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Oct 18, 2021

Some Villagers Not On Board Communal Land Holding

Spokesmen for three Mayan communities in the Toledo District say they are not interested in holding their land based on customary land tenure. They say such a system is having unintended effects, for example, preventing them from getting bank loans.  In 2010 the Supreme Court reaffirmed the Maya people’s rights to land in the Toledo district. The Government of Belize appealed the case all the way up to the CCJ where a ruling was made in favor of customary land rights. In light of the ruling, the government of Belize founded the Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission to facilitate the CCJ’s consent order in agreement with MLA and TAA. Well, community leaders from three Maya villages including, Big Falls, San Marcus and San Pedro Colombia Villages assert that MLA has not done enough consultation in their community. Some members of these communities met in San Marcus over the weekend to vent their opposition to the movement. News Five’s Paul Lopez reports.

 

Resident

Resident, San Pedro Colombia

“The discussion is in regards to this communal issue we have here in Colombia. We are not in support of this communal land tenure. I believe that Belize belongs to all Belizeans. And secondly, the Constitution of Belize states that every Belizean of the age eighteen and above is entitled to a piece of this jewel. And, I believe that majority of San Pedro Colombia, they are in agreement, they want their land papers, and I believe that the MLA should do more consultations here. We want to hear from them if they are going to give us our lease papers, our land papers, our property. We have not heard from them. All the lands here in San Pedro Colombia have been surveyed from 1998 to 2008. We haven’t had our land papers. Some of us here have property; some of us here has lease papers they have been paying at the lands department. All of a sudden when this MLA issue came in, they stop the lands department from receiving payments.”

 

Paul Lopez, Reporting

Marcus Choc, Treasurer of the San Marcus Village Council, says he has been unable to access financial assistance from lending institutions, because his land is locked `in the communal land rights battle.

 

Marcus Choc

Marcus Choc, Treasurer, San Marcus

Me, I get my land cross the creek from 1979. I start to pay from 1981 when the country comes independent. So, now when they gone dah court the MLA stop me to pay a lease. Now, when I gone back dah lands and check my paper, how much I owe, I owe three thousand and hundred and odd dollars, due to them stop me to pay my lease. Now, I can’t do nothing like how they stop me to pay my land. And now, I the look fuh get my land papers now, they say no you can’t get your land papers, you can’t pay nothing because the MLA say, deh nuh fuh collect nothing from we. Now, I want borrow a money to send my kids to further education. I can’t get no help because I don’t have no land paper.”

 

These community members are requesting that a referendum be held in their communities on the issue.

 

Resident

“The MLA, they go to the media houses, they present what they present there. We have a consent order, but they didn’t hold any referendum here so we can have a clear picture. They are just holding us hostage. They just put bangles on our hands, that we cannot do anything. It is time for us to do something, to start something and we are going to fight until we get our land papers.”

 

Marcus Choc says a recent survey conducted in San Marcus Village revealed a majority of the village’s residents are in opposition of customary land rights.

 

Marcus Choc

“When we explain to the people, passing from house to house, people nuh want hear anymore bout communal land, lone no we the get. So, when we reach half way San Marcus Village and the MLA learn that we only the get ‘no’, they hurry stop us. So when we and the chairman counted the votes, we count ‘no’ hundred and eight and ‘yes’ forty five.”

 

A survey in Big Falls Village reportedly yielded similar results.  Alcalde Choko wrote to the Minister of Indigenous People’s Affairs back in April putting on record the community of Big Falls’ opposition.

 

Eulaliuo Choko

Eulaliuo Choko, Alcalde, Big Falls Village

“Now that the Chairman and I took up to collect some names by way of a petition, we got some sixty five point two percent populations of Big Falls, which is way above what we needed. So we are in the process of sending it to heads of department again, just so to clarify what this person was saying it is a one man show, when in fact it is a community effort to get out of this MLA.”

 

Apart from the request for land papers, Edison Choko, a former Alcalde,  claims that those at the helm of MLA has been utilizing the Association’s  funds without the approval of the full steering committee charged with approving the use of funds.

 

Edison Choko

Edison Choko, Former Alcalde, San Pedro Colombia

“I was elected as a steering committee, so when we were elected as the steering committee, here comes COVID. We only had like three meetings. They told us that the Steering Committee would approve the funds where the fund where the money would go. So we approved a hundred thousand. So, when COVID come een, we did not attend the meetings again. So, when the last meeting we attend, yes it was a hundred thousand. When we get back again, when they call us again, money was already over three hundred thousand approved. I don’t know who approved that, but I know, in my part, I never attended anymore meeting when it was approved. That is time the I said, mmm, this is not working.”

 

We tried calling MLA’s listed phone number for a response to these concerns. We were unable to get a hold of their spokesperson Christina Coc, up to news time.

 

Manuel Chub

Manuel Chub, Chairman, San Marcus Village

“My position as a leader, I have to respect the majority of the community. They dah the one weh they have to give detail to its leaders. We cannot just sign on a paper without the majority of the community.”

 

Reporting For News Five, I am Paul Lopez.
In response to a request for an interview from the Minister Dolores Balderamos Garcia, she informed us that she is “aware that there was such a meeting of a small number of villagers from the communities of San Pedro Colombia, San Marcus and Big Falls.”  She told us that all villagers have the right to oppose and that if they are in opposition, her Ministry must recognize that many villagers in the south would like to get their leases and titles. Minister Garcia says it is a reality that all involved will have to balance.


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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