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Happy New Year to all, hopefully 2011 brings nothing but positive things for Belize.

To end this year, I must declare what I consider is the biggest 2010 accomplishment for Belize. Drum roll please... it is no other than the... MAYA LAND RIGHTS victory!

Maya Atlas Book
The reason why this was a very important accomplishment is because history has proven that governments worldwide have done nothing but mismanage and destroy forests. It is extremely unfair to see local people dispossessed from lands which they have owned and used for centuries. Then wealthy individuals are granted land concessions and the end results are greater disparity and massive environmental degradation. You see, if local people own and manage the forests, there is more probability that they will ensure its sustainability since they will rely on it as their source of existence. ‘Yu tek care a wat da fu yu.’

Some people were not happy with this ruling because they say that it’s not fair to give preferential treatment to the Mayas. Can we really say that they are being given preferential treatment? We are all Belizeans no more than the other but one thing I learned about fairness and equality is that you must treat equal things equally and unequal things unequally. This means, you can’t compare someone who has traditionally grown up owning land collaboratively with someone like myself who grew up in a different system – We must treat unequally things unequally. There is also the claim that they aren’t from Belize, they are foreign Mayas. As far as I know, back then they weren’t any country boundaries. What is now called Belize was one entire land along with all of the Maya inhabited Mesoamerica and just because they went far north or west doesn’t mean they left. Even if that claim is plausible, they are descendants of the native Mayas and for this they should be respected.

The Government of Belize is extremely upset about the Maya Land Rights ruling and has assured that they will continue to object on the matter even if they have to go to the Caribbean Court Justice. If they gave it a good thought, they would realise that the ruling actually isn’t a bad thing. Prevalent evidence shows that governments are lousy conservationists and this might be an option which assures better natural resource management. When all fails, isn’t something different worth a shot? If the GOB is so afraid that the Mayas will do a terrible job, then they should provide assistance such as genuine education on natural resource management. Many other assistance options can be brainstormed.


Maya women making corn tortillas

An excerpt from Amandala Online follows:

The June 2010 ruling by former Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh—now serving in the Court of Appeals in the Bahamas—has emboldened the Maya to maintain their claim to land rights, as well as interests in the natural wealth of the South.
In the landmark Supreme Court ruling, Conteh declared rights he said had long existed and continue to exist in Southern Belize and also reasonably extend to the five Mopan Maya villages of Stann Creek.
The judgment called on the Government of Belize to put the brakes on any leases, grants, concessions and contracts that would affect Maya land rights in the Toledo District.
The Government has since appealed, stating that if need be, it would fight the case all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, since it does not accept that the Toledo Maya are entitled to lands in all the 38 villages they have claimed as theirs.
The Chief Justice had ruled on a similar case on October 18, 2007, when he ruled in favor of Conejo and Santa Cruz, Toledo.
“I, therefore, find that from the evidence, there is in existence in Maya villages in Toledo District customary land tenure by which the villagers have rights and interest in villages that—for the avoidance of doubt—this conclusion is not limited only to Conejo and Santa Cruz villages…but includes as well—as of course it must, given the representative nature of the instant claim—the other Maya villages in the Toledo District.”
Villagers of Toledo had during 2010 been successful in getting Belize Hydroelectric Development & Management Company Limited (BHD) to back down from its plan to undertake further hydro-development on the Rio Grande, under a 15-year concession granted to it in December 2008 by the Barrow administration.
In its defense in the Maya Land Rights case, the Government side had contended (citing information published in the Maya Atlas) that the Maya of Toledo were recent migrants from Guatemala who were trying to get from Belize what they could not get from Guatemala.
The Maya contended that notwithstanding the recent migration of some persons living in the South, they are genuine descendants of Maya who had occupied the area during pre-colonial times. Expert testimony was given for both sides in the trial

Top picture courtesy Maya Atlas
Bottom picture from Repeating Islands


Petter Joe said...

This was such an amazing read! You are so lucky to have the opportunities to travel to such amazing destinations! And your writing is so good, I feel like I was right there with you! :) Petter Joe

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