Punta Gorda Town, Toledo District, Fri. Aug. 27, 2021– On August 17, the executive of the Garifuna Nation issued a release condemning the Government of Belize’s encroachment on Garifuna land. The release claims that the government is utilizing land known to have been part of the Garifuna people’s settlements prior to colonization of Southern Belize. The release made a note of two prime areas: Punta Gorda Town and Seine Bight.
One area where the Garifuna people are observing a violation of their rights to land use is Mercy Rock of Punta Gorda Town. The Mercy Rock area of Punta Gorda is the location of one of the earliest Garifuna settlements in Belize. In the past, Garifuna fishers would dock their boats at the shore of this area. Currently, however, these fishermen are being pushed out of land that was inhabited by their ancestors for over 200 years. One of the fishermen, Luis Valencio, claims that he has been docking his boat in the area for more than a decade, and this is the second time that they are being asked to relocate. If this continues, the Garinagu will not have any available places to dock their boats, leaving them deprived of their traditional livelihood.
According to the Garifuna Nation, something similar is taking place in Seine Bight, a historical Garifuna settlement. There have been reports, for instance, of the construction of a gas station in the middle of a residential area in the settlement without prior consultation of the Garinagu people. A Supreme Court ruling issued by Judge Abdulai Conteh, and reinforced by a subsequent Caribbean Court of Justice order, has made it necessary for the Government of Belize to get prior and informed consent before using land owned by indigenous communities; however, a number of actions by the previous government and the current administration have indicated a lack of adherence to the principles established by Conteh’s ruling in the Maya land rights case.
The Garifuna Nation release states, “The Government gave titles which are against the principles established in the Maya land rights case which affirmed the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples of Belize and reaffirmed by the CCJ in the consent decree.” That decree affirmed indigenous people’s right to own land communally and asserted that the government failed to ensure that the existing system protected and recognized customary land rights. The Garifuna Nation release points out that while GOB is currently refraining from encroachments on land owned by the Maya, they continue to violate the rights of the Garinagu by issuing private titles for land in Garifuna territories that have been passed down for numerous generations.
Per the Maya land rights case, the Government of Belize must cease and desist from including indigenous land in their land registry system. The Garifuna Nation asserts that since the Garifuna, like the Maya, are indigenous people, who inhabited Belize prior to European colonization, the same principles afforded to the Maya must also be applied to the Garifuna people and land. The release states, “We, therefore, demand that the Government of Belize cease and desist from using ALL Garifuna Territories in their land registry system, until such time that the borders of all Garifuna lands are properly demarcated. We request that this cease and desist be implemented immediately to halt the wanton violation of the human rights and indigenous land rights of Garinagu of Belize.”