6 de enero de 2008



Chapter 7
The Monopolization of Land

Land is a very important natural resource. The Maya, like Africans, believed that the land belonged to the entire community, not to individuals. But the Europeans believed land was private property that could be bought and sold at any time.
With colonization the European system of land ownership was brought to Belize. A small class of rich, absentee landlords developed. They took over the land for their own profit and excluded others from owning and often even from using the land. This system resulted in the growth of private wealth alongside wide-spread poverty while rich resources lay unused.
In Belize today there are about 200,000 people on almost 9,000 square miles of land. This means that there is a lot of land for very few people - one square mile of land for every 22 persons. Jamaica and Barbados have about 1,500 and 500 persons per square mile respectively.
So in Belize, a land scarcity is only possible if people are excluded from the ownership of land. This is what we find throughout our history.
Effects of the Monopolization of Land
During the years of slavery, about 12 families owned almost all of the private land in the settlement. Very little land was put into productive use. After the abolition of slavery, most of the population still could not own land. A few farmers tried to make a living on small farms without any real guarantees that the land was theirs.
The few landowners were more interested in the profits from logging than farming. People were not encouraged to farm and so remained dependent on imports. The most important effect of the monopolization of land was that the power to make decisions depended on ownership of land since only those who had land could vote. Land owners would also decide whether or not to use the land, and so controlled the amount of people working and their wages. We will now look at how the early settlers monopolized the land.
Logwood and Mahogany "Works"
For more than a century the early British settlers had no regulations about ownership of land, and each person cut logwood wherever he found it. This lack of regulations was because Spain still held sovereignty over the territory. But in 1763, Britain signed the Treaty of Paris with Spain and gained the rights for its settlers to cut logwood. Then the settlers agreed on a system for regulating the boundaries of their logwood "works".
On April 10, 1765, the Public Meeting agreed that "when a person finds a spot of logwood unoccupied, and builds his hut, that spot shall be deemed his property". They also limited the amount of land a person could claim to 2,000 yards on the river. No cutter was allowed to hold more than one "work" in any river or creek.
The war between England and Spain in 1779 interrupted the cutters' work. The Peace Treaty of Versailles in 1783 gave them rights to cut only logwood, so the settlers were unhappy with the limitations imposed by the Treaty.
At a Public Meeting on June 12, 1784, the settlers re-established the regulations they had in 1765. They declared that the original settlers were to be "reinstated in their respective possessions... and all other property whether derived by right of possession or through purchase". As we can see, mahogany works and plantations, as well as logwood works, were established before the war in 1779 when they had to leave the settlement. It also proves that some of the land was already being bought and sold as if the cutters actually had rights of ownership.
In 1786 the Convention of London extended the boundary southward to the Sibun River, and permitted the settlers to cut mahogany, but Spain still claimed sovereignty. The settlers did not respect the boundaries defined in the treaties. By 1799, they had gone as far south as Deep River; by 1806 they were as far as the Rio Grande. In 1814, there were settlers at the Moho River. They reached the present southern boundary of Belize, the Sarstoon River, by 1820.

Location Laws
In July and August, 1787, the settlers passed new laws about the mahogany works. These resolutions were known as "location laws". They required that a person "locate" a piece of land and stake his claim. The occupied lands were called locations or works, but they were actually treated as freehold property, being sold and inherited like private property.
Unlike the logwood works, the mahogany works covered large areas of land, and each person was allowed up to two mahogany works on any river. The largest areas of land were reserved for the richest settlers, those owning at least "four able negro men slaves".
The Public Meetings were controlled by the few wealthy white landowners. They passed resolutions to suit their own interests. Within a few months after these resolutions were announced, Superintendent Despard reported to London that 12 of the "Old Baymen" held four-fifths of the available land under the treaties, or about 2,000 square miles.
"Crown Lands" Established
The Belize When Superintendent George Arthur came to Belize in 1814, he was surprised at the "monopoly on the part of the monied cutters". He asked the Secretary of State for the colonies to take away from these settlers the right to grant lands to themselves. Superintendent Arthur issued a proclamation on October 28, 1817 that no occupancy of land would be permitted except by written permission from the Superintendent. He also ordered those who claimed land to record it, explaining how they got it. This was an unsuccessful way to stop the monopoly of land ownership. The Commission he appointed to check the owners' claims to the land was made up of the same people who were the largest landowners. They insisted that the land was correctly theirs.
Although the Superintendent was not able to stop the monopoly of land ownership, he did succeed in giving "the Crown" (the British monarchy) the sole rights to all unclaimed land.
This was especially important for the lands south of the Sibun which were outside the treaty limits. Superintendent Arthur was able to keep this land from wealthy land owners. The effect of this was still visible in Belize until the 1960's when most of the Crown Lands were south of the Sibun River.
During the 1850's Britain signed treaties with the United States and with countries in Central America to define Britain's role in the area. In 1859, the Anglo-Guatemalan Treaty was signed, admitting British sovereignty over Belize and agreeing to the boundaries as we know them today. In 1862 the settlement of Belize was declared a colony and was named "British Honduras".
During the period from 1858 to 1861, the Honduras Land Titles Acts were passed to allow land in Belize to be sold even if a legal title to it could not be proven. This encouraged people in Britain to buy land in Belize.
The law was written in England by a lawyer employed by the company that became the British Honduras Company. This company's name was changed to the Belize Estate and Produce Company (B.E.C.) in 1875. The B.E.C. so completely dominated our country that the history of Belize for the next hundred years was largely the history of that company. It owned one-fifth of Belize, half the private land in the country.
Estate and Produce Company
The largest of these partnerships was James Hyde & Co., a combination of two of the oldest settler families, James Hyde and James Bartlett, and John Hodge, a London merchant. They took advantage of all the land that was for sale during the depression, and also used marriages to control more. In 1859, James Hyde & Co. was bought out by the British Honduras Company, formed in England in 1859. In 1875 it changed its name to the Belize Estate and Produce Company (B.E.C.). With the land acquired from James Hyde & Co. and with others lands bought from bankrupt partnerships, the B.E.C. soon owned over a million acres in Belize, or about one-fifth of the entire country. This gave it enormous powers. Its lawyers drafted laws that helped them acquire more land.
In 1867, Maya villages on B.E.C. lands in the Yalbac Hills were destroyed by armed force and again in 1930s fields and villages at Indian Church, San Jose and Yalbac were totally destroyed. The B.E.C. made hundreds homeless and fought strongly against the rights of its workers. Its chairmen were able to influence the Governor in Belize and the government in England. In 1847, the Chairman of the B.E.C. felt so confident about the company in Belize that he claimed "the interests of both are nearly identical."
Except for a brief period in the 1870's when it invested in sugar cultivation, the B.E.C.'s only use of the land was forestry exploitation. Yet it never used proper forest management nor did it replant trees - it just cut and shipped them. The B.E.C. was never able to use all its land, but it prevented others from using it in order to keep the population dependent on the Company and so better secure a cheap labour force.
The B.E.C.'s power in Belize lasted until the 1970's, when it was sold to an American company.

1 comentario:

David A. Andelman dijo...

For a compelling look at a more modern Treaty of Versailles, do have a look at my wonderful new book, "A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today" [ www.ashatteredpeace.com ], just published by Wiley !
All the best,
David Andelman