Features — 30 August 2013 — by Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“Whereas every person in Belize is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual, that is to say, the right, whatever his race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex,…”

– Section 3, Constitution of Belize

Clearly one of the bases upon which you should not be discriminated against is your race and even place of origin, political opinion or colour, yet from my little perch on the national scene and through my legal lens I have not seen a more discriminated-against class of people in this country than the Maya people, who, despite all the struggle, remain pushing forward to defend their rights. Kudos to them!

Sadly, unlike the gay agenda that is now being defined to appear to be a human right and which has behind it [no pun intended] millions being pumped in it, as well as powerful faces on the world stage aligned with that lifestyle, even the best paid lawyers appearing as their advocate, the Maya struggle has not gotten even 10% of said profile. How ironic. At home, like abroad, the media feast on giving the gay agenda headline status and in the 2013 Gender Policy the government has even committed to pay the legal assistance to advance said case against the schools not compliant with said agenda, calling it discrimination. [See page 26 of the Gender Policy]. Will write more on this another time.

Two – faced leaders

In Belize, however, the Maya struggle may not get the attention from the “so-called” human rights activists and organizations it deserves, but I can think of one faithful attorney who stuck to her stance and has not abandoned them, and that is Antoinette Moore. Interestingly a few local attorneys have come and gone and used the Maya struggle for political mileage and moved on, but Moore remains steadfast. As a matter of fact, it is ever so ironic that the attorney for SATIIM against US Capital, when SATIIM challenged seismic testing in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park, was no other than the now Prime Minister, Hon. Dean Oliver Barrow, who valiantly fought the PUP government of Said Musa for wanting to allowing seismic in the park … now you, my frequent readers, know the rest of that story. Under his leadership this government, more aggressively than the Musa administration, at all cost is now fighting to conduct drilling … but then again once money is involved no political party has any scruples.

On February 10, 2011 PM Barrow said, “I made it absolutely plain that the government has no intention of stopping the exploration process, especially not in the Sarstoon/Temash Park which I believe is still being co-managed by Mr. Choc’s organization.” It must be noted that this statement was made before the so-called EIA consultation was done and key Maya leaders were barred for speaking and one was bribed to work with the oil company [that was sad … hope he is able to live with himself]. So it came as no surprise when the government officials were a party to the charade on behalf of the oil companies and when Martin Alegria fought Greg Choc for the microphone so as not to allow him to speak for the four buffer communities of the Sarstoon/Temash National Park.

More interestingly, in that same February 10, 2011 interview here is the PM’s version of what the court ruled on drilling in the park “…the question of the legality of drilling in a national park went to court and the Supreme Court gave a decision saying that this was perfectly consistent, perfectly in order. That remains the position of the government and that position will not change.” But sadly, this is NOT true. The case did not say that drilling in national parks is legal. How sad that the attorney who did the case did not remember that the crux of the matter was not about drilling but seismic testing … but such mindset proves that once there is seismic testing it is automatic to equate with drilling being the likely outcome.

The main argument of the case by SATIIM was that oil companies did not qualify under the exemption of the law which does allow for certain activities to take place in a national park. Section 7 of the National Parks Systems Act sates:
“ (1) The Minister may at his discretion issue permits to bona fide organisations and scientists and other qualified professionals or specialists for cave exploration, collection of specimens of particular species of flora or fauna, group education activities, archaeological or palaeontological [sic] exploration, scientific research and related activities.”

So the question was whether seismic testing for oil was considered scientific research. The decision PM Barrow is referring to did not say you can now be “drilling in a national park,” but that you can do seismic testing because the court deemed it scientific research and that is so different from the act of drilling and does not entail any drilling. Adding to the irony, some in the PUP say they support the Maya people now while they are in Opposition, but it was a PUP Government that so vehemently argued for US Capital that seismic testing is scientific research … now anyone who reads that section in the National Parks System Act Chapter 215 will realize that the intention was more against allowing oil exploration and drilling, and more for genuine scientific research.

A people’s struggle

So whom do the Maya really have on their side, who understands their plight? Well, for sure the average man on the street, who now sees that their individual struggle is their collective struggle and that if they do not support each other they will be played against each other, is now understanding the plight of the Maya.

Sadly when it comes to the media, for them the plight of the Maya people is just another news story and they seem not to be able to sustain the coverage of this plight sufficient to keep the nation’s interest because they are not interested. It is easier for them to quickly invite the proponents of the gay agenda on the show than to bring the Maya leaders and give them consistent air time. For example, on Love FM while you will see Ernesto Vasquez outright going to bat for the gay agenda and even hanging up the phone on callers whom he does not agree with, you will never see him do the same to promote the human rights of the Maya people. And he cannot, because he is the liaison officer of the oil companies, still sitting in on a radio/TV morning show and using his clout there to further only the agendas he aligns with. He was present when the EIA so-called consultation was railroaded against the Maya people. As a matter of fact, Vasquez’s conflict of interest is so blatant that neither Rene Villanueva, Jr., nor Sr., should have allowed Ernesto Vasquez to be the host of the morning show the day Greg Choc was a guest…. That was so unfair. How could the liaison officer of the oil companies, US Capital included, be the interviewer and host of the show when the guest is Director of SATIIM, the NGO that is opposing US Capital and its move to drilling in the park managed by SATIIM? Don’t media members get in their training the rule against conflict of interest and bias? But Vasquez could not get away with this conduct and allowance of bias and conflict of interest if the station and its management does not allow it … so I am calling them out publicly!

To his credit, one media mogul, Evan X Hyde, in his writings has made it clear he is with the Mayan people … he understands their struggle and he supports them despite their not being an economic power bloc. Other media houses first consider before throwing their weight behind an issue. You see the media is not fully independent, because it needs to get its ads from the blocs that control the money. The Maya as a bloc are not cash-rich, but they are resources rich and so the money people want to exploit those resources and turn it to cash.

The Maya people are saying that the true value in perpetuity of these resources is to keep it in a state that makes it available to them forever. The “big-money” people who finance election campaigns are saying that they want to process those resources, make it into cash now because their need for money is now and preserving anything for future generations is not cash smart. So they have the advantage of not only donating moneys to elections and private pockets of politicians, but they control the ads in the media houses and influence the economic scene, unlike the Maya people.

The edge the Zinc Fence has over the other media houses is that they built their business for the people, with the people and amongst the people from the inception: they are a people movement. The UBAD experience remains the experience of the Zinc Fence, but if we track the genesis of the other long-standing media houses you will see how each was birthed out of a party-political agenda with special licenses, concessions, transfer of the people’s assets, etc. Thus, Zinc Fence will always be indebted to the man on the street, not the man in high offices and they will always be liked by the man on the street and not the man in high offices. I challenge any of the media houses that the cap fits, to prove otherwise. I will write and call names and discuss further!

Human rights of being Maya

At the start I quoted our very own Constitution and noted on what basis discrimination is determined, namely “race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex,…”. Now using this, let us be honest and look at the Maya people in our country and let us all not lie to ourselves about the way we see them, consider them and even treat them.

Race: Clearly we all know that their race is different from ours, if we are not Maya, and that traditionally, they, although being the original occupiers of this land we have always seen them as and treated them as the least in all spheres of life, except when we want to talk about Mayan temples and and use the legacy of the Maya to promote tourism. Have you ever seen anyone from the tourism sector or organizations such as BTB or BTIA stand up and lend a voice of support to the Maya people? No! Yet they use the branding of the Maya to make money… right! I have heard some of the most racist remarks come from political leaders themselves when talking about how to get the Maya vote out … but will leave it at that for now. They are discriminated against because of their race, even by the government, whichever comes into office. Their name is a sales pitch to bring tourists, but not one portion of it goes to the Maya people, which represents 10% of the population. Many Maya villages remain without electricity, running water, health centers and access to basic infrastructure needs.

Place of origin: Continuing from the above, I am convinced that the Maya are from this region, before it had the borders we now call Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras … that is why this region is now called “Ruta Maya” for marketing purposes for tourism. hmm! But our own government does not believe our Maya brothers and sisters are from here. I sat in and heard Lois Young–Barrow, attorney for the government, stand up in the Court of Appeal for hours arguing that the Maya who are with us are not descendants of the original Maya who lived on our soil, because they fled when under persecution. Yes, that is our government’s position. Thank God, the learned men on the bench asked if you are forced to flee under duress, if that could be considered true abandonment of your native claim to title to the land your ancestors occupied? They are discriminated against because of where some believe they originate from. In Belize the Maya in southern Belize are treated worse than the Maya of northern Belize … think about it!

Political opinions: As a class, they are neither PUP nor UDP; rather the majority still believe in the alcalde system and their right to decide the affairs of their people. Yet successive governments have sought to destroy their political system and bring them under subjugation. For example, in order to dissolve the power of the village alcaldes, government started a chairperson system, which goes contrary to the alcalde system recognized in law by our Inferior Courts Act. This, however, is to divide and conquer them. Recently, this administration tried to influence who was elected to the posts of alcaldes and who became the head of the Toledo Alcaldes Association. Why? To infiltrate and destroy their political process and opinions. Of course this is only possible when one or two Maya persons decide to sell out their people, but in it all the majority still stand firm. Respect! Because of their own political opinions that do not align with the mainstream political views, they are discriminated against.

Colour: Well, their colour is part of who they are and as such Maya people are not black nor white, but in between. However, when you reject anything that is the right of the Maya people, you reject them in all their forms and this includes their colour. And it is the colour issue that is still used to divide us as people … the black man and “Spanish” man are made to feel superior and in no way connected to the Maya man, yet their plight is the same; their displacement and marginalization are the same.

Creed and sex: I put these two together because now the Maya people have maintained lots of their traditions, beliefs and practices, but they have also embraced Christianity, which they openly practice, as was evident by the fact that the Mayas of Southern Belize brought out the largest number of persons to participate in the Constitutional March. So while they recognize that for the government the gay agenda is higher up than the Maya people’s human rights concerns and case, it has not stopped them from marching and paying the price of further discrimination for asserting their freedom of creed.

Imagine, they are battling a government that is very willing to pass policies and laws to promote a gay agenda, despite homosexual intercourse not being one of the recognized human rights in our law, and surely not even being mentioned in the Constitution as a basis for discrimination. Yet the rights of indigenous people as people, and as a class of people, are not respected, but rather violated, to the point that the government is willing to bring out the armed forces to STOP the alcaldes and Maya people from accessing lands that are declared by the courts of this country as customary communal Maya land.

God bless our oppressed people that they may inherit this earth!

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