Information has reached Amandala of a brewing dispute in the Orange Walk North constituency, bastion of Deputy Prime Minister Gaspar Vega, over a 200-acre parcel of land bordering the villages of San Jose, San Pablo, Nuevo San Juan and Douglas, in northern Orange Walk.
According to our reports, Government has acquired the previously private property from a company known as Distills Belize for the purpose of providing house lots for needy villagers from the four villages. Surveying is said to have begun in the area earlier this week.
But cane farmers who have been using part of the land to grow sugar cane have complained that their crops have been razed over and destroyed, and now the fight looks about ready to move from the fields to the courtrooms.
At least one of the farmers has reported being approached with an offer of compensation, but many others say they have not.
People’s United Party (PUP) standard bearer for Orange Walk North, Jorge “George” Briceño, has been quoted in other sections of the press as saying that the matter will be taken to court.
Briceño has charged that Vega, as the area representative, wants to build an entirely new village on the plot, with 800 lots being created, but is unable to maintain the infrastructure in the already established villages.
The land is part of the former vast holdings of the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (known as Petrojam), which had previously held interest in Belize’s sugar industry with the processing factory at Libertad, Corozal.
Hon. Vega told Amandala this evening that the previous administration sold the land to a Panamanian company, reportedly for a lesser price. That company then sold the property to Distills Belize, who, according to Vega, concluded negotiations with Government in June for its sale to them.
He told us that there was “no urgency” to this week’s development, but maintained that the project had been developing for the past 2 years, and at no point has he been approached by any of the aggrieved cañeros with anything resembling a document claiming rights on what is, up to now, private property; nor, he said, was he aware of how they got on to the property, apart from the last administration’s actions.
Hon. Vega minced no words in declaring the sudden appearance of detractors to the project as “political,” saying that Government’s sole purpose in the acquisition is to provide the lots to first-time land owners from the “landlocked” northern villages, “those who deserve it… I tell them we cannot give to everyone, but we have to ensure that it is done justly, and fairly, so that if you are a family with say, 10 children, you have an opportunity to acquire land.
“I am not worried about the ones calling in on radio, because they don’t have a fight…they are not being honest and sincere, it was their Government that sold the land and told them, okay, you can settle down and work on it,” Hon. Vega charged.
Nonetheless, the area representative says he is “willing to dialogue” with those affected because of the issue of sugar cane on the property that is almost ready for harvest and was destroyed this week.