Mayan Communities Demand Government Meeting Over Land Policy Rejection
Tonight, tensions in the south remain high as several Mayan communities are demanding a meeting with the government after rejecting its draft Maya Land Tenure Policy. Last week, we showed you the gathering organized by the Toledo Alcalde Association in which numerous Mayan leaders literally tore up copies of the draft policy. The organization’s push to have an audience with the government continued into the weekend, as leaders from thirty-eight communities gathered in Santa Elena Village to demand the government’s presence, and a revised land policy. While the Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia, did say that she would have representation at the meeting, which was not the case. In the absence of government officials, a list of demands was drafted in Saturday’s meeting. Pablo Mis, Executive Director of the Julian Cho Society and TAA advisor, spoke to Love News about the meeting.
Pablo Mis, Advisor, TAA: “We had several thousands of people attending. The purpose for gathering, really, is to provide for an opportunity for the government to speak to the Maya people, to present to the community members themselves the latest iteration of the Maya Land Tenure Policy that the government has developed. We have explained to the government that it is very difficult for us to present a policy that we did not develop. This was the opportunity for that. Unfortunately, the government did not, chose not to attend, but there is a very clear and resounding message from our people that there is no way we can implement the Caribbean Court of Justice Maya Land Rights decision without a credible and without a fair engagement with the Maya communities. Today, The community members that were here passed a people’s declaration. The declaration has ten points. Our instructions are to send that declaration to the government and that it is our hope, it is our sincere hope that the government would listen to the cries of our people and that we re-engage in a process that will allow the Maya people to see an honorable settlement to the Maya land rights implementation. This, as we heard today, also is very important in terms of the contribution of the Maya communities to Belize and its development. We heard an overwhelming commitment from more people that we expect a collaboration that is fair, that is just with our government.”
Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia had previously stated that she believes the communities are being too hasty. Our newsroom understands that the villages are not in agreement with the government’s proposed policy on demarcating their communities. However, Balderamos-Garcia says that the draft is being misinterpreted, and that there are certain stipulations that may not be relevant to all villages.
Dolores Balderamos Garcia, Minister of Human Development, Families and Indigenous People’s Affairs: “When we bring the law in relation to the extent that a village goes outwards, it is only one of the suggestions and the proposals that we have made that for a small village for the actual communal land it can go out, say, at one kilometer but we can increase that. I hope we wouldn’t decrease it because it’s not a whole lot of space but for a smaller area the proposal is that the communal land can extend out one kilometer and for bigger villages perhaps two kilometers or even more but if you read the policy, and this is why I am saying that there are persons out there who are being irresponsible, if you read the policy carefully it is saying that the government – as a proposal and we will still consult with you but as a proposal we are saying that it can extend a kilometer or two kilometers but there is a proviso in that section of the draft that says that government would be willing to provide that amount without further proof of use and occupation. So if you can provide further proof of use and occupation naturally we have to take that into account. Naturally we have to take that into account. Now, they say as always, that the devil is in the details because let me give you an example. Down in Golden Stream there is a spice farm that is owned by Dr. Thomas Mathew and his wife. They have been in this country for 32 years. He and his wife have done so much in terms of cultivation of the land for different spices, black pepper, white pepper, allspice but why am I bringing up his name? Because his spice farm is located within what we would call the village of Golden Stream. Now the question of the devil in the details would be, what happens if his property would lie within the extent of going out the one or the two or three kilometers? And the question is something that we will have to work out. I don’t have the answer right now because I am not the technical person but I would wish to see that we can have a meshing or at least a melding, a coming together of interests so that we don’t have to be fighting one another. Because if the spice farm employs over 30 employees from the Maya communities why would we want to send him home? This is his home now and what he has done in terms of expanding his resort, he has the proposal to complete the building of 12 rustic cabanas that the tourists can come and that will provide even more jobs for our people. So why would we want to deprive our country of that kind of resort and facility when we can probably find a way to live together without having to take away people land?”
In related news, the government’s commissioner of indigenous people’s affairs, Greg Choc, demits office this week.