The Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission was set up by the Government of Belize to implement the consent order given by country's highest court, the Caribbean Court of Justice. In that case, the Government conceded last year that Maya Customary Land Tenure exists, and that they will work to preserve those rights by putting them in a formal land system. To do that, however, the Government has to consult with the Maya people to determine what that customary land tenure system will actually look like.
But, after months of inactivity following the end of the case, the Commission was put together to start that very-important consultation process. Since early this year, the Commission, headed by former minister Lisel Alamilla, has been making baby steps. They have the very daunting task to consult with each of the 39 villages, which according to the Commission, have asked to be met with one by one so that they can discuss important issues such as who they have appointed to represent their interest.
And prevailing wisdom would be that it is the very same TAA and MLA have been the ones appointed to represent those interests, but the Maya Land Rights Commission says that they can't just assume that the Maya have made that decision without first confirming it by a consensus. Today, they held a breakfast meeting with the press to discuss that and other incorrect assumptions being made which is causing the relationship between the Maya spokespersons to remain adversarial and counterproductive. Here's the Commission's legal consultant, Queen's Counsel Anthony Ross, who's in country, explaining the difficulty that the commission has been facing while trying to dialog with the Maya in the past few weeks:
Anthony Ross, QC, Expert Consultant, Commission
"The difficulty is that the Maya people seem to be getting 2 different messages. One appears to be that there is still a sense that there is something adversarial that's happening. We are of the view, the commission is of the view that we are past the adversarial process. There is no longer any conflict, it is a matter of reading the order and recognizing that the order is something that had been put together by legal counsel for those who are advancing because of the Mayan people and the government. They have come to their own conclusion as to how this matter should be resolved. It is represented in the order and it is our function to assist in giving life to that order. In my view, one of the most salient more points is that it's a consultative process and it is not a consultation as to find out which is the starting point. The starting point is already defined, it is the order and if we can get the other sides to come and have good understanding of both sides on what the order says."
"Can you tell us about how long this process will have to take, give us an idea of a timeline because I get the sense that people want results now?"
Lisel Alamilla, Head, Toledo Maya Land Rights Commission
"I don't think there is any timeline. This is not a project that has a very clear beginning and a very clear end. It is a process that will unfold as we go along, it is of course in an area that is geographically very difficult to access. It involves, at least in Toledo District, 50 villages, so there's no timeline to say. It really depends on the willingness of the people to come to the table to start the dialogue with the government of Belize through the commission."
The Commission also wished to clarify the exact wording of the consent order, which they assert has not been fully explained to the 39 communities.
There are several important paragraphs and one of them is paragraph 3, which speaks to the process of formalizing those rights, says, "...The court accepts the undertaking of the Government to, in consultation with the Maya people or their representatives to developed the legislative, administrative, and/or other measures necessary to create an effective mechanism to identify and protect the property and other rights arising from Maya Customary Land tenure..."
This portion of the judgment, according to the Commission, is important because they are mandated to find out beyond doubt if the Maya Leaders Alliance, the Toledo Alcaldes Association, or SATIIM, are indeed unanimously chosen to represent the 39 Mayan villages.
That involves going to and meeting with each of the villages. Thereafter, the Commission will start the long process of consulting, which could take months.