Land is a scarce non-renewable resource and a tangible asset in the Virgin Islands. But at the current rate of sale, in a few short generations most Virgin Islanders will be generally landless and lacking power, control and influence in their homeland. If the status quo continues, current VI generations and generations yet unborn will soon only be able to walk by, drive by, sail by or fly over and painfully lament the loss of land.
They will sit amazed and disappointed with tears in their eyes and bitterly grieve in regret that their great-great-grandparents through blood, sweat and tears once purchased and owned this or that piece of prime real estate: island, beachfront and breath-taking hillside views.
Current generations therefore must protect and preserve VI lands for the use, peaceful enjoyment, inheritance and multigenerational wealth-building opportunities for future generations. And future generations must do the same for succeeding generations, rolling over the land into perpetuity.
Land ownership is such a concerning and urgent issue to the VI and Virgin Islanders that I struggled to determine what issue goes first. Consequently, I will probably violate the BLOT (“Bottom Line on Top”) practice employed in expository writing.
The VI, at 59 square miles, includes 36 tropical Caribbean islands, islets, cays and rocks, 16 of which are inhabited. The main islands are Tortola, at 21 square miles; Anegada at 15 square miles; Virgin Gorda at eight square miles; and Jost Van Dyke at about three square miles.
The early settlers of the VI presumably were the Ciboney Indians, Arawaks and Caribs. The European pillagers, enslavers, invaders, buccaneers and pirates — i.e. the Spanish, French, Dutch, Danish and Portuguese — routed these early settlers. The European raiders employed exploitive, extractive and dehumanising practices to operate the slavery institution.
Slavery is a vital part of the VI’s history. The products that fuelled the slavery institution were cotton and sugar, but sugar was the primary product and the planter class reaped enormous profits from it.
Nonetheless, a confluence of factors contributed to the decline of the sugar industry in the VI. These factors included emancipation and loss of free slave labour (the UK compensated slave owners under the Abolition Act of 1833 for the supposed loss of their human chattel); a series of revolts; a drop in sugar prices with the emergence of the sugar beet; a series of destructive hurricanes; drought; environmental degradation; and a cholera outbreak.
Experiencing a severe drop in the return on investment, coupled with a decline in the value of land and land improvements, the planter class sold their land to the former slaves and took flight out of the presidency.
The former slaves’ purchase of land from enslavers was instrumental in the rise in the peasant agriculture economy. Peasant agriculture continued into the 1960s.
Ruth Glass, a British sociologist, is credited with coining the term “gentrification.” Gentrification is derived from the word “gentry,” which historically referred to people of an elevated social status, according to Investopedia. Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as “a process in which a poor area (as a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses, which often results in increased property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer, residents.”
Though the preceding definition refers largely to buildings, it also applies to land. Gentrification is common and controversial in the United Kingdom, the United States and elsewhere. Gentrification and re-gentrification have rolled up on shore in the VI as well.
The phenomenon behaves like a rattler: Once engaged, a rattler does not surrender until the objective is completed. Similarly, gentrification is not going to subside. Be aware and be woke.
Increasingly, potential buyers are approaching property owners in both the USVI and the VI, inquiring and making offers to purchase properties. On the USVI side, to encourage and rationalise local property owners to sell their property, some buyers try to make the case that owners can sell their property and buy property in the continental US. Insulting! This approach is part of the push and force of gentrification, displacing traditional residents at any cost to make room for more wealthy new ones.
On the VI side on Virgin Gorda, a buyer approached a local property owner regarding selling their property. The owner had no interest in selling and quipped that they would “prefer to eat dirt before selling the earth under their feet that they and their parents work hard to procure.”
To be continued next week with the “pros and cons of gentrification” and other topics.