Thanks to our present political leaders, we are all familiar with the phrase, “it is what it is”, which on the ground means that while there are certain unsavory things in our governance that our political leaders could change if they desired to, they won’t.
When it comes to land, the most important factor to consider is its location, where it is. The more accessible a parcel of land is, the more valuable it is. Proximity to the utilities, and people, also increases the value of land. There are parcels with other outstanding attributes that drive up their value, but if a parcel of land is not accessible it might as well be on the moon. In regards to land, where it is makes a mammoth difference.
Because of its location the market value of some real estate in Belize is astounding. There are 1-acre plots in Belmopan that are worth more than some 100-acre parcels in forested areas of the country; there are 1-acre plots in Belize City that are worth more than some 250-acre parcels in forested areas in the country; and in Placencia and San Pedro there are 1-acre plots that are worth more than some 500-acre parcels in forested areas in the country.
The land Mr. Nigel Petillo and the Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association (BGYEA) “found” between the villages of St. Matthew’s and Cotton Tree in the Cayo District did not disappoint with its location. Harmonyville, as this 1,000-acre plus parcel is called, is accessible by all-weather road from every city and town and almost every village in our country.
At the time BGYEA arrived at Harmonyville, there were already people squatting on a part of it. For the most part the squatters were new Belizeans, and that group has been known to identify land in the country that is not under cultivation, land usually out of the public eye, and it has often followed that they have become the owners of the land.
In some instances they are/were aided by roots Belizeans who were familiar with the territory, for a price. The BGYEA saw the squatting on the east side of Harmonyville and said, “if they can, why can’t we”, and they were able to get the government to yield, and give them a portion.
Harmonyville is not in an area noted to have the best soils in Belize, but with the accessibility advantage it is viable for a farming project. When the group had just formed I was invited to a few of their meetings, to offer my ideas, and I learned that a sizable portion of the land was supposed to be set aside for a cooperative effort. At about the same time I was attending a few of the group’s meetings, they were having some issues with certain government ministers. The last I heard, the government pulled the rug on the parcel for cooperative use.
I don’t know why the government has not assisted the farmers of Harmonyville, but the fact is that they have not. There is so much that the government could have done to help forward the program of BGYEA.
Mr. Petillo, who has become the voice of the landless, has said that when they were acquiring Harmonyville, there was a much larger abandoned parcel in the area, land also alongside the George Price Highway. Many people would have had interest in acquiring some of this parcel because, as noted, it is in a prime location. Who got it, how they got it, is it now national land, we don’t know.
Now we come to this “new” parcel on the west side of Cotton Tree Village that Mr. Petillo and his new group have (or had) expressed interest in. This land is in a great location, as reflected in the reported $20 million compensation for 1,000 acres that the government had taken for a public purpose from the original 2,500 plus acres.
This land is on or near the border of Belmopan, which will run out of real estate in the not distant future. A lot of prime land in Belize has been privately owned, since the days of the Baymen. Most likely the parcel at Cotton Tree was never under the control of a non-colonial government. The land on which Belmopan sits was once privately owned. It was bought from a gentleman named Henry Melhado, and I read an Emory King report that says government purchased it in the 1960’s for $5 per acre.
In the 1960s and all the way up to the early 1980s, Belize’s governments have acquired land from private owners and redistributed it to Belizeans. Fortunately, land was dirt cheap in those days, or our governments would have had to find other mechanisms to get land for our people. Our first minister, George Price, won a lot of fame for acquiring and distributing land to our people.
Belmopan is locked in, on the south by hills, on the west by Roaring Creek, and on the north by the George Price Highway. The only way for the capital to expand is eastward, and there sits this prime parcel. Hmm, we assume that the owners probably salivate at the possibilities that will come their way when Belmopan needs land to expand. Our minds could run wild, but I will keep my feet on the ground.
In a capitalist system the government will steer the tools of production into hands that have capacity, so that wealth and jobs are created. A progressive country will want valuable large parcels of land to be in the hands of people who can and are determined to develop them.
The good government sells land cheap because of its purpose, which is to stimulate development. The good government will consider the pace of development, so that those who aren’t rich still get a chance to participate. A thoughtless government will hand out all the best land — for agriculture, industrial use, and tourism — to rich foreigners, and make servants of their people. What is the point of development if we lose our country? There must be careful thought given to the development process.
The good government will have consideration for people who only need small plots, to live on and/or do a little farming, and it will also have consideration for roots Belizeans who might not all have immediate capacity to work the land.
Accessibility is more critical for those with small parcels. When small farmers get land that is not accessible, most of them have to wait until the government puts in roads, a form of speculation. The most determined ones will decide to slug it out, and when government helps comes, it comes.
As most Belizeans know, easily accessible land in the modern Belize isn’t readily accessible to regular Belizeans. The government fortunately has the resources to make land accessible. Ah, the unscrupulous government can also steer its cronies to inaccessible land, and then make it accessible.
Because the hand of government is involved in the steering of national assets, it is paramount that there is transparency and accountability in the system. When a government steers the tools of production into the hands of cronies and for narrow party interests, then we get an economy that does not provide for our people.
Transparency and accountability in the system are paramount, because without those there is corruption, and when the people perceive that the system is fraudulent, that they are locked out, they are likely to revolt.
People in Belize need their piece of the Jewel, and because of the economic pressures of COVID-19 their needs have become more urgent.
Belizeans need land to plant. Mr. Petillo says he has information that there are abandoned parcels of land that are fairly easy to access, that the government can acquire. The government should acquire land for the noble public purpose of delivering this important resource to the Belizean people.