Highlights — 07 July 2015 — by Adele Ramos
Maya tell CCJ that GOB should pay damages

BELIZE CITY, Mon. July 6, 2015–Monica Coc Magnusson, attorney for the Toledo Maya, is going back to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) with a request for an order against the Government of Belize, claiming a series of declarations, pecuniary and moral damages as well as costs over allegations that the Government of Belize has failed to uphold its end of the bargain in relation to the April 2015 consent order entered by the CCJ.

It appears that the filing, announced at a press conference held on Friday in Golden Stream, Toledo, was partly triggered by the recent controversy over the attempted eviction of Rupert Myles, a Kriol Belizean who has a common-law wife with a child in Santa Cruz, Toledo.

The CCJ application by Coc Magnusson contends that, “The Government of Belize, through its agents, the police and armed forces, failed to respond at all to multiple requests from the village of Santa Cruz for assistance dealing with interference by a third party, Rupert Myles, with Santa Cruz’s use and occupation of its village lands.

“Mr. Myles had settled in Santa Cruz village lands without permission, in violation of customary law, and within a long-established buffer zone around the sacred archaeological site of the Uxbenka temple, in which housing and certain other activities are prohibited. Mr. Myles bulldozed a road to his house that permanently destroyed part of the temple structure.”

The CCJ filing by the Maya added that, “The Prime Minister of Belize immediately responded to Mr. Myles’s complaint about being restrained by Santa Cruz customary authorities and village members, by declaring that the village has no right to determine who lives in its village, nor to detain Mr. Myles. The alcalde, second alcalde, chairman, nine residents of Santa Cruz, and a spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance, were arrested and face criminal charges relating to the detention of Mr. Myles.”

However, the Maya are also alleging violations in two other villages: San Isidiro and Golden Stream. They are seeking a CCJ declaration that the Government also breached its undertaking to the CCJ by facilitating the surveying of lands in San Isidro and by allowing logging in Golden Stream.

Denys Barrow, SC, who has represented the Government of Belize in the CCJ case, confirmed to Amandala that he has received the document prepared by Coc Magnusson, as well as a series of supporting affidavits prepared earlier this month.

Barrow told Amandala today that the Government will contend that the filing cannot be made to the CCJ in the manner that it has, since the CCJ is done hearing the Maya Land Rights appeal, and all that remains is for the court to enter a decision on whether damages demanded by the Toledo Maya ought to be paid by the Government of Belize.

“A lot of it needs to be countered by contrary statements of fact,” said Barrow, pointing to allegations by the Maya that Mike Espat, Toledo East area representative of the Opposition People’s United Party, is presiding over the surveying and possible allocation of lands to outsiders in San Isidiro Village.

“That statement is startling, since Mike is not in Government,” said Barrow.

As for the Rupert Myles incident, he said that, “Certainly they have their facts and their documents in terms of the assistance that they sought from police and [Belize Defence Force] in the past, but the question of whether they could have assisted or were the proper agencies to turn to really needs to be examined, and the question of whether they can exclude non-Maya from [entering] their villages (as distinct from membership of their communities), from village lands when invited by a villager, these are things which the CCJ’s order never spoke to, could not have spoken to because these are matters which need to be determined by legislation, which could identify rights, the extent of those rights and how those rights must be exercised,” Barrow said.

He added that, “The idea that Maya customary law practices within their villages and among their people can be applied to and imposed upon non-Maya persons and non-Maya in relation to let’s say forestry resources, these are things which the CCJ did not and could not address, [as] the issue did not arise for determination at that level.”

Barrow said that the Maya know how to go to court to protect their rights, and they could have gone for an injunction against Myles, the same way that the Government, which owns buffer lands adjacent to Harmonyville, went to court to get an injunction against BGYEA — Belize Grassroots Youth Empowerment Association.

“They need to understand that the national laws of Belize applies to them as much as anybody else,” said Barrow, saying that it is a question of how Maya rights and interests are reconciled with the national interest.

According to Barrow, the Government will object to the filing by the Maya, since if it is a question of the violation of the CCJ’s consent order of April 2015, they should have called for contempt proceedings against the Government of Belize – which, he said, has not been done.

In their current filing to the CCJ, the Maya communities are asking the CCJ to issue an order declaring, among other things, that it is “the exclusive right of Maya villages to determine who may enter, use and reside in their customary lands.”

They are also asking the court to declare that GOB has breached its undertaking to the CCJ “by discriminating against the village of Santa Cruz in its failure to take the measures necessary to secure Maya land rights.”

Thirdly, they are seeking a declaration from the CCJ that GOB has furthermore breached its undertaking to the CCJ “by acquiescing or tolerating the interference with Santa Cruz village’s use and occupation of its customary lands by a third party, Mr. Myles, in the face of multiple requests from Santa Cruz village leaders for assistance…” and that the Government also breached its undertaking to the CCJ by facilitating the surveying of lands in San Isidro and by allowing logging in Golden Stream.

The Maya are also requesting a CCJ order that the Government begins consultation with the chosen reps of the Maya within 30 days, and finally that the Government pay pecuniary damages to Santa Cruz, San Isidro and Golden Stream, as well as court costs in the matter.

Speaking in Golden Stream on Friday, Maya firebrand Cristina Coc, sister of Coc Magnusson, said: “To Belizeans who are not Maya, it may appear that we [are] trying to get something for ourselves, but consider it from another perspective: We are only insisting on what we already have and what we already use.”

Coc said that their case is based on one basic principle: “It is thou shall not steal: Thou shall not steal land from the poor farmer. This is what the Supreme Court said in the simplest of languages…”

She said that the powers that be are trying to set people against each other “…by suggesting that respecting the dignity of one group is a violation of another group—that recognizing the right of one group violates the rights of another; that recognizing the rights of land to one means that the rest of us cannot get land; that struggling for a secure land tenure is threatening the sovereignty of this nation, Belize – rather than seeing it for what it really is: a fight for self-determination, a fight for autonomy. We reject this; we reject the position of the state.”

In a statement delivered in Parliament on Friday, June 26, Prime Minister Dean Barrow said that the CCJ order, which the Maya claim that the Government has violated, “…did not supersede the Constitution and laws of this country; it did not transfer sovereignty over any part of government territory to any 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. What the judgment did do is to recognize and accept that the Maya Belizeans have certain rights over certain land in the Toledo District, but the judgment also made clear that the precise nature of those rights must be defined and legislated by Government in partnership with the Maya and after consultation with all Belizeans.”

Prime Minister Barrow reaffirmed to journalists later that day that: “[Government has] conceded that they [the Maya] have rights, and those rights must be vindicated, and must be spelt out, must be defined with some precision…”

The Maya are now asking the CCJ “to declare that the collective property rights arising from Maya customary land tenure includes the right of the Maya villages to determine pursuant to customary law, who may enter, use and reside in customary lands.

“Secondly, to declare that the Government of Belize has breached …the consent order… [which] says that the Government must adopt affirmative measures to identify and protect the rights of the appellants arising from Maya customary tenure in conformity with the constitutional protection of property and non-discrimination in sections 3, 3B,16 and 17 of the Belize Constitution.”

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