The Facebook chief has been accused of neocolonialism...
Mark Zuckerberg has raised the ire of Hawaiian natives after launching a number of "quiet title" lawsuits to secure full ownership of private parcels of land within the boundaries of his new $100m, 700-acre estate on the island of Kauai.
The action was taken by the Facebook chief's lawyers on December 30th, just days after he took to his social network to post photos of his family on the island and write about deciding "to plant roots and join the community ourselves".
The move to identify and buy this land from hundreds of Hawaiians has been likened to neocolonialism and prompted a backlash from residents and lawmakers alike. Landownership has a dubitable history in Hawaii, with generations of natives having previously been forced to sell their ancestral homes, as well as shoulder plaintiff costs in property disputes.
Kapua Sproat, a Kauai native and University of Hawaii law professor, told the Guardian:
“This is the face of neocolonialism. Even though a forced sale may not physically displace people, it’s the last nail in the coffin of separating us from the land.”
“For us, as Native Hawaiians, the land is an ancestor. It’s a grandparent. You just don’t sell your grandmother.”
Kaniela Ing, a Democratic member of the Hawaiian House of Representatives, compared Zuckerberg to the sugar barons of old who historically took land from natives and argued that he is "completing the theft".
Ing told AP on that he plans to introduce legislation that would force Zuckerberg into mediation before he can buy Kauai real estate.
"Zuckerberg may be acting more transparent than folks who exploited this law in the past, but it doesn't make it right. I just hope he understands the context of his actions in the history of our state."
Zuckerberg himself took to Facebook on Friday in an attempt to clear up the matter and assure people that no one would be forced off their land.
"The land is made up of a few properties. In each case, we worked with the majority owners of each property and reached a deal they thought was fair and wanted to make on their own.
"As with most transactions, the majority owners have the right to sell their land if they want, but we need to make sure smaller partial owners get paid for their fair share too.
"In Hawaii, this is where it gets more complicated. As part of Hawaiian history, in the mid-1800s, small parcels were granted to families, which after generations might now be split among hundreds of descendants. There aren't always clear records, and in many cases descendants who own 1/4% or 1% of a property don't even know they are entitled to anything.
"To find all these partial owners so we can pay them their fair share, we filed what is called a 'quiet title' action. For most of these folks, they will now receive money for something they never even knew they had. No one will be forced off the land.
"We are working with a professor of native Hawaiian studies and long time member of this community, who is participating in this quiet title process with us. It is important to us that we respect Hawaiian history and traditions.
"We love Hawaii and we want to be good members of the community and preserve the environment. We look forward to working closely with the community for years to come."
The dispute in America's 50th state comes as Zuckerberg continues on his US tour as he moves to make good on his New Year's resolution:
“My personal challenge for 2017 is to have visited and met people in every state in the US by the end of the year…After a tumultuous last year, my hope for this challenge is to get out and talk to more people about how they’re living, working and thinking about the future.”
Last week found him in Dallas, Texas, attending his first rodeo. He also met with police officers and planted a community tree, as US media becomes increasingly convinced that Zuckerberg is on something of a campaign trail and harbouring potential presidential ambitions. If he was to run against Donald Trump in 2020, he would be just one year over the minimum age at 36. Nick Bilton writes of the rumours in a Vanity Fair article:
"The nothing-but-gossip theory I’ve heard floating around is that it would be 2024, not 2020, which makes complete sense given that he’s still only 32 years old)."