Kriol, East Indian and Garifuna community leaders unite amid ongoing land tensions in the south
Two weeks ago, a peace agreement was reportedly brokered between the residents of Yemeri Grove and Laguna Village. The tensions were high in recent months over a land controversy, and on several occasions had warranted police presence. Earlier this month, government officials had reportedly intervened, and had announced on October 13 that a peace deal was reached. Fast forward today, however, and the narrative has changed significantly. Residents of the two villages and surrounding areas, are saying that the agreement has solved nothing, and has only allowed the contentions and hostilities to fester. A press conference was held today where several points were ventilated. Reporter Benjamin Flowers has the story.
Benjamin Flowers, Love News: It was only two weeks ago when the Government of Belize announced that a peace agreement had been signed between Yemeri Grove and Laguna deescalating tensions in their boundary dispute. However Yemeri Grove and neighboring villages say that this is far from the truth and in fact the situation is far worse than has been previously reported. Today the National Kriol Council held up press conference at the Swift Hall in Belize City where the chairpersons fromYemeri Grove, Jacintoville, Mafredi and Barranco all reported having boundary disputes with neighboring villages. They say that these disputes are worsened by the fact that authorities are operating with apparent bias. The aggrieved villages are a mixed bag of East Indian, Kriol and Garifuna but they all share the same complaint that since 2015 Maya villages have been expanding and annexing land from non-maya villages. Yemeri Grove chairman Herald Usher said that the Maya and non-Maya villages have lived in harmony for years and it grieves him that the problem is stemming from the leadership of the Maya Leaders Alliance. He contends that the MLA enjoys the support of the government while non-Maya villages are expected to stand by and watch their lands be taken from them.
Herald Usher, Yemeri Grove Chairman: “Actually what is happening is that we are finding out that all villages who are non-Mayan villages is being actually trampled upon and actually what they are doing they are demarcating lands without our consent come without the consent of those villages and villages like probably the East Indian Village, the Garifuna village and my village who is a Kriol village we are suffering because they are actually taking our land, they are demarcating without no respect, with no regard to us and they are just coming in and taking and what makes it really for me what makes it really a burning issue is that I have seen a government proposed map and the government proposed map is basically exactly what the Mayans are saying. As a matter of fact they are actually taking and cutting my village probably into half or probably even more.”
Benjamin Flowers, Love News: Roxanne Rodriguez chairlady of Mafredi village said that her village is surrounded by Maya villages but remains predominantly East Indian. She said that her village is being forced to adopt a Maya system of land tenure that they do not want to participate in.
Roxanne Rodriguez, Chairwoman, Mafredi Village: “Presently the Mafredi villagers are not entitled the privilege of paying land taxes. Presently the lands department states that no taxes will be collected because the entire Mafredi village falls under communal land. How could that be possible? There was not even one consultation made with Mafredi. We do not want communal land system Mafredi we want to pay our land taxes and remain a private village. We have been deprived of our rights.”
Benjamin Flowers, Love News: Egbert Jacobs has been the chairman of Jacintoville for the past six terms and has been on the village council for the past 10. Jacobs says that he is a 4th generation resident from Jacintoville and knows that the village predates San Felipe. However Jacobs says that in recent years San Felipe has been steadily encroaching in the Armado area of Jacintoville.
Egbert Jacobs, Chairman, Jacintoville: “We stand in support of all the non-mayan communities because we think we are being taken advantage of by the Mayan communities. In fact the MLA the recent indicative map shows that the MLA is taking about more than half of Jacintoville. That is in the Armado area where are farmland existed from long ago.”
Benjamin Flowers, Love News: Barranco Chairlady Beatrice Mariano says that since the non-maya villages are enduring the same struggle they are organizing themselves and seeking advice on the best way to proceed.
Beatrice Mariano, Chairlady Barranco Village: “This is the year, the decade of Afro descendants so it’s only right and fitting that we as Garifuna people support our Kriol brothers and sisters who are facing the exact same challenges that we are especially when it comes to this land situation and the CCJ ruling in the Toledo district. For some time now, this is probably over 5 years or more that residents of Barranco who have land to the west of Barranco this would be leaving Barranco going toward what is now Midway Village have problems getting their land documents. Any transaction that they tried to get done at the lands department when it comes to land west of Barranco going towards Midway it cannot be done, applications are denied, payments are denied because the area is now being called Mayan land, Maya customary land. We have formed a coalition as well as there is a larger group and we have been seeking and receiving some legal counsel so that is the next step.”
Benjamin Flowers, Love News: With so many villages now raising their voices against the issue it remains to be seen how the government of Belize will respond.