For the second time in five days the government has come under intense fire. On Friday, the bus owners paralyzed the northern and western highways over runs taken away from established bus owners and given to a new company owned by a highly placed party supporter. This morning at the crack of dawn, police descended on a community of squatters where a bridge is being constructed to connect Fabers Road Extension to Chetumal Street. The area was quickly barricaded as the police and Lands Department proceeded to destroy the houses of the squatters who were in deep slumber; seventy-five persons watched helplessly. By mid-day the situation had escalated into open confrontation with the heavy handed security forces as the squatters made their way to the City. We have been following this development since early this morning and News Five’s Isani Cayetano begins with the volatile situation at the Belcan Bridge.
Isani Cayetano, Reporting
A handful of evicted squatters congregated shortly before noon at the Belize City Center where, along with social activists Moses Sulph and Yolanda Schakron, they hatched a plan to block the flow of traffic across the BelCan Bridge. Their action followed a short procession where angry residents, under the banner of the Belizean flag, made their way to the center of the bridge. There they protested the need for justice. The group of about forty-five to fifty men, women and children, feels slighted by government’s decision to have them forcefully removed from a tract of land which extends from the bank of the Belize River facing Chetumal Street to the Western Highway adjacent to Fabers Road.
Moses Sulph, President, COLA
“As a Belizean I am very, very dissatisfied that poor people are being oppressed in every sector of this country. In every corner of this country it seems like our government is out to oppress the country and oppress the poor and make those who are poor lives even worst than it is. The people out here [their] houses were broken down four o’clock in the morning. These people have families. They have no where to go now. Where will they go? To me it’s like the government is declaring war against the poor people of this country.”
Once traffic came to a partial standstill the police made its descent and the stage was then set for a massive showdown between the expelled residents and a team of armed officers. Assistant Superintendent Alford Grinage took control of the scene at that point.
“Unu are here illegally, unu have no authority to block the bridge. Unu are going to remove unuself off of the bridge immediately you understand me?”
What ensued thereafter is pretty self-explanatory.
“We are about to remove everybody off the bridge. Either you move voluntarily or you will be forcefully moved. So please remove yourself off the bridge.
To get a clearer understanding of what led to this riot we’ll take you to Gungulung, an area behind Lake Independence which is being developed illegally. This morning around five o’clock a team of workmen descended upon the community in one fell swoop, under orders from the Lands Department, and demolished a number of houses. Rene Garbutt is among those whose homes were destroyed.
Rene Garbutt, Squatter
“I didn’t know at first that I needed to be three hundred yards farther to build my structure. My structure was already built, not entirely to live in but it started out where it’s costing me at least five thousand dollars where it’s at. The structure next to me was torn down and that house was beautiful. It was made nice and costs at least fifteen thousand dollars, you know, and these guys just came and demolished that.”
The property Garbutt is referring to belongs to forty-four year old Rosalia Molina, a single mother of three. The walls of her wooden home have been stripped. The contents of her household are scattered across the yard at the mercy of the elements. She tearfully described the arrival of the workmen and the mayhem that followed.
Rosalia Molina, Squatter
“The officers came and told her that she had to evacuate and take everything out of the house because they are getting ready to break this house down. She stand up for her rights. She said that she paid for everything. She has receipts for everything and she is not going to let them break this house down. And apparently they just did what they did—they didn’t finish the whole house.”
Molina, like forty-one year old Gilberto Carillas, have invested time and money into building these homes despite the fact that they were constructed on illegally acquired land.
Gilberto Carillas, Squatter (File May 17th, 2011)
“I get this land more than two years ago. Well I just come and I see like how all them people build their houses and that’s why I started to build my one. Well the problem is [that] I don’t want to continue with the rent right. I have my son to send to college this year and I try to save that money eena fu he college right.”
Today his home has been dismantled. Sheets of zinc that were once his roof are now stockpiled on the roadside along with rectangular panes of plywood and other pieces of lumber. His wife Martha was not allowed into the area.
Martha Carillas, Squatter
“We come out here yesterday afternoon to try and find out what’s going on and Mr. Felipe said well the government agreed to remove houses [that are not] three land [spaces] to the back because they will need three hundred meters away from the street, three hundred feet. So well we agreed to that. He said the deal is to remove the houses [that are not] three hundred feet [away] and then he will give all the people at the back the survey free.”
Despite the offer a number of houses were destroyed, paving the way for what transpired on BelCan Bridge a few hours later.
Elodio Aragon, Assistant Commissioner of Police
“Well this morning the police, along with the Lands Department and people that we got to assist us, we went and we cleared out some of the people that were squatting on Chetumal Street.”
Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.