BELMOPAN, Belize -- The office of the attorney general of Belize has filed an interim injunction that threatens imprisonment and other sanctions against members of the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA), if they proceed with an initiative to utilize basic agricultural development in their maintenance of the buffer zone of the Harmonyville Farming Community.
The buffer zone is the narrow strip of land that separates the highway and the community. According to the 'National Guidelines for Subdivision and Consolidation of Land in Belize 2010', a 20ft buffer is required between the property and the shoulder of the road for all subdivisions next to a main highway to minimize accidents and obstruction of the traffic flow. In the case of the Harmonyville buffer zone, a 50ft wide buffer was mandated. Some 29 acres have been cleared so far for the project in question.
The innovative initiative would not only clean and beautify the buffer zone (something the government had previously indicated was BGYEA’s responsibility) but, was also designed to provide for the development of roads for the Harmonyville Community (something for which the government had previously indicated that no help would be forthcoming), all in a manner that in no way precludes future use of the buffer zone for public purposes.
“BGYEA consistently respectfully acknowledged the government’s ultimate ownership of the buffer zone, and expressed understanding and appreciation that government may, at an unknown time in the future, require the buffer for public purposes but, having been tasked with its maintenance in the interim, BGYEA saw non-permanent agricultural development as the most feasible way to manage the buffer zone,” BGYEA said.
The association developed a plan to plant three-month crops in the strip of land that buffers the community from the highway, providing security and much needed support for the infrastructural development of the community.
BGYEA publicly sought and secured an investor who agreed to the agricultural investments in the buffer zone, under terms that would see 15% of profits going into the development of the Harmonyville community, at no financial cost (or any other form of loss) to the government of Belize.
Activities commenced with investments of over $40,000 but, on May 8, 2014, the government of Belize issued a stop order to the investor. BGYEA and the public learned about it via press release in which the government of Belize informed the people that buffer zone areas in any development are the property of the government of Belize and that any activity within the buffer zone should only occur with the permission of the Lands and Survey Department, within the ministry of the natural resources and agriculture.
On May 9, BGYEA submitted a letter of request for permission to proceed. It was denied.
In its letter of rejection, the ministry of natural resources points to the fact that BGYEA had only recently advocated for the ministry’s assistance in removing squatters who were erecting dwellings in the buffer zone.
“It should be noted however that BGYEA sought to ‘remove’ the squatters from the buffer zone into 1 acre parcels within the Harmonyville subdivision, thus facilitating them to legal title to more land than that on which they had previously squatted,” BGYEA said.
According to BGYEA, the actions being taken by the government of Belize smack of malice, in light of the facts that:
1) by their own admission, when agents of the government saw the initial clearing, they thought BGYEA would be planting trees in the buffer and took no issue with it until it was realized that the group would actually be planting cash crops,
2) while the government on multiple occasions publicly affirmed the expectation that BGYEA would manage the buffer zone, it now threatens that BGYEA is restrained “whether by themselves, or servants or agents or whoever from trespassing, entering, possessing, clearing, planting crops, placing or projecting any object on or over the land, encumbering or dealing with the reserve buffer zone situate at Mile 41 of the George Price Highway in respect of the area known as Harmonyville”
3) The government of Belize has on multiple occasions relaxed regulations allowing for foreign investors to engage in all manner of development in ecologically sensitive areas of Belize,
4) while government calls on BGYEA to “follow the rule of law” it points to no specific law which BGYEA is in fact breaking,
5) the development proposed by BGYEA would leave no discernible (lasting or otherwise) negative impact on the buffer zone, yet would provide opportunity for improved way of life for over 1,000 common Belizean men and women who gained access to parcels of land for the first time through BGYEA’s Harmonyville initiative.
Belizeans will be asked to speak out at a rally, tentatively scheduled for June 8, at the Battle Field Park, in front of the Supreme Court of Belize. A mobile protest app has also been set up allowing the public to voice their concerns directly to government by texting the word ‘LANDS’ followed by their message to (501) 662-2981.