Toledo Ecotourism Association Guesthouse and Eco-trail Program suffers true economic discrimination and violation of Human Rights.
“We as Belizeans, Maya or non- Maya living in the South, are entitled to our fundamental rights and freedoms, regardless of our race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed or sex….. We all… are suffering from discrimination which is preventing our economic development. “
On behalf of the hundreds of members and supporters of the Toledo Ecotourism Association (TEA), I want to publicly thank Mrs. Audrey Matura Shepherd for her articles written as a lawyer and the passion she expresses concerning the discrimination our Garifuna and Maya people are suffering. The poor people’s TEA needs Mrs. Shepherd to investigate our charges of discrimination by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, BTB, and the private sector BTIA and to advocate and help us get justice and our basic human right to economic development.
I think the people of Belize need to know the truth. I feel, as District Chairman, there is little time left to correct this situation in order for us to be ready for this coming tourist season. However, if this unfair discrimination is exposed and corrected in time I believe we can make radical change and rapid growth for all our people in Punta Gorda Town and the rural villages.
The TEA started in 1990 in four communities; five years later it had expanded to 10 villages including Mopan/ Quek’chi Maya and the Garifuna village of Barranco. In 1997 this poor people’s association was recognized and won the most prestigious ecotourism award for”Socially Responsible Community–based Ecotourism Program.” It was awarded by the Republic of Germany, at the world’s largest tourism trade fair in Berlin. It was presented by the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization (WTO) of the United Nations (UN). He said, “The Maya of southern Belize have shown the world that tourism does not have to be destructive”.
One of the reasons for its success was the incorporation of the traditional Maya/Garifuna communal systems of sharing the work and benefits with as many within the community who want to be involved as possible. From its inception, the TEA has taught many members and community leaders how to plan, design and provide the type of quality experiences the tourists who are interested in eco-cultural/nature/ conservation/adventure tourism were and still are looking for.
Mrs. Shepherd’s article said, “Although (the Maya) being the original occupiers of this land, we (the people of Belize) have always seen them as and treated them as, the least in all spheres of life, except when we want to talk about Maya temples and use the legacy of the Maya to promote tourism.”
Another powerful quotation: “They are discriminated against because of their race, even by the Government, whichever comes into office. Their name is a sales pitch to bring tourists, but NOT one portion of it goes to the Maya people, which represent 10% of the population.”
Yes, I agree with these statements. I personally, on numerous occasions, have met with different BTB officials, BTIA board members and one time with the Minister of Tourism and Culture. They all said they shared my sentiments and they promised to investigate and help, but as time went no help came. When the Belize Destination Magazine 2012, the Year of the Maya was produced, TEA was a paid member of the BTIA. Our members and supporters were shocked to see no mention of the world award-winning TEA Village Guesthouse Ecotrail Program. International human rights attorneys have told us that the magazine proved our claims of discrimination because as members we were promised and entitled to marketing and promotion. They called it “guilt by omission.” When the team of sustainable tourism consultants from George Washington University came to meet me, they told me that the BTB had told them not to investigate the TEA’s Toledo People’s Ecopark Plan.
We hope that Ms. Matura Shepherd and anyone else interested will further investigate these and many other examples of blatant discrimination and abuse and help us to get a fair share of the IDB money to develop eco-culture tourism in Toledo. We have a good budget; twenty different groups, representing Belizeans of all our ethnic backgrounds, are standing by – ready, willing, able with the financial support needed to make the change we all want this year.
I am asking all Belizeans and others who came to the support of our Garifuna brothers and sisters in their protest against the proposed use of their sacred “Dugu” ceremony as a tourism attraction, to now show the same concern and support for our poor people’s association and struggle for justice and development of real cultural tourism controlled by and for the people.
Yours in development, community-based tourism,
TEA District Chairman