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Government reminds Maya land rights are not ‘absolute’ after private land owners complain

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Posted: Tuesday, July 5, 2022. 3:00 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Government of Belize and the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs has cited complaints by private landowners of alleged infringements of their rights in majority-Maya villages in the Toledo District, warning that “balance” must be achieved “between the customary land rights of Maya people and the right to private land ownership, both of which are protected by the Constitution.”

Belmopan asserts that in the view of the landowners, “they are experiencing an erosion of their constitutional rights, and therefore, they are increasingly concerned about their investments and future plans. There is the perception that some alcaldes, village councils and other Maya leaders have become emboldened in their dealings with private landowners…. some village leaders and Maya leaders are of the view that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) Consent Order has bestowed absolute rights on them.”

Earlier this year, leading Maya organizations objected to the writing and alleged lack of consultation on the Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) Protocol and related documents and accused Government of seeking to sow division among villagers and leaders of the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA), the lead organization advocating for the Maya people.

The Government argues that while village leaders and Maya leaders can respectfully request a halt to further surveys, leases and land transfers until a comprehensive legal framework can be adopted and administrative measures put in place, they do not have the right to act “as if private owners do not continue to enjoy their rights of ownership to their land. Existing roadways, easements, shared access, etc. cannot arbitrarily be fettered by alcaldes and village chairmen as they see fit.”

The FPIC filed in court is the governing document at present for Maya villages in dealing with non-Maya participants, subject to respect for one another’s interests and constitutional rights. The Government will facilitate and mediate processes in respect of conflict and work on establishing the full extent of Maya customary land rights, it says, but the ownership of private land must be respected, and likewise, private landowners must respect Maya land tenure as established by the courts.

That extent of land rights, including the necessary legislative and administrative framework that the CCJ Consent ruling has directed, is being worked on, and until such time the Government directs that each side remain “completely professional” and “respectful.”

 

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