2 days ago, we took you to the Supreme Court for a compliance hearing that the Government of Belize and the Maya of Southern Belize attended before the judges of the Caribbean Court of Justice. The Court has been closely following the progress that the two sides have made in the implementation of the 2015 CCJ judgment, which recognizes and seeks to protect Maya customary land tenure.
But turning this judgment from an idea to a real land rights system that is formally recognized by the Government hasn't been easy, Every step of the way, the Maya have continued to express their frustration with the speed at which the government is moving.
The Government says that they have to tread carefully because the Maya are not the only Belizeans who call the Toledo district their home. The Maya Land Rights Commission, which is tasked to carry the process out, say that they don't want to infringe on the rights of other Belizeans while trying to protect the rights of the Maya people. At this time, one major step toward protecting Maya customary land rights is to actually identify where the Maya believe their 40 villages territories start and end. So, the Commission invited the Maya to present them with a rough first draft of what Maya land might look like. And, according to the Chair of the Maya Land Rights Commission, the estimate of the Maya about their customary land is around 2 million acres - which works out to a little over three thousand square miles.
That's what she told the court on Wednesday, and so when she came out of court, we asked for clarification. Here's how that conversation went:
Lisel Alamilla - Chair, Maya Land Rights Commission
"Well this is information that has to be manage carefully, because you don't want to rattle people with saying 2 million acres, but one of the exercise the Mayas had to do was to give us an indication about what land is their land. What land are they claiming, because based on all the matters that had been brought forward there has been no identifying of where those lands are and how much land. So, we as a first exercise to give us a first draft of where your lands are. So they basically drew a line around the perimeter of what they more or less, based on their knowledge, based on the many engagements that they have with their communities is where their land exists and based on that its about 2 million acres approximate. That doesn't mean that's what they are going to get. That doesn't mean that is eventually what they are going to claim, but that's just a rough draft and the main purpose of that is for government to be able to start the process of identifying who has leases, freehold title - to start doing that process of identifying third party interest."
Our colleagues from Krem News also asked Cristina Coc, the spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcalde's Association about the Commission Chair's estimation of the lands being claimed by the Maya. Here's how she answered that one:
Cristina Coc - Spokesperson, MLA/TAA
"I think it would be a very premature to even estimate an amount of acreage. Only the delimitation and demarcation process could determine how much acres we are talking about. But regardless of the amount of acres, I want to emphasize that the Maya people as indigenous people have relied on these lands since timely memorial for their survival, for their livelihood. This is not about property, this is not about owning a piece of land. This is about preserving a way of life for a people who have been the most forgotten in this country, who continue to struggle with many different social ills, infrastructure, roadways for instance today just the flooding in the south has prevented a lot of people from just being here in court, recognizing that what we are fighting for is a dignified life on our land free to be Maya people/indigenous people."
We'll keep following these compliance hearings.