We have been following the conflict between the Maya communities of Toledo and the Government of Belize for a long time. Because of our many years of work in the area, we have served as expert witnesses in cases brought before the Supreme Court of Belize concerning Maya lands.
We write to clarify a few points concerning the history of the case and the organizations that have been involved.
The central point of the CCJ Consent Order is that the Government and third parties must recognize the rights of Maya communities to make their own decisions regarding how they use their water, forests, wildlife, and other resources. As it states:
The [CCJ] accepts the undertaking of the Government to, in consultation with the Maya people or their representatives, develop the legislative, administrative and/or other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism to identify and protect the property and other rights arising from Maya customary land tenure, in accordance with Maya customary laws and land tenure practices.
So who are the ‘representatives’ of the Maya people?
Over the past twenty-two years, two organizations have pursued the legal case on behalf of the land rights of Toledo villages: the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA). The TAA, which coordinates the work of the alcaldes, is also a signatory to the April 2015 CCJ Consent Order.
Recently, the names of several other organizations have been mentioned in discussions surrounding land rights, but how have they been involved in this long legal process? The Toledo Maya Cultural Council (TMCC) was involved along with the TAA at the beginning of the cases in the 1990s. But the TMCC fell apart in around 2000 and has been inactive ever since (until it was recently revived, apparently to oppose the MLA and the TAA). The Kekchi Council of Belize was also active in the 1990s, but has not been heard from in a long time. SATIIM was for a time a very effective conservation organization, and worked with several villages at the time, but it has never been directly involved in the court cases. Only the TAA and MLA brought the case before the CCJ.
Recently the Government released an FPIC protocol without the consent of the TAA and MLA. This action was plainly contrary to the Consent Order. What has been needed all along is a good-faith negotiation, not just one side telling the other what the rules will be and then pretending that a mutual agreement has been created.
Professor, Anthropology, Indiana University
Professor, Geography, Indiana University