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Belize, 16 years later, still no agreement on communal land ownership

EditorialBelize, 16 years later, still no agreement on communal land ownership

“It took nearly three hours for Chief Justice, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, to pronounce his judgment”, the Amandala of October 19th, 2007, reported. The story, under a headline that screamed, “Massive court victory for Santa Cruz and Conejo Maya!!”, and a photo of Greg Ch’oc and Cristina Coc, said “few people in Belize thought the Chief Justice would rule” the way he did.

In his judgment, which was 67 pages long, Chief Justice Conteh said “he wasn’t impressed with the GOB defendants’ case.” The Amandala said that after the victory Ms. Coc “couldn’t hold back the tears of joy”; and the always composed Mr. Ch’oc said he was “extremely happy to see that the Constitution of Belize has protected our rights.” The Amandala said that prior to the victory some leaders of the Maya had assured the nation that “they are proud Belizeans, to the bone, and they are misrepresented and hurt whenever they are accused of wanting to separate themselves from The Jewel.”

The Channel 7News broadcast of October 23, 2007, said that then Prime Minister, Said Musa, commenting on the court’s decision at a political rally, said the “decision was very important because the indigenous people for centuries have been disadvantaged in the colonial era”, that his government “respected” it, thought it a “landmark”, that “we as Belizean people have to understand these things, so we don’t have any enmity between one Belizean and another Belizean.” He said, also, that the leaders of the Maya “must understand that any Belizean who wants to go and live in Toledo has a right to go and live in Toledo as well.”

16 years later, communal land rights is yet to be defined. It’s not the Gordian knot, but it is complex, and there is no perfect solution. The consultations between the nation’s political leaders and leaders of the group that prefers communal land tenure have at times been strained. Communal land rights, it is a great and beautiful victory, but as the Amandala asked after the court ruling: “What does it all mean?” THEY are still working on it. Every Belizean should pray for a successful resolution.

UBAD at 55; still waiting for African and Mayan history

Today, Friday, February 9, makes 55 years since the United Black Association for Development (UBAD) came into existence in 1969, shook up the political status quo and exposed the racism that existed in Belize.

UBAD started out as a cultural group, quickly became a political party, and even more quickly flamed out, in 1974. The group’s primary mission was to restore pride in the children of the enslaved Africans, and make all people of color conscious about the reality of white supremacy and how it forwarded its agenda. Prior to UBAD, a UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) chapter that was established in Belize in 1920, promoted racial pride and financial independence, but the energy of that great organization began to wane soon after, after its leader, the mighty Marcus Mosiah Garvey was convicted of mail fraud in 1923, on charges brought to court by his numerous enemies.

UBAD did much to increase the self-awareness of Afro Belizeans. As a political party it had little success at the polls. But the organization’s call for the vote for 18-year-olds, free radio, and the teaching of African and Indian (Mayan) history lived on through the media it spawned – Amandala, Krem Radio, Krem Television, and the UEF (UBAD Educational Foundation). Two of UBAD’s demands have been met – 18-year-old Belizeans got the right to vote in 1978, and free radio became a reality in 1989 when Krem Radio got a license. Disappointingly, the third of UBAD’s demands, the teaching of African and Mayan history, has been realized in only one school, St. John’s College.

The PUP, which presently holds the reins of government, promised in the section on education in its Plan Belize manifesto, 2020-2025, to “expand teaching of African and Mayan history programs and civics at all levels.” Previous governments have had their reasons/excuses why they preferred to parrot a status quo where history begins in 1492. The Amandala publisher, in his column in the Tuesday edition of the Amandala, said he had “heard it said, interestingly, that Belize’s students have too heavy a curriculum workload.”

In 2020 the world was disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The excuse of the present government for not fulfilling that manifesto promise might be that at this time all the emphasis must be on Math, Reading, and the Sciences, because too many months were lost when our children and youth were confined to their homes during the pandemic. But we still teach history in our schools. Why, in our country with its relatively large Afro and Mayan population, the two peoples who have suffered most since Columbus and Europe invaded the Americas, are our history teachers so disinterested in teaching African and Mayan history? Is it because they are compliant?

It is incredible, preposterous that pre-1492 history of our Afro and Mayan ancestors remains hidden from the eyes and ears of our children and youth. Stop simpa and get on with your manifesto promise, Ministry of Education, Government of Belize.

A presidency for stability

They say the economy in El Salvador isn’t doing too well, but the people of El Salvador turned out in the hundreds of thousands to return the incumbent Nayib Bukele in a free election on Sunday. The economy is very often foremost on the minds of voters as they go to the polls to elect their national leaders; but stability, peace was uppermost on the minds of El Salvadorans.

It was a surprise when Bukele, who won the presidency in 2019 with 53% of the vote, announced his intention to contest for the top job in El Salvador again, because it was accepted that their Constitution did not allow for anyone to serve consecutive terms. The path for a second term for the immensely popular Bukele was cleared by the country’s Supreme Court, which some international observers said was stacked with his appointees. Salvadorans ignored the manipulation of their Constitution and overwhelmingly returned him to the presidency. Reports are that he carried the day with over 80% of the vote.

His method to bring peace to El Salvador was ruthless. They excused him because before him chaos ruled the streets. In a single term he transformed the most murderous nation on the planet to one of the most peaceful.

El Salvador is the victim of a bloody civil war that lasted 12 years, from 1979 to 1992. It remained an extremely violent country after the civil war ended. Animosities that lingered after the peace accord, turf wars over the spoils of the cocaine trade, and thousands of deportees with criminal records from the US, contributed to the violence that plagued the country. Human rights organizations have condemned Bukele, but the people of El Salvador consider him their savior.

El Salvador was in a state of war. Officially, on paper, the civil war ended in 1992. Practically, on the ground, it ended in 2019.

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