immigrants, David Barnett, an executive member of BGYEA, told reporters outside court after the hearing, “They plant cane in their buffer; they are not sweating those people. What is wrong with us? We don’t look good?”
“Other people can come and do whatever they want. We were never claiming the land, per se. We were going to use the land,” Barnett said, and added, “BGYEA has not committed no crime. We actually were playing by their rules. Now this is what is happening. We need the country to notice what is going on here when the people are trying to do good.”
“The problem that we are having right now is that burglars are coming to the place to steal from us and dodge us. The bush is so high you can’t even see. From the road you can’t see your property,” said Harmonyville resident Alan Garnett.
Garnett said that because the government is not cleaning the buffer area, “people are coming to interfere with my place and not only with my place, but with other neighbors as well.”
The buffer is in front of his property, said Garnett, who further noted, “grass is growing 5-6 feet and nobody is maintaining it.”
“The government doesn’t look like they will do anything to help us alleviate this problem, because we need to have infrastructure. We need to see the place develop. This is over 800 plus families we are talking about,” Garnett explained.
BGYEA president, Nigel Petillo insists, “This land has to be maintained. This land has to get cleaned down.”
Petillo commented, “Compared to the time when we had invested and cleaned that land, go look on that land right now how it looks,; it’s discouraging. Leaving it in its natural state is not working. We’re hoping that we could establish grounds where they could understand why we wanted to utilize that land.”
On the question of the court case, Petillo said, “there is still no foreseeable end to the case, since it goes up until January 27, with a report back to Justice Abel scheduled for some time in February.”
Petillo added, “strictly speaking, it’s not a ban; BGYEA and its principals have given an undertaking not to conduct any activities in the buffer zone until this case is concluded in court.”
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the attorney representing BGYEA, said, “We are still back at mediation. In July, a mediation was ordered; it was never carried through. Third of November, again, mediation was ordered. There were, I would say, administrative setbacks, not on the part of BGYEA. That order was never filed and so it was never complied with. The deadline was Friday gone.”
Matura-Shepherd said, “There’s a lot of mix-up that went on and definitely not on the part of BGYEA and their representative, and so we had to come back to court today and tell the court where we are. And of course, the court was disappointed; I mean, two orders on mediation? However, both parties have agreed to still go to mediation. The only problem is in the interim, my clients are frustrated because time is just stretching out.”
“For them, the reality is that many live on the land and while the matter is in court, the grass is literally growing and you’ve heard what has been one of the challenges with Mr. Garnett, and so, he is not the only [one] expressing that challenge, there are others expressing a similar challenge,” she further said.
Matura-Shepherd explained that the new deadline for mediation is January 27, 2015, after which the parties return to court for pre-trial in February.
“It doesn’t mean that in the next two weeks we can’t go to mediation, we can. We have a new mediator appointed, agreed by consent,” Matura-Shepherd pointed out.