Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Serious problems developing in Belize

By Wellington C. Ramos

Seine Bight village is located in Stann Creek District, which is one of the southern districts where the Garifuna people have resided since they first landed in Belize. This village was founded by a group of Garifuna people, who migrated from the country of Honduras in the mid-1800s because of their involvement in the Revolutionary War for Honduras independence, when many of them were slaughtered.

Born in Dangriga Town, the cultural capital of Belize, Wellington Ramos has BAs in Political Science and History from Hunter College, NY, and an MA in Urban Studies from Long Island University. He is an Adjunct Professor of Political Science and HistoryThe village was named after the net that the Garifuna people make to catch fish and the geographical location where it exists.

The Garifuna people are people that are mixed with African and Carib Indian from the island of Saint Vincent, who fought against the Spanish, French and British that were trying to take away their territory from them. On March 11, 1797, the British succeeded in conquering the Garifuna people and they were assembled and imprisoned on the island of Baliceaux before being deported to Roatán, Honduras, where they arrived on April 12, 1797.

South of Seine Bight village is Placencia village, a peninsula that is populated by people who are mostly of European ancestry. This village was founded by a group of British Puritans, who migrated from Nova Scotia in Canada to Belize in the 1600s when the British took Belize from Spain and started to bring their citizens to occupy the territory. This settlement died out during the Central American war for independence in the 1820s.

The Spaniards that travelled the southern coast of Belize gave Placencia its name. During that time Placencia was called Placentia, with the point being called Punta Placentia or Pleasant Point. The people of Placencia survived mainly by fishing up to the 19th century but since the 20th century, this village has been attracting a large number of tourists to its shores because of the beautiful beaches and the cayes that are adjacent to it.

Commercial activity has also stepped up and the population is growing fast with white foreigners. The demand for land is becoming a problem for Placencia residents because most of the land is in the area where Seine Bight is, which is closer to the Southern Highway.

These are two villages with different cultures and they want to live independently of each other but the Garifuna people are beginning to suspect that, since the people of Placencia are better off economically than they are, the Belize government will decide to side with the people from Placencia.

Historically, the people from Placencia have always supported the United Democratic Party, while the people from Seine Bight favoured the People’s United Party. The younger generation of Seinebightians is not loyal to the People’s United Party like their ancestors so the United Democratic Party should move cautiously with their expansion plan.

The People’s United Party has governed Belize more than the United Democratic Party and may have favoured Seine Bight over Placencia to get political support.

In 1962, shortly after hurricane Hattie, Prime Minister George Price had asked the Garifuna people to leave Dangriga Town, Seine Beight and Hopkins villages to live elsewhere. The two villages that were created for the Garifuna people were Georgetown, which was named after him, and Silk Grass. Some Garifuna families moved from Seine Bight to Georgetown but none from Dangriga Town or Hopkins.

Garifuna people felt that George Price was planning to move them to sell the land to rich investors and this would have had a severe impact on their culture because they are attached to the sea. Also, Silk Grass at the time was infested with sandflies, so that when we were children growing up in Dangriga Town we would refer to it as Sandfly village.

Recently, it was brought to my attention by a Belizean American woman serving in the American Armed Services, that she purchased a property in the village of Seine Bight. To her surprise, when she received her title to this property, the document had on the conveyance Northern Placencia. How can there be a Northern Placencia in the village of Seine Bight? I can more understand that in the description of the property the location could read north of Placencia which is completely different from what the document contains.

I was told that there is a proposal to change the name of Seine Bight to a new name. If the government of Belize or a group of people are planning to change the name of Seine Bight to another name, I would strongly advise them to bring that proposal to the Garifuna people from Seine Bight to decide. Such a proposal should be agreed upon at a town hall meeting and a referendum by the people of Seine Bight and then passage through the Belize House of Representatives and the Senate.

Any attempt by the government of Belize or any group to try and change the name of Seine Bight without going through this process will lead to retaliation from the Garifuna community in Belize and worldwide. I am not convinced that this government under Prime Minister Barrow will engage itself in such a foolish political exercise.

I am now calling on the Garifuna people from Seine Bight to take this issue seriously and start to ask some questions. Also, to request from the government that the boundaries of Seine Bight and Placencia villages be clearly defined. If the government of Belize is planning to exercise its right to eminent domain on the citizens of these two villages, that it be exercised fairly through consultations with the residents of both villages.

Seine Bight residents might be forced to sell their lands due to their economic conditions but they better make sure that they obtain the real value for their properties.

While Placencia is attracting tourists and Seine Bight has the Garifuna culture to display, both villages can benefit from this relationship. The Garifuna people in Seine Bight must now organize themselves to sell their culture while their neighbours in Placencia sell their beaches and cayes.

With the airport coming in that area soon, the value of the properties will likely increase, so it would not be wise to rush and sell your properties now.

July 18, 2011