PUNTA GORDA, Toledo, Tues. July 28, 2015–The Santa Cruz 13—a group of villagers who had been arraigned and charged after Rupert Myles, who was handcuffed and tied up with a rope when he was detained by local authorities in Santa Cruz Village last month—reappeared in the Punta Gorda Magistrate’s Court today, and at that point those who had not been charged for common assault on Myles were additionally read that charge on top of the charge of illegal imprisonment.
The group, represented by Maya attorney, Monica Magnusson, is due to reappear in court on September 29, 2015, and they remain on bail.
Maya leaders from the village had claimed that Myles had to be restrained because he had been threatening violence against villagers who had objected to him setting up his domicile at a sacred Maya site – Uxbenka, where he had taken up residence without permission from village leaders.
For his part, Myles, a Creole Belizean who is also the common-law husband of a Maya woman of the village, had claimed that he was a victim of discrimination, and claimed he was told that he was not wanted in the village because of his race—a charge which the Maya have denied.
After the June incident, police apprehended a group of Santa Cruz villagers in an early morning raid, and the remaining persons were arrested later.
Pablo Mis, program coordinator of the Maya Leaders Alliance, of which the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) is a member, told our newspaper that among those charged were the 1st alcalde, 2nd alcalde and chairman of Santa Cruz.
He said that the 13 people who are now facing charges in court will always be remembered as Maya leaders.
“It is also important to understand that the Maya people see this arrest as an action against all Maya people with respect with long-standing struggle with respect to the right to land and to life,” said Mis.
The arrest of the Santa Cruz 13 has really forced the community to come together, and it is pushing them together as Maya people, said Mis.
When the group reappeared in court today, a group of women wore slings on their arms, as if their arms were broken, to protest the injury they said police had caused to a woman, whose arm was injured during their raid.
Mis said that the woman who was hurt ended up having to go to the hospital, and although she got a medical report from the doctor, the police denied her a medico-legal form to register her complaint against the police who had caused her injury.
Maya children held placards sending the message that their customary governance system should be honored.
Mis said that community governance is simply the way the Maya live and organize themselves.
“The children present, their stand for today is for the future,” he told us, adding that they are sending the message that hope—signified by the flowers they carried—will remain alive if they remain consistent, strong and united.
In the center of the poster they carried lies the Maya flag, constituted by blocks of 6 colors: red representing the dawn or sunrise as well as the blood that flows through their veins; black (which lies opposite) representing the sunset and the color of their hair; white representing the air, without which they cannot live, as well as the color of their bones; yellow representing water, vital for existence, and representing the color of the Maya’s skin. The green in the center represents nature, as well as mothers – the vessel of life; and the blue – the sky and the unknown heavens.
Everything, said Mis, represents the pillars of how their community is governed and how they see the world.
Even as the Maya came out with their message, there were some Toledo residents of different ethnic groups who came out, although numbering much less than the Maya, to condemn what they deem was a racist act against Myles by the Maya community of Santa Cruz.
The differing stance expressed by those persons is symbolic of the fact that the conflict between the Maya community and Myles remains unresolved. Mis said that Myles and his father-in-law Romaldo Cal continue to work the land Myles has occupied at Uxbenka, even after he agreed to a two-week deadline to vacate the premises, and he has been planting coconut trees, Mis added.
He said that the Uxbenka Association and the alcaldes had sent a letter to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) calling for immediate action. About 2 weeks ago, NICH president Diane Haylock and the Director of Archaeology, Dr. John Morris, traveled to the village to meet with them, but nothing has changed on the ground, Mis relayed.
He said that what they have learned since that meeting has come through the media, which last Friday reported that NICH was in the process of preparing documents to evict Myles.