I am a cultural anthropologist and have carried out research in Belize for more than 20 years. I stood on the field in San Antonio, Toledo and watched as the Ten Points Agreement was signed in 2000, and since that time, I have seen the long and arduous process for Maya communities—and individuals—to have their land rights recognized and now act on those rights to decide how lands in Maya villages in Toledo should be sustained and used. Respectfully, recent events with the Free, Prior, Informed Consent (FPIC) process submitted to the CCJ are cause for concern.
Differing views in Maya communities about how to implement the CCJ consent order as well as about representation do not take away from the fact that Maya individuals, families, and villages are now able to decide how they want to use village lands, with rights that have been acknowledged and described by that body. The CCJ Consent Order states that decisions are to be made by village leadership with regards to community land, leased land, or resources such as forests, farms and rivers, through a FPIC process that involves ongoing and long-term dialogue by all village leaders and organizations that represent their interests.
The Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) were signatories to the 2015 Consent Order and represent those interests. The TAA is an active group of dozens of alcaldes, who are elected by their respective villages. However, they appear to have been left out of the most recent steps in the process. The TAA, as well as the organizations that have made up the MLA, represent the varied interests and views of those who live in Maya villages; they should have the opportunity to agree on the FPIC documents that will guide the next steps in the implementation process. What is at stake are future decisions about farms and forests that support Belizean Maya families, trees that are to be logged, oil that is to be extracted, hilltops that will be removed, and land to be sold to interests within and well beyond the borders of Belize. The parties that have engaged with the legal process to date need to continue to have a seat at the table.
Department of Anthropology
University of South Florida
President, Anthropology & Environment Society
Strong Coasts NSF Research Traineeship Program