BELIZE CITY, Wed. Feb. 17, 2016–The case of the Santa Cruz villagers who are being prosecuted on allegations that they had assaulted Rupert Myles, of Bella Vista, was called up today before Magistrate Emerson Banner, but the case, which began last year, has still not gotten off the ground.
Latest reports to our newspaper are that the matter, which was being prosecuted by police, will now be prosecuted by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Cheryl-Lynn Vidal.
The case of the Santa Cruz villagers is historic, and it is the first time, at least in the recollection of the DPP, that her office is dealing with a case of this magnitude, having 15 persons accused.
Vidal explained to us why she is the one prosecuting the case. “The first is that the Commissioner [of Police], I am told, gave a directive that the matter was to be heard on indictment. I have never heard of a case of common assault going before a jury,” the DPP said.
She added that the reason the Commissioner made the recommendation may have been that he perceived some difficulty with such a case going before a magistrate, and so insisted on it going before the Supreme Court.
“I said that I will not engage the Supreme Court, which already is backlogged with murder cases to the 100s, to try a common assault case before a jury,” she added, insisting that it should be tried summarily in the Supreme Court.
“In the second place, it appeared from what had been said immediately after the incident that it is being suggested that the alcalde system operates to authorize this kind of conduct, and obviously, if it is that there is going to be a case to determine the parameters of the alcalde under the system set up by law, then it is a matter that should be dealt with at a higher level,” Vidal added.
Amandala is informed that the case was previously in the hands of a sergeant who serves as prosecutor for the Police Department. Vidal could not appear in court yesterday, since she was reportedly tied up with another court matter. She was represented by Lucio Shal of the Office of the DPP, who asked the court to adjourn the matter. Magistrate Banner agreed and set the matter for March 30.
The case of the villagers of Santa Cruz emerged last year after they attempted to evict Myles from the Uxbenka sacred Maya site. They had called for police to assist them with the eviction, but the police did not respond. The villagers, who claimed that Myles had threatened them with violence, ended up arresting Myles, tying him up and ordering him off the property; however, after the confrontation unfolded, police finally arrived on the scene.
Santa Cruz is one of two villagers which blazed the trail in seeking formal recognition of their indigenous land rights in the courts of Belize. In 2007, then Chief Justice, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, affirmed collective and individual rights in the lands and resources that they have used and occupied according to Maya customary practices, and added that these rights constitute property; and that the Maya villages of Santa Cruz and Conejo hold collective title to the lands their members have traditionally used and occupied.
In the case in question, Myles had alleged that he was told that he could not live in the village because of his race. Myles, a Creole who has a common-law wife in the Maya village, had claimed that the village chairman, Aram Canti, had previously told him that he does not want to see him walking around in the village, because he is a “Kerobee,” a derogatory name for Garifuna people, and they don’t want that “mix-up” in the village—an allegation that Canti has flatly denied, claiming that Myles was told he cannot live in the village because of land shortage.
Myles refused to leave the village when they tried to evict him, and the dispute led to a stand-off between Myles and the Santa Cruz villagers.
“These people were just picked up (by police) out of the (their homes in the) village in the wee hours of the morning, and brought (to court) without footwear,” Audrey Matura-Shepherd, attorney for the accused persons, told us.
The attorney, who told us that “not one hair on Miles got hurt,” said that that the prosecution has to present its evidence before the court. She said that two of the persons had been charged with aggravated assault and the others with common assault. She told us that no one hurt Myles.
Pablo Mis, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, which is supporting the Santa Cruz villagers in the matter, said that the Maya were ready to proceed with the case on Wednesday.
He said that, “The criminal charges had been brought forward by the State against the Santa Cruz [villagers] for defending their right—and particularly on the alcalde for exercising his authority as magistrate.”
He said that there have been 5 or 6 adjournments since the matter arose last June.
“The lives of 15 families, wives and children of 15 family members are put on hold and we do not feel that the consistent adjournment by the state is justifiable, and it is in a sense causing much unneeded stress upon the families,” Mis said,
He told us, “At this last hearing, which was held yesterday, we were informed that the DPP will be taking on the case… The prosecutor that was present indicated that he was not prepared or not in a position to hear out the case and asked for an adjournment.”
Mis told us that Myles is still using the site at Uxbenka and “absolutely nothing has happened,” in terms of sorting out his occupation of Uxbenka.
“We have not heard back from [the National Institute of Culture and History/Institute of Archaeology]. They had promised to keep us informed. The last I heard from [Dr. John Morris] was for charges to be brought forward. To date, we have not heard anything from them,” Mis said.
Dr. John Morris, director of the Institute of Archaeology, told Amandala, when we contacted him today, that they have been in negotiations with Myles, urging him to remove his home from the site. According to Morris, he had conferred with the DPP, and had been advised that an attempt should be made to settle the matter out of court.
Morris told us that Myles now lives in Bella Vista, where he said he has met with him to discuss the matter. He broke his foot in a recent traffic accident and is home recovering, he said.
Morris told us that, “if [Myles] voluntarily removes himself, then it does not need to end up in court.”
Morris told us that if Myles does not remove his home within three months, they would remove the home themselves – which, he said, they have the jurisdiction to do.
Morris noted that there is another person encroaching on Uxbenka – a Maya family, who, he said, have also been asked to vacate the site.
We asked Morris whether Myles would at least be required to pay for restoration of the site. He told us that after Myles’s home is removed, conservation work would need to be done on the Maya mound upon which it had been built, and Myles may be required to bear some of those costs, since the mound had been bulldozed.
According to Morris, it was Myles’s father-in-law, a Maya of Santa Cruz, who had initially begun building at the Uxbenka site. When Myles began expanding the dwelling, he had been advised against doing so.
Morris said that there are other cases where Belizeans have built on mounds, and that they have, likewise, worked with them to relocate without court action having been taken against them. He said that there were two such cases in northern Belize.
Morris said that in the case of Santa Cruz, they’ve had four cases where they have had to ask the villagers to move, and they did so after about a year of negotiations.