Posted: Saturday, February 12, 2022. 8:48 pm CST.
By Aaron Humes: As the next stage of the recognition and development of constitutional protection of indigenous Maya customary land title arrives, the men and women duly elected as traditional leaders of the 41 Maya villages (39 officially recognized) want the Government to know that they are obligated to respect and talk to them as equals – the intent of the recently filed Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Protocol before the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Following a media briefing in Belize City today, president of the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) Domingo Ba explained that it is rather galling to them to be back, essentially, at square one.
“For [us] not being recognized by the Government, then I think that’s total disrespect. The Government doesn’t know how we govern our communities, how the alcalde governs the community. Respectively, it’s only us the alcaldes in our respective community and it’s only the Association – we work with all our alcaldes – that knows how we carry out our functions within our communities. That’s why we maintain saying we are elected and we work for the community, we are the voice of the community but not to make decisions. Any issues, whatever the alcaldes have in their communities, we [the TAA] go and assist them with whatever issues they may have,” Ba told us.
Ba’s description is what has been termed an “evolution” of the TAA, which was formed in 1992 after meetings four to five years earlier. The issue of land rights did not fully come to the table until the 2000s, and the TAA took its spot at the head of the table with the filing of the first Maya land rights case in 2007 by Conejo and Santa Cruz villages, which was judged favorably by the Supreme Court, and then in 2009 by all villages and the bodies of the TAA and MLA. The subsequent appeals up to the CCJ led to the April 2015 Consent Order and the subsequent discussions on critical legislation and policy governing customary land tenure and community ownership.
Spokesperson for the TAA and MLA Christina Coc explained that fundamentally, the Maya find themselves negotiating with the major political parties rather than the Government of Belize. How so? As she explained, there have been various agreements established over the course of the last six years such as a roadmap of steps to take; principles and methodology for delimiting boundaries between and in villages; a dispute resolution framework for mediating conflicts; a customary land tenure policy, and a draft of the FPIC protocol.
But, she warned, “All of this is under threat to be reversed; it seems that the Government wants to reverse every single one of these agreements and go back to ground zero. That is very dangerous. We have wasted a lot of time trying to reach these milestones and now you are telling us that you are going to further delay by reversing all of these agreements.”
And it is ironic that the Government, she said, appears to be deciding unilaterally what is to be done, and against the spirit of the Consent Order which sees an “honourable settlement” as defined by then-Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, a spirit of reconciliation and righting the wrongs done to the Maya, not add to them. The case goes to court on a compliance hearing on April 7.
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