Over one hundred farmers in Valley of Peace, Cayo District are protesting this morning over a land dispute with the Valley of Peace Farms Limited. Our Cayo Correspondent Fem Cruz has the story.
Fem Cruz, Cayo Correspondent: The chairman of the village Juan Arias and the organizer of this morning’s protest Ever Blandon explained the purpose of why they are out here.
Juan Arias, Village Chairman, Valley of Peace Village: “I as village chairman I’m here to support my people of the village because all the people are hardworking, the farmers they need a piece of land and they have that land for twenty years and it’s not fair that a company comes and says “This land belongs to me.” but I would like to make a call to the government because they know the issue and it looks as if they don’t want to support the community, they don’t want to help us to solve this problem because they are the ones who sold the land to the company knowing that people were working on those lands already. So I think the people have the right to fight for that land because from those pieces of land is from where they feed their family and all the people from the village are farmers and they need a piece of land.”
Ever Blandon, Protest Organizer: “Mr.Gilbert Cantun we want you to know that people are not backing out of that land, that is our livelihood that farmers use to maintain their families and we produce vegetables for the whole country of Belize so I think it is an injustice what you’re doing.”
Fem Cruz, Cayo Correspondent: Love News also spoke to the owner of the land Gilbert Cantun.
Gilbert Cantun, Landowner: “That land was purchased and not knowing that there were several farmers on the farm. Now the company has made the commitment that these farmers don’t have to move their farmers but we need to understand who they are and where they are and so we have initiated a process of trying to document who is on our property, they can stay but we need to document it and they don’t want to be documented and that’s one of the issues. A part of the documentation process has been to go out and mark our lines and survey who they are and while we’re doing that marking our lines they feel that we are encroaching on their territory and this has caused this issue.”
Fem Cruz, Cayo Correspondent: If they don’t move, what’s next for you representing the company ?
Gilbert Cantun, Landowner: “So this issue has been ongoing for about three years now, we’ve had several meetings with different representatives from Valley of Peace Farms that represent the groups, we’ve had interaction with the Department of Lands and we haven’t been able to come up with a solution so the next logical step is that we go to court. If there is a court judgment I can tell you this, if there is a court judgment against us we are happy to give the land bank but we need now to settle this in court.”
Following the protest, the Valley of Peace Farmers Association, accompanied by the Chairman of the village and representatives from the Valley of Peace Farms Limited, met with personnel from the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of Agriculture to discuss the issue. According to a press release from the Ministries, All parties agreed that the Natural Resources Ministry would lead an inspection team to determine the current state on the ground and establish the various claims. The parties further agreed to suspend any further development on the land in question and to meet to determine the best way forward in resolving this impasse after the verification exercise.