Representatives of the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association on the one side and the Government of Belize were back in court today. It has been three years since the April 2015 consent order was given to demarcate and register the boundaries of indigenous lands in the South of Belize and there have been numerous trips made to the courts since then. Today, the parties were before the Caribbean Court of Justice for a compliance report. At the end of today’s court session, the court ordered that a dispute resolution mechanism must be signed within two weeks and the authority who will deal with disputes should be appointed by October 1st. The appellants will submit the name of a representative to a bilateral technical committee within four weeks leading to defining the terms of reference of the committee. The Commission will also support a request for a subvention from the Government for the Maya’s to cover their expenses in the process. They claim that the Commission has not even wanted to consider bus reimbursements for their representatives to travel to attend meetings. The response from the Attorney General’s Ministry today was that the Commission itself is pressed for cash and cannot pay for the expenses of the Maya people. Our colleagues in Belize City spoke to Cristina Coc, spokesperson for the Maya Leaders, following today’s court session.
Cristina Coc, MLA spokesperson: I think today went very well, I think that the court has seen very clearly despite that fact that they only see bits and pieces of the real picture of how the government treats the Maya people and how it continues to fail to appreciate the rights of the Maya people in Southern Belize. It continues to do everything possible to disregard and disrespect good faith consultations and to delay the process of implementation. We are three years since this decision was given and to date we still have not come to agree to a very simple task, that is of a joint work plan, a road map that will set out what is it that the court has ordered the government to do. Time and time again, we come to the court, we listen to the way that the government has create this excuse after excuse and fail to recognize. We are convinced that this government, this commission is incapable of recognizing and giving regard to due process. The Maya people have not tried to block any action of the government, the Maya people continue to insist that it needs to be inclusive of the Maya people, that it needs to listen and consider meaningfully our inputs. Who else would you consider? If these are the people that you are supposed to be doing these actions for to the benefits of these people, why wouldn’t you consider them?
Coc also spoke of some of the difficulties they have encoutered as it relates to the finalization of the work plan:
Cristina Coc, MLA spokesperson: The commission did not meet with us at the commission’s will, the commission met with us after so many times of coming back to this very court and asking the court to have the commission take undertakings to meet with us, because they refused to meet with us, they refused to have good faith negotiations with us particularly on the work plan. And because they were pressed to do that, they ended up having a few meetings with us where they presented to us a draft framework of a work plan. We continued to give time and time again our inputs. At one point in time, they gave us a work plan that came from the Solicitor General and then later on told us that it was a wrong version of the work plan. The commission said that’s not the version that they approved. And so the commission said that they had a new version but did not provide us with that version at the time that they informed us, they provided that later. Recognizing that we have court deadlines and court obligations, we reported to the courts on the draft work plan that was provided to us. When we came back to give feedback on the final version that the commission was supposedly saying was the corrected version, they told us ‘this is the final talk about work plan, we will not take any more of your input, we are just going to submit a work plan unilaterally because at the end of the day this is the government’s work plan’, while the court tried to have us come to a joint work plan.
The Maya leaders are also concerned about the appointment of a consultant who can only speak Maya. Coc says the Maya people consider him inadequate.
Cristina Coc, MLA spokesperson: First of all you bring in consultants from Guatemala who speak only Spanish. Understand that the Maya people don’t speak Spanish, our native language is Ke’kchi and Mopan Maya. We learn English and at the same time we are being told you cannot, you are not going to be provided with even your language translators, your native language translators. Then we are compounded with having to deal with yet another foreign language, on top of the English that we have to contend with.
The case returns to court within a few months time.