Tuesday, July 6, 2010


By Ray Auxillou, July, 2010

The current land issue in post colonial times, after Independence is more over the growing population of Belize, the opening of long, jungle clad inaccessible areas by new roads by the government’s of the day, accompanied by the ability for new settlers to move into new areas for agricultural living.
The current ideological clash is between the MILPA style of the last thousand years of small scattered population agriculture and large uninhabited jungle clad areas, both in the Peten, Alta Vera Paz of nearby Guatemala and Belize.
The areas effected in Belize are the Cayo District, the Stann Creek District and the Southern Belize, Toledo District.
Guatemala has already denuded her jungles and now those former areas have new populations of settlers, mostly into ranches and raising cattle. Jungle clad lands of the Eastern side of Central America are not conducive to regular farming. This is now occurring in Southern Belize. The soil is scarce, very thin and cannot sustain intense agriculture production alone.
The current argument between new settlers in Southern Belize and the government of the day, is about enough room to conduct a hereditary right of slash and burn milpa farming, based on Maya indigenous custom. Land titles have not been sought by farmers accustomed to pioneering and living subsistence style living off plenty of land. For the most part, subsistence farmers living in 3 generational family compounds cannot afford the fees, taxes, permissions of the CREOLE dominated bureaucracy, mostly from the port town of Belize City, the old colonial capital. A typical self sustaining jungle milpa family live comfortable enough, with about a $500 Bz cash flow for the year. Whereas the government bureaucracy normally enjoy between $24,000 and $70,000 a year, with politicians getting over a quarter million dollars gross per year. I recently paid over $2000 for a 50 ft x 75 ft house lot lease and recently paid again another $2000 plus, to get a TITLE after the LEASE, which hasn’t materialized yet, half a year later. These kind of costs are impossible for subsistence pioneers to afford. Nor are the expensive time consuming trips to the capital, Lands Department in Belmopan. Thus they live without land titles.
The argument by the government of the day is that new villages in the Southern part of the country, in parts opened up by roads built by the government, should pay for surveys and lease their lands and then get titles, like any other person in the Northern half of Belize, where there is flatter land and industrial agriculture.
Slash and burn Milpa farming is declared an indigenous RIGHT by these people who are moving into the Toledo District and setting up communities and villages. I can understand the argument, because they have no money and no elected representative leadership in the political system, fighting for them to get land titles in a more affordable manner. Unfortunately, slash and burn milpa farming is bad land use. It is wasteful of resources. It is also incompatible with population growth and migrations from one area of Belize to another.
We know from studying history that human activity in this part of Central America and Belize in particular runs in 3000 year, 1500 year, 700 year and 350 year cycles. The Mayan calendar is slightly over 5000 years long. Once a short time ago, about 1200 years ago, the CLASSICAL Mayan EMPIRE ended roughly about 700 A.D. I forget the exact dating, but there is ample evidence that ALL of the Americas were effected by CLIMATE CHANGE and a drought ensued for around 200 years. The drought ran from Canada to Tierra del Fuego. It is now believed that the millions of Maya that lived here 1200 years ago, died off from starvation, and populations declined to such extent, that MAYAN CITY STATES were abandoned and unable to be maintained. Another cycle of die off of populations occurred after the Spanish invasion 500 years ago, with the introduction of European diseases. To the North in the Yucatan, during Spanish times, there were two die offs of human populations. One occurred during a 3 year LOCUST PLAGUE causing starvation, another occurred during the CASTE WARS of a 130 years ago.
Guatemala on the Southern border with Honduras and Salvador, divided by a mountain range is now suffering another cycle of drought, starving out a couple of million people, in 2010. There were we know; two Mayan Empires and in Belize, CAHEL PECH ruins in San Ignacio town, of 3500 years ago, is a remnant of the earlier OLDER Mayan Empire, with about a 1000 years between the newer CLASSICAL MAYAN EMPIRE that disappeared around 1200 years ago, represented by XUNANTANICH ruins. Since then, the population became shrunk and scattered and survived to this day, based on lots of land for small scattered populations. The wars of the more recent CLASSICAL EMPIRE archeologists study, and city states, occurred during a period of much larger populations in the millions.
Population demographics are changing. We are exploding again with growing populations of humans. The era, during the last 1200 years in which SLASH AND BURN MILPA farming was practical and a solution, is no longer valid. We are in Belize going through a transition period in population growth and land usage, or looming land scarcity.
LIDOR mapping, a new air photo technique that shows old ruins hidden by jungle and ancient Mayan roads, including thousands of terraces built in hilly terrain, show that the CLASSICAL EMPIRE of the Maya, practiced a much different agriculture than today. They did not practice the famous SLASH and BURN MILPA system of today. They were intensive land farmers. They practiced concentrated agriculture in TERRACES, IRRIGATED and with FERTILIZER techniques. It was only after CLIMATE CHANGE for that 200 years effecting the AMERICAS, that after populations declined and land became plentiful, that SLASH and BURN MILPA farming came into being. It has been used for about 1200 years. As our population in Belize grows, MILPA FARMING becomes wasteful and untenable. Necessitating a shift in the hilly CAYO, STANN CREEK and TOLEDO districts back to the CLASSICAL MAYA EMPIRE farming techniques of using terraces, irrigation and fertilizing. We are in that transition phase now of population growth, and usage of land to the best method for the most production.
There now looms the court cases on land usage and land titles in the Southern part of Belize. To be solved; are how to issue land titles to a subsistence population of milpa farmers, who in the next few generations will have to change their farming techniques to fit the growing land demand by population explosion. Currently 36 villages are demanding an indigenous reservation communal system. From my own memory there were only about 12 villages in the Toledo District back in Colonial days. There were practically none in the Stann Creek District, before the Southern highway was built. Only along the coast by coastal vessels. I myself would go back to Independence of Belize and issue a few hundred acres as a communal reservation to those communities, about 12 of them to enjoy communally, and the growing number of new villages be forced to go through the land title process. Whether they want to or not, is irrelevant. Force of population explosion will only make matters worse in a decade or two. Elected representatives have the need to do something for their constituents in the land title process.
The idea that all new communities in a slash and burn agriculture MILPA system has indigenous rights over 1200 years is not valid. Population size is the dominating factor and just as the last CLASSICAL MAYAN EMPIRE had intensive land usage, so the current Mayan populations of these hills be taught to adapt by our Agriculture Department to olden MAYAN EMPIRE methods of terraced farming, irrigation and fertilizing. Whether they like it or not, change is inevitable.

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