Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana handed down a judgment against the Government of Belize to the tune of six point three million dollars. The case dates back to 2016 and the suit was filed by Jose Ical on his own behalf and on the behalf of the Maya Village of Jalacte. The previous government was sued for damages for the acquisition and use of villagers’ land. The then government acquired the land for the construction of a dirt road from the Dump to the Guatemalan border and the construction of a BAHA sub-station. The Ministry of Works contracted CISCO Construction but the village claimed that the works affected some forty-four point five acres of farm land. The claimants sued on the basis that the government fail to consult the Maya as instructed in the 2015 Consent Order. The now attorney General Magali Marin Young defended the claimants. She was accompanied by Cristina Coc-Magnusson and Allister Jenkins. Jenkins explained the ruling handed down yesterday.
According to Jenkins the government’s attorneys former Solicitor General Nigel Hawke along with Samantha Matute Tucker had several arguments. They argued that consultation was had, but the claimant rebutted, saying that meeting was held after the construction had begun. The government also argued public need for the BAHA office since there was an outbreak of Medfly. There was no evidence to prove this and the court ruled agains. Spokesperson for the Maya community Cristina Coc-Magnusson says this win is another embarrassment for the government.
Cristian Coc Magnusson, Spokesperson, MLA/TAA: “We are delighted that this decision reinforces the legal recognition of indigneous Maya people’s land rights as established under international law and in the domestic law since the time of Chief Justice Conte’s* decision in the case concerning Santa Cruz and Conejo. One more time the court of Belize have agreed that the Maya people, have agreed with us, that we own our lands through our customary use and that we can manage our lands through our customary decision making processes. One more time the question concerned in this case was whether the community of Jalacte was in fact the owner of the land that was seized and developed by the Government. Chief Justice Arana concluded that they did own the land and if you will allow me to read very briefly the first paragraph of her conclusion. Paragraph 83. This case should never had arisen. The defendant, that is the Government of Belize, were aware of Maya customary land tenure along the route of the road in Jalacte. They were aware the agricultural lands would be damaged and compensation would be needed. They were aware of the Maya fears that the new road would increase pressure on their land tenure by outsiders and they were aware that it was a constitutional violation to ignore Maya customary rights of Jalacte. I will look forward to a time when we will not need to resolve these sorts of problems through conflict in the courtrooms. The decision provides yet another embarrassment to the government. But this was never our goal. There is another path to justice and this other path remains open. Chief Justice Arana has provided yet another incentive for Prime Minister Briceno’s government to cut a new path toward the realization of the 2015 Caribbean Court of Justice Consent Order.”
Coc-Magnusson says that the claim does not obstruct the government from carrying out infrastructural development in the villagers. She explain that the government must first follow protocols and consult and seek approval from villagers.
Cristian Coc Magnusson, Spokesperson, MLA/TAA: “How then would the Maya Land Tenure system work in relation to infrastructure development ? The owners of the land like in any individual private property land owner would have to give consent. Would have to say what is allowed to be done on their lands and so in this case those owners are the members of Jalacte Village. They and only they can control and can manage what kind of development, who comes onto their lands, how they come onto their lands and can designate where on their lands these infrastructure developments can happen. And so you know it is not to say that the government does not still have a responsibility in fact an obligation to continue to provide the necessary services, infrastructural, economic, health, education and otherwise to the Maya villages. It is in fact though that you do it in a respectful way that considers the effective participation of the Maya people in good faith consultations that would result in consent agreements by the community.”