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Government continues to wrangle with communal land rights issues, village disputes

Posted: Friday, May 26, 2023. 2:37 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: From slightly different angles, the Ministers responsible for Human Development and Indigenous People’s Affairs and Natural Resources have issued similar calls for the residents of the Toledo villages of Laguna and Yemeri Grove to come together and work out the cross-cultural land dispute that has blown up in the last six months.

As outlined by the former, Dolores Balderamos-Garcia, the trouble is not with lands within the village boundary of Laguna which, she noted, has not been clearly defined – it is with the village boundary which Yemeri Grove claims encroaches on land they believe to be theirs but which Minister Balderamos-Garcia noted is officially national or Crown land: “We don’t have a problem in the center of your village dealing with the land in the customary way, but in the issue of Laguna and Yemeri Grove we have a disputed boundary, or maybe you could say that the boundary of the Maya customary land has not actually been set yet. And so, the government has to assert its authority over all land in Belize. We try to do it in a respectful way because we don’t want further tension. We did not believe that it was a good thing for Harold Usher [Yemeri Grove village chair] and his people to go out there and pull up anything and like I said at the previous press conference we are not going to penalize anyone. But where one practice bumps up against another reality of the government having to take responsibility for all land in Belize and also, you’re having a boundary issue… that is when we may step on somebody’s toes a little bit, but the Government needs to assert its authority.”

The Minister added that while the Government has to respect Maya customary practice, it does “bump up” against the realities on the ground, including the auto-delimitation issue and that’s where the Government must step in as a mediator.

Minister Hyde acknowledges that left to simmer, the situation could hit boiling point, but the process and legislation must be put in place: “The truth of the matter is it has to be a whole legislation land on that Mayan communal land ruling there has to be legislation and it’s a process, you have to go through to get to that, as much as you want to expand your village and you want to demarcate and all that you have neighbors so you have to function within that environment… people are on edge and there are people who come with clean hands and come with clean hearts and there are others who may not so it’s for us to try to get together and figure out how we get this done in the shortest possible time.” He added that it is critical that those on the ground must not listen to “confusion” but focus on what has been gained, including a standard protocol for informed consent, social infrastructure projects for the communities, and the forthcoming policy and legislation to codify the 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice Consent Order.

Balderamos-Garcia wholeheartedly endorsed Hyde’s point of view and said she is headed South again this weekend for further consultations. She asked that residents in another potential flash point area, Barranco village which borders Midway, come forward with evidence to support their allegations of encroachment by Maya residents of the latter.

And she indirectly called on the Toledo Alcaldes Association and representatives of the Maya Leaders Alliance to come back to the table, acknowledging that while things may be moving too slowly for their liking, there is no value in not being part of the discussion.

 

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