BELIZE CITY, Wed. Nov. 15, 2023
The CCJ’s Consent Order of 2015 has recently become a topic of contention among non-Mayan villages in the Toledo District, and this week it also became a topic of extensive discussions among 23 area representatives, who delved into the details of the Maya Land Tenure Policy.
The meeting, which was planned and executed by the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs, was hosted at the San Ignacio Hotel on Monday, November 14, and was aimed at providing area representatives with a better understanding of the issue, and enabling them to voice their concerns, and ask questions as deemed appropriate. At the meeting the area reps were also able to discuss the court order and what it entails, how the government plans to implement it, as well as its historical context.
“The fact that even in the colonial administration, they had to consider reservations because of the issues of land tenure and land use in the south; now it has evolved and this is an independent country now; but what we are trying to do is to see how we are going to marry the land laws of our country, that we inherited from a colonial administration, how are we going to marry that, with having recognized that there is customary Maya land tenure. And also, what is it? A recent ruling of the Court of Appeal, just within the last two months, has said that the Maya Customary Land Tenure is like a different animal; it’s not the same as having what we call free, simple private ownership with full ownership and all the rights and everything,” said Minister of Indigenous Affairs, Dolores Balderamos Garcia.
In fact, according to Garcia, there doesn’t appear to be any quick fix, and she says that the Government has a long way to go in addressing the issue, inclusive of the need to put in place the necessary administrative and legislative frameworks. According to Balderamos, this framework will be assembled with the goal of enabling government to pass laws to recognize communal land ownership in a way that does not impede or take away the rights of private landowners.
One of the bigger issues that came out of the discussions on Monday was concerns raised by several non-Mayan villages in the Toledo District a couple of weeks ago, regarding what they believe to be an increasing encroachment into their territory by Mayan villages. In her response to those claims, Minister Balderamos outrightly said that neither the Government nor the courts can force non-Mayan villages to accept communal land ownership, since it won’t apply due to their being non-Mayan.
“Now, if they are surrounded by Maya villages, then we would have to carve out a situation where the people of Manfredi and the people of Barranco can enjoy their land. And so there have been some misconceptions, and that is why we have to disabuse the notion, or the misconceptions that are there. The government is committed to making sure that all Belizeans enjoy a piece of our country,” said Balderamos.
Balderamos also set the record straight by saying that Mayan villages cannot claim Communal Land Rights to privately owned lands, and that the Government also wields the power to place a limit on how much land Mayan villages who have accepted the communal land ruling can claim. Balderamos reiterated that, while it is a sticky topic to address, and the outcome might not sit well with some of the parties involved, the ultimate goal of the Government is to protect the rights of all Belizeans, and to accommodate everyone who lives in the Toledo District.
The meeting also saw the participation of Senior Counsel Marshalleck, Commissioner of Indigenous Affairs, Greg Choc, and other relevant personnel from the Ministry of Indigenous People’s Affairs.