At a meeting of LALIT members and people who support our campaign on the Land Question held at our Grand River North West headquarters in the LPT Hall on Sunday 12 March, Independence Day, Ram Seegobin outlined the various phases of LALIT’s campaign.
He said that it is exactly one year – to the day – since we launched the campaign on the issue of the villas being sold off to millionaires from abroad and opposing the Government policy of new so-called Smart Cities and the ongoing “Integrated Resort Schemes” around golf courses, marinas and hunting lodges. However, we should remember that this was really launching only a new phase of our struggle on the land question. The Land Question has been a central part of our program since the early 1980’s.
The first phase of our campaign on the land question was called “Disik, ki Lavenir?” (What on earth is the future of sugar?) This campaign opposed the continuation of the mono-crop sugar cane, a doomed industry that was monopolizing all the good arable land in the country, as it still does. We said at the time that sugar cane had no future. And we were right. Mauritius had produced sugar for 200 years simply because there was a protected colonial-style market for Mauritian raw sugar – first Britain then Europe – which assured the sale of so much sugar at such-and-such a price. When in the 1990s however protected markets became illegal under the World Trade Organization rules, then Mauritian bosses and Government had to face the world market to sell sugar. First the price fell 36%, and then continued to fall. We predicted all this, as part of our campaign to diversify from cane.
Later this year sugar is expected to be even less profitable, with a further price fall. And right now the sugar cane industry no longer gives permanent all-year-round employment to people (only to a handful of workers). Even that excuse no longer exists.
The second phase of our campaign on the land question was when the food crisis broke. This was when, as well as some bad harvests of major food crops, Brazilian corn was used not for eating or for animal fodder, but for burning for energy. This was when we worked together with other organizations to prepare a very fine Food Security Charter. (on our site).
Then some 4 or 5 years ago, we began the third phase, our campaign against this land speculation that is called “the real estate business” – that part of capital that fattens itself up on buying and selling land. Successive governments have encouraged the sugar estate companies – now with new names – to parcel their land, convert it from agricultural to residential, to build luxury villas on it and sell them off to the highest bidder from abroad. The reason the sugar cane bosses could put such huge prices on small chalets and make raving profits was that the Government offered them all manner of permits and even tax concessions – no tax for parcelling land, nor for converting it, nor even for selling it, and no tax now for building materials for it – and also offered permanent residence, and more recently, citizenship to buyers! So, we opposed this selling off and concreting up of arable land.
We agree that this kind of business causes money to come in to the country. Of course, it does. But it is one off. The means of creating jobs in the future, the means of developing food security in the future, the means of developing production and making foreign exchange in the future, and even the land for housing and amenities for working people in the future, is all just being sold off – on a one-off basis, causing windfall gains for the sugar cane bosses. That’s the end of the gain. After that, you may get a few dozen jobs as gardeners, and one or two for maids. That’s it.
So, we opposed this kind of economic strategy. A year ago, we intensified the campaign that we began when the Government was all out to create new supposed Smart Cities.
We soon found out that this campaign has a number of challenges to face, and obstacles to get over.
There is the vast scale of the real estate business. Real estate is part of “finance capital” that now reigns supreme amongst the different sectors of capitalism. This casino capitalism, this speculation, exists world-wide, and it is a major attack on working people world-wide. It is an imperialist-wide attack. So, the struggle is a vast one, and needs to be international.
And then there is the fact that Government after Government since 1995 have made more and more concessions and gradually entrapped the country into this destructive strategy. There is a table on the wall showing each Government since then, and how it has contributed to nurturing this real estate scam as a strategy. So, we are up against the big-time capitalist.
But our struggle has brought fruit. It is a rich struggle. Slow, not easy, but it is progressing. More and more people are becoming aware of the problem, and as they become aware, they take position against this kind of so-called development. Whether a movement strong enough to change this will develop, will depend on how the campaign unfolds.
Ram Seegobin then went on to suggest ways of making our demands more precise than they have been over the past one year (See article: “Clear demands emerge”).