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Jun 29, 2010

Mayas celebrate Supreme Court Victory on communal land

The Maya Leaders who brought a suit against the government over property rights, headed back to the south on Monday to celebrate victory. Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh took over two hours to deliver a sixty-two page ruling before a packed courtroom. The CJ ruled that the Maya communities of the south, thirty-three villages in Toledo and five in Stann Creek, had communal land tenure over their ancestral land and he restrained the government from proceeding with commercial activities without the consent of the Mayas.  The CJ said “From the evidence, the Maya people have found sustenance and continuity in the lands they presently occupy which were once occupied by their forebears. Therefore for them the dispute is more than just land, although so much depends on this. It is really about their way of life and their very survival”. News Five’s Five Isani Cayetano has a report on the celebration in Indian Creek.

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The gentle sound of marimba music and the aroma of freshly cooked caldo permeated the atmosphere as thousands converged on the school ground following the success of the Maya Leaders Alliance in a historic case against the Government of Belize over customary land rights. The ruling also impacts logging, drilling and other commercial activities in southern Belize.

Isani Cayetano

“The indigenous community of the Maya people in Southern Belize, have gathered today in Indian Creek Village to celebrate their legal victory in the highest court in the land.  The Supreme Court today granted the Maya people full communal rights over land they have claimed in southern Toledo.”

Buses shuttled in villagers from as far away as Otoxha and Santa Ana to this central location for an evening of speeches and revelry.  Perched atop the concrete, one storey building were alcaldes from all thirty-eight Mayan communities from the two southern districts of Toledo and Stann Creek District.  Standing before the audience of men, women and children was a spiritually reinvigorated leader who has played an integral role in the preservation of the people and their traditional way of life.

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, MLA

cristina coc

“Today we anticipated a favorable judgment and we were very blessed to have the judgment handed down in our favor.  What this means for us is simply that the courts have affirmed our rights to the lands that we customarily use and occupy which for us means a right to life.  The lands that we live on, the lands that we occupy are the very lands that have sustained us as a people that have given us our livelihood.”

The plight of the Mayas for land tenure has been described as a social struggle.  For several years a legal battle was being waged for government to recognize their rights as an indigenous people.  At the helm of that movement was Antoinette Moore.  She fought tirelessly to prove that the communities and their residents were deserving of the freedom to own shared land.

Antoinette Moore, Attorney, MLA

“Many years ago, actually ten years ago now I was approached because of the human rights work that I did in other arenas.  I was approached by members of the Maya community and members of a legal team that was working with them to see if I would be interested in assisting and I immediately thought not of going against the government because of course we weren‘t in court at that time; but thought of assisting and affirmatively aiding in a struggle that is many, many years old and that deserves to come to a positive conclusion.”

That ending some would say was long overdue.  Along the way the history of Belize’s first inhabitants was heavily scrutinized by the attorney representing GOB to prove that there was no longevity between the ancient Maya and those living in rural Toledo today.

Cristina Coc

“I will never forget the experience of sitting and feeling humiliated by Ms. Lois Young Barrow.  I forgive her ignorance.  I certainly hold no grudge for what was said.  I mean were called a people without a nationality.  We were called Guatemalans.  We were called migrants.  We were called a people without a nation; in fact we were denied our ancestry.  We were told that there’s no continuity from our ancestors the Manxe Chol or the K’ekchi and the Mopan.”

During the trial a professor of anthropology, Dr Robert Wilks, took the stand on behalf of MLA.  That sworn statement provided a socio-cultural look at the people over the centuries.  But while the legal struggle for land at times played out like a protracted history lesson there are those within the wider indigenous community including Big Falls Village who were not in support of the move to retain customary rights over land they occupy.

Erigorio Coc, Resident, Big Falls Village

“Basically they don’t want to get involved in this because maybe they don’t understand what the situation is about, they don’t want to get involved.  I don’t know what’s going on in this village because I, actually I don’t want to get involved myself into it because as I said I’m a young guy.”

And while there was a celebratory air at the rally it was evident that the government and quite a number of those gathered to observe today’s victory were still not fully knowledgeable of the issue at hand.  Although the ruling will allow the Mayas of southern Belize to legally establish constitutional indigenous rights over communal lands Moore says the matter transcends property rights.

Antoinette Moore

antoinette moore

“There is an apparent misunderstanding on the part of the Government of Belize about the essence of the case.  And I think that cultural preservation as you have rightly said is at core, at core.  Here in Indian Creek where we’ve, the alcaldes, the leadership has come along with myself to present the judgment back to the villagers, back to the people who it will directly affect.  Person after person has said that this is a ruling, this is a judgment, this is a struggle about their land and their way of life that goes into generations.”

The decision of Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh was celebrated in grand fashion, by Mayan standards, as the traditional Cortez dance was performed before a crowd that cheered on the masquerade.

Elias Uk, Resident, San Jose Village

“It’s good because now we are free in our land.  We have everything we can get on the land, nobody can stop us from doing it.”

Monday’s judgment succeeds a previous landmark ruling in 2007 when the court first established that the Mayas of Conejo and Santa Cruz, also in the south, had communal land rights to the area they were occupying. The Government’s attorney has already indicated that the ruling by the outgoing Chief Justice will be appealed. 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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28 Responses for “Mayas celebrate Supreme Court Victory on communal land”

  1. fryjack says:

    Belizeans should learn from tha example of the indigenous people of Belize what can be accomished when you stand strong as a community and people against an insensitive government that want to destroy other people livelihood and way of life for profit. As a Belizean living abroad I am proud of the way the Mayan people stood with dignity and pride in fighting for what is rightfully theirs. Take notes Belizeans. RESPECT!!! To the Mayans.

  2. island dude says:

    does anyone know how much land the Mayas now have under control?

  3. Earl Grey says:

    As long as they don’t try to keep the rest of us out…. Congratulation to the Mayans!!!


    Bravo to the strong Mayan people of Belize, if we the other people of Belize would take their determination as an example and work together instead of against each other we would stop being footstools and our country would grow more. Ihave always had much respect for the garifuna people of Belize who ban together and now the Mayan have shown that they also a force to be reckon with. CONGRATULATIONS.

  5. macal rivera says:

    well let hope when guatemala ready to invade their maya land that belongs excusivley to them, I wan to see who they will turn to for help HMMm,
    or maybe somebody in guatemala is behind all this victory so when they ready for Belice it will be handed over to them without fight hmm,
    Fighting for land and in the end all will stay behind.


    i think that the garifunas should get together in a community only for them also, this things bring more tourism and other benefits to our people. we already have the mennonite, mayas, lets get the garifunas, mestizos like me and other ethnics. imagine when tourist come ina garifuna community, the drummings and all that it brings a income to the locals, mestizo foods, indian dishes, and other groups would be beautiful not meaning to separate the belizean people by groups but little commuities like this is beautiful. i would like to walk into a community different from mines and eat what they cook, feel the spirit they feel and see what their lively hood is like. nice move mayas. let’s live in peace and hormony all Belizeans.

  7. filberto says:

    proud to be a Belizean Maya… together as one with all the other ethnic group, Belize our home

  8. Tim says:


  9. Belize First says:

    What kind of discrimination is this in our country. I do not applaud this judgment because why should the Mayas get special treatment when the Garifuna are just as important. In fact so are the Creole and the Mestizo.

    If the Maya people want the land in Toledo then they should not be able to own land anywhere else in Belize. But actually they have Toledo and they can still go around the rest of the country and get land. Somethin not right with this picture. !!!

  10. Tyadia says:

    Kudos to Channel 5 for making this your headline news story and for making the effort to travel to Toledo to get shots of the celebration. It shows that you see the historical significance of this ruling and shows your level of cultural understanding and appreciation.

    Other media houses, take note.

  11. BreddaDavido says:

    You know what will happen now right? Every “Maya” family from Guatemala where there is shortage of land will now run across the border into our country and go settle in Toledo where there is “free” land. Then the rest of us belizeans will be expected to pay taxes to build roads, schools and infrastructure in these places but the Mayas don’t have to pay anything. I agree with Bill Lindo (for once) this is the segregation of Belize.

  12. South boy says:

    I hope they dont look to the rest of Belize for help when a hurricane hits. If they dont want to be a part of the traditional system of land distribution which the rest of us “unchosen” people have to use (you know how we have to apply for a piece of land and go thru a process to get title). Since the land is” theirs” they better be prepared to take care of business when trouble hits!!

  13. jim says:

    dont sell your land to the white people. You just win. think now u will see white man attacking you

  14. PABLO says:

    Thanks for all the support to those who have expressed solidarity with us as we defend JUSTICE. To those who are still struggling to understand our cause we invite to visit us in Toledo land of the FREE and learn more. Lets stop living in ignorance and allow room for greater wisdom and knowledge. In the words of Evan X “POWER TO THE PEOPLE”

  15. Tim says:

    WOW PABLO, you are a Maya with internet ….brother if you are so advanced then you need to get with the modern times. In the words of Evan X “WAKE UP BELIZE!!”

  16. c says:

    mayans were here first… and now blacks and mestizos want to take their land away… justice prevailed!

  17. Kinkriol says:

    The Mayas are people who are not easily influence by other races. They don’t believe in trying to out bling , be-little or can be taught that they are superior or inferior to none; maybe that’s why their crime rate is so low.

    If the Maya ruins does not tell or teach us anything and are hurried to believe what the blue eye man has to say, then something is wrong. Communal rights doesn’t means “ownership”, it means exactly what it says. Now let’s protect our borders and put in place laws that will prevent a rain of Mayas from Guatemala to enter our Belize.

  18. Oscar965 says:

    This is starting to sound very similar to the “Americans” who dont want the Latino’s in the United States. It was the American Indians who lived and roamed free in the United States before anyone. Thousands were killed and driven off thier traditional lands. United States was based on people migrating from the other side of the world to this one and now hundreds of years later “the USA Citizens” think they can tell the latinos of are not welcome….so is this what we also want to do here in belize? Just a good question for you to think about!!!!

  19. Lookwith Yourmind says:

    The rights of Indigenous people all over the planet are finally being recognized. It is time that as a country we be proud of our Judicial System. It is time that we evolve into beings that are enlightened not only with what our school or religious systems tech us. It is time that we learn the histories and stories that every being brings into this world, the culture that they reproduce, and appreciate them for what they truly are. If our learning process were skewed by our very own schools, lets purge that knowledge and be enlightened with the facts. Facts are not fed to you, you find them and unfortunately they are not find in our textbooks, much less in the media, God forbid the Governments.

    Let us learn and appreciate these great people. And for once let set aside the bickering. Interestingly this is what democracy is though, the enjoyment of free speech. So let us call the Maya Guatemalans, segregationists, etc, it is allowed! But let us also call them brothers and sisters, it is also permitted.

    A friend of mine once told me, “Patriotism is the cheapest form of pride”. Now I am starting to hold it as a law. Let us trascend this Guat-Belize-Mestizo-Garinagu-Maya thing. It obscures the mind and leads to no way.

    Congratulations to the great women, Cristina and Antoniette; it is true that where men fail women prevail. And like the great Cristina said “I forgive her ignorance [referring to the Government's Attorney]“, Those of us that are Mayans, “we forgive your ignorance as well, and we invite you to re-learn our history, our trajectory and our aspirations as a people (not as the at times adulterated ethnic label that most of us unknowingly use)”.

    Let the Yumtzilob’ bless all those that were pending of the case, those in Europe, the US, and those in our backyards.

  20. macal rivera says:

    pablo you jack ass this dah no power to the people, this dah power to the mayas, you fool, nobody else benefit only them,and I tell this no wen last long.
    I agree with breddadivido, these people will hand over our land to the guates I di tell you, mek I see weh Will Meheia have to say about this,

    Greg Cho’ch and Cristina Coc will betray us sooner or later!!! Wait and see

  21. Belmopan says:

    Good Lord, I’ve been trying to apply for 50 acres of land for two years now, and still not successful. Lucky Mayas.

  22. Therese Reneau-Castaneda says:

    Individual commitment to a group effort-that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work. “Vince Lombardi

    Best regards to the Mayas of Belize.

  23. Proud Belizean says:

    I dont see how some ah unu put Guatemala into this. Mind unu no di give Guatemala ideas. Congrats to the Mayas on such a great victory.

  24. luo says:


  25. proud belizean says:

    After i read all the comments posted on this website or page, i must say that i am pleased with some of the replies while for some i am simply not. First of all, when people put this thing in relation to Guatemala, there is the obvious misunderstanding of what the mayan communal land is all about. I would appeal to those who just want to degarde such a victory know and educate yourself with the situation.

  26. proud belizean says:

    The whole thing about the issue of communal land is self- explanitory!: “community- oriented”!!! the maya people were not fighting for their rights to get “”ownership”"” of the land in the Toledo district. What they are simply doing is fighting for what righfully belongs to them!!!! I was once visiting Caracol and my family had to pay a fee of over a 100 bze dollars just to visit the site. Image all of that going to the gov of bze, and we were not the only visitors!! Can you see how the mayan ancestral archeological remains benefitt the country????? if you would understand it , of course you will get the picture behind all of this, but if not you are confused. If we look at it from another perspective, what this victory means is to work hand in hand with the gov of bze and the people of belize. what one of the respondents to this page described a situation in the USA??? But that is obviously different. Continuing with working in harmony with the rest of bze, the mayan people are securing their territorial space for any foreighn and illegal activity that might take place in the Toledo district!!! Let me ask this question, how many of you living in a village, town or city knows of an investor??? do you have any idea wether this investor have the consent of the people to begin a business in the area where he or she is?? well, i know of several, in fact many in the Toledo district and belize on a whole!!!! the gov does not communicate withe the people when it comes to this issue?? as one of the respondents said: how many of you out there benefit from oil drilling and issuing of land to foreingn investiors??? well, this is one of the reasons why the mayan peoples of the Toledo district led this fight so as to ensure that the gov of bze first get consent from the people before anything takes place. and hopefully, the gov will observe this. now you may argue that how will we be able to develop without investors???? well, of course we need investors in our country, but there is a proper way to do it and not just go into a territory and do whatever you one feels like to do!!! this is exactly why this fight was started!!! in relations to the comming of the guatemaltecans into our territory, who are we to grant them permission to reside and owe what belongs to us Belizeans??? what the mayans are doing is to ensure that this does not occur like how it is occuring today. so, CONGRATS TO ALL THE MAYAN PEOPLES OF THE TOLEDO DISTRICT AND ESPECIALLY TO THE VERY EDUCATED AND MOTIVATIONAL AND CHARISMATIC CRISTINA COC!!!! she is truly a blessed daughter of the Toledo distrcit!!! respect to all the mayan peoples. let us, the rest of belizeans, learn for their examples and fight for what is democracy, dignity and respect in our small jewel. respect!!!!

  27. karal says:

    hahah u are soo racist macal rivera!!
    thats all i can say about u!

    i want to live in your world where u run things and live anywhere u want!!

    U should start fighting for your people your country too!

    i will be happy for u! make a difference
    instead of being against other ethnic groups or get a better education and tour your country and tell us what u have experienced!

  28. Louisville Ky says:

    Maximum respect to the Maya for their untiring efforts in obtaining communal rights to ancestral lands!! Their unity and determination has paid off big time and should be an example to those of us of other ethnicities that seemed to have lost our way and is confused about the way forward.
    As a person of so called Kriol decent, i truely wish that we had only a fraction of the comradrae and conviction of these people that we used to ” look down upon”.
    Looking at the mayhem and madness that is the order of the day on the streets of Belize City, to say that we have lost our way is an understatement. Maybe its high time that we look to the Maya and see if we can learn something from them.
    When was the last time you heard of “ride by” indiscriminate shooting in a Mayan village with innocent school children in the line of fire?
    And to those of us that sound as if we are HURTED by the court’s decision?……… Suck it up!! Get your act togather, take a page out of the Mayan book and DO something about the rot in our social fabric rather than wringing our hands in frustration. POWER TO THE MAYANS!!!!!

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