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Aug 10, 2017

Crique Sarco Village Defines Land Space for First Time

The first Maya Land Registry was launched in southern Belize this week. After two years of inaction to a ruling by the Caribbean Court of Justice that determined that a mechanism had to be put in place to protect lands, Maya communities started the process in the village of Crique Sarco. As we reported on Wednesday night, nineteen to twenty thousand acres of land define the village from neighbouring communities. News Five’s Isani Cayetano travelled to the village and has this report.

 

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The indigenous community of Crique Sarco is a remote setting approximately forty miles outside of Punta Gorda.  It is also one of five southern villages, collectively known as buffer communities, that encircle the Sarstoon Temash National Park.  This countryside location is home to roughly eighty families.  The way of life here is predominantly subsistence farming which often sees residents venturing off into the vast expanse that is Maya communal lands.  For many years, Crique Sarco has coexisted peacefully with its neighbors, but it is the first time that the village has clearly defined its boundaries.

 

Greg Ch’oc

Greg Ch’oc, Former Executive Director, SATIIM

“The Maya customary tenure, Maya customary law, in my view, is best expressed and practiced by them and if we are to implement the ruling of the court based on Maya customary practices and Maya customary law, then the custodians of Maya customary law [are] the communities.”

 

The struggle for autonomy over the use of communal lands within the Toledo District dates back to 2007, following a historic decision by the Supreme Court.  Since then, proponents of this means of freehold have been fighting the Government of Belize tooth and nail.  In 2015, the Caribbean Court of Justice directed the Barrow administration to devise an effective system of identifying and protecting Maya lands in conformity with their established system of tenure.  To date there is no such mechanism.  As a result, the villagers of Crique Sarco, with assistance from the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, have taken matters into their own hands.

 

Froyla Tzalam

Froyla Tzalam, Executive Director, SATIIM

“The work actually started in earnest in 2012, when we took some leaders from the buffer communities to Guatemala to share an experience that the Guatemalan Mayas were experiencing regarding their lands.  And when they came back, they said, you know perhaps we can do something similar in Belize.  This is after acknowledgment of the 2007 landmark judgment in which nothing had been done, and the community wanted to protect its territory, they wanted to demarcate it, to identify it.  And so they felt that this was something that would benefit them.”

 

Thus, the idea of determining and setting official borders for Crique Sarco was born.  To execute the monumental task, they relied on the expertise of Doctor Anthony Stocks.  He is the Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Idaho State University.  He has also been working in Latin America exclusively for the past four decades.

 

Anthony Stocks

Dr. Anthony Stocks, Consultant

“I broke down the fundamentals of how you do a land claim because no one in Belize had done one for indigenous people and the principles are simple enough, I mean you have to get agreement with the neighbors, you have to have maps that are geo-referenced and accurate.  In the case of my maps, the ones that I draw, we do a digital map and we also draw maps.  Those maps have all the place names of everything, every stream and every hill in the place and sacred sites.  And then governments in general, need to know how many people there are, ages and sexes and they need to know what they do for a living.  They need average incomes and how they manage the land and generally they need some land use planning at the same time.”

 

To get things going, Dr. Stocks had to train villagers on the use of GPS technology.  From there they did most of the field work themselves, gathering information and translating it into a geographic diagram.

 

Dr. Anthony Stocks

“I have them analyze their work and add up the numbers and present it to their community in a community meeting and as we develop this process the community gradually came together to fully support it and they have been, you know, heroes in my mind.  I am very pleased, I’m honored to have done this.”

 

The result of that painstaking effort is an area which encompasses anywhere between nineteen to twenty thousand acres.  That stretch of shared land is set aside for use by the people of Crique Sarco and has been formally presented as part of its environs.

 

Froyla Tzalam

“What we wanted at the end was a map that all communities who contributed to it could say yes we are a part of that, yes we agree with that, that is definitely Crique Sarco’s land.”

 

By right it should have been a process that saw input from the Maya Land Rights Commission.  That government agency falls within the Attorney General’s office but has been absent from this exercise.  Nonetheless, Chairperson Lisel Alamilla has weighed in on the outcome, particularly on the dynamics of the mapping.

 

Lisel Alamilla

Lisel Alamilla, Chair, Maya Land Rights Commission

“I’d be curious to find out in relation to the bordering villages how does that impact, how would that impact them and how much lands would those communities identify because there’s lots of conflicts between villages as to where their boundaries lie.  So I think this kind of exercise will help to address those conflicts that are happening more and more.”

 

Isani Cayetano

“Now part of the judgment from the Caribbean Court of Justice mentions the fact that this should have been a collaborative process with the government.  Can you speak from your perspective as the person in charge of the Maya Land Rights Commission what role, if any, your body will play in future endeavor for any other communities to delineate their boundaries.”

 

Lisel Alamilla

“Well, it’s a matter of how you develop your process and clearly SATIIM has decided or Crique Sarco has decided that the first thing that they needed to do is to identify their lands that they use.  For the commission, our approach is different.  I think our approach is looking first at discussing what is Maya customary land tenure, defining what it is because that hasn‘t been identified clearly.”

 

According to SATIIM’s former Executive Director Greg Ch’oc, the practice of identifying territories and marking the respective boundaries has been around for as long as the Mayans have existed.

 

Greg Ch’oc

“This is a practice that occurs in communities from time immemorial and even prior to the Alcalde’s Jurisdiction Act, leaders had to determine the expanse of their jurisdiction and the jurisdiction of their other neighboring alcaldes.  So it’s a practice that forms part of Maya customary law and Maya customary practices.”

 

Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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