Maya Leaders appear in Punta Gorda Magistrate Court

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Updated: June 24, 2015

More than one hundred Mayans showed up in front of Punta Gorda’s magistrate court today to witness the detention of Maya Leaders Alliance spokesperson, Christina Coc. Her arrest stems from an incident that occurred over the weekend involving Rupert Miles, a black Belizean. Miles was detained by a group of Mayans in Santa Cruz village on Saturday….images showed that he was handcuffed just outside his home that sits on the Uxbenka Maya site. This latest action taken by the Maya community has been described as racist and Prime Minister Dean Barrow condemned it saying that it was inappropriate, outrageous and indefensible and said that he would look into the matter carefully and see if any of the villagers might be criminally liable. And today, a dozen Maya community members were charged for unlawful imprisonment against Rupert Miles. Forming part of that crowd was Christina Coc the spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance. Some of the detainees were also charged for common assault and aggravated assault with a machete. Program Coordinator for the Maya Leaders Alliance, Pablo Mis, told PGTV that they have documented complaints against Rupert Miles who for months now has been reportedly breaking community rules.

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

You will recall that there has been growing tension in Santa Cruz that relates to an individual that refuses to comply with the community rules. The community have documented a chain of outcry to the authorities for support to ensure that this individual complies, authorities failed to act. The village then ensured that their community rules are upheld and respected by others so now it has been turned into sort of a nightmare where this morning at around 4 in the morning four truckloads of police officers arrived at the village and essentially barged into people’s homes and detained 11 persons including an Alcalde and the chairperson of the village. Those individuals are now being detained at the police station, they are being processed and they are being denied their right to their attorney. I just got word from the attorney from inside that she’s being asked to stay away from her clients as they are being processed.

Reporter

“ Could you make mention is there anyone else that is being detained at the moment?”

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

“As you know the Maya’s alliance and Toledo Alcaldes association is known to support communities in defending their rights in ensuring that all the laws of Belize are applied accordingly within the communities and that also the customary rights as guaranteed under the constitution of Belize and international law and standards that Belize is obligated to uphold.  The MLA and the TAA have consistently for the past three decades supported communities. In that regard the communities did reach out to the MLA and the TAA for support in this instance and so we are very familiar with the case.  We were invited as well just like the police and the BDF to come to the community that day to witness what was happening. In that regard the Toledo Alcaldes Association sent representatives. Ms. Christina Coc is the spokesperson of the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Alcalde Association has been arrested by police. She is right now behind bars locked up in a cell she’s been processed so that is really the situation right now.

Reporter

“Have there been any charges levied against Christina?”

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

“We understand that all the charges that all these persons are held for has to do with unlawful arrest.”

Mis argued that Miles was detained lawfully and according to community laws.

Reporter

In your mind is the arrest of Mr. Myles unlawful?”

Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA

“It has been clearly outline in the letters of the communities to the authorities. Support was sought from them both the police department the very department now that has detained 11 villagers and Christina Coc they reached out to them and the Belize defense force for support that all laws are upheld.  But I want to state that the Alcalde who is a local magistrate in the community, has the jurisdiction to order the arrest or the detention they’ve done it numerous times in the community and that is why you find Maya communities to be very peaceful communities. Now it’s the obligation to uphold the laws including that of the community and Maya customary right, so in this instance the Alcalde ordered the detention of this person. Now I want to be clear that this person was never arrested or charged he was merely restrained, he was detained for threats that he has given against the community, for being very disrespectful, being a bully at that particular meeting it is for those reasons that he was detained. Once the situation was resolved, he was released and that’s really what the community were asking for from the beginning. So we will leave the rest up to attorneys we have our attorneys right now preparing to deal with these persons. As I said earlier we got information from the attorney inside that she’s being refused the right to give a service to her clients. We have also activated the international community to monitor the situation because for us now this is really doesn’t have to deal with only Santa Cruz any more, this clearly is the lack of understanding of Maya customary law, the very ,core issue that we’ve argued before the Caribbean court of justice so this is really a failure of the government now to protect Maya people as equal people of Belize.”

Representing those detained was Attorney, Audrey Matura Shepherd.

Audrey Matura Shepherd, Attorney

“What is amazing about this is that it shows you the might of the state. The Prime Minister said in his interview on Monday that at all costs he will make whatever authorities do whatever they have to do to bring justice and get these people. I don’t say we shouldn’t have justice, I believe there should be an investigation and the side of Mr. Myles should be heard and the side of the community but I want to be able to give you all today a copy of a letter that shows clearly that the police, the BDF and NICH knew the problem and they knew that on that day a meeting was to be held to discuss that issue and that the eviction was key to it and they were called out so that this may be done peacefully. Did they show up? No they didn’t; but this morning at 3:30am or 4am as though they are dealing with common criminals they don’t even go to the border and get the Guatemalans at predawn operations, they came to the village of Santa Cruz while men and women were sleeping and what the police didn’t want you all to see is that many of these people did not have on shirts and they were not wearing any shoes if you look because the police in an inhumane way refused to make them put on a simple shirt and refused to make them put on a shoe. It is begging other friends out here that people took off their shirts and gave it to them so that they can go before the courts and that needs to be known so that pre-dawn operation is just showing the might of the state. Bail was set at $8,000 initially however under the regulations or instructions issued by the chief magistrate, if your bail is over $5,000 you must bring land papers. Now we are talking people that are talking about communal land rights so they don’t have land papers so effectively you can’t get bail. Now the magistrate I made an application to him to ask him to use his discretion because he has that power, and vary the amount of bail he can give either the $8,000 and split it into two sureties which mean that each person will be signing for over $4,000 each or he can reduce the bail to $5,000 or less so you can access bail without getting land paper. I must say that initially he indicated that his style once he gives bail that is the end of that but I’m glad he heard our application and used his discretion because as I pointed out to him, under our constitution bail is a right it is not a privilege. Your right to freedom under your constitution is important, so no court system should give you some kind of bail or make some kind of provision that makes it beyond your reach and as I indicated to him these people don’t own land title, the mere fact that this issue arises out of communal land rights they don’t have one title. It’s rather interesting because it shows you clearly that the system that we have designed does not keep in mind the cultural difference of our indigenous people because the system was never designed for poor people. In Belize City I go through the same problem when I get a young black man that has to go before the court, they live in areas where they will never have access to land papers so you have these bail bonds men that charge them thousands of dollars to sign bail for them which is exorbitant and an injustice. I would hope that after all I go through that Belizeans would clamor that bail cannot be that you have to have land paper and this nonsense that only if you work you can bail someone else, the system is just not designed for the oppressed people its clear cut.

The case was adjourned until next month. The East Indian Council of Belize issued a release this morning stating its position in regards to the situation involving Rupert Miles. The Council says that it has been keeping its eyes on situations whereby quote, “Belizeans of color that live in Mayan communities have been discriminated against and come under physical attack by people of those Mayan communities”, end of quote. The Council believes the recent situation with Miles highlighted a situation that has prevailed for a very long time. The East Indian council t condemned the action of the villagers of Santa Cruz against Miles. The council calls on the government to scrap the Alcalde system. The council also calls for the Mayan villagers to cease their actions.