MAYAN LEADERS FACE UP TO 5 YEARS IN JAIL
PROTECTING A SACRED SITE
Sometimes what seems to be a personal conflict is far more than it appears. Currently, community leaders from a Maya village in Belize are being tried in court for forcibly detaining a non-Maya man determined to build a house in their community. The story is far more complicated.
The Maya in Belize have been fighting for their land rights for decades. Approximately 20 years ago, the Belizean government demarcated Mayan forests as a national park without even informing the Maya who had lived there for hundreds if not thousands of years. This land was then offered to oil companies for exploration, and what were some of the most pristine forests in Belize began to be felled. The Maya fought back, and by 2010 the Belizean Supreme Court ruled that all Maya villages in Southern Belize had the legal right to their lands this decision was then affirmed by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Despite these rulings, the Maya in Belize continue to be harassed and have their rights ignored. For hundreds of years the Maya protected these rainforests, but that hasn’t stopped corporations and the Belizean State from coveting the wealth in these forests. Which may be why when the Maya complained that a non-Maya man, Rupert Myles was building a house on Uxbenka, a sacred Mayan mound, the police did not intervene. Even after many complaints by the community about Myles’s increased aggression and his refusal to stop building on Uxbenka, the police did nothing. They did nothing until the community, frightened after being threatened by Myles with a gun, detained him for a couple of hours and insisted he leave their village—then the police came in and arrested the community members instead of Myles.
“I think not just myself, but the community as a whole feels like this was a configured effort to try to break down the unity of the community and to try to intimidate the Maya people as we assert the rights for our land,” explains Christina Coc- Maya leader and one of the accused- to Amandala News .
Throughout 2015, the Maya community in Santa Cruz had been talking with Myles–repeatedly asking him not to build his house on their sacred land. Yet Myles continued to ignore their requests. The Maya had consulted with the Belizean Institute of Archeology and the Institute had supported their claims but had done nothing to stop Myles from continuing to build his house on their sacred land. As Pablo Mis from the Maya Leader Alliance reported to 7 News Belize, this “incident is merely is small part of the contention that Mr. Myles has been having with the community of Santa Cruz. And it has been properly documented and both reports to the Police Department, the Belize Defense Force, the Institute of Archaeology and also to Mr. Myles, the villagers of Santa Cruz along with the village leaders have demonstrated a great deal of tolerance, a great deal of flexibility in trying to have Mr. Myles appreciate and show the slightest bit of respect to rules of the village.” According to Maya law, which is recognized by the State of Belize, the villagers were protecting their lands and guarding an ancient sacred site. Yet the community members are being forced to defend themselves from charges, a costly and stressful endeavor for a community of subsistence farmers. These charges may make other Indigenous communities in Belize less likely to exercise their legal rights.
What can you do?
- Consider donating to help these Mayan leaders. Even a small donation goes a long way. Every donation not only helps them pay for legal representation, it sends a message to Belize, letting them know the Maya are not alone. Help them pay for their legal fees.
- Tweet your outrage Belize depends on tourism–they care what the outside world thinks. You can tweet direct to the Prime Minister of Belize: @Barrow.Dean and let him know people outside of Belize are watching this case! Not sure what to write? Tweet: #Belize beautiful for tourists-dangerous for the Indigenous @Barrow.Dean stop harassment of the SC 13. OR: Does #Belize only care about Mayans when showcasing their famous ruins?
Cristina Coc testifying before the UN. Cristina, One of the Santa Cruz 13, has worked tirelessly to protect Indigenous communities throughout Belize.