Villagers voted to remove him, but may not have the power
There were media reports circulating this week that an alcalde of a Toledo village has been sacked over allegations that he has sold out to the oil company which aims to begin drilling in the south in just a few weeks, but the unfolding dispute raises questions over whether the political administration in Belmopan—which supports oil drilling in the south—can veto such a vote by the Maya community.
Under Maya customary law, an alcalde cannot sign away on anything without consultation with the villages. Valentin Maak’in, first alcalde of Conejo Village, has been accused of doing just that. While villagers have voted him out, Maak’in has been advised by an attorney who also serves as Speaker of Parliament—who is also the attorney for the oil company—that the ouster cannot be effective if the Attorney General, who appointed him, was not included in the process.
Pablo Mis, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders’ Alliance, who detailed the background of what transpired to our newspaper, told us that he was at the meeting in Conejo on Thursday, April 24, to which Maak’in was invited but did not show up. It was at that meeting, said Mis, that villagers voted overwhelmingly to remove him as alcalde.
He said that although Maak’in had persistently denied reports that he had signed a deal with US Capital Energy, he later admitted that he did sign “something,” but added that he did not understand what he was signing and his intention was never to sell out his community.
Mis said that Conejo villagers were disappointed, but gave Maak’in a chance to rectify the problem by issuing a retraction – which they said was never done.
Mis said that Alfonso Cal, president of the Toledo Alcaldes Association, had been receiving complaints against Maak’in since 2013, but they had been meeting with him and exercising due process in allowing him the opportunity to address the allegations.
Mis told Amandala that of the 55 people present at the Conejo meeting last Thursday, 53 voted that Maak’in should be removed from office, because they felt that he had failed to uphold the collective will of Conejo and had been exercising his powers in a manner that was not in keeping with his responsibility to his village.
Mis said that when they went to look for Maak’in after the meeting, they found him at his residence with representatives of US Capital Energy.
We contacted Alistair King, US Capital’s representative in Belize, and asked him to clarify why Maak’in was asked by Alejandro Vernon, JP, to sign a document, and he told us that Vernon was merely witnessing the signing of the document in his capacity as a justice of the peace. However, King declined to disclose to us the details of the document which Maak’in had signed, and only conveyed that it is “for the betterment of the village.”
He advised us to speak with Michael Peyrefitte, US Capital’s attorney, who also serves as Speaker of the National Assembly, who, King said, would be taking up the matter for Maak’in.
However, when we contacted Peyrefitte, he indicated to us that he is not Maak’in’s attorney, but did volunteer some legal advice to him, indicating that in Peyrefitte’s view, the villagers cannot remove Maak’in because, although they voted for him under customary law, his formal appointment came from the Attorney General, without the approval of whom, Peyrefitte said, the alcalde cannot be properly removed.
Valentin Maak’in has served as alcalde of Conejo since January 2013, and the US Capital spokespersons contend that the media has it wrong, and that Valentin Maak’in is still the alcalde of the village.
However, Eufemio Maak’in, who Mis said is a relative of Valentin, has been named by Conejo as the new alcalde, following the vote by Conejo villagers last week.