Land Activist Nigel Petillo is leading the charge to assist Belizean farmers in acquiring land in Cotton Tree Village, Cayo District. We took you to the land site in question on Wednesday and there and then the residents had agreed to meet again on Sunday morning. Reporter Courtney Menzies travelled out west for the meeting, but instead of a meeting coverage, she found police and military personnel removing people from the area. Here is that story.
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: An estimated one thousand persons gathered at mile 44 on the Philip Goldson HIghway yesterday morning defying the state of emergency regulations. The gathering was made up of people who are in support of land activist Nigel Petillo who has taken on a mission to defend the squatters in the area. The area being looked at measures over 2,000 acres and is reportedly privately owned. Petillo had taken to Facebook last week to announce a meeting for Sunday morning at ten o’clock with the families that showed up to chart the way forward. However before that meeting could take place police officers and members of the Belize Defence Force were called out to disperse the crowd. According to Petillo this is only a minor set back as they will find a more conducive time to reschedule the meeting.
Nigel Petillo, Land Activist: “We’re planning on having another meeting at the end of May where all those who are here today by now they have left copies of their documents I have brother David Almendarez, Tricia, I have a couple people receiving these documents that is your social security ID photocopied along with your phone number written on it and your address written on it we’ll be contacting you we will be setting up a social media group where everybody can come together and discuss this matter we can’t go silent on this matter any more. We can’t hush on this anymore.”
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: The crowd reportedly cooperated with the police despite the officers not allowing Petillo to enter the property. He snuck onto the land through some bushes with the help of persons who are supporting him. Petillo noted that portions of the land that they’re trying to acquire have apparently already been issued.
Nigel Petillo, Land Activist: “Chunks of this land have already been issued out. Chuck of the land done issue out. See you have entry number that means somebody is getting land here already, makes me want to know if the land is already national land because the government is hollering about “You can’t squat on national land.” How else will you get a piece of land they always tell you go look for a piece of land, come show us and you’ll get that land but you know what’s been happening ? Whenever we go show them that piece of land they take it from us and some Mr.Briefcase, some Mr. Guayabero wearing individual end up with that land there.”
Courtney Menzies, Love FM News: Shortly after the crowd left from Cotton Tree Village police officers arrested Petillo at his Harmonyville home in the Cayo district. When his attorney, Arthur Saldivar, went to meet him at the police station he was arrested as well. Our Cayo correspondent Fem Cruz was able to speak with both men following their release.
Nigel Petillo, Land Activist: “It’s a shame that it boiled down to this. I was detained, the police went all the way to my farm and took my from my farm brought me here and charged me with failure to utilize a face mask and moving during the curfew hours without a valid reason those are the two charges that I got. But again I want the Belizean people to understand that this is just a part of the scare tactic. We shouldn’t stop, we can’t stop, we will continue and if it means that we have to have a couple virtual meetings until we’re allowed to meet out there physically then so be it but we can’t stop.
Arthur Saldivar, Attorney: “So I came to the police station to look after the rights of my client Mr.Petillo who had been detained here. Upon arriving well I was riding a motorcycle so I had my mask in my back pocket and my helmet on so I took off the helmet, passed it onto the pillion rider and took the mask out of my back pocket while I was walking toward the station and I put on the mask while walking to the station. When I got into the station I was told that I was being detained for failing to wear a mask. Now I have my mask as you can see I’m walking out of the station with my mask on okay? So it’s a bogus charge. The other charge was failure to provide a reasonable excuse for being in public outside of curfew hours. Well of course I’m an attorney at law, I have clients to serve and I was looking after the rights of my client. I don’t think that that is a violation.”