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03/17/11 08:47 AM
03/17/11 08:47 AM
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The Maya Leaders Alliance and Toledo Alcaldes Association will be back in court tomorrow to face the government of Belize which has appealed the ruling passed in the Supreme Court on June 28, 2010. That ruling was in favor of the thirty-eight villages in Southern Belize affirming their land rights. The hearing will start tomorrow. Spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance, Christina Coc says they are confident the Court of Appeal will rule in their favor once more.

Christina Coc – Maya Leaders Alliance

“We have faith in the judicial system. We have proven through two different courts; we have proven two times now through the Supreme Court of Belize that as Maya people we are indigenous to this area and we have rights to the lands that we use and occupy. We have also proven through the Inter American Commission on Human Rights Court that we have rights to the lands and resources that we use. We are looking forward to the Court of Appeal hearing. We are not surprised that the Government has appealed that decision. We continue to see the government’s lack of political will to accept a recognition and respect for our rights to our lands and resources. We see this as continued violation of our rights as Maya people, we see this as disrespect not just for the Maya people but for all Belizeans for failure to uphold the Belize Constitution which protects our rights to property.”

Coc adds that they are prepared to face the government once more.

Christina Coc – Maya Leaders Alliance

“We have always been prepared, our message hasn’t changed, our message remains the same, that our way of life is sustained by the use of the land that we call our home. That has not changed; we will continue to say that. The Court of Appeal, it is not a place where there is a retrial, it is a place where the Government claims that the Supreme Court through the Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh, they are saying that he made an error in his judgement and they are going to have to prove that. We do not find anywhere that the Chief Justice made an error, we agree completely with his judgement, of course it is in our favour and we continue to believe that the Court of Appeal will agree with his judgement. Of course we have yet to see what the results of the court of appeal will be but we stand firm and we know the court has recognized our rights to these lands. We did not need a court to recognize that for us we’ve always believed that these lands are ours and we continue to believe that.”

The hearing starts tomorrow and continues on to the eighteenth and the twenty-first of March. The Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association is calling on the Belizean public to join them tomorrow at the Law Library and stand with them in their fight.


03/18/11 08:26 AM
03/18/11 08:26 AM
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Marty Online happy OP

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The Mayas VS. GOB, Round Two

Very early this morning - at around 2:00 - villagers from the remote southwestern Toledo District started loading up into busses to make the long journey to Belize City.

They arrived around 8:30 to show the solidarity of their communities in the case of the Attorney General versus the Mayan Leaders Alliance, the Toledo Alcalde's Association and others.

The Mayans won that and an entitlement to customary land tenure in June of 2010 but now government is throwing all its resources into an appeal to try and have that declaration overturned.

The hearing started today and to demonstrate that they are un-intimidated - even when going up against the state - over 100 Mayans descended on the city and filled up the courtroom today. We found them at battlefield park:…

Jules Vasquez Reporting
With the lilting strains of marimba music coming FROM battlefield park you might have thought that it was a cultural day.

But 3 busses of Mayans from the Toledo district were in front of the Supreme Court building to take a stand

Ligorio Coy, chairman Mayan Leaders Alliance
"We left at 2 o' clock this morning and we are travelling."

Jules Vasquez
"From 2am? From what villages?"

Ligorio Coy, chairman Mayan Leaders Alliance
"From Crique Sarco, Dolores, Jalacte, San Vicente and all of those villages to the back."

Jules Vasquez
"Ok now I see that your people have crowded into the courtroom, they are standing up in there. Why is it important to have that presence actually in the courtroom?"

Ligorio Coy, chairman Mayan Leaders Alliance
"Because we are united. We believe in unity and we believe in justice as well. We believe in our rights."

Christina Coc, Mayan Leaders Alliance
"It's important for us to show the state that we are a people of unity, we are a people of perseverance and we understand what we are fighting for and one day out in the sun to listen to the court hearing and even if we all can't fit in the courtroom it's a statement to say that 'look we are willing at all cost to fight for our right to life.'"

That right to life is a right to communal lands:

Ligorio Coy, chairman Mayan Leaders Alliance
"Our great grandfather has taught us to do farming, without our land we cannot survive. We can't depend on jobs from politicians, they promise many jobs but there are only a few."

Christina Coc, Mayan Leaders Alliance
"I can tell you that this is not the first time that we have come to Belize City. This is not the first time that we have woken up 2-3 o' clock in the morning and travel to Belize City. This is how determine we are as a people, we don't have any free lunches today, I can tell you that. People are here because they know why they are here."

Ligorio Coy, chairman Mayan Leaders Alliance
"Yes we feel offended and we feel discriminated because they treat us like we are not Belizeans and like we don't exist in this world."

The Alcaldes, and Chairmen filled the courtroom and were scattered throughout the park:

Christina Coc, Mayan Leaders Alliance
"This issue is not about land it is about a people's right to define their own life and to define their own development. This goes for all Belizeans, everybody should be standing up and saying 'look, we need to let our state know that we will determine our future."

The hearing of the appeal is expected to continue through tomorrow until Monday. Government is represented by Lois Young while Antonette Moore appears for the Mayan communities.

Channel 7

03/18/11 08:28 AM
03/18/11 08:28 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Online happy OP

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Mayas from 38 Villages appear in Appeals Court over land rights

Representatives from Maya communities converged at the Battlefield Park in downtown Belize today for day one of an appeal by the Government on a Supreme Court ruling handed down last year. That ruling affirmed ancestral Maya land rights for thirty-eight villages in southern Belize. The case was a major win for the Maya Leaders’ Alliance that had been struggling since 2007 to ascertain communal rights in the lands they have been occupying. GOB’s position is to the contrary, that the Mayas have no customary land rights and is, therefore appealing the Supreme Court decision of June 2010. The Alliance believes that the government is attempting to strip them of their way of life without compensation to make way for oil and timber companies. News Five’s Jose Sanchez reports.

Jose Sanchez

A contradiction of images was on display near the courthouse in Belize City this morning. In front of Magistrate Court, armed men with powerful rifles stood guard while across the street were the prayers of Mayas being heard in two languages.

The mood was somber in Battlefield Park as representatives from thirty eight villages held their heads down with their eyes closed. Alcaldes, past and future leaders, were present for the government’s appeal of the land case.

Cristina Coc, Spokesperson, Maya Leaders Alliance

“We have known from the onset that the government does not agree with us. We knew that they would fight us to the highest courts. I mean the Prime Minister said that a few times publically. So we anticipated coming back to the Court of Appeals. We’re here to continue to defend our right to life. Our right to those lands and resources that we call our home. We’re here to continue to express our disappointment with how the government has violated our rights, with how the government has refused to respect and to recognize us as a people. Maya people are not asking for special rights. There is nothing special about Belizeans having a right to property and property of any kind. Maya people are Belizeans and they have a right to property and they are describing what kind of property they have, what kind of property they hold and their right needs to be respected.”

Cristina Coc

But in this new millennium, the burning flames from oil rigs that signify multimillion dollar earnings for the country in the form of mineral rights, also inspires the government’s pursuit.

Cristina Coc

“Our struggle is a very long struggle. In fact a lot of our leaders have passed on. This started long before there was the whole campaign for oil concessions and oil drilling in Belize and we have proven that we value our resources, we value the things that provide life and sustenance to our communities. Oil is a very important issue. I think that indeed if there is resources to be exploited, that at the very least, Belizeans ought to be consulted, Belizeans ought to give their consent to whatever kinds and forms of development that happens. That includes Maya people and that includes Maya people under whose lands those oil wells might be. So what we are asking for is an inclusion. Have our state recognize that we have a voice and we want to be able to be a part of ensuring that whatever development—be it oil, be it timber, whatever kind of development comes—that the Maya people begin to define with that kind of development. This is about Belizeans realizing that they can have an active part in defining the changes that they want to see in Belize. We are going through some challenging times—all of us Belizeans—and we need to unite; we do not need to divide ourselves. We need to unite and to bring about collective change through our diversity, through our differences as people. Let’s put our thoughts together, let’s put our ideas together, let’s put our energy together and let us bring about the change we want to see in this country.”

The prayers and songs continued in Battle Field Park, as the Appeals’ Court war occurred simultaneously across the street. Two flags were erected in the park. The Belizean Flag for nationality and the Maya flag which represents cardinal points through colors. Red symbolizing blood and life as East and Yellow for south, the besieged Mayan heartland. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.

The case continues on Friday and arguments are expected to conclude next Monday.

Channel 5

03/22/11 08:18 AM
03/22/11 08:18 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
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Marty Online happy OP

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The Government Versus The Maya Leaders Alliance

For the past three days, the Justices of the Court of Appeal have been hearing submissions in the matter of the Attorney General versus the Maya Leaders Alliance and others.

The Government's contention is that the Chief Justice erred in his ruling that thirty-eight villages in southern Belize are entitled to customary land tenure rights. The Mayas believe that they are entitled to these rights because their ancestors were the indigenous population prior to any sovereignty being established.

However, Belmopan's legal representative Senior Counsel Lois Young has argued that any indigenous rights the Maya held were extinguished by Spanish and later, British colonizers.

Young told the court, "When the British arrived, there were no Maya Indians of whatever group, whatever race, in [what is now] Belize." She went on to declare, "The Mayas do have a moral justification for feeling that they own the land they occupy but nothing more. This is a matter that must be addressed by the Belizean society as a whole, led by the government. This is a matter that would require a nationwide consultation process. There are competing interests here…other groups who have to be taken into account. There has to be a process. There is no juridical basis for the Chief Justice's judgment."

The other groups referred to in that statement is the Garinagu people, who Young asserts, have been in Belize just as long as the Mayans who are now claiming indigenous rights.

Young concluded, "This is a land problem…endemic to Belize…and to all races. No group should be given special privileges or rights. This is all about obtaining a piece of land in order to better yourself economically. Nothing is wrong with that but other groups in Belize would also like to have that."

Strong statements but this morning attorney for the Mayas, Senior Counsel Antoinette Moore was unfazed, maintaining that these arguments were also put before the Supreme Court.

Antoinette Moore, Lawyer
"My confidence stems from looking at the case as a whole. That one quotation from someone who wrote down something in the 1800s, is not the case. The case is a totality of all of the evidence from both sides and of the legal principles that must be applied to the evidence. So my confidence stems from my belief in justice and my confidence stems from my total, total belief that the Court of Appeals, just as the court below, will look at all of the evidence and will be able to reach a just decision."

The case is being heard by President of the Court of Appeal Justice Sosa, flanked by Justices Morrison and Alleyne. And while the case will continue on Tuesday, so too does an education and awareness campaign launched by the Alcades of the thirty-eight villages in question. According to Chairman of the Toledo Alcalde Association, Alfonso Cal, the judgment of the former Chief Justice, Dr. Abdulai Conteh, has been printed on scrolls which are being distributed to all the villages. According to Cal, the idea is simple.

Alfonso Cal, Chair, Toledo Alcalde association
"We are trying to educate them that so in showing them and educating them, what the court has ruled, you know, this will stand for us forever. And we will remember and we want other people to respect and recognize this scroll too. This is how we are trying to train them."

Attorney for the Mayans Antoinette Moore, will continue her submissions to the Court on Tuesday.

Channel 7

03/22/11 08:37 AM
03/22/11 08:37 AM
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Marty Online happy OP

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“We believe that we are the indigenous people:” MLA chairman, Ligorio Coy [Linked Image] The government’s appeal of the 2010 Maya Land Rights decision in favor of the Toledo Maya began today in the Court of Appeal, and following the morning session, Amandala had a chance to interview Ligorio Coy of Santa Ana, Toledo, who is also the chairman of the Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA).

Whereas the Government of Belize continues to maintain its stance that the Maya seeking recognition of customary land rights in Toledo are not entitled to those rights, because they are not indigenous to Belize but recent migrants from Guatemala, Coy is firm in his belief that “...we are the indigenous people.”

Santa Ana is a village of about 300 villagers, said Coy, and they do not exclude Belizeans of other ethnic groups from living among them.

Coy said that there is a language link between the present-day Maya and those who had been living in Belize in pre-colonial times.

“In the temples of the Maya, the ancient Maya, the written words on the stela and tombs, we understood,” said Coy. Nimli Punit is Kekchi, Uxbenka is Mopan and Lubaantun is written in Mopan and means “when they were tired they rested there,” said Coy, referring to well-known Maya locations in Belize. “That gives us the courage and the strength that we are indigenous.”

We asked Coy to tell us what he knows of the Manche Chol: “We have heard about the Manche Chol... Our music, they are still with us in spirit. We heard music in the ancient temple, which is the same instrument that we use now.”

He added, “We don’t have any more communication with them.... they are not living with us now.”

We asked Coy, “How would you describe yourself?”

“I am a Kekchi Maya,” he said, indicating that although they can be distinguished from the Mopan Maya by language, their appearance is the same and they understand each other’s languages.

We asked Coy: “Are you fearful that the court may change what was decided in the Supreme Court?”

“I have no fear, because we are indigenous,” he responded.

He said that if the Court of Appeal would indeed fail them, they will appeal the decision.

We asked Coy if he has any idea how much acreage of land they are claiming for the 38 villages. He told us that he has no idea.

Asked to address the difference in opinion among some Maya, some of whom oppose customary and collective land tenure, Coy indicated that this dispute has a political root.

Both political parties tell the people, “...if you vote, I will give a lease or plot of land.” He added that, “...when they get in position, they forget about them [the people].”

He also said that whereas there are those who have leases for individual plots of land, even those persons may still engage in customary practices.

On the question of exclusion of other Belizeans from Maya villages, Coy said this is not their practice.

“Every Belizean has a right to land,” he said, affirming their respect for the rights of the Garifuna people living in Barranco and the East Indian and Creole people living in Forest Home.

What if an East Indian wants to live in Santa Ana? That person has to go to the leaders of the village, said Coy. Then the community will come together and listen to the request, and if they agree, conditions are set.

Maya communities have traditional laws, said Coy, including laws for burial of the dead. A villager also needs to cooperate, work and contribute, and they all move together when farming and don’t destroy the forests, he added.

If a person fails to comply with the community rules, there is a fine. “It is not a fine that would not be more than $100, maybe $20 or $15.

These local laws are separate from national laws passed by the Government of Belize, he explained.


03/22/11 08:38 AM
03/22/11 08:38 AM
Joined: Oct 1999
Posts: 70,414
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Marty Online happy OP

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Maya Land Rights appeal hearing begins [Linked Image] The battle over land rights in Toledo, initiated by the Kekchi and Mopan Maya, claiming indigenous and ancestral rights over 38 villages in the district, entered a new round today, Thursday, March 17, as three justices of the Court of Appeal—Justice Manuel Sosa (President), Justice Brian Alleyne and Justice Dennis Morrison—began hearing the government’s challenge of a decision last June by former Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh.

On June 28, 2010, Dr. Conteh had ruled that customary land rights exist in the Toledo District. Conteh went on to rule that the claimants in the case, the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, along with a group of Maya leaders, were entitled to assert those customary land rights in the district.

Conteh furthermore restrained the government from treating the lands in question as crown lands—a decision that the Maya say has consequences for logging and petroleum concessions in the district.

This 2010 decision was a sequel to his October 18, 2007 decision, affirming similar Maya customary land rights in two Toledo villages: Conejo and Santa Cruz.

At the time of the 2010 decision, attorney for the government, Senior Counsel Lois Young, had said, “It’s a judgment that’s so huge that it has to be tested in an appellate court.” On August 2, 2010, Government filed a formal notice of appeal.

Today, Young told the Court of Appeal that Conteh had erred on several points in the ruling. She said that the government is appealing against the Chief Justice’s findings indicating that the Maya claimants are indigenous to Belize and, therefore, are entitled to rights to the lands in Toledo.

She said the government is also appealing the prohibitions and mandatory orders Conteh had made in favor of the Maya.

Young clarified that there is no dispute that native land title exists, conceptually, but certain requirements to ground the title were not met in this case by the Toledo Maya.

More specifically, she told the court that the government’s side had presented expert witness from Belizean archaeologist, Dr. Jaime Awe, director of the Institute of Archaeology, to indicate that it was the Manche Chol, distinct from the Kekchi and Mopan Maya, who had inhabited the lands now known as Toledo in 1540, the era of Spanish conquest.

The Maya of Belize today, Awe had said, were living in Guatemala and Mexico until fairly recently—the 1800s.

Young told the Court of Appeal that Awe had also explained in the Supreme Court trial that the people now known as the Maya—a name given to them by the Europeans—were never a united nation and never had a unified homeland.

The method of self-identification, she told the court, is their language. In their court affidavits, Young said, the claimants begin by saying which language they speak.

Also addressed in court was expert testimony provided by American anthropologist Richard Wilk. Justice Sosa noted that Wilk had pointed to mixed marriages between the Maya such as the Chol, and the ancestors of those living in Belize today.

Young told the court that it had been documented that the original home of the Kekchi Maya is Alta Verapaz in Guatemala and the Mopan Maya’s original home was the Yucatan Mexico before they migrated to Peten in Guatemala.

She reiterated to the court the government’s stance—that it was the Manche Chol who had been occupying Southern Belize at the time of the Spanish conquest and the present-day Maya cannot just claim biological descent or an ancestral connection: “It is not sufficient to merely claim to be Maya,” she told the court.

The former Chief Justice erred in finding that they are descendants of or have a connection with the Manche Chol, Young submitted in court, indicating that the claim from the Maya is believed to be that they are descendants by intermarriage.

Young also pointed out to the court that the area of land which the Maya are claiming has not exactly been identified. Toledo covers just over a million acres, she noted.

“The [former] Chief Justice did not consider that the claim lacks site specificity,” said Young.

She also pointed to a petition, as well as evidence provided by other Maya of Toledo, that not all of them want to continue a system of customary land tenure. Young said that where people discontinue customary practices, those rights attached with them can be lost.

If the intention is to continue the old way of living, then it means you cannot sell or lease land, she noted, since the land, if deemed property by indigenous rights, belongs to everyone.

Justice Dennis Morrison raised the point that since the era of Spanish conquest and the 1800’s, there may have been a shift in thinking and awareness of these rights.

Young said the issue with communal ownership is that the nature of use cannot change over the period of time in question.

Before today’s hearing began, Young objected to a late cross-appeal filed by Senior Counsel Antoinette Moore, who represents the Maya in the suit.

The filing, Young said, was due by August 16, 2010, but Moore had filed two days late and did not ask the court’s permission to accept a late filing, nor did she file an affidavit explaining the lateness.

After hearing Moore’s defense, that she had actually sent the documents via plane from Dangriga, where she is based, on August 16, but the person who was to have delivered it to the registry that same day did so two days late, President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Manuel Sosa, announced that the court would wave the deadline and in the interest of justice, allow the cross-appeal from the Maya.

That cross appeal raises the question of an award for damages under the Belize Constitution—a matter that was not then elaborated by the parties.

Senior Counsel Moore is expected to present her arguments for the Maya on Friday, March 18.

The hearing is slated to continue into Monday, March 21, 2011.


03/26/11 09:54 AM
03/26/11 09:54 AM
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Maya rebut GOB in land rights appeal

In a hearing that may continue at the end of this week, the Court of Appeal this afternoon began to hear the response of the Maya leaders of Toledo in an appeal lodged by the Government of Belize, challenging the June 2010 ruling of former Chief Justice Dr. Abdulai Conteh, which reaffirmed that customary land rights do exist in Southern Belize and which restrained the government from issuing leases and concessions on the lands in question without proper consultation with the Maya.

Whereas the Maya contend that the rights they claim have existed before the European colonizers came to the region, they have gone to court for formal declarations, because they want something in writing to acknowledge their ownership of the lands they continue to claim.

The Government had appealed Conteh’s 2010 decision, but in their cross-appeal, the Maya leaders have added a claim for damages—damages they claim Conteh should have awarded to them for alleged discrimination by the state.

In the Court of Appeal hearing on Monday afternoon, Senior Counsel Antoinette Moore set out the summary of her response to Government, whose case had been presented by Senior Counsel Lois Young on Thursday and Friday, March 17 and 18, and for the earlier part of Monday.

(For more on the government’s case, see the article in last weekend’s edition of Amandala titled, “Maya Land Rights appeal hearing begins.”)

Presiding over the case are Court of Appeal president John Sosa, Justice Dennis Morrison and Justice Brian Alleyne.

Moore started out by telling the court, as Conteh had emphasized in his judgment, that the case is not about land—it is about so much more; the respondents say that it is about the lives of thousands of Maya in 35 Maya villages, villages which Moore said existed for between 15 and 120 years with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the state.

Since the founding of the villages, said Moore, the people have used their land according to their own customs and laws, which date further back than living memory. She emphasized their connection to the land and how central it is for their culture and survival.

The appellant, the government, has, in essence, said that the Maya are nothing more than squatters, said Moore, adding that relief has been sought from the court for violations of sections 3, 16 and 17 of the Belize Constitution, addressing fundamental rights and freedoms; protection from discrimination on the grounds of race, etc; and protection from deprivation of property, respectively.

Moore said that the case rests on legal principles to be applied to the question of whether the Maya of Toledo have any interest in real property and what the legal consequences of that interest would be.

She said that whereas in the 2007 case of Conejo and Santa Cruz, two villages in Toledo, the Maya sought and received a declaration of native title, the claimants in the 2010 case did not seek nor were they granted such a declaration.

What they did seek, said Moore, was injunctive relief to protect their use and occupation of the lands in question, until such time that the government rectifies its discriminatory treatment of them, she told the court.

She added that the Maya have been seeking official documentation of their titles.

Whereas she told the Court of Appeal that the Chief Justice decided correctly on the central issues in the land rights case, Moore said that the Maya have one complaint: that Conteh failed to grant them an award for damages for loss, distress and inconvenience due to discrimination against them.

Much of the appeals case has dealt with historical and anthropological evidence, as well as citations of authorities from other jurisdictions in which similar land rights cases have been argued.

A pivotal work that has been cited by both sides is the 1930 work of J. Eric Thompson, titled, Ethnology of the Mayas of Southern and Central British Honduras.

Amandala was able to download a PDF file of the work, cited with reference details by Moore, in the online archives of the University of Illinois, where Moore told the court the full book (200 and odd pages) could be located.

Moore referenced three pages, including page 35, which demonstrated how the Manche Chol of Belize very likely intermingled with the Maya. Thompson makes reference to a group known as the Kekchi Chol.

This note is of interest, since the Government has taken the position that the Maya who have brought the case against the government, under the banner of the Toledo Alcaldes Association and the Maya Leaders Alliance, as well as 9 other Maya leaders, are not indigenous to Belize but are recent migrants from Guatemala, coming to Belize in the 1800’s, around the same time that the Garinagu did.

Moore referred to the citation of the Kekchi Chol, one of the groups of the Belize Maya, as “a separate ethnic group.”

“Those are strong words – separate ethnic group,” Justice Sosa commented.

(The Kekchi Maya have contended that they are descendants of the pre-colonial Maya of southern Belize and that their ancestors had intermingled with the Manche Chol.)

Moore presented samplings of the extensive affidavit evidence filed by the Maya for the Supreme Court case, to make the point that in all the Maya villages in question, there is a pattern of land use governed by the alcaldes.

Farm lands are demarcated for specific farmers, but they are not able to sell lands to outsiders. Only certain types of lands, such as lands for house lots, can be automatically passed down to family members. One affidavit noted that a Maya hunter can enter the farm of another Maya to hunt game but cannot farm crops there without permission of the person who has been given alcalde permission to farm on the land.

Moore also made the point that the state, and the British rulers even at the time Belize was still a settlement, had formally acknowledged the alcalde system—a type of local mayor with power to act in certain cases as a local magistrate.

She told the court that whereas the government has argued that a common feature of customary land tenure is communal land tenure, the customary law of each group should be looked at separately to determine the system and one cannot generalize.

Moore referenced the case of the Mabo on the Murray Islands of Australia, where villagers individually own lands although they assert customary land rights.

Moore also told the court that the Maya believe that the land belongs to the gods, and they cannot be owned or possessed by any one person; they believe they are borrowing the lands from the deity.


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