It was my grandfather who would sternly chant, at every opportunity, that land is the only thing that God did not make two of. As colloquial, “bushy”, unpolished and rudimentary as this may sound, that truism is entrenched in the history of the world and its wars of ownership, imperialism and capitalism.
It is argued that the first real conflict arose when a man erected the first fence. This would be anthropologically difficult to verify but surely land, and the resources which are attached to them, remain the most identifiable currency and affirmation of human wealth. This is why minerals such as gold remain the symbol of money and the value of money, even in the modern economic era.
In Belize, our national anthem and the structure of our Government underscore the national relevance of land ownership and tenure. “O. land of the free” and “nature has blessed thee with wealth untold” are no odes to hot air. We, as a nation, dedicated an entire stanza of our national anthem to land and the entitlement complex, which is understandably Belizean, frequently is evidenced by the fact that, we believe that owning a piece of Belizean land is our birth right.
This sense of entitlement can only be contrasted via negativa with our Caribbean sister nations who are overpopulated and island territories.
In Barbados, for example, the population density, which is calculated as people per square kilometers, was last reported at 635.65. There, the population of Barbados is on par with Belize’s but while our 350,000 has 8,887 square miles at our disposal, Barbados has a claustrophobic space of 166 square miles. Bajans are born almost knowing that they will never own a piece of their country.
In Belize, our population density was last reported in a World Bank report published in 2012 as 15.11. It takes little more than a casual drive down the major highways to realize that the undeveloped land in Belize is green with potential.
Land ownership and tenure in Belize is peddled politically like loads of land fill and scholarships. Subconsciously, Belizeans act as if land is a limitless resource while not realizing that the availability of land and its distributions have passed many poor Belizeans over like Esau without the benefit of the soup.
Politically and institutionally, the value of land has had it place in glory. The vestiges of the socio-economic power in land ownership is publicly stamped by the fact that the second most powerful office in Government, the Deputy Prime Minister, is invariably held by the Minister of Lands.
However, the UDP has taken oppression to a new level beginning with the Quitar campaign of 2008 where many first time land owners were stripped of legally issued land documents.
The Lands Department was closed down for over six months to find wrongdoing and two of PUP ministers were slapped with malfeasance charges. In hindsight and with the value of solid court judgments, the past PUP administration has been vindicated. This, then, clears the air to properly analyze the mess that the UDP have made of land ownership and tenure in Belize.
Since 2008, Belizeans have suffered terrible political wrongs; it is particularly characterized by ongoing patterns of land distribution and denial to our people.
Belize is a state born of colonial forces where our people have been dispossessed of vast landholdings and deprived of access to life-sustaining resources. There is some mitigation in the fact that the reality of the UDP behavior is not original to them, as the British employed the same tactics throughout their colonial presence here.
In the modern context, the loss of land is typically facilitated by colonial and state policies and laws that lend diminished or no value to the inequities of wealth and its relationship to preexisting land tenure.
The heartless legacies of such policies and laws continue today in our legal systems and administrative practices regarding land. This goes as far as the embarrassment of having the Lands Department lose your application for land or learning that the same title has been issued multiple times against long standing rural land owners.
Despite historical forces, many indigent Belizean families in the splattered villages across the country have retained little plots of land, which remain as family land for generations.
The effort of Nigel Petillo and the National Day of Protest remains an ambitious and unarguably necessary stance. Silently, all “normal persons” in Belizeans felt solidarity in the message and cause. Yet, only a generous estimate of two hundred and twenty five protestors laced up sneakers, hoisted posters and flanked Petillo in Belmopan.
As a post game spin, political opinion was strong that the timing of Petillo’s assault was a short range hit which was ordered only for the recently passed UDP Deputy Party Leadership convention.
That theory is not far-fetched, as Petillo is for the most part a UDP supporter and operative who campaigned openly for John Saldivar in two successive elections. Belmopanese will recall that it was Petillo’s group that were actively and physically obstructing the PUP’s tour of that municipality in 2008 and had blocked the road before being accosted by the Police Department. So, internal political mischief making could not be completely ruled out. But the weakness in that version is why it continued even after the defeat and embarrassment of Faber two Sundays ago.
For Petillo, the disappointment is not in the diabolic attacks exposing the awarding of lands to his immediate family and in laws. The damp disappointment is also not in the name calling from the UDP jackals who have insinuated much from the fact that Nigel Petillo’s is not his real name but that he is really Rudolph Norales.
These, we expect as the flatulence of UDP propaganda attacks on their own but the fact that of a 1,000 member organization he could only muster up twenty per cent is a hugely humbling experience for the grass roots governor. He was fully supported by a known radio and newspaper organization and the personalities attached to that entity. This surely is a heat check for all involved.
What Petillo fell victim to, was the fact that mobilization of a people is not just about rhetoric and passionately charged talk. The real work of mobilizing a people around a cause takes much more logistics better suited for iron casted pistons of mass parties.
To get people out, it takes far more than commitment from citizens; as pedantic distractions as simple as no babysitter, forgetting the time of the bus departure or a romantic quarrel with a spouse trump any well promoted revolutionary protest against injustices. This is just the reality, Jack.
But the issue is a noble one despite all the distractions and red herrings. Land has become a huge issue in Belize. It may be less of a bother for Belize City stationed citizens who seem to have resigned themselves to being landless renters. But for rural Belize where the connect between the value of land and the visual availability of land is much closer, Belizeans feel trapped.
What has happened is that Belizeans in villages have been under siege. The village land has been sold off in large tracts to foreign interests which have not left any room for village expansion. Children born in villages that have come of age and want to get a start up track of land for their families cannot find this land. They feel stuck and betrayed as many of the village leaders and chairmen must shoulder the blame for seeking out foreign purchasers and packaging off these lands without consideration.
The conflict and problems have not gone away despite the disappointment to Petillo’s turnout in Belmopan. Truth is that similar turmoil is bubbling in other villages such as Blackman Eddie, More Tomorrow and Xaibe Village.
As exemplified in the unfolding story of the Maya leaders who constantly swat at the oil greased hands of this government, land distribution and tenure in Belize will only get worse as more mineral resources are unearthed and land becomes “scarce” or “sold out”.
The UDP has shown its stubbornness to thicken the red tape and institutional mechanisms which favor cronies and political family members. Poor Belizeans remain dispossessed and oppressed while the Government provides no security against the undermining and invasion of our country’s land system.
Even though Nature has blessed us with wealth untold, we must not forget to be valiant and bold. Our call is to drive back the UDP invaders because this is the very heritage we hold. Every coral isle, and blue lagoon is ours and we can rest assured that the PUP will keep watch with the angels, the stars and moon.
We remind Belizeans to have hope for freedom comes tomorrow’s noon.The Belize Times