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The BGYEA rift: Ex-leader Nigel Petillo lashes out at Harmonyville ‘haters’

nigel petillo

Posted: Thursday, July 27, 2023. 4:54 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) was formed in the aftermath of a brutal City murder more than a decade ago – that of Aubrey Lopez, a basketball player and the son of then-Belmopan Mayor Simeon Lopez.

But the name is most associated with the community that sprung up at Mile 41 on the Philip Goldson Highway entering Cotton Tree village – Harmonyville, which land was mostly abandoned until a group of activists led by Nigel Petillo got the idea to squat on the land and reclaim it for landless Belizeans.

After a court case over the use of the buffer zone along the highway to plant corn ended in a mediated result, the community hosted hundreds of Belizeans seeking land who were facilitated with leases and titles.

But the organization itself has seen a rending apart with Petillo leaving several years ago and starting his own movement, though he continues to live in Harmonyville.

This week, he posted a live video claiming that the present leadership of BGYEA, men who were once his friends and whom he says he recruited to start the project, “want to see me dead.”

Petillo mentions that he is currently in Los Angeles, California, meeting with investors to help develop the new communities mentioned as well as another “starting this year” and was reached out to by Cynthia Ellis-Topsey to link up with an overseas organization supporting land ownership and development.

It appears his reaching out to announce the plans irked Harmonyville’s leadership and so he is asking that those who responded to his post on his page announcing the assistance who are from Harmonyville may have to remove their names and that he not be inboxed personally; the group who plans on assisting will see the messages.

“They feel threatened by the amount of works I’ve been doing for Harmonyville, and being an individual – it’s not the other five of them, it’s me one using my resources and doing for Harmonyville and helping build other communities (like Harmonyville) – why would you hate on something like that?” Petillo asked, adding that he left the group because he was being attacked by one person particularly but that others failed to speak up for him, so he moved on.

But he admits being “afraid and worried” as a neighbor of the current leadership (who he claimed doesn’t even live there) but who he says are “envious and jealous” of him because he has used his resources generally to help members of Harmonyville and others to own land, mentioning other communities he is helping to establish such as Sagana Heights and Emeryville.

To Harmonyville residents, he asks that if they do not agree with what is happening, they should talk to their leaders, and even vote them out if necessary, noting that he is still being contacted by residents for help because they have not seen their leaders.

He compares himself with such luminaries as George Price, Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, and Barack Obama, who he said had their team behind them, implying that his betrayed him: “Nigel Petillo had a team behind him. But people remember the name da front and the face and I was the name and the face, just like Mandela, just like Obama, just like Bob Marley – we all had a team behind us; but some a dem boy couldn’t take it, especially the one beside me, he couldn’t handle it…They call me BGYEA because they see the face, they see the fight of the lion, the one who has been leading you and all the rest of you, my brother.”

And he states that he will not stop what he is doing for Belizeans because it has been his life since he was young. To his enemies, who share his Rastafarian religion, he dismisses them as more “dread” than natty.


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