By Wellington C Ramos
One of the most prosperous and thriving Garifuna villages in the country of Belize is Hopkins. According to Garifuna history, this village was created after a severe hurricane destroyed a previous village in the Commerce Bight pier area of Dangriga town.
The residents of this village used to be mostly Garifuna people from the Nunez, Castillo, Martinez, Arana and Lewis families. There are other families in the village who have integrated into these families over the years. This village is geographically situated in the south of Dangriga town, north of Sittee River, east the Caribbean Sea and west the village of Silkgrass.
The people in this village used to survive by fishing and farming and many of them are members of the Belize Police Force, the Belize Defence Force, teaching and other branches of the civil service. Today, several people from the village of Hopkins are in the business of tourism because the place is famous for its beautiful beaches.
Due to the beautiful beaches that Hopkins possesses, rich Belizeans and foreign nationals have been buying up lands in the village and surrounding areas to open up tourist resorts. Many residents of Hopkins have and are migrating to the United States to join their family members, pursue higher education or to improve their economic situation. While this is occurring, there is a significant drop in the population growth among the Garifuna people and an increase in the population of the newcomers.
A majority of the government land is being sold by the government and private landowners for residential and commercial purposes. When some members of the village experience economic hardship, they lean to sell their properties to foreigners for a huge amount of money.
In urban planning it is always wise for the government not to sell lands in the immediate vicinity of a village, town or city so that the land could be available for the expansion of the community. If the government makes the mistake and sells those lands, when the need for expansion arrives it will be forced to exercise its right to eminent domain to acquire additional lands for expansion. This could result in lengthy court litigation and exorbitant cost for the lands needed.
The village of Hopkins seems to be at a point where it can only expand west towards the village of Silkgrass or north towards Dangriga town along the coast to remain on the beach front properties. The Garifuna people from the time they were living in their native homeland of Saint Vincent and other islands in the Caribbean were always accustomed to living by the beaches. Getting them to move westward to Silkgrass, even if it was possible will be difficult because most of them will resist such idea or recommendation.
To the north of Hopkins is Commerce Bight Lagoon and then Commerce Bight Pier, which is in the jurisdiction of Dangriga Town municipality. This will be moving backwards instead of forward because they will be returning back to the same place where some of their ancestors lived many years ago before they moved to the village of Hopkins.
For the people of Hopkins to have a future in their current village, the village council should devise a long term future development plan with their area representative now. This plan should include the discontinuation of selling vacant government lands in the immediate vicinity of Hopkins village and the purchasing of available private lands by the government to be included in the Hopkins Village Expansion Reserves.
The prices of these lands, once they become private, will be too expensive for the government to purchase. The private landowners will price their lands at a cost to earn profit or to make it impossible for the government to afford, with the intent to block the expansion of Hopkins Village.
People who are rich and have money, most of them tend to be more comfortable in isolation and seclusion. They will oppose having people from a different ethnicity with marginal or no income living within their community. Since the mass migration of foreign nationals to our shores, many Belizeans are experiencing discrimination by some of these foreign nationals for trying to visit or gain access through their private properties.
As Belize continues to attract more of these people to our country, the situation will only worsen instead of getting better. It is not fair and just for native citizens of Belize to be discriminated against by the very newcomers they have welcomed into their country.
This is now the right time for the Ministry of Natural Resources to consider establishing a National Parks System to preserve and maintain all of their reserve lands. It might also be a good idea to re-activate the Lands, Agriculture, Public Works and Forestry Departments. These departments will be able to generate additional revenues for the government and provide jobs for those Belizeans who are unemployed.
I visited the village of Hopkins, Silkgrass and Sittee River recently and I am not satisfied with some of the disturbing things that I observed. Most of the things I was hearing about Hopkins I thought were lies and fabrication. After the visit, I have concurred that there exists a legitimate concern, which the Hopkinsonians and the government of Belize should address now before it is too late.
The purpose of good governments is to look after the welfare of the people who voted for them to serve on their behalf. I have already stated the problems, now it is the task of the people of Hopkins Village to advocate on behalf of themselves to make sure that this problem be resolved as soon as possible. I intend to monitor the reaction and the progress that is being made by the government of Belize towards the resolution of this problem.