A protest was held today in Punta Gorda where another court appearance of the Santa Cruz Thirteen took place before Magistrate Emerson Banner. Supporters gathered around the courthouse in solidarity with the thirteen Maya leaders who were charged on June twenty-fourth for the unlawful imprisonment of Rupert Myles. Myles, the husband of a Maya woman, destroyed parts of the sacred site of Uxbenka, where he built a house. The villagers of Santa Cruz claim they repeatedly attempted to remove him from the location, but their efforts were fruitless. Pablo Mis, the Program Coordinator for the Maya Leaders Alliance spoke on behalf of the group this morning noting that while they have been repeatedly taken to court, Myles has not been charged for damages to the sacred site.
Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA
“Santa Cruz Thirteen returned to court, you will recall the last hearing was an adjournment so this morning the Santa Cruz Thirteen returned to court. We don’t know what the decision of the prosecution is going to be but obviously the villagers are not very happy with this case being dragged on. This is going to be the fourth time that they’re going to be appearing in court and there’s been no disclosure given so far.”
“What do you have to say about the fact that Mr. Myles is still living on the occupied land?”
“Well, clearly there seems to be some hesitation on the part of the Institute of Archaeology and by extension the board of NICH in following through with what they had publicly said which is that they have determined that Mr. Myles had created an infraction, had violated and desecrated Uxbenka and that they had, Dr. Morris has said that he was going to pursue legal action or given that go ahead. But to date that has not happened. So I just want to say for the record that Santa Cruz has written Dr. Morris twice now and there has been no response from the institute with respect to the status of the investigation or charges that might be brought against Mister Myles. I think it is clear that we have been saying all along that this is not an injustice against Santa Cruz. This is an injustice by the government against all the Maya people. If you look at their placard they are sharing stories of hardship that they are going through in different villages: in San Pablo, in Jalacte, in Santa Cruz, in many other villages. And it has to do with the lack of political will on the part of government to fully adhere to the Caribbean Court of Justice. I want to say as well that the government made a commitment that by December there would have been some progress to the court order that was agreed upon by the parties before the CCJ. To date no meeting, no meeting has absolutely happened between the Maya leaders and Alcaldes and the government.”
Charges Withdrawn from 2 of the Santa Cruz Thirteen
This morning, ten months after their arrests, the Santa Cruz Thirteen were back in court. A police raid in the early hours of June twenty-fourth of last year, resulted in the arrest of twelve villagers from the southern community of Santa Cruz and MLA Spokesperson Cristina Coc. A number of officers descended on the homes of these leaders and took them into custody in Punta Gorda Town where they were later charged with unlawful imprisonment. The charges arise from an incident during which the villagers reportedly defended a sacred site from being defiled by Rupert Myles. While the initial charge was later dismissed for lack of evidence, the additional charges, including common and aggravated assault were levied against the villagers. During today’s session, a motion for the dismissal of charges against two of the accused persons was carried through on the basis that there was insufficient proof. It means that eleven leaders will continue to face charges.
On the Phone: Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, MLA
“Today, the case of the Santa Cruz Thirteen commenced trial. This is about ten months after the arrest of thirteen village leaders when on June twenty-fourth, 2015, police raided the homes of those villagers and arrested twelve leaders. Today, preliminary matters were dealt with where the Director of Public Prosecutions conceded again that there was not sufficient evidence to continue sustaining a charge against two of the Santa Cruz Thirteen villagers. So the charges against two of them were dropped. This, you will recall, is a change to the position of the Crown against the Santa Cruz villagers where initially they were all charged with unlawful imprisonment. That was changed to common assault and added aggravated assault to some of the leaders and today again, the DPP conceded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to continue sustaining a charge against two of the defendants. This for us is an important step in bringing justice to all the defendants. They have been sustaining unnecessary hardships and the families have been going through a lot of traumatic experiences as a result of the raid and we hope that the case can proceed on May ninth which is the new day for trial and have all the defendants then before the court justify or achieve the justice that they all deserve.”
The case has been adjourned until May ninth. Meanwhile, the Maya community continues to urge the Government of Belize to respect their rights as indigenous people, including right to customary land tenure.