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Sep 4, 2023

Belizeans for Constitutional Rights Movement Launched in P.G.

On Saturday, a group of people from several villages in Toledo took part in a motorcade from Indian Creek to Punta Gorda where a rally was held as part of the launch of a new movement. The group called Belizeans for Constitutional Rights was formed to educate and rally for villagers who feel that they have been disenfranchised of their right to own a piece of land through the ancestral land tenure system that has governed the management of land in several Maya villages in rural Toledo. Chairman of B.C.R., Herald Usher, who is also the chairman of Yemeri Grove, told News Five that since a Caribbean Court of Justice ruling that was handed down in April of 2015, anyone who wants to acquire their own piece of land through the government’s land title system can’t. That has discouraged villagers, even some Mayas, from farming on land that they cannot own. Aside from that, a draft mapping done by the Maya Leaders’ Alliance which has championed the communal land rights system, has infringed on the original boundaries of several of the villages, according to some of the villagers in attendance at the rally. News Five’s Marion Ali was there and filed this report.


Marion Ali, Reporting

The P.G. Central Park was the assembly ground for about a hundred people on Saturday evening who are either a part of, or support the Belizeans for Constitutional Rights Movement, a land activist group that favours the land title system instead of communal land rights, a Maya ancestral system of managing land. Chairing the movement is Herald Usher.


Herald Usher

Herald Usher, Chairman, Belizeans for Constitutional Rights

“This group was formed because of the fact that there is a number of people in the Toledo District who are being affected by this C.C.J. ruling, and we believe that under the constitution of our country, our rights have been infringed on and that we are all being affected. The map was drawn, we were not consulted and what we are finding out is that a number of villages, for example, Mafredi, Jacintoville, Yemeri Grove, all the way to Elridgeville is been affected. We are also representing the Maya people themselves, because there’s a number of Mayas who, they’re not in agreement with this.”


The C.C.J. affirmed in April of 2015, a Supreme Court ruling of 2010 that the Mayas hold customary land rights over the land that they occupy, and that is equal to any other form of land ownership in Belize. In the process, the court also restrained the government from proceeding with commercial activities without the consent of the Mayas. The ruling has direct impact on thirty-nine villages in the rural Toledo and Stann Creek districts. The Maya Leaders’ Alliance, a coalition of Maya organizations and leaders, has been promoting and defending the land rights system in these villages for years. The court ruling is not new; however, some of villagers, including Mayas, say that new problems have arisen. Many of them do not support the communal land rights system because they want to own their piece of land, particularly since their populations have been growing.


Herald Usher

“What happened is that due to the ruling of this C.C.J. Court, the M.L.A, has been granted rights so that they can actually demarcate land. The ruling states that the government must be a part of it and that all villages must be consulted before this process is being done. However, I must state right here on this media that Yemeri Grove, for example, Jacinto, we have never been consulted before.”


Dalia Sho

Dalia Sho, Resident, Pueblo Viejo Village

“I am not going to say that I am representing on behalf of my village because that’s the word that we want to refrain from, for the reason that is the word that they used when they took this matter to court. We are one Belize. We are one people. I do not believe in different culture, different race. That is what keep dividing us – culture, religion and politics.”


Marion Ali

“You don’t believe in communal lands?”


Dalia Sho

“No, I do not believe in communal lands.”


Marion Ali

“That’s a tradition that your ancestors introduced.”


Dalia Sho

“May that rest in peace because I believe, I mean, communal land, despite before our grandparents, my grandparents, they used to live in harmony and peace. They never had this issue until now that this organization came.”


Marcos Choc

Marcos Choc, 1st Alcalde, San Marcos Village

“With this communal land, now all, well, 10 families they in favor of the communal land out deh. They have so much land they just hold, but they’re not working it. But you still can’t go touch it.”


Marion Ali

“And how many more need?”


Marcos Choc

“I tell you about three quarter of the communities they nuh have. Some young people are just 18 years old, they just married. They can’t even got wa house spot to build their house, right? So now we di try fight fi get outta this thing.”


The Mayas who were present at the rally, including First Alcalde of San Marcos Village, Marcos Choc and Pueblo Viejo villager, Dalia Sho say many of the Maya people want to move away from communal land rights for economic reasons.


Marcos Choc

“If you don’t have a land title, you cannot go to the bank and borrow something because you don’t have nothing. But if you have something, you want to invest something, and you pay back your loan, actually you’ll get back your land paper. Finance is one of the main issue that we have down here. So in order for them to go to the bank, for example, they want to go for a student loan, they cannot get a student loan because they do not have anything to provide, for example, to say a land title. So I believe that this has been a hindrance to not only education, but also to development within our communities.”


While the Maya villages have pointed to problems that they’re experiencing as a result of the court ruling, the predominantly Garifuna community of Barranco is also seeing challenges of its own.


Francis Arzu Sr.

Dr. Francis Arzu Sr., Chairman, Barranco Village

“The Barranco Village Council did some work 2014 before the 2015 Consent Order, reference land distribution in the Barranco area. And what is very sad and not too, or not – very sad, very unpleasant, and we are not happy about it, that those areas that were a part of our work before the consent order the consent order are no longer, they – we are waiting for the release or whatever the case may be, I don’t know what word to use that we cannot pay our taxes. We’re having difficulty occupying the area the way we used to. And that is a major issue for us. The Barranco border was set long, long time ago. And so because of 2015 Consent Order, we have not even done the delimitation process.”


Chairman of Belizeans for Constitutional Rights, Herald Usher feels that the problems can be remedied if the matter were to be put back to Belizeans to decide how the lands in the affected communities should be managed.


Herald Usher

“The least that can happen is that you can take this thing to a referendum. Let the Belizean people speak. The people will decide on whether or not they would like the entire Toledo district as we are seeing on the map and a portion of the stone creek to go on their communal land.”


Marion Ali for News Five.

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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