You know something isn’t right when the price of a privately owned lot in many villages is upwards of $7,000 and the minimum wage is $3.30 per hour. Based on a 45-hour work week, that means that a worker would have to save his or her entire wages for a year to purchase a 75 feet by 100 feet (1/6th of an acre) piece of the Jewel.
The price of a private lot in one of the towns or in any of our two cities is way beyond the pocket of most Belizeans. Only the wealthiest Belizeans can dream of owning beach land, a piece of an island, or reasonably accessible land beside rivers, creeks, or lagoons. Almost all Belizeans who acquired a piece of any such property in the last twenty years got it from the government.
Land started being priced out of the reach of most Belizeans’ pockets when we introduced the economic citizenship program back in the 1980s, and when tourism became an important industry here. The economic citizenship program was supposed to attract investors who would help us grow the economy, and inject fresh money into our treasury. The program did have its positives, but it also gave us corrupted government officials, ended local ownership of grocery stores, and helped drive the price of land in Belize out of the reach of all but the wealthiest of us.
The sale and purchase of properties (real estate transactions) is an important part of the capitalist system, and the positive spinoff of the increased price of land was extra money in the pockets of Belizeans who were in that business. How much of the funds that passed into the hands of Belizeans went into purchasing consumer goods, such as foreign vehicles for leisure purposes, and how much went into investing in businesses has not been researched.
During self-government and shortly after independence, there was a push to acquire and distribute land to marginalized Belizeans, but presently, Belizeans who are not in the upper echelons of the two major parties are increasingly being locked out of a parcel, to build their homes, or to farm.
Belizeans who don’t own a part of the Jewel are desperate to get their share, and three of the four political parties that contested the last general election dedicated a considerable portion of their manifesto to their vision to address this need of our people.
Some of the previous content on the website of the Belize People’s Front might have been taken down, because the only statements that could be found about their vision are that if the party formed the government they would “enact a land policy to ensure the sustainability and availability of arable lands for Belizeans.”
The Belize Progressive Party said they would, if elected to form the government, look at structural changes in the land distribution system to eliminate corruption, take away the authority to issue approval and valuation of public lands from the minister and put it “under a land distribution committee”, and guarantee that every person born in Belize would “receive a 20-year irrevocable lease fiat for a house lot 75 x 100” when they turned 18 years old.
The United Democratic Party (UDP), which held the reins of government for three consecutive terms, between 2008 and 2020, pledged to identify national lands and acquire, where possible, “large unused tracts of land close to cities, towns and villages”, for the purpose of subdividing these lands to provide house lots for Belizeans.
On the matter of farmland, the UDP said it would identify “national lands that are good for agriculture and ensure that it is leased to those who will meaningfully use it for their livelihood”, and strengthen the laws so that the government could “go after large landowners who don’t pay taxes and land rents.” The UDP promised to address a valuation system that gave large sums to landowners when government needed “to correct a mistake or acquire land in the public interest.”
In regards to house lots and farm land, the People’s United Party (PUP), the party that will lead government for the next five years, pledged they would make the distribution of land non-partisan, friendly and convenient; ensure that every Belizean who doesn’t own a piece of land gets a parcel; ensure that Belizean farmers get land that is fertile and accessible; “respect the village councils and their lots committees (and) guarantee land tenure.”
The majority of Belizeans support the PUP pledge for the landless to get a piece of land to build their house on and/or own a fertile, accessible parcel to farm on, and to fulfill that promise the government most likely will start by identifying suitable national lands. The Belize government does have control of a lot of land, but it might be that enough of what government owns isn’t sufficiently close to residential areas to satisfy Belizeans who want a lot to build their home on, or sufficiently fertile and accessible for Belizeans who want to farm.
The manifesto of the party that controlled government over the past thirteen years, the UDP, suggests that there isn’t sufficient national land available for the PUP to make good on their pledge. The UDP solution to this problem, as presented in their manifesto, was to acquire, where possible, “large unused tracts of land close to cities, towns and villages” and address the land valuation system.
There is a land problem in Belize. The cost of private land is out of the reach of most Belizeans, in some cases maybe even for our government. The PUP could throw its hands up, or find a way besides paying cash to compensate people for their idle, well-located land, or it could borrow from the UDP’s proposed approach. If the party chooses the latter, it is good that they, being a new government, start with clean hands, because revising the valuation system won’t be a stroll in the park.
Guatemala makes its case
The Government of Belize advised the nation on Tuesday, December 8, that Guatemala had forwarded its arguments for its claim to Belize to The Hague (Netherlands), where the International Court of Justice (ICJ) sits. Belize agreed with Guatemala to have the case heard by the ICJ, and now the ball, so to speak, is in court.
The case at The Hague comes 161 years after Guatemala signed the 1859 Anglo-Guatemalan treaty which defined our borders to the west and south, 40 years after the nations of the world overwhelmingly reaffirmed at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) (UNGA Resolution 35/20 of 1980) Belize’s right to a secure independence with all its territory intact, and 39 years after we became an independent nation.