BELIZE CITY, Tues. May 17, 2016–A year after the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) handed down a consent order aimed at breaking the impasse between the Government of Belize and 39 Maya villages over indigenous land rights in the Toledo District, the parties are again at loggerheads—this time, over the manner in which the Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission is planning to proceed with consultations, key to the application of the appellate court’s ruling.
On Monday, May 16, the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) issued a statement reporting that village leaders who attended a meeting organized by the Commission had been ordered to leave. Since the publication of that report, the Government of Belize has issued a statement on the matter, which fell short of denying the claim made by the TAA that the Maya contingent was chased from the meeting.
“The planned meeting was held and present were 32 of the 36 village leaders. The participants were very engaged and welcomed the opportunity to commence dialogue with the Commission,” the Government release said.
It added that, “What was not allowed was an interruption to the planned meeting, but an offer was made to meet with the Steering Committee at a mutually convenient time.”
Cristina Coc, TAA spokesperson, told Amandala that the villages “began the process of defense of land tenure security collectively as a people” and they wanted to maintain that in the implementation of the CCJ order.
According to Coc, the village leaders were invited to meetings by zones, but after a meeting of the TAA’s General Assembly this weekend, they decided that instead of going to scheduled meetings by zone they would all attend this Monday’s meeting.
Incidentally, the Commission’s office is right next to the police station, and the Commission called the cops after asking the Maya alcaldes to leave, Coc revealed.
The TAA General Assembly had asked its president, Alfonso Cal, to deliver their collective position on their behalf and to deliver their resolution in its entirety.
Coc said that the Commission meeting was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. The Maya leaders all showed up, but they were not allowed to go inside.
Cal was trying to seek an audience with Commission chair, Lisel Alamilla. Coc said that the Maya leaders wanted to address the way the matter was being dealt with “unilaterally,” but the chair said that she did not have the time to hear their concerns.
“If you are not invited to this meeting today, you need to leave,” Coc said they were told. She added that she had heard the chair say multiple times: “Get off my premises. This is not a public space.”
“The police came and asked us to vacate the premises,” added Coc.
She said that the Commission chair refused to take the hand-delivered resolution that the alcaldes wanted to give the Commission in which they set out their concerns about the consultation process.
“At that meeting, we noticed that other members of the community, a lot of non-Maya people, were present,” Coc said.
“What is not happening is good faith consultation. We are being sidelined; we are being marginalized,” Coc told Amandala.
She said that it was the CCJ which gave the order, which the Government of Belize has the obligation to implement.
We were told that Commission meetings had been scheduled for the entire week, but Coc said that the Maya communities have decided that they will continue to insist that their chosen reps be engaged, and until that happens, they will not meet with the Commission.
Coc said that they had already presented the Commission, as well as Prime Minister Dean Barrow, with the Maya Consultation Framework, which is based on international normative standards on attaining free, prior and informed consent. Furthermore, she said, they have established a steering committee, which includes Maya leaders, technical advisors and legal experts, to engage the Commission.
For its part, the Commission said that it “is obligated to ensure that the Maya people do not become voiceless in the process of implementing the CCJ order as it relates to Maya customary land rights,” but added that, “The Order did not cede the autonomy of villages to any group.”
The Commission said that it will proceed with “consultations with elected leaders of all villages in the Toledo District and Punta Gorda Town.”
“The Commission has a very clear Terms of Reference and will not be distracted with actions that undermine a process that is transparent and inclusive,” the statement added.