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Some Maya villagers resist communal lands model

Toledo District, Mon. Oct. 18, 2021– While the public has seen the residents of a number of Maya villages go to court to ensure that GoB complies with a Supreme Court order that affirms their communal ownership of land in their villages, what has been surfacing is some dissidence within the Maya community — with residents of a handful of villages preferring individual land ownership instead of communal land rights. Over the weekend and on Monday, several alcaldes and leaders of a few villages in Toledo were in communication regarding the issue of communal land rights for Maya residents across the district.

The objection of some Maya villages to the communal model of land ownership was highlighted back in April when the alcalde of Big Falls, on behalf of residents of his village, stated that they do not want customary land tenure to be instituted in their villages. Instead, the residents of the village want a system of private land ownership, and now neighboring villages such as San Marcos and San Pedro Columbia are expressing a similar view. Following a meeting among the alcaldes of those villages, the alcaldes told local media that residents of their village are encountering difficulties when they try to access certain financial and banking services because the land assets they have, which would otherwise be considered collateral, cannot be of use to them under the communal land system.

Several villagers have stated that they would much rather have their own land title in order to access loans or leave behind assets for their children and grandchildren in the future but cannot do so as a result of the communal land system in place as a result of the rulings of the Supreme Court of Belize and the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). As a result, the leaders of these villages have been calling for government-organized referendums and the collection of petitions to be submitted to village councils and village chairpersons in hopes of starting a land allocation or division process.

Members of the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) have acknowledged that there are dissenting views in regard to the communal land ownership system currently in place in Toledo. MLA spokesperson Cristina Coc has gone on record to say that while the CCJ’s ruling cannot be denied, residents of the village have the right to decide whether they wish to honor the communal land tenure or to seek a more individualistic approach to the ownership of land allotted to them. Coc asserted that everyone’s rights need to be considered and that a small number of representatives cannot make this decision on behalf of all the forty-one villages with customary land rights in Toledo.

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