San Pedranos ask minister why land titles are cancelled or put on hold
Land controversies are not new, especially in prime locations such as Ambergris Caye. News Five was in La Isla Bonita today when a number of residents turned out with government receipts in hand to confront their Area Representative, Manuel Heredia, about why their titles have been cancelled or put on hold. Heredia was met by the angry residents after his appearance on the island’s local media house, Reef Radio and television. Marion Ali has this report.
Marion Ali, Reporting
The Colonia San Diego area is located about two miles away from the centre of town on the north western side of the island. It is a marshy area that would need filling before any type of development can take place. But already, as these images show, some people have gone ahead and started to put up wooden structures and makeshift London bridges to reach their dwellings. But many more are still waiting to own their land. And while some claim that they have made or have tried to make some kind of payments towards ownership, actually attaining that status has been hard in coming. They claim that their Area Representative, Manuel Heredia, has been the key person behind them losing their land.
Here are copies of receipts issued by the Government of Belize showing payments made for their land – which they say have been cancelled. Area Representative, Manuel Heredia, was on the Morning Show on Reef Radio when we arrived on the island this morning. He eventually agreed to spare us a few minutes to discuss the issue and did not deny that his government is taking back lands from people.
Manuel Heredia, Area Representative, San Pedro
“Yes, it is mostly the PUP’s that were greedying up everything over here. There are people that made a fortune from government land. Practically everything was sold from the swamp to the water to everything that is there and my job is to make sure that I recover some of that to be able to help some of the less fortunate people out here. But if they paid for ten pieces and in particular they underpaid for ten pieces, my job is to look into the interests of the other people on the island, you know. We have a lot of young people over here that need land and I said it before, I say it now and I will repeat every time, that it is my job to secure a piece of land for as many young people as we have and if we have to acquire it or whatever we have to do, will we do so. But it is not malice but also I think there are greedy people that were just chewing up everything.”
Evelia Williams, Claims She Lost Two House Lots
“He said this morning on the morning show that if you have two children you could have one for each. That is my situation. Now the thing is that I have tried to continue paying for the two and every time I go they say it’s frozen. I don’t know why; it’s under investigation. So that’s my question to him, why are they not accepting my money? I want to pay, I don’t want it free.”
Vidal Paz has been trying to own a piece of land. In his case, he wanted to purchase this piece, parcel 1708 located near the San Pedro airstrip. But Paz says that neither this recommendation signed by Heredia on his land purchase approval form nor this note written by Heredia to Lands Commissioner, Manuel Rodriguez, has helped. In fact the Ministry of Natural Resources sent Paz this letter, informing that in order to process his purchase application for the parcel of land, he needed to visit the Lands and Surveys Department in Belize City. But not even that was helpful because he has learnt that the land has been sold to someone else and that puts him in a precarious situation, he says.
Vidal Paz, Claims His Lease Was Cancelled
“He gave the recommendations for it and I thought I was going to get it and when we went to actually pay whatever we had to pay they said no, it has been frozen. The records speak for itself, you guys can check the records, I have no land. The only land I wanted was a little piece but nothing has transpired til now.”
So where do you live? Are you paying rent?
“Well yes, I live with my father. He actually give me a little piece where I can stay but land for myself, at the moment, no.”
Heredia also told us that some of the land was undervalued and people might have to pay more for their parcel of land. But the people we spoke with said that is not a problem.
“The lands guy that comes here every time he told us they have to reassess it, so we have no problem. The raising of the price is no issue for us. The thing is I just want to get it. When somebody went to Belmopan to check about the land for me because it’s hard for me to go so somebody did go to me they informed that person that land is no longer available. It has already been sold to somebody else.”
Here are two receipts not issued by the government, but Minister Heredia’s Belize Rural South office on the island. One of them bears the stamp. They were given to Victoriano Barboza, who paid on behalf of his son, and now he claims it was for a survey on a parcel of land. But according to Barboza, he nor his son have access to tha land.
Victoriano Barboza, Claims He Lost His House Lot
“Now he is saying that we should pay five hundred dollars for the survey and then he will give the lots later on when it’s divided. We have been behind him and here are the receipts that we paid. One was paid on…”
“These receipts were issued from which office?”
“They were from the Belize Rural South, his office. One was paid on February the eighth 2009 and the other on in October 2009. Now he divided the lots on the nineteenth of last month, he brought Mr. Castillo from the Lands Department in Belize City he is one that comes here and tries to deal with the thing. My son and I went to his office and he said to meet him there ten o’clock in the morning. So from there they will go over to the spot and then you can show the lot you are working in so that he can consider it. They waited there until ten o’clock, the next morning he picked up Mr. Castillo, went over to San Mateo where the lots are and the other people that were given the lots were already waiting for him at the point of the bridge.”
“In other words he took away your son’s land and gave it to somebody else and your son has paid for the survey?
“Yeah, that’s right, I even spoke to the guy to whom the lot was given and he said he don’t have to say nothing. The Minister gave it to me and I will work on it.”
News Five will follow up this story as it evolves. Reporting for News Five, Marion Ali.
It is claimed that the number of cancelled house lots in San Pedro could amount to almost a hundred, many of them in the Colonia San Diego zone in the San Mateo area.
Our cameras were still rolling when San Pedro businessman, Milo Paz, approached and challenged Minister Heredia to explain why his brother Vidal’s land was approved and later cancelled.
Milo Paz, San Pedro businessman
“It has your signature there and your signature there.”
“Talk to the Minister then, not to me. I recommended it…”
“And take it away still.”
“I am not the owner of land. The Minister of Lands is the Minister of Lands.”
“You made the recommendation?”
“I recommended it, even though he’s a PUP.”
“And you took it away.”
“I am not the one that takes away. You’re supposed to be ashamed of coming up over here.”