By Harry Lawrence - Publisher, Amandala
Indigenous Maya communities in the Toledo have petitioned the Supreme Court to rule in favour of their Maya heritage, declaring their right to communal land throughout the region. They have set out to lobby diligently for this and seem determined to achieve this goal.
Of course they are sure to argue later that communal lands entitle them to certain underground mineral resources including petroleum. The communal land wand is only the thin edge of the wedge.
They should be careful in what they ask for.
Communal land has no defence against autochthonous Maya immigrants from across the border who come to Toledo to live. Intermarriage will soon dilute the ownership and expand the number of landowners.
Some Indians of North America have made their communal land prosperous by establishing casinos whose profits are shared among the population. But communal land generally has the inherent weakness in that the land belongs to everybody in general, but no one in particular. It has limited value as collateral, and because it does not belong to anybody in particular, it is generally neglected and not well exploited or developed.
Toledo has remained poor because of its tradition of land ownership, and the few bright spots occur only where people like the Cacao Growers own the land and work it as a vehicle for progressive farming instead of a crutch for subsistence share-cropping.
Even as the case for communal land ownership makes its way through the public consciousness, the case for private ownership of land in Toledo continues to shine on it’s own merits.
Belizean and other investors will see the value of Toledo land and will want to develop these. They will bring their energy and expertise and will take their licks along with their luck. Out of this mix of energy and initiative will come growth and wealth, and Maya families too poor or too traditional to make it on their own will be able to hitch a ride on the enterprise and skill of others.
The best case we have heard for communal ownership of land has been advocated by a group which wants to set out a Maya Reserve - a vast swath of contiguous forest linking several villages which can be developed by co-operatives working for eco-tourism and herbal medicine and exotic plants such as Xhaté and orchid.
The concept is different! Under the Maya Reserve Plan the land forms part of an integrated whole and is not splintered into little plots.
There is to be a central authority in charge of the development and people who are co-owners will be paid for the work they do. The Maya Reserve Plan has the propensity to lift people out of poverty and teach them new skills.
It is a better way to go!