GOB meets with the media on Maya Customary Land Rights Policy

GOB meets with the media on Maya Customary Land Rights Policy

The Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs invited the media today to an educational session on its consultation with Mayan communities, and the Maya Customary Land Rights Tenure Policy. The ministry has been working for the past three years to draft a framework for its implementation, which the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had placed a ten-year deadline on. However, after rounds of discussions and presentations, aspects of the draft are being rejected by several of the forty-one villages. The communities, with support from the Toledo Alcalde Association and the Maya Leaders Alliance, are rallying against the government’s proposed delimitation process. The draft proposes utilizing the measurements within one to three kilometers of the center of the villages but includes provisions for expansion. The communities have claimed that the policy will limit their village boundaries to a one-kilometer radius, but the government says the proposal is simply a starting point. Andrew Marshalleck, lead government attorney, explained that the draft boundaries were based on historical data and noted that the country continues to apprise the CCJ of its progress. 

Andrew Marshalleck, Lead Government Attorney: “There is a process where you apply for and you’re issued a certificate, a title in the name of the village because it’s communal and the village holds that certificate as evidence that it owns this bundle of rights called Maya Customary Land Tenure in a particular space, particular piece of land. So in a very broad nutshell that is what the law will seek to do. Now in doing that there are lots of steps and the way to best achieve that is also a way to best achieve that – because nothing is set in stone the policy is still in draft – the way to best achieve that we think is to start with the automatic recognition of a small core of each village and then allow for applications for additional lands to be made. And then eventually once all the applications are heard and determined the outer boundaries would have been established by that process. It is expected that that process would take quite some time to work itself to completion. The court is apprised of every step taken. They’re monitoring everything and they’re well aware of the delivery of the draft, it’s been shared with them. They’re also well aware that these further consultations that have been provoked puts the schedule back. The policy was supposed to go to the draftsman on January 15. Of course, if you’re going to engage in consultations now on the draft you can’t do that and if you’re going to engage in consultations by going to 41 villages that will be the next three months. So it will set back that process in a very significant way. The trouble we have with it fundamentally is that there has already been considerable consultations and the draft as it is is a reflection of those consultations in large part. And the question is, if every time the draft changes you go back to 41 villages we will never be out of this stage of the process.”

One of the concerns raised by the southern communities is that the proposed boundaries will not include their farmlands. Marshalleck explained that there is a misconception when it comes to the statement, and noted that the villages will not lose any of its farmlands.   

Andrew Marshalleck, Lead Government Attorney : “What is being missed there is the benefit of not including the farmlands. And the benefit of not including the farmland stares you right in the face. Communal land ownership land can neither be bought or sold. It means it cannot be used as capital to raise, you can’t take it to the bank to borrow money to build your house. You can’t do anything with it. Now, if you keep the farmlands privately titled, that option remains available to you to develop those farms. Now you can say, well I don’t want that I want the farmlands as communal lands. Well then all you do is you apply for it. So it works both ways but what the framework doesn’t – what the policy does not do is to lock the farmlands into communal ownership and it gives the flexibility of some sort of hybrid arrangement where you keep the residences as communal but you allow farmlands to be developed with access to the modern banking system, the financial resources of modern banking system. It’s entirely short-sighted and a misrepresentation to focus on volume. To say, well I’m not getting all that I’m supposed to. The policy isn’t designed, the automatic recognition isn’t designed to give you all that you’re supposed to get. It’s designed to give you a starting place from which you can expand those boundaries out. But even if we take that away, take away five, erase it, then what are you left with? It means then that you start with nothing and when you apply you have to prove continuous possession of everything. Now what’s the point of forcing proof of continuous possession of all those houses in the villages? You’re wasting time, it’s a wasted effort. It’ll all show that it’s been continuously occupied except for some very minor exceptions which we are aware.”

All this work on the land policy has been costing the government a pretty penny.  It is unclear how much has been spent over the last nine years, but for this fiscal year alone, we can tell you that two hundred thousand has been spent on administration fees only.  This does not include the field works and consultations.  CEO of the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs, Adele Catzim-Sanchez, says while there is no dollar figure for monies spent over the past nine years of work, the ministry has an estimate of close to one million dollars for its next phase of consultations. 

Adele Catzim-Sanchez, CEO, Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs: “What I can say currently we’re estimating that the next step will cost approximately $900,000. It can be more. And so it’s not a cheap process to undergo, but it shows the government’s commitment to staying with this. So we’re not shying away from responsibilities. We’re getting in there and we’re engaged. But we are also aware of the fact that it has been a lengthy process and we want to get to the stage at which we can comply with the consent order which indicates that we are to develop a legislative and administrative framework to deal with this. And that is where we’re going. And so you can see that having a draft policy, it sets the framework, it sets the stage for where we want to go next, which is the legislation. And if consultation is needed and we’ve heard the people, we’ve heard the media, we’ve heard all sides, and based on that we’re making the investment to continue the consultation process so that by the time we get to legislation we’re fairly comfortable that we have done everything that we need to do to hear from all parties, from all sides, and have legislation that will be fair, that will be transparent and that will be democratic in terms of laying out the processes for decision making to ensure that we comply with the consent order.”

It is to be noted that up to today, only three of the forty-one villages have established formal boundaries.

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