Posted: Tuesday, February 1, 2022. 11:04 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: For many years, the organizations Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA) and Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) seemed synonymous and synchronous – two halves of one whole.
But Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs Gregory Ch’oc, in discussing his role and the development of the Free Prior Informed Consent Protocol (FPIC), laid out the roles of each and the developments that led to its filing last week and the current complaints.
It is “not accurate,” Ch’oc began, that the alcalde system of governance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association are one and the same; the latter is simply an association of the customary leaders of the Maya people. Rather, “the central principle of Maya customary law states that the villagers in a village are the only authority to make decisions on behalf of that village on any matter that may affect them. So, the villagers are the supreme authority, not the leaders,” Ch’oc said, adding that while they could do so, villagers to his knowledge have not decided to have the alcaldes speak for them the way village council leaders would, for example, in a Western system.
Ch’oc further referred to Supreme Court Claim 366 of 2008, better known as the second Maya Land Rights case, in which the then-alcaldes of more than 20 villages in the Toledo District along with the MLA and TAA sued the Government, with the late Francis Johnston and another as interested parties. Paragraphs 6 through 13 of that judgment defined the MLA, TAA and the roles and standing of each and of the alcaldes as seen by then-Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh. (Ch’oc noted humbly that he was founder of the MLA).
Thus, the Government consulted “extensively, respectfully and equally” with the various organizations under the MLA as they all have the same standing – the Kekchi Council of Belize (KCB), Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), the Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC), the Toledo Maya Women’s Council (TMWC), the TAA and Julian Cho Society (JCS). All except for SATIIM were involved in the second Maya Land Rights case as members of the MLA.
Ch’oc also pointed to his own roots as a well-known Maya rights defender, defeating the charge that he had “sold out” his own people: “I believe in consultation. I have demanded consultation from the Government of Belize when I was in The Maya Leaders Alliance, when I was at SATIIM. I have demanded the right of the Maya people to free, prior and informed consent and the requirement that they should be involved in formulating the policies. If I demanded that – and I am humbled that I have been given the opportunity by the Government of Belize and Minister Balderamos(-Garcia) – to finish the work that I started, so I pursue the work of the Government, anchoring the work on consultation that I demanded. I would not be here before you if we had not consulted, extensively, with all of the Maya organizations.”
And the proof is quite literally in black and white – the piles of documents spread out on the table at the start of the meeting – so Ch’oc said no one had to take his word alone for it.
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