BARRANCO, Toledo District, Fri. Mar. 19, 2021– The government of Belize has ordered Dr. Francis Arzu, a resident of Barranco village, to halt the development of a farm which is near the border of the neighboring Midway Village.
The two communities consist of indigenous Garinagu (Barranco) and Mayan (Midway) residents respectively, both of whom have lived side by side since the ’80s.
The issue at hand involves the development of farmland believed to be owned by one of the members of Barranco’s village council, who was sent a letter from the Lands Commissioner, ordering him to stop the development.
This has led the National Garifuna Council to make a public statement clarifying the ownership of the lands in the area.
The president of the National Garifuna Council, Sandra Miranda-George, shared that the Mayan residents of the Midway community never owned the lands on which the village is located. In fact, only one person of Mayan descent was permitted to develop a farm in that area by the owners of the land, who were the Cayetano family, according to Miranda-George.
Shortly after, an influx of friends and family members of that person of Mayan descent began moving into the area, which eventually became Midway Village.
“What Belizeans need to know is that Midway Village is actually on Barranco farmland. It was owned by the Cayetanos, and they started out by giving one person in the Maya group permission to build a house on this farm and farm a piece. Then it started to multiply, and the next thing you know, family came, other family members came, and then the next thing you know it’s a full-fledged community. It started around 1982,” said Miranda-George.
Miranda-George asserts that the traditional lands in the area belong to the Garinagu people of Barranco village and expressed hope that the government of Belize will find an amicable solution to the issue at hand. ”ILO Convention and the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People clearly stated that the tribal lands, the indigenous lands, the lands that your ancestors used from way back then, belongs to you,” she said.
A release from the Ministry of Human Development, Families and Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs stated, “It is the Ministry’s understanding that the said cease-and-desist order does not at all directly concern any claim by villagers of Barranco Village to lands of their community. Rather, Dr. Arzu himself, not the Barranco Village Council, was apparently granted permission to survey a large parcel of land in 2016. The 2015 Consent Order of the Caribbean Court of Justice requires Government to respect Customary Land Rights of Maya communities, thus making necessary consultation with stakeholders of both indigenous southern communities.”
The release ends by saying, “The Ministry assures both indigenous communities that it will duly consult and engage with all relevant parties in seeking amicable resolutions to the challenges at hand.”