People who illegally and arbitrarily take over and occupy land which does not belong to them have become a serious problem in Belize.
Last week in a full-page spread, the European company Green Tropics, which is investing heavily in Belize’s new sugar factory for the Cayo District, complained that squatters occupying company lands, are making it difficult for the company to continue to attract investors.
“For an investment of this size, the company has had to convince (and must continue to demonstrate to ) international financiers the viability of the project, together with the legal certainty in its reliance on the laws of Belize,” a company spokesman said.
These squatters, it appears, are determined. They refuse to give back the land, even though they know they have no claim to it. They have also refused an offer of help from the company, to re-settle elsewhere.
When Green Tropics came to our country with money to invest, it held the reasonable expectation that the laws of Belize would protect its investment and its land, and that the government of Belize would have the authority and the enforcement clout to remove squatters from its land.
This has not happened. The government has served eviction notices on the squatters, and the squatters have ignored the notices. They are thumbing their noses at the government, at the law and at the investing company.
If the Government of Belize is serious about attracting investment money for the development of Belize – these include local investors as well as investors from abroad, it must provide a friendly development climate in which these investors can work.
GOB must be able to protect the investing company from parasites such as squatters. People who squat on land which does not belong to them do so with the aim of getting something for nothing. They work to by-pass the legal structure on which our society is based, by putting pressure on the government to squeeze out concessions to which they are not entitled.
It is a gambling ruse. If it works, the winner goes home happy. The government of Belize has always had a tolerant attitude towards people who squat on government-owned land. Immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala, who squatted on land now known as the Valley of Peace, were incorporated into Belizean society and given free land on which to dwell and cultivate crops. These squatters fared very well indeed.
But government’s open-handed policy towards squatters is unsustainable. It is also unfair to native Belizeans who have to work for what they own. Moreover squatting is contagious. Today it is the greatest single threat to regulated land tenure in our country because it has become so widespread!
At some time in the future Government will simply have to put its foot down and say “No More!”
We believe that time is now!