The Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association protested Tuesday against what it describes as government’s flawed land-distribution system, but with less than a 15 percent turnout of BGYEA’s members, the association’s president, Nigel Petillo said Belizeans missed yet another opportunity to unite for a greater cause.
BGYEA president Nigel Petillo told The Reporter on Thursday that he was disappointed that of the more than 1000 BGYEA members, there was little less than 150 protesters who joined the demonstration in front of the National Assembly building, in Belmopan.
Supporters from other civil groups such as Citizens Organized for Liberty Through Action, Nation Builders National Youth Movement, and others were included in the protest, underscoring the truly meagre BGYEA membership turnout.
“The Belizean people have missed an opportunity to stand together as a people to serve as proper checks & balances for political leaders”, Petillo lamented, but added that he has not lost hope in the process.
He explained that despite local media criticisms and even his own hasty and emotional chiding of his association members on a Channel 7 interview on Wednesday night, he still believes that the demonstration was a success.
While it was a small crowd for a national protest, the purpose of the demonstration was not to fight against the government. It was to call GOB to action to remedy the issues at the Lands Department, Petillo said.
He added that the association had been gathering petition signatures before and during Tuesday’s event. Shortly before the conclusion of the demonstration, which circled the building three times before stopping to hold a rally at the National Assembly’s steps—there were more than 500 signatories, as observers also added their names to the petition.
Citizens were also encouraged to send a text message with their comments to a number set up so that Lands Department and BGYEA would receive their comments.
BGYEA announced the protest at a press conference last Tuesday, citing several grievances with the Lands Department of the Ministry of Natural Resources.
Grievances ranged form long delays before completing a land transaction; which he describes as unnecessary and frustrating, to the required ministerial recommendation when applying for land, which he says undermines the poor Belizeans’ access to land.
BGYEA had made recommendations for reform within the Lands Department, which included a proposal for :
(1) a new land management system which will make all transactions accessible to the public,
(2) a first time land owners program which encourages young Belizeans to own land, and
(3) an incentive program to encourage Belizean farmers to own large parcels of agricultural land.
The Ministry of Natural Resources has put out no official response to the demonstration. Petillo says that while he will continue to rally for grassroots people he will be taking a temporary leave from advocacy activities.