Punta Gorda Town, Monday, April 13th, 2015. The Toledo Alcaldes Association’s (TAA) General Assembly met on Saturday April 11th to discuss the upcoming land rights appeal before the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The alcaldes, who are the traditional leaders of the Maya communities in Toledo, strongly endorsed their continued support of the land rights struggle and the case before Belize’s highest court. This position of the Alcaldes is echoed in the words of the deputy Alcalde of Indian Creek, “we started the long journey to defend our lands and lives together. Today we gather to agree that we will see it to the very end together.” The Maya Leaders are pleased that the government has admitted to the CCJ in writing that the Maya people of southern Belize have rights and interests in the land they use and occupy and that the government is bound to protect those rights.
Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the MLA, said, “We are honoured that the CCJ is coming to Belize to hear this case of monumental importance to the Maya people and Belize. We are confident that the outcome will be positive and believe that the concessions made by the government bode well for reconciliation between the parties. We are cautiously optimistic that the government will do what is necessary to implement our land rights.”
In a related matter on March 21st in Washington, DC, the MLA and members of its international legal team met with a government representative and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) to provide an update on the government’s compliance with the Commission’s recommendations. Commissioner Rosa María Ortiz attended as the IACHR’s Country Rapporteur for Belize along with two attorneys for the Commission. The government was represented by Ardelle Sabido, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Belize, Washington DC, who was present to receive information but not authorized to discuss the case.
This meeting was part of the follow up to the IACHR recommendations in its 2004 Final Report in the Case of the Maya Indigenous Communities of the Toledo District vs Belize. Those recommendations parallel the Supreme Court of Belize’s land rights judgments and thus the IACHR’s assistance in implementing any CCJ order would result in compliance with the IACHR recommendations.
The MLA representative informed the IACHR of the ongoing interference with Maya lands by those purporting to hold government issued leases and permits and emphasized the need for Belize to formally title and demarcate Maya lands to protect against these intrusions. These threats to Maya land and resources continue despite the government’s recent concessions in the appeal. The Maya leadership anticipates that the government will now demonstrate its good faith intention to recognize Maya land rights and reconcile with their communities by cancelling unlawfully issued leases and permits.