Headline — 19 April 2016 — by Rowland A. Parks
Guilty of destroying ancient Maya site, Noh Mul!

COROZAL TOWN, Mon. Apr. 18, 2016–When Noh Mul Pyramid, the ancient Maya site located in San Pablo, Orange Walk District, was bulldozed on May 13, 2013, by Dé Mars Stone Company to extract white marl, it made national and international headlines, and now, after almost three years, the criminal charges brought by the state have been heard and guilty verdicts have been read out in court.

Dé Mars Stone Company is owned by the United Democratic Party’s (UDP) Orange Walk Central caretaker Denny Grijalva, and his wife Emelda Grijalva, who are listed as directors of the company and who were charged, along with Javier Nunez, the company’s project manager, and its excavator, Emil Cruz, for causing damage to the ancient Noh Mul Maya pyramid by removing the white marl for roadfill without a permit.

Eight months after the trial commenced in the Corozal Magistrate’s Court, it came to an end today when Chief Magistrate Ann Marie Smith found that the Crown had proved its case against the four accused.

Javier Nunez was charged with “causing the removal of earth from an ancient monument without a permit,” contrary to Section 61 of the NICH Act, Chapter 331 of the Substantive Laws of Belize revised edition 2003. The company, Dé Mars Stone Company Limited, and its directors, Denny Grijalva and Emelda Grijalva, face two charges, the first being “removing earth from an ancient monument without a permit contrary to Section 61,” and the “willful damaging of an ancient monument contrary to Section 62 (1), (a) read along with Section 66 (1) of NICH Act Chapter 331 of the Substantive Laws of Belize, revised edition 2003.”

The Chief Magistrate also found that Denny Grijalva and his wife Emelda Grijalva, the company’s directors, were also guilty, vicariously, for the damage that was done to Noh Mul.
The type of sentence to be imposed has not yet been determined by the court, and Smith invited the attorney, Bryan Neal, who represented the defendants in this case, to address her on a possible sentence.

Chief Magistrate Smith noted in her judgment, “The trial commenced on June 1, 2015, after numerous adjournments before Magistrate Hurl Hamilton. Magistrate Hamilton recused himself and the matter finally commenced before the Chief Magistrate. Unfortunately, the trial took eight months to complete due to the unavailability of defense counsel, the non-appearance of witnesses, miscommunication between defense counsel and defendants, and the General Elections of 2015.”

“However, let the record reflect that on all adjourned dates, this Court was in a position to commence and continue this matter,” she said.

In her judgment, Smith noted the court’s visit to Noh Mul. “When the Court visited the site of Noh Mul, it was observed that the mound was in the middle of a privately owned sugarcane field, and even lacked the stone sides frequently seen in reconstructed or better-preserved pyramids. The pyramid mound, which is about 30 metres (100ft.) tall, is surrounded by landscape which seemed to be naturally flat. What struck the Court, however, was the clear demarcation of the ‘make up’ of the mound, which showed a clearly formed brick-like structure which was easily distinguished from a common pile of earth.”

“Under cross-examination by Mr. Leroy Banner, Mr. Grijalva admitted that he was a politician and not a foolish man. He also admitted to knowing that the excavation of Noh Mul was a ‘big thing’ that had caught the attention of the international media. He reiterated also that he did not know what was happening at Noh Mul until the information was relayed to him by Javier Nunez, via the foreman,” Smith went on to state.

“The information transmitted was that Nunez left the equipment at Petrojam and it was taken by unknown persons to Noh Mul. He became somewhat evasive when pressed under cross-examination with regard to the photographs shown in court previously, and what the photographs showed,” Smith further said.

The Chief Magistrate found that the testimony of Javier Nunez basically corroborated that of his employer, Grijalva.

“The testimony of Javier Nunez basically corroborated that of Mr. Grijalva, and sought to shift all blame to the villagers and the Chairman of the Village Council for the damage occasioned at Noh Mul. It was Mr. Javier’s testimony that the media was out to ‘get his boss,’ Mr Grijalva, and hence the interest in the case. He emphasized that he did inform Mr. Grijalva about the destruction which took place at Noh Mul,” said the Chief Magistrate.

The Chief Magistrate further stated, “Mr. Javier Nunez, under the rigorous cross-examination of Mr. Leroy Banner, admitted to being the project manager of the company and admitted that he was under pressure from the villagers to provide better material for the road.”

Chief Magistrate Smith then said, “In deciding this case, it would be remiss of me not to mention the international dimension of this matter, in particular, the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Belize has ratified. The obligations on state parties are clearly set out in Article 8 (1) and (2).

“Article 8 – Indigenous peoples and individuals have the right not to be subjected to forced assimilation or destruction of their culture. (2) States shall provide effective mechanisms for prevention of, and redress for: Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities: Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources.”

“The damage to the mound is irreversible, as the excavation has resulted in only the core being left. The Court understands the outrage experienced by the professionals at NICH, as this body takes its trusteeship of the mounds and Maya pyramids very seriously,” Smith said in concluding her judgment.

The court will reconvene on Thursday, April 21, for sentencing.

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