The Machaca Outreach Center outside of Punta Gorda Town played host to the Maya communities’ latest rally for their cause to stop US Capital Energy from exploring for oil in the Sarstoon Temash National park.
The Mayan communities have been extensively discussing among themselves but say their resolve has only strengthened.
Executive Director of SATIIM Gregory Ch’oc, read a lengthy declaration signed by each of the buffer zone communities allied to SATIIM – which excludes Sunday Wood and Barranco villages. Ch’oc says, the Maya march on.
“We, therefore declare our assertive rights to self determination as indigenous people under international law. We will not stop nor be deterred from achieving this objective. We demand an immediate halt to the violation of our internationally and nationally recognized right, including the planned destruction of our livelihood, which we condemn as a form of cultural genocide. We call of the government of Belize to respect the laws of this country by order of its court by immediately recognizing, respecting and protecting the ancestral customary rights of our people to their lands, territories and natural resources. In cases where our lands have been expropriated, the government of Belize must rapidly return this land to us along with just and full compensation to be agreed through a transparent participatory and culturally appropriate process”.
The declaration goes on to address specific points raised by the Maya as to how the consultations should be consulted and what special attention must be given to customary practices and the rights of the Maya as people of Belize. It also calls on the international community to lend a hand in pressuring the Government.
Gregory Choc: “Are these requests too much or irrationally, reasonable or is it inconsistent with what the government of Belize, our government is supposed to be ensuring that the Belizean people’s rights and interests are protected in the development in this country. I want to thank, and I believe that what the communities are asking for is not unreasonable; it is not irrational. It is asking its government to carry out its duty to its citizenry, and we consider ourselves to be citizens of this country”.
Ch’oc says the communities are continuing to be vigilant but so far there is not much activity of interest going on to warrant intervention. He affirmed that the Maya continue to take the moral high ground, refusing to be baited into making a wrong move or succumbing to division by outsiders. But perhaps the most evocative explanation of why this is such an important issue for the Maya came from the President of the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA), Alfonso Cal.
“I always sing this to our community that without the land, we can’t live; it is our mother; it feeds us and that is where we are united ourselves together as a community. But we know, like we are hearing of these days that the other parties that were coming to say that this is the way that you should live; this is better for you, but there is no better than the land that is given us today. Yes, we are poor with cash, but we are rich with food that has been given us by God Almighty”.
Both sides now await the June 16 hearing in Belize City’s Supreme Court.