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Jun 17, 2021

Jalacte Village Emerges Victorious in Land Rights Claim against G.O.B.

Six point three million dollars – that is what will be awarded to two men and the village of Jalacte following a win in the Supreme Court.  Details of the case were made available today during a zoom press conference. For background, the construction of the Jalacte Road was an undertaking of the Barrow administration that began in 2013 to refurbish an existing stretch that ran from Dump to the village of Jalacte near the Belize/Guatemala border.  Since its completion, the road has been heavily used by residents of Toledo District and from other parts of the country.  But the Government of Belize fell short before the building of that road, since it never sought the free, prior and informed consent of the village under the decision of the courts.  In fact, the Ministry of Agriculture proceeded to occupy land that was being used for traditional farming without compensating the previous owners.  It’s a costly omission that will result in another significant payout by G.O.B.  This afternoon, the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association held a press conference to discuss the most recent victory against the government.  News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The indigenous community has secured yet another legal victory in an ongoing struggle with the Government of Belize over respect for communal land rights.  In a decision handed down on June sixteenth, Chief Justice Michelle Arana has ruled in favor of two claimants, Jose Ical and Estevan Caal, as well as the Maya village of Jalacte.


Allister Jenkins

Allister Jenkins, Attorney-at-Law

“In 2013, the government had contracted Cisco Construction Limited to carry out a rural road development [project] which involved the widening of the road between the [Dump] which ran through the village of Jalacte, all the way to the Belize/Guatemala border.  That development project included the acquisition and taking up of some thirty-one point three-six acres of land in and around the village of Jalacte.”


Included in that acquisition were lands that were also being used on both sides of the old road by Ical and Caal for the purpose of traditional farming.  Under the ruling of the high courts, the Government of Belize, which at the time was led by Prime Minister Dean Barrow, should have sought free, prior and informed consent from the village of Jalacte prior to building a new road.


Allister Jenkins

“The complaint made by the claimants was that these lands were in fact customary lands used in accordance with the Maya customary land practices.  The court found that in fact the lands were used by the Maya people in accordance with their customary land practices and as such, it did amount to customary Maya lands.  If you would recall, there was a CCJ consent order in 2015 which recognized that the Maya people held or had customary land rights in relation to those villages which they occupied in the Toledo District.”


In October and November 2014, the Ministry of Agriculture erected two prefabricated buildings on the north side of the road on a plot that was occupied by Estevan Caal.  A year later, another plot was cleared and a thatch structure was placed there by the Ministry of Agriculture and the Belize Agriculture Health Authority, BAHA.  They did not enter into negotiation with Caal or the village of Jalacte regarding compensation for the acquisition of the land.  Rather, the question of whether the land was national land within the context of the National Lands Act became the issue.


Cristina Coc

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, T.A.A./M.L.A.

“One more time, the question concerned in this case was whether the community of Jalacte was in fact the owner of the land that was seized and developed by the government.  Chief Justice Arana concluded that they did own the land.”


Interestingly, Senior Counsel Magali Marin-Young also appeared on behalf of the claimants.  She is presently the Attorney General of Belize, whose office was named in the suit.  In the Chief Justice’s decision, the consent order of the Caribbean Court of Justice was violated.  Compensation for damages is a six figure sum.


Allister Jenkins

“The court also found that these actions amounted to a breach of the C.C.J. order as well.  Ultimately, the court ordered that certain portions of the land be returned, that it be returned with vacant possession and the court also ordered several heads of damages which in total amounted to approximately six point three million dollars.”


The spokesperson for the Toledo Alcaldes Association and the Maya Leaders Alliance shares their collective satisfaction with the outcome of the matter.


Cristina Coc

“We are delighted that this decision reinforces the legal recognition of indigenous Maya people’s land rights as established under international law and in the domestic law since the time of Chief Justice Conteh’s decision in the case involving Santa Cruz and Conejo.  One more time, the [Supreme] Court of Belize has agreed that the Maya people, have agreed with us that we own our lands through our customary use and that we can manage our lands through our customary decision-making processes.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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