BELIZE CITY, Fri. June 26, 2015–The attempt by the Maya of Santa Cruz to evict Rupert Myles, a Creole Belizean who has a child and common-law wife living in the village, and the subsequent move by law enforcement authorities to arrest several Maya villagers, the village alcalde, Manuel Pop, and Maya activist, Cristina Coc, have fueled a national debate, and today, Prime Minister Dean Barrow, who reiterated the Government’s commitment to put proper systems in place to make provisions for special rights of the indigenous Maya, issued a call in the House of Representatives Friday, via a formal statement, for Belizeans to exercise maturity and restraint, by abiding by the status quo until progress can be achieved on this front and discouraged confrontation and violence.
Barrow recalled the recent airing on national television of “very graphic and extremely disturbing images” of Myles tied hand and foot and imprisoned by Maya Belizeans in the village of Santa Cruz and footage of an earlier encounter of Cristina Coc of the Maya Leaders Alliance and another ethnically mixed Belizean, Joseph Estephan. He added that both what was said by Coc and what was done by Santa Cruz villagers raise some hinge issues that he felt the need to address.
He went on to clarify that the consent judgment entered earlier this year by the Caribbean Court of Justice in the Maya Land Rights case did not supersede the Constitution and laws of Belize, nor did it transfer sovereignty over any part of national territory from Government to any particular ethnic group.
“It did not create a state within a state. It did not set up a separate Maya nation in Belize and it did not give anyone the right to use force to vindicate any claim they might have to land,” said Barrow.
He said that although the judgment recognized that the Maya of Toledo have certain rights over certain lands, the precise nature of those rights must be defined and legislated in partnership with the Maya and after consultations with all Belizeans.
As for the attempted eviction of Myles from Santa Cruz, Barrow said that it is clear that under the laws of Belize, anyone wishing to enforce land rights and remove persons who wrongfully occupy lands must first obtain an eviction order from the courts, and only under such an order, to be executed by court bailiffs and marshals, with the possible aid of the security forces in Belize, may a person be evicted.
The eviction order served on Myles, which the Maya community of Santa Cruz sought to enforce on Saturday, June 20, 2014, was prepared and signed by village leaders, who requested the help of Belize security forces to carry out the eviction order.
However, the security forces did not respond and Santa Cruz leaders proceeded to handcuff Myles and tie him with a rope, setting him free after he signed an agreement to have his dwelling removed within two weeks.
Earlier this week, law enforcement personnel in Punta Gorda arrested 13 villagers of Santa Cruz, the alcalde of the village, and Maya activist, Cristina Coc, who had made it clear that the alcalde has the powers to arrest anyone who enters Maya villages without the permission of the alcalde.
“It will be illegal for you to barge into a community if the leaders did not accept you,” Coc told Estephan, who chairs a rival group, the National Mopan Maya Council, which is opposed to communal land ownership, as exercised by Santa Cruz.
Barrow said that no alcalde system, no cultural remit can supersede the laws of this country.
“No matter what form the Maya land rights may take, they may never amount to sovereignty and never include the vindication by private force of any sort much less force on any person,” Barrow said.
Barrow said that all Belizeans must see Government’s acceptance of the Maya’s special rights as a signal, advancement to achieving multiracial harmony in Belize, and a demonstration of respect for and pride in our Maya heritage and legacy.
He said that the move to legislate these rights must move as quickly as possible with everyone embracing the process – a work which he said would be “epic in scope” and “problematic and tortuous in the extreme.”