Jun 10, 2009
An estimated two hundred people converged on Battlefield Park in Belize
City this morning placards in hand as they prepared for todayís session of
the Supreme Court. The gathering predominantly Mayan men, women and
children from Toledo are waging legal battle with the Government of Belize
over what they claim is Governmentís threat to their constitutional right
where it regards of occupation communal land. More specifically, the Maya
Leaders Alliance led by Christina Coc is pursuing the preservation of
village lands until they are able to create a working system for villages
who choose to have their lands titled.

Cristina Coc; Maya Leaders Alliance
“Our claims right now is to ask the state through the courts to put a
mechanism in place to protect and safeguard the rights of Maya people to
their ancestral lands, lands they use and occupy where they currently use
and occupy, to protect those from any further infringement, any further
land sales until each individual village decides what kind of land tenure,
what kind of land ownership, what kind of land title they want to receive.”

The second point of contention stems from an incident on May fourth of last
year, in which Alfonso Cal a resident of Golden Stream Village was informed
by surveyors that he was farming on property already, leased a non resident
of that area. Legal Counsel for that claimant is Antoinette Moore.
Antoinette Moore; Attorney for Maya Leaders Alliance
“In Golden Stream there was a non Maya individual who claims to have a
lease; however there is no evidence now that we are at trial that he had a
lease other than him saying that, there is no documentary evidence. But he
claimed to have a lease over land that one of the Maya Farmers had been
farming for twenty six years and that farmer had acres of corn, cacao,
coconut trees, oranges, all type of plants and they were all bulldozed. It
was his work of year plowed down with days. He attempted to get help from
the Lands Department, from the Police Department and all of the authorities
in the area and essentially received no help because the mere claim of this
non Maya to have a paper lease which it turns out he does not have but the
mere claim of this individual to have a paper lease was seen as superior to
the customary land of this Maya farmer and the village.”

At the start of the proceedings, Chief Justice Abduhlai Conteh commented on
what he termed the unsatisfactory progress on the case. Todayís hearing
comes a year after the MLA and the Toledo Alcaldeís Association file for a
temporary stay on the constant unauthorized repossession of Maya communal
lands in the Toledo District. Testifying on behalf of the MLA was Dr.
Richard Wilke who is a Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at
Indiana University. His sworn statement provided a socio-cultural look at
the Maya people of southern Belize. Wilke later explained the relevance of
his testimony to their current plight.

Dr. Richard Wilke; Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Indiana
“Part of the Governmentís case here is to argue that the Indians, the
Queíchi and Mopan speaking people in the Toledo District are recent
immigrants and they have no rights to the land. My argument has always been
that whether they are immigrants or not, they are Belizeans, they have been
living on the land for well over one hundred years and that should give
them the same kind of rights that other Belizeans have to control and
manage the lands that they live on in the way that they see fit.”

During his testimony Wilke distant himself from statements made in an
affidavit submitted by Archaeologist Jaime Awe on behalf of the defense.
Wilke asserted that the statements were factually wrong based on Aweís
degree of knowledge in ethno history.

Dr. Richard Wilke; Professor of Anthropology and Gender Studies at Indiana
“When it comes to what happened between then and the present in the Toledo
District, I think that he hasnít had the opportunity to really read through
some of the latest research which has really changed the way we think about
the history of the Toledo District.”

Following adjournment at noon, a briefing was held at the park where Coc
and other speakers addressed the congregation on the proceedings. Upon its
continuation Moore made further submissions in her case against government.
Representing the Government of Belize is Lois Young and Rodwell Williams.

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