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Jul 10, 2009

Maya communal land rights case continues in court

Story PictureIt has consumed countless hours in court and perhaps that is the reason why Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh decided to use this Saturday to continue with the case. It is the issue of the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association against the Attorney General and the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Mayas are asking the court to consider their rights to communal lands they occupy in the Toledo District and they make their claim on the basis that they have occupied these lands continuously. It’s been a grueling three days of arguments in this round between the attorney for the government, Lois Young and the attorney for the Mayans, Antoinette Moore. And today we spoke with Moore and Cristina Coc, who is the Director of the Julian Cho Society and a lead Mayan activist. Coc says while she felt the Counsel for the government was insulting, she is confident that they have presented a strong case.

Cristina Coc, Director, Julian Cho Society
“We maintain that based on our longstanding occupancy, we should be granted in a form title to those lands that we continue to use and occupy. We are descendants of the Maya civilization, we’re part of the Maya civilization that spans throughout Mesoamerica and we’re proud to identify ourselves as indigenous Maya Belizeans. We think that those lands that we live on are our lands and we deserve the protection that we seek right now in court.”

Marion Ali
“You do acknowledge that there is another group of Mayas and they claim that they are a bigger group that do not support the communal lands rights system or communal lands, but they prefer to go through the process and own their lands through the state system. That is going in, applying for the land, using it as collateral.

Cristina Coc
“Your choice of words is very ideal—they claim to be a larger group. I’d like to see evidence of that. The last time we were here in court, there was evidence that they are a very small group of people who feel that they want to go to the banks and get loans for their lease. That is their right, they have a right to chose how they wish to own land. That option is available to them but we cannot deny the masses and the masses are saying look we have never gotten protection for our lands; the only option that has been presented to us is the lay system but why is that the only option that’s being posed to us? Why can’t we continue to practice communally? Why can’t we have protection while we continue to decide how we want to own this land.”

Marion Ali
“Would you say that there’s division among your people?”

Cristina Coc
“I would say, as with any people, there are those who think differently and who think that they can speak for the masses of people. Unfortunately, that’s not the case in our situation.”

Antoinette Moore, Attorney for the Maya Leaders’ Alliance
“It is such a monumental matter for all of Belize, not just my clients. It’s important that the time be taken to deal with it seriously and to deal with each and every issue that arises.”

Marion Ali
“Are you still confident going into it that you will get the result that you’re looking for?”

Antoinette Moore
“Well, I’m confident that we put the evidence before his Lordship, the Chief Justice, and I’m confident that that evidence has not been refuted by the government of Belize nor the interested party. They certainly have put forth a vigorous case and although some of the issues—in fact, most of the issues—were raised before, they have certainly put a new spin on some of them. But I still remain confident that we put forth our best case and we put forth a great deal of evidence.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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