“They wah have to kill me fu tek me out; bruk down my house with me een deh,” one determined single mother resident of the swampland vowed.
The parcel of land and swamp just off the road to the Chetumal Street Bridge is called Gungulung. All of the families have been there for at least five years, some of them since 2000 when the area was thick bush and deep swamp.
The residents, a mix of born and naturalized Belizeans, claim that they were promised on many occasions that they would receive documents for the pieces of land they occupy. They say that Lake Independence Area Representative, Mark King promised them that they could apply to the Lands Department and he would provide his recommendations.
“He said to us: ‘Come to my office, come and apply, come let us work together’. …
“ Everybody has been to Minister Mark King’s office and all they get is ‘the map has not been approved yet…the map is not ready yet’”, declared long-time area resident Bernarda Rivera.
But that is a lie, she claims, and today she showed The Reporter a copy of a survey map for the area, completed in July 2014.
Rivera has raised her family in the swampland, but today she fears she will be forced to move. And those fears may be realized! She told Reporter that she has confirmed that Area Representative King is signing recommendations for those very same parcels of land are being given out to other applicants.
“We have discovered that he has issued our land … he has given recommendation letters to his cronies, to his people, to his employees, to his committee members, to his relatives … he has given them the recommendation letters. He has personally taken those applications to Belmopan.”
While the term “squatters” rarely elicits public sympathy, these residents say they are simply poor settlers who cut large trees and bush to try to make a home for themselves because they have no other options. The area is still largely swamp with hundreds of feet of makeshift “London Bridges” linking the homes. There is no connection to the electricity grid, just miles of electrical cables strung on line- sticks to provide “borrowed” power. There is no running water in the homes, and residents have to line up at a public standpipe nearby.
Still, home is where the heart is, and these settlers say they will fight to hold on to what is theirs, in their hearts, if not on paper at the Lands Department.
And there will most certainly be political repercussions, if not for the government, then at least for Area Representative Mark King. These residents showed Reporter their Voter Ids cards, and say they all supported King at the last elections based on his promise that they would get title to their parcels of land in Gungulung.
Multiple attempts to reach King for clarification or comment were unsuccessful. This newspaper was referred to a release which stateed: The Minister wishes to inform residents that squatters must prepare to be re-located as the Government, through the Lands Department maintains a zero tolerance policy for squatting.”