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Supreme Court orders compensation of $6,302,607.52 for land stripped from Jalacte village for road

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Posted: Thursday, June 17, 2021. 3:30 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Supreme Court has ruled that the village of Jalacte, Toledo District, was unfairly taken advantage of in the Government’s zeal to build the Jalacte Road between the border and the junction of the San Antonio Road and Southern Highway about eight years ago.

It will cost them some $6,302,607.52 according to Acting Chief Justice Michelle Arana, who heard the case in 2016.

The Defendants were the Ministers of Agriculture and Works at the time of the project as well as the Attorney General for the State, represented by then-Solicitor General Nigel Hawke and Samantha Matute-Tucker. The claimants, village chairman Jose Ical and alcalde Estevan Caal, the latter of whom was also a landowner in the affected area, were represented by Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young, now Attorney General; as well as attorneys Monica Coc Magnusson and Alister Jenkins.

The Court ruled that in compulsorily taking possession of 10.5 acres in widening and straightening the road, and an additional 20.86 acres for roadworks and construction of the BAHA outpost, the Defendants arbitrarily deprived Jalacte village, including Mr. Estevan Caal, of their property, in violation of section 3(a), 3(d) and 17 of the Belize Constitution.

Further, by failing to accord Jalacte and Mr. Caal’s property rights the protections accorded by the Belize Constitution and the Lands Acquisition (Public Purposes) Act, the Defendants were found to have violated the Claimants’ right to protection of the law, guaranteed by section 3 of the Belize Constitution.

The court also found that the possession of the lands outside the scope of the Constitution and other applicable legislation violated the Supreme Court Order of June 28, 2010 in MLA/TAA v. AG Belize, Claim 366 of 2008 and the CCJ Order of April 22, 2015 in MLA/TAA v. AG Belize, CCJ Appeal BZCV2014/002.

Justice Arana ordered that the Defendants return vacant possession of the land where the BAHA station is located and remove the checkpoint west of the Jalacte crossroad at Treetop along the Guatemalan border, at a location mutually agreed upon through consultations and constitutional process with the village of Jalacte, as well as the approximately 8 acres of land located on both sides of the road between the Rio Negro bridge and the intersection with the road leading to the Jalacte village center on which the Defendants have constructed two pre-fabricated structures, greenhouse, a fence, a checkpoint, and thatch structure to support the functions of the BAHA station.

Also to be returned are lands located on the south side of the highway immediately to the east of the bridge over the Jalacte River and west of the intersection with the road leading to the Jalacte village center that was levelled, cleared, and formerly occupied by contractors Cisco Construction as a base camp for the roadworks.

Damages are assessed as follows: $999,895.52 to Jalacte village for the arbitrary deprivation of the land taken up for the BAHA outpost, for both the irreparable damage done to portions of that land and for the loss of use of land during Defendants’ ongoing occupation; $341,074.19 for the arbitrary deprivation of Jalacte lands used to establish the CISCO base camp site; $1,496,757.17 for the arbitrary deprivation of areas adjacent to the highway that were destroyed by the highway construction; and $3,464,880.64 for the permanent compulsory acquisition of lands taken up by the straightened and widened roadway.

Costs of this action were awarded also to the claimants.

The Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association are scheduled for a 2:30 PM conference virtually to discuss the judgment and its implications.

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