The story of how a park ends into the private hands of a highly connected family in Orange Walk
How did a public space end up in private hands in Orange Walk? The story starts back in the seventies when the land located in the downtown area of Orange Walk was bequeathed to the government with the explicit intention that it be used for a public facility. Fast track to 2011, the lease on the land expired and in comes former Orange Walk East Area Rep, Elodio Aragon Senior; he applied for the land, obtained title and by 2012, it is gifted to his son. All that happened unbeknown to another highly connected businessman who had secured financing for the development of the area. Duane Moody was up north and has this story.
Duane Moody, Reporting
A land dispute in the Orange Walk East Constituency has been drawing a lot of attention in that northern town. As we understand, a plot of land, years ago, was donated to the community by one Angel Castillo who had requested that it be used as a park and named in the honor of his late wife Guadalupe. Currently, a portion of the land is used as the East Sports Complex, while the other portion was left unattended. But how did that portion of the park end up in private hands?
Ian Cal, Councilor with Responsibility for Parks & Playgrounds, Orange Walk
“One of the biggest issues here that we have as a municipality is that we have assets, we have lands, but it is just by word of mouth. We don’t have actual paper to say that this belong to the Town Council. Parks are designated to the Town Council for the neighborhood, for the children of the neighborhood. And the issue here is beyond politics, beyond who is fighting for it. It is actually a land that was donated to the town by a private resident designated to be a park.”
From what we were able to gather, the lease on the land expired back in 2011 and Elodio Aragon Senior applied for the property, which is adjacent to his house. Aragon, who is former area representative and Minister of Education, was granted a title and the property. It has now been handed down to his son, Adin. Councilor with Responsibility for Parks and playgrounds, Ian Cal says it is unethical.
“We did the research and we found out that back in 2011, Mister Elodio Aragon applied for the land and he got it; it was privatized under his name and in January 2012, it was changed from his name to his son’s name, Adin Aragon. So now it belongs to the Aragon family. But the issue here Duane is simply ethics. If land belongs to the public, if land is designated for a park, why go ahead and privatize it and give it to a private citizen. We have the East Sports Center right beside; the whole area is designated as the East Sports Center.”
To further complicate the issue, the Belize Natural Energy Charity Trust has invested some forty-eight thousand dollars in the first phase of the rehabilitation of the East Sports Complex on the grounds that the land is public space. Orlando “Landy” Burns, who also sits on the Board of the B.N.E. Trust, says no official document can be produced by the Lands Department.
Orlando “Landy” Burns
Orlando “Landy” Burns, Businessman
“Over three years ago, I saw that this complex had been abandoned for maybe like twelve years; totally abandoned…you couldn’t see the cement, grass was all over the cement. Imagine twelve years of abandonment: no toilets, the concession stand had no windows no doors, the backboards disappeared, even the lampposts with the light and the wires. So I decided that I wanted to do something about it. The first person I approached was the honorable Elodio Aragon Senior, who was the past area rep, who was the man who started this part of the complex. But the complex is composed of two parcels of land. One that started in the eighties and one that was donated by Mister Angel Castillo in the seventies. The committee applied under my encouragement to the B.N.E. Trust to get a grant. They inspected it ad they said, Landy you sure this place is a public place? I said yes man. The documents are forthcoming, they are going to give us a lease on the place and we want to do several phases. Ih say okay, let’s do the first phase—renovate the bleachers and the bathrooms and we did that. But by the time we ended doing that, it cost us over eighty thousand dollars; we only got forty-eight from the trust, but the community stepped up, the business people. But now that we want to do the second phase, put the top, I cannot go back to the trust because I haven’t even presented the document to them. And they sent an inspector a few months ago, not even two months ago, and that’s what stirred up this whole thing.”
The Town Council and Burns have one thing in common; they want the land to go back for public use.
“By law, if it is given back to the community, they have to be compensated either by a piece of land or money. We just want it back for the people of Orange Walk.”
Orlando “Landy” Burns
“Two people sit down ina wah room and next thing they own a park; two people. So that is how it happened…Aragon approached the minister and the minister give it to him.”
“A space that was supposed to be used for the public, for residents in the area?”
Orlando “Landy” Burns
“Look it is sad. It is sad right. I want to make it clear—they are going to attack me with all kinds of things that I turn P.U.P. and all of them things thing—this is nothing about P.U.P. Man, it is about time we stand up for a country. I mean, I am a U.D.P., but I am not happy with what is happening. You cannot take a park and take it and I don’t care if it happened under which P. And I took it up with the prime minister and he did not agree with it. He told me outright that is wrong and that is not going to happen; I’m going to speak to Mister Vega.”
Duane Moody for News Five.
News Five spoke with Elodio Aragon Senior this morning for a comment on the land dispute. Aragon told us that at this time, they are focused on the political campaign of his other son, Elodio Aragon Junior, who is running in Orange Walk East.