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Internal quarrel between Maya organizations goes public – Who represents who?

Posted: Saturday, January 29, 2022. 11:14 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: There appears to be a rift within the organization known as the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA), whose members are quarreling over what it means to be a Maya leader, and more importantly, who has the right to consent on behalf of the Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya peoples to the recently introduced Free Prior Informed Consent Protocol of the Government of Belize.

A statement issued by a trio of familiar organizations hours after the press conference called by the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) and its allies in the MLA, particularly Christina Coc’s Julian Cho Society (JCS), claims these organizations “have usurped the Maya Leaders Alliance and made decisions – including the signing of a $1.8 million USD contract – without the consent of all MLA members – or the Maya communities of Toledo.” Ironically, that is what the MLA/JCS/TAA say the Government has done in filing the FPIC Protocol without their input at the Caribbean Court of Justice.

The organizations – Kekchi Council of Belize (KCB), Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC) and Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) – further charge that the JCS/TAA have mislead authorities and others into believing that the TAA is the ‘collective governance institution’ of the Maya people,’ and that alcaldes are supreme leaders of Maya villages when the TAA is not a Maya customary organization and the MLA is simply a membership association. “The collective governance of the Maya people rests in each individual community,” they assert.

The KCB/TMCC/SATIIM alliance say the JCS/TAA should refrain from issuing any position without full consultation – and consent – of its membership. Further, they say, the JCS/TAA should not issue statements on behalf of the MLA without calling an assembly to select a MLA spokesperson or position, and to stop the “the top-down approach that it has taken since the signing of the Consent Order.

“The Maya people are strong and resilient people who can determine their own destinies. We must allow them the full opportunity to do so. The work is great and many. Let us focus our efforts on truly representing the voiceless,” the statement concludes.

As explained by SATIIM executive director Maya Ch’oc to Channel 7 News, “we have not had any kind of discussion as a group to say what our position is, and as Mayan organizations who form part of the MLA, we tried to reach out to the different entities because these are issues that affect our Mayan communities and what we found is that a lot of our communities do not know or are not aware of what is going on.”

She added that she found it sad that the JCS/TAA were able to mobilize membership for the press conference but not to properly consult with their communities, repeating that alcaldes do not and cannot make decisions for their communities.

Maya Ch’oc is also the daughter of the now Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs Greg Ch’oc (she succeeded now-Governor-General Froyla Tzalam as executive director of SATIIM), but she said she represents the communities that she speaks to and consults regularly, and the views she states come from them directly.

Hitting back, Pablo Mis of the MLA and Coc dispute Maya Ch’oc’s assertions. Mis told Channel 7, “It is not the place of the government what is and is not the Maya governance system. Their belief is irrelevant to the question on this matter. On the SATIIM, TMCC, and KCB, what we are seeing is really SATIIM taking a position against the Alcaldes, joining the government. Alcaldes have called them out on this. KCB and TMCC are not functional entities, not the same organizations that legitimately stood with the Maya people in the first Maya land rights case in 2007.” Coc added, “MLA was never included in any iteration of the protocol. Only the TAA. And only the TAA is removed. The power struggle is between the state against the Maya governance – TAA. Don’t mix the two.”


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