There’s a reason why the Prime Minister is always the Minister of Finance and the Deputy Prime Minister is always the Minister of Lands. There is nothing more important than money, but in Belize the real political hustle is lands and cayes. It’s considered a “clean” hustle by the politicians, and it has become an area of understanding between the PUP and the UDP.
In the age of computers, it should be a simple thing to pick out the five or ten top cronies in each of the political parties and make a record of their land deals over the past 35 years. You would be looking at hundreds of millions of dollars which do not pass through the public treasury, but which originate with the national patrimony – lands and cayes. And you would begin to understand why men will spend several million dollars to win a House seat which only pays fifty to ninety thousand dollars a year.
When a political crony wants or needs money, he will be leased an amount of land or cayes. Technically, he cannot acquire title to the land until he develops it, but the politicians of the PUDP have made the Lands Department the most corrupt department of government in Belize over the last three and a half decades. The crony quickly acquires title to government land he has not developed, and this title puts him in a position where he can sell this land or cay to Americans, Taiwanese, Hong Kong-ese, real estate companies, and all the other entities which drove the value of Belize land into the stratosphere between 1985 and the time of the world financial collapse three years ago.
The political cronies would not be cronies if they did not kick back some of their “funny” gains to the treasury of the political party which made the deal possible. Compared to the republics around us, Belize had a lot of government land, and the politicians grew to believe that there was no harm in helping their friends and themselves and the party, because there was a lot of land and many cayes.
Lawyers who were politically connected made a lot of money off the transactions which alienated huge, choice tracts of lands into foreign hands. It is amazing that the Opposition parties did not “rat” on each other, but, as we have pointed out to you before, the bridging of the gap between the PUP and the UDP began taking place more than three decades ago, and it took place at the level of the politically-connected attorneys.
The people in the two Northern districts were acutely aware of the importance of land, because their ancestors had fought revolutions over land in Mexico. At their core, all revolutions are about land. In Belize City, where the bulk of our population resided, there was no consciousness of land amongst the people. In Corozal and Orange Walk, the people supported the nationalist revolution in order to gain title to land. But in Belize City, and in the West and South, Belizeans were not so land-conscious three and a half decades ago. City dwellers did not care about land, while it appeared that there was plenty of land in the West and in the South – no need to worry.
This is not the case any more. City dwellers have become conscious of land at a time when it is next to impossible to get a piece of government land. And in the West and the South, huge areas of prime land are now foreign-owned.
The PUDP people of Belize have themselves to blame for the present situation because they got hooked on all the handouts and they didn’t ask themselves where all the goodies were coming from. Access to the United States by land and air was a safety valve over the last half century for Belizeans who wanted a better life, but the American economy has slumped, and there is no gold in the streets of American cities today. That’s if there ever really was. Belizeans are looking hard at the option in Belize at a time when thousands of Central Americans continue to pour into the country and at a time when Belizeans have begun to realize that most of that Belizean land which looks idle is now owned by foreign interests.
It was the PUDP politicians and their cronies who did this to us. Belize is not about to have a revolution because of land, but it is what is left of the land in Belize which is at the heart of the Guatemalan claim. The Guatemalan oligarchs have gobbled up all of that republic’s land, and they need somewhere for their masses of peasants to go. Hitler called it lebensraum. He plunged the world into war because of it. In Guatemala City, they call it Belice es nuestro.