From the Caye Caulker Conch Chronicle...
THE VILLAGE COUNCIL AND THE LAW
May 24, 2002
This morning in a pre-dawn sweep at 5:30 a.m., the Caye Caulker Village
Council together with the Corporal and the Sergeant on duty, under the
instructions of the Hon. Patty Arceo (we understand) and Chairman Marin,
went out and took into police custody the tables, chairs, glass display case
and other items belonging to islander, Traci Meighan. Traci, you see, is a
street vendor who sets up shop on the beach daily. In Caye Caulker, there
are quite a number of people like her who make a living hawking their
merchandise to passers-by.
Traci is a single mom with two children. There is Miss Rose, who sets up
her rice and beans stand in front of the Oceanside Bar on weekend nights.
There is Ms. Carolyn who also sets up her hot dog stand in front of
Oceanside on a nightly basis. There is Ms. Paula who sells souvenirs street
side to tourists to support her toddler. There is Ms. Marla who sells
barbecue on weekends to support her children, and the list goes on…
Each of these people does so to put food on the table of their families.
They are trying to make a living in a decent way.
For months and months the Village Council has been harassing the local
street vendors in an unsuccessful attempt to get them off the streets and
beach areas. What they have against the street vendors is anybody’s guess,
as the drug dealers camp out street side day and night, ply their trade with
reckless abandon, and it appears that no one notices THEM. (Except maybe,
In many countries of the world, a flea market type atmosphere is what
attracts visitors. Just ask any Belizean that has been to the U.S. and I am
positive any single one will tell you that they have visited a flea market
at least once. In fact, the Camden Market in London is so popular, the real
estate there has become prime property. This type of atmosphere adds to a
casual and bohemian aura which goes hand in hand with our island life and
what the village stands for, I believe.
Still, I do realize my views are just that – my own. The fact that I look
at the street vendor atmosphere as contributing to the carnival atmosphere
of island life does not necessarily mean that everyone else does too.
Obviously the Village Council and the Hon. Patty Arceo do NOT think it is
attractive, hence their continued harassment of these people who are simply
trying to make a living.
So… what can we do if some of us villagers like the atmosphere, and some of
us don’t? What happens if the Village Council does NOT like that type of
atmosphere (and it is obviously they don’t)?
The Village Council Act states specifically what the Village Council can and
cannot do. There are many things that the Village Council CAN do, but one
of those things it SHOULD NOT do is to break the law. It is not a law unto
itself, but must follow the law just like any one of us. Even if all seven
members of the village council together decided they did not like the street
vendors, and agreed together that they would like to abolish street vending,
this does not make it law. A law is not made by decree by the Village
Council. Just because the Village Council decides on a certain course of
action does not make that course of action mandatory or even the law. They
would still need to follow certain guidelines.
Obviously the Caye Caulker Village Council needs to brush up on their
obligations to this village. They need to take a moment to find out exactly
what powers the Village Council Act gives to them. The Village Council Act
certainly does NOT give powers to the Village Council chairman to rule by
dictatorship, nor does it give the Chairman the power to rule by decree, nor
does it give Mr. Marin the power to be a one-man Village Council. The law
is very specific.
The Caye Caulker Village Council today became the laughing stock of the
island once again (I say once again, as this same type of scenario seems to
repeat itself fairly often) when moments after arresting Ms. Meighan’s
personal effects, toting the items down the street in the back of the
village fire truck to the Police Station like a 5:30 a.m. street parade,
they had to return her items to her. I felt embarrassed for them, but their
incessant and increasing spitefulness inevitably steers them down that
The Village Council Act under Part IV (Powers and Duties of Village
Councils) clearly states:
23. (1) A Council may from time to time make by-laws for the rule and good
government of its village generally, and in particular in respect of all or
any of the following matters :- (it proceeds to list the matters which are
(2) Before submitting the proposed by-laws to the House … the council
shall call a general meeting of the village, and present the by-laws to the
consideration of the villagers. No by-laws shall be presented to the House
unless they have been approved by a majority of those present at such
What this means, villagers, is that Mr. Fermin Marin, Ms. Patty Arceo, and
the Village Council can TRY to dictate all they like about the number of
bridges they will allow on the front of the island, or whether or not the
fishermen can haul up their lobster traps on the beach, or whether the
street vendors can set up shop on the streets and beaches, or whether people
can haul up their boats on the beach to repair them, but we have no
obligation to listen to their decrees. To make any of these rules law, they
MUST FIRST hold a public meeting where WE the VILLAGERS vote as a majority
to make it so. Even then, EVEN if we villagers agree on something, it still
has to go to the House of Representative for approval by a majority there
before it is put to law.