PUNTA GORDA, Thurs. Oct. 29, 2015–On October 27, the 11 Santa Cruz Mayans accused of being involved in the illegal detention of Rupert Myles in their village re-appeared in the Punta Gorda Magistrate’s Court for the fourth time only to have their case adjourned once again, to December 16. Their attorney, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, pointed out that the prosecution has failed to grant the defense disclosure, despite four months having passed since the arraignment.
The next adjournment will mark six months since the 11 Mayans have been coming to court after being arraigned on June 24 without any progress being made in their case.
The Mayan defendants are accused of detaining Rupert Myles, a man of Creole descent who had moved to Santa Cruz Village, on June 20. The villagers claimed the cause for their detention of Myles, who had moved to the village to live with his Mayan wife, a resident of the village, in October 2014, was that he destroyed sacred structures in Uxbenka for the purpose of building his home.
Myles claimed, however, that their actions were rooted in racism. Myles claimed that they jumped on him, pulled him to the ground, tied a rope around his hands and dragged him through the streets.
The unlawful arrest committed against Myles caused Prime Minister Dean Barrow to take notice, calling it “outrageous”. Barrow had admitted that the Mayans were justified in wanting Myles to be removed; however, they did not follow the proper procedure under the law which involves getting a court order for an eviction.
After the incident, the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) sent out a release stating that they had informed both the police and the Belize Defence Force of the violation of the sacred Maya site and the erection of the illegal structure, but they hadn’t gotten any assistance from these two entities.
On June 24, 11 Mayans were arraigned before Magistrate Emerson Banner for unlawful imprisonment, common assault and aggravated assault. The persons charged included: 24-year-old Michael Sho, 30-year-old Alfredo Mes, 20-year-old Timoteo Sho, 26-year-old Pedro Teul, 43-year-old Basilio Teul, 34-year-old Renato Canti, 28-year-old Isabel Canti, 23-year-old Oliegario Sho, 44-year-old Raymundo Sho, 24-year-old Armando Mes, 33-year-old Aran Canti (Village Chairman), and 34-year-old Cristina Coc.
Audrey Matura-Shepherd, the attorney representing the 11 Mayans, described the indignities and inhumane treatment that the Mayans were subjected to when they were apprehended. Truckloads of police officers reportedly descended on the village in a pre-dawn operation, and members of the police’s Special Patrol Unit reportedly kicked down doors and pulled the accused individuals out, without even allowing those individuals to get dressed. Several of them arrived at the court shirtless.
In the period immediately after the apprehension of the 11 Mayans, Matura-Shepherd had stated that her clients were not given a warrant for their arrests and submitted to the court that two of her clients were allegedly abused while in police custody, including Timoteo Sho, who was allegedly punched in the neck, and another, Alfredo Mes, who was reportedly stomped on the leg.
The Officer in Command of Punta Gorda Police, Superintendent Simeon Alvarez, had told Amandala that the order for the operations came “from higher up”.
When the Santa Cruz Mayans appeared in court no plea was taken, since the matter is an indictable one. Their bail was initially set at $8,000 plus one surety of the same amount; however, their attorney pleaded with the court to reconsider the requests, pointing out that land documents are usually required as bond, which the Mayans did not have since they live on communal lands. The bail was changed to the “sum of $10,000 each or two sureties of $5,000” and so with the re-arrangement the Mayans were able to meet the bail.
It must be noted that Dr. Keith Profer, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of New Mexico, who has been doing work at the Uxbenka Maya site, stated in a letter of May 2015 to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) that Myles had bulldozed a driveway at the site where he had erected his home. In the letter, Profer said that in December 2014, the village had voted overwhelmingly not to let Myles live in the village, and he could not build at the sacred site.
Subsequently, NICH had acknowledged that Myles had violated the site. Yet, virtually nothing was done via law enforcement or the court system to hold him accountable for doing so.
(Photo is a file photo of the first arraignment)