A Fight For A Marketplace
Tonight, Belmopan Mayor Khalid Belisle and his City Council are being called out by a group of fruit and vegetable vendors. That's because they are trying to relocate to a more centrally-located area to conduct their business. But, the Mayor says that they can't occupy a piece of private property unless the owners get a proper license to turn it into a marketplace.
Residents of the Garden City tell us that Belmopan's marketplace used to be centrally located at the parking lots belonging to the Belize Social Security and the Civic Center. This area allowed for customers from Belmopan to get easy access to the vendors, but, several months ago, the coronavirus pandemic came to Belize. To protect public health and create more space, the City Council relocated them to the National Agriculture and Trade Show Grounds. According to the vendors, their customers have since been complaining that the new marketplace is very inconvenient for them.
The vendors say that they began to lose business, and so, when they were approached by the private developer, David Zabaneh, re-locate yet again, it was an offer they couldn't refuse. That's because Zabaneh has a family property located right across the street from Social Security and the Civic Center. They were basically being enticed to move near to their previous location, but there was only one problem.
According to the City Council, Zabaneh has an obligation to apply to them for a license to have his family property designated as the new marketplace. He hasn't done this as yet, and so, when the vendors began setting up shop on the private property, the police moved in early this morning to discourage and prevent any business.
Our colleagues from Plus TV News have been following this story from before daybreak this morning, and with their help, our Daniel Ortiz put together this report:
This stand-off over a suitable marketplace for Belmopan's vegetable and fruit vendors began early this morning, before sunrise.
A group of vendors, who had been occupying the National Agriculture and Trade Show Grounds, was prepared to begin selling at a new location which they say is more favorable for business, and more easily accessible to customers.
They already had set up their stalls on the private property of the developer, David Zabaneh, a property that is being proposed as the new market site.
But, before vendors could begin their final preparations to welcome early customers, police were already there to greet them with a cease and desist order. The cops were acting on behalf of the Belmopan City Council, which insists that because Zabaneh hasn't gotten the appropriate trade license to turn his property into a market, it is illegal for them to conduct business here.
"You're packing up and going?"
Market Vendor 1
Market Vendor 2
"Because they said if we stay, they will charge us?"
"That's what they said?"
Market Vendor 2
"That's what they said, those - I don't know what you call those police. They said that if we stay they will charge us."
Market Vendor 1
"They will kick us out."
Market Vendor 2
"They said that they would take [away] our license to sell. That's what they just came and told us."
"So, where are you going, back to Showgrounds?"
Market Vendor 1
"No. I have all of my vegetables here."
Market Vendor 2
"We don't want to go back there, but we have to go back at least to sell for rice or something, especially in this crisis that we're in."
As the morning progressed, the vendors began to organize themselves into an effort to peacefully - but adamantly - resist the orders from the police.
Market Vendor #3
"Employment is a right. That is the only opportunity, we, the poor people have, hustle with a few onions and tomatoes. We want a private market for the poor. This is a call to the Mayor. Please authorize the license to this place, because knowing we have land here, it is a sin to have us over there where there is no business."
Oscar Mira - Observer/PUP Politician
"This is not about City Council. This isn't about anyone else. This is about all those people you see out here, who are trying to earn an honest living. They are trying to ensure that they can get food for their children, send their children to school. This about hard-working people who, at the end of the day, are asking nothing else but permission to go and work. I don't see what is the issue. I don't see why the City Council is taking this hard stance on these people."
Anna Banner Guy - Independent Political Aspirant, Belmopan
"People are in survival mode. The vendors are in survival mode, and they are out here because they want to give trouble. I believe that it is a genuine concern. They need to sell their produce, and we need to eat. We need to buy."
But, the cops were obliged to do their jobs and uphold the law. That meant, that they had to employ all kinds of diplomacy to convince these frustrated vendors to voluntarily leave the unauthorized market space.
ASP Elroy Carcamo - Deputy OC, Belmopan Police
"I do not want this thing to get out of hand. Let us discuss it. I have been discussing with Mr. Zabaneh, and Mr. Logan, who have you all out here. I have been discussing it with them. Let us do what we're supposed to do. First of all, standing out here like this is a form of protest, and it is illegal. You have a right to protest, but you need to apply."
David Zabaneh, the developer of the property, says that he will attempt to get the license so that if the vendors still want to return to his family's property, they won't be breaking any laws.
David Zabaneh - Private Developer
"The vendors, it's up to them what they want to do. I told them that I don't want them to break the law. But, at the same time, I can't force anybody to do or not do what they want. I didn't force anyone to come out here. They came of their free will. I'm gonna do what I need to do to protect myself and not break any laws out here."
"So until we could get that sorted out, I'm hoping that the councilors, the decision-makers in Belmopan can see the - these vendors are crying for help. So, I hope that you can at least appeal to them a little bit, and let's get this process going."
As you saw in our story, Oscar Mira, the PUP's standard-bearer in Belmopan, come out in support of the vendors. Before midday, he and his party sent out a press release saying, quote: "It is hypocritical and discriminatory of them to target one individual who is offering his private land for use by the vendors, while several other small private markets are operating around the city without interference. Sending police officers to block access to a private space is uncalled for."
The Belmopan City Council sent out a release of their own, saying "the site being informally introduced as an alternative to the current market day location has not yet received the proper licenses needed to conduct any business. This venue must go through the proper procedures to obtain its Trade License as all other businesses in Belmopan have done before it. The Belmopan City Council looks forward to working with the proprietors of this new business venture. We will treat them with the same due care and diligence with which we have treated all prospective business owners and business establishments that have come before them." End quote.
They close out their press release by saying, "There should be no business transactions at the impromptu market, as this would be in violation of the Trade License Act of Belize... The Council reserves the right to pursue all available penalties under the laws of Belize."