Government of Belize Moves Forward with Implementation of Caribbean Court of Justice Consent Order on Maya Land Rights but Stresses Belize Cannot be Divided

Government of Belize Moves Forward with Implementation of Caribbean Court of Justice Consent Order on Maya Land Rights but Stresses Belize Cannot be Divided

The Government of Belize is moving forward with the implementation of the Consent Order issued by the Caribbean Court of Justice on Maya Land rights. On Monday, Cabinet held a meeting with its legal advisor, Andrew Marshalleck and Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Greg Choc, to sensitize Cabinet members on the requirements for the implementation of the consent order. Today, Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, spoke on some of the difficulties government has been having with the way certain Maya groups have been handling the situation. She stressed that Belize cannot be divided as a nation, so the communities will not be able to get everything they want with respect to land in the Toledo District.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs: “It is not helpful. It’s a little unfortunate when we keep hearing terms like there are “incursions” into Maya land. I mean when you talk about incursions into Maya land the boundaries and the actual extent of the rights have not been fully defined and the extent of the boundaries of villages have not been fully defined. So it is not helpful when we have to hear talk like they are “incursions into Maya territory” because then again we get back to the issue of the claim which for all intents and purposes would be almost the whole of the Toledo district and I know it is a difficult thing to say but that cannot happen in modern Belize. We cannot have a division of our country.”

Balderamos-Garcia also said that Cabinet held the sensitization training to get the implementation process moving as the matter is time-sensitive. He noted that the judges of the CCJ have given a time frame in which the consent order should have been implemented and the deadline is close. 

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs: We had the Cabinet and the parliamentarians meeting at the San Ignacio Hotel and I thought it was successful because it was basically the presentation of the draft Maya Customary Land Tenure Policy and in broad terms, in a broad sense yes it has been accepted by our parliamentary group and we have been given certain instructions in moving forward because it is clear that government now needs to move towards not only filling the policy before the Caribbean Court of Justice who exercise supervisory jurisdiction but now we have to move towards the administrative and legislative framework and we are hoping that this can be done in about a year and a half because the court themselves, the judges of the CCJ themselves have said that they don’t want to be dealing with this beyond ten years and we’re already at year eight. So if they would like to wrap it up and not have to be supervising us for another five years or whatever we need to work assiduously and quickly to try to wrap up that legislative framework but I can tell you it won’t be easy because many many issues have arisen and where we would like to recognize all the private land ownership in recognizing communal ownership we will have to do a very delicate balancing act. Basically the Maya Customary Land Tenure comprises what you call communal rights and communal ownership and so that communal ownership would be an ownership that is exercised by the village and not individuals and then it would be what you call inalienable just like how we were talking this morning about inalienable human rights if there is a communal ownership of village land you can’t sell it it’s really for the village.”

The minister also explained some of the processes that govern the process of setting village boundaries and how they will come into play when considering implementing the consent order. She noted that during the process government has consulted with all Maya and non-Maya villages. 

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs: “This thing has been shared with the appellants if we want to call them that from way back. Naturally they can’t get everything that they would wish because it is a policy that has to be accepted by the government. Just as for example in setting village boundaries there’s a principle called auto delimitation but that auto delimitation also has to be with what you call a verification exercise by government. So not because the village of Otoxa is saying “well I am claiming five miles from my village center.” not because of that claim would it necessarily be so because not only Otoxha might run into another Maya community but you might have places like San Felipe that run into a non Maya community like Laguna and Yemerigrove and Midway and Barranco. So the verification exercise of an attempt at auto delimitation would have to be accepted by government because clearly you know I don’t want to offend anybody but the government has to say that the proponents, the MLA grouping who are really the appellants in this matter it is absolutely clear when you look at the maps and like I say not everybody will be happy but government has to say that they cannot have the whole of the Toledo district. So government will have to be the one to limit it. It’s not going to be easy as Senior Counsel Marshalleck told us not everybody will be totally happy but government will have to try to balance the competing interests and make sure that we have private land for people who are not Maya and may not wish to enjoy the communal land rights and land tenure that would passed when the policy goes in.”

The minister said that the government is also looking into reports of Guatemalans coming into Belize and claiming Maya land rights. She said that government will need to take those reports into account when formulating policies going forward.

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