Land disputes in Southern Belize continue despite government’s efforts

Land disputes in Southern Belize continue despite government’s efforts

Land disputes among communities in the south continue to heat up despite efforts of the government to implement the CCJ Consent Order of 2015. Recently, there was a dispute between villagers of Laguna and Yemeri Grove that boiled over into a confrontation, and survey markers being placed to mark the village boundaries. In light of the tension, the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs held a press conference to call on several southern villages to refrain from hashing things out on their own. GOB says that while it fully is cognizant of the Maya Village’s customary land rights, the delimitation of any Mayan Village should be done in consultation with the government. Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, explained that GOB is working to draft a Maya Customary Land Tenure Policy as well as a Legislative and Administrative Framework to balance private land ownership and customary land rights.

Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “We want to respect and to affirm that we do respect the rights of all indigenous peoples including Garifuna and the Kekchi, Mopan and Yucatec Maya peoples. We respect the United Nations Declaration on the rights of indigenous people and we do repeat, members of the media, government’s commitment to implement the ruling of the CCJ for which as Tanya Santos our CEO has said we have been making progress towards. So it’s a matter of balancing interest. It’s a matter of making sure that we consult with the Maya villages based on the free prior and informed consent protocol which government has filed and it is being used now. I believe Commissioner Greg will expand on that a little and really to wrap up my introductory remarks I want to say that we will continue to consult on the draft Maya Customary Land Tenure Policy. There is a draft, government is committing and committed to consult with all parties concerned on that draft Maya Customary Land Tenure Policy and finally – I say last but not least – we will move towards putting in place, again as I have said the legal and administrative framework for the balancing of private interests and private property with the communal land holdings of all the villages of the Toledo District.”

Area Representative for Toledo West, Oscar Requena, whose constituency encompasses 26 Mayan Communities, says that while much has been accomplished since the court ruling, there is much work to be done. He explained that through the implementation of the Free Prior Informed Consent Protocol (“FPIC”) several land issues have been resolved.

Oscar Requena, Area Rep, Toledo West: “Speak, one of the first villages where we had the FPIC protocol being implemented was in San Jose and I am happy to say that I was a part of that process. Under the Rural Resilient Belize Project that project through the Government of Belize has work to be carried out in that community in terms of upgrading you know a bypass to their community as well as carrying out works to construct farmers road so it was required that we go in there and consult and that process worked out well. The community did give their consent that the RRB should go ahead and carry out the project. Similarly there was another consultation in Santa Rosa, again with Rural Resilient Belize and again it was applied and the community gave their consent. You are also aware that we have US Capital who has interest in the Toledo district for oil exploration and they have also been using the FPIC protocol in many of those affected communities where they want to drill. Secondly the Government has also moved to develop and we have in place a draft of the Customary Maya Land Tenure Policy that is ready. It’s currently being fine tuned and we’re getting ready to carry out a wide consultation so that our people can have their inputs and make their recommendations as to how we move forward with this process. I also want to say that very  importantly this customary land tenure policy also takes into account the third party interest.”

Commissioner for Indigenous Affairs Greg Choc also stated that ministry will continue to engage with the villagers to ensure there will be no further confrontation and defuse the tension. 

Gregory Ch’oc, Commissioner of Indigenous People’s Affairs: “Engaging parties is always a part of the process and we have demonstrated at least the government has demonstrated its commitment to engage all parties to diffuse any tension caused by any member of either village that may go into an area. There is a dispute resolution mechanism under this process but we’ve also at the government, the dispute resolution mechanism is under the auspices of the CCJ. What we have done is to ask the parties to report the matter directly to the relevant ministries in this case to the office of the commissioner of indigenous peoples affairs and we try to deal with the matter before it goes to the dispute resolution mechanism authority. Because the authority would come in, investigate and still have the government of Belize address the matter so we felt it was important to address the matter and we have been doing that. I have met personally with the village leaders of Laguna, I have met personally with leadership of Emory Grove and we will continue to do so to minimize and eliminate any tension or misunderstanding or to dissuade parties or forage members from engaging in activities that could cause that tension.”

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