KILAUEA — A public viewing was held Sunday for several small land parcels, whose contested ownership has been the subject of international news, sparked a years-long legal battle involving hundreds of parties and prompted a public apology from the world’s fifth-richest man.
People from all over the state — attorneys, politicians, activists, journalists and curious residents — arrived at an entrance to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s 700-acre estate on the North Shore for an opportunity to look at the four kuleana lots scattered across the property to be sold at public auction later this month.
A partition sale of the four land parcels will be held noon March 22 on the steps of Kauai’s Fifth Circuit courthouse — one of the final steps toward the resolution of a lawsuit to settle the ownership dispute filed by Carlos Andrade, a former University Hawaii professor who owns about a 25-percent stake in the kuleana lots.
Andrade’s interest in the kuleana dates back to an ancestor, Manuel Rapozo, who acquired the land in the late-19th century. Today, hundreds of his descendants — and innumerable native-Hawaiian rights activists — claim a stake in the land and say Andrade has no right to own or auction off the parcels.
Sunday marked the next step toward finalizing the matter in court — a public viewing is legally required prior to the partition sale — although there is no indication the dispute will be settled at the auction, regardless of the outcome. Many of Rapozo’s descendants feel Andrande’s legal fees are being paid by Zuckerberg and suspect his bid at the upcoming auction will ultimately come from a Zuckerberg-controlled account.
“Does anyone believe that Carlos is bidding on his own?” Wayne Rapozo asked in an email last week.
Rapozo is a London-based corporate lawyer and descendant of Manuel Rapozo who is helping to coordinate and finance the legal battle against Andrade’s quiet title suit. He continued, “I am stunned Hawaii’s public policy makers and even the court are not bothered by this. But the court will not allow us to present evidence.”
Craig DeCosta, a cousin of Wayne Rapozo who is also working to fight the quiet title suit, said at the viewing Sunday his contingent of family members hopes to put together funds to finance a bid for the lots. They hope to keep the land as collective family property and fear Andrade will sell the land to Zuckerberg if he wins at auction.
Beyond the international, intra-familial dispute, lies a group of people whose stake in the land comes from another realm entirely.
“We belong to that land, not the other way around,” Ka’iulani Mahuka said Monday. “They’re selling our sand. And they don’t own it.
In Mahuka’s view, Manuel Rapozo’s acquisition of the land was not legal in the first place because he purchased the lots at auction in 1894, the year after Hawaii’s monarchy was overthrown by a group of businessmen and sugar planters, a coup that led to Hawaii’s annexation by the United States.
“All land transactions after 1893 are illegal,” Mahuka said.
She calls the public auction of her ancestral lands “a war crime” and the partition and sale of Hawaiian land “the biggest heist in history.” She is exasperated by the fact that her government representatives and legislators allow the practice to continue.
“Where is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs when our kuleana lands are being auctioned off?” she asked. “While they squander our trust money, our people are living in their cars.”
This story has been edited to show the correct date of the public auction. A previous version listed the date as March 2 instead of March 22.