By Louis Wade
BGYEA and the Harmonyville movement is NOT a Civil unrest movement. It is a People’s movement, and one based on a genuine Belizean need; Housing and shelter… and if the movement fails, we all fail. Lest anyone forgets, the group has been agitating for land since march of 2010. That is almost four years ago.
Way back in March of 2010, the group identified some 1,300 acres of land on the now George Price Highway between miles 41 and 42, owned by an absentee foreign land owner. Hundreds of Belizeans attended weekly meetings to share their concept of communal living and voiced their intent of being property owners at the community they named Harmonyville.
While there are a few people who would love to successfully label the leaders of Harmonyville as “rebels”, maybe because of their hair, dress or, communication skills or body language, that is not the case. These leaders are really passionate people who believe in their cause.
After four years of frustration, turn around, half-truths, unrealized promises and mis-information, how passionate would you still be about the issues you care most about?
In a publication of their story, BGYEA stated “The Prime Minister embraced the idea initially, saying that he was proud of the group and even suggested that BGYEA should look for more land and that they contact Minister Finnegan. Government re-acquired the land from the absentee owner and through BGYEA, made it available to the new residents of Harmonyville at $1,000 per acre.” Yes, even the PM, at one time, was impressed.
Thankfully, there are many Belizeans who are still more than impressed. They are hopeful and optimistic that reason and logic will prevail, and that ordinary Belizeans will be able to get a one acre piece of Belize with no strings attached. Here are a few reasons why.
Firstly, contrary to other Land distribution efforts, Harmonyville is a distribution system that is outside of the Political framework. Belizeans are familiar with the schemes of politicians approaching election time, who suddenly begin to graciously hand out lease and land title papers to “deserving Belizeans”. Government press officers with their cameras in tow run behind politicians lining people up to give them a piece of land paper hoping that they will be remembered in the coming election and other elections to come. There is no glory for sitting politicians in the Harmonyville distribution of land.
Secondly, The Harmonyville process reduces corruption. This large group of Belizeans accessing land simultaneously through one process reduces corruption significantly. Public officers and Political operatives ‘Hungry’ for a slice of the pie cannot take a large group into a corner to haggle out a deal to push through their papers. If they came in one at a time it would have been a field day, a bonanza of lost papers, missing files, missing signatures and a host of excuses to lengthen the process until some money can come under the counter to “speed up the process.” There’s no money to make on the side for this one. Even now they are trying to make the process more individualistic so that some hustling can take place.
Recall Prime Minister Dean Barrow in Los Angeles for fund-raising activities and meetings with Belizeans living in that area commenting his deputy’s Ministry is a hotbed of corruption. He said, “I believe that the Lands Department, unfortunately, is another hotbed of corruption. Guess who was holding over the nation in his absence.
When one Journalist asked Lands Commissioner Wilbert Vallejos about three senior officers who were rumoured to be transferred from the department he was quick to respond:
“Well I don’t know if they were moved as a consequence of corruption. If we wanted to attempt to do that, we will have to move probably the entire department.”
Think about that; “… the entire department”!
What does this mean to the rich? It means that those with the money can jump the hurdles set in place and can get their piece of land, regardless the size, if just the right money is paid.
What does this mean to the well connected individuals? It means that those who can “pull strings” will get their piece of land, because people exist within the system that will help them jump any hurdle.
And what does that mean for those whose party are not in power… or are perceived to be of the wrong political persuasion? Well, it means endless delays, and in some cases even the steps they have already taken, the progress they have already made, can vaporize with a stroke of the pen leaving them without land.
Lets combine that with what the recent comments of Mark King: “Of course, with any mass political party, you look after U.D.P. first, you look after Belizeans second and you look after P.U.P. last. I straight up like that, I noh got nothing fi hide from di media.”
It means Belizeans have a long wait to get their piece of property! Clearly then, this Harmonyville process reduces discrimination. Because it is on a first-come-first-serve basis and everyone gets one acre, the chances of discrimination are minimized.
And so, though Government has lost confidence, the leaders of BGYEA never did. With the threat that they must develop the community’s infrastructure on their own, the guys did not give up hope; they innovated! Plant the buffer with corn, sell the corn and build the infrastructure. Brilliant!
While the legality of the matter is now before the courts as the government of the day has opted to take the organization there to arbitrate the matter, it takes nothing away from the concept that agriculture can help forsaken communities gain what finances they need to carry out many autonomous projects. A brief journey on our nation’s highways will show that our buffers are all but gone.
Some sold to the highest bidder or the ones with the best connections. They will have to be bought back at exorbitant costs when its time to build real highways. Our buffers are full of telephone poles and hydro posts, many have taken the lives of Belizeans, who with a simple mistake or error of judgement, plough into poles too close to the highways.
Even in Harmonyville itself, a huge portion of the buffer already contains permanent cement structures with squatters living it them for years; a problem which government deliberately ignored, turning a deaf ear to the cries of BGYEA. Corn in the buffer is the least of their problems. The problem is that a community has come up with a way to become autonomous, to develop infrastructure rapidly, to the envy of neighbours who will put pressure back on the politicians to “fix them up like Harmonyville!”
Yes harmonyville must be allowed to survive and thrive for it breathes independence and autonomy from the political stronghold that turns our lease into a leash.