MAYAN LEADERS FACE UP TO 5 YEARS IN JAIL
Right now, community leaders from a Mayan village in Belize are being tried in court for forcibly detaining a man determined to build a house in their territory.
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 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 in 2010 the Belizean Supreme Court ruled that all Maya villages in Southern Belize had the legal right to their lands—a decision reaffirmed by the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Despite these rulings, the Maya in Belize continue to be harassed and have their rights ignored. So when the Maya complained that the non-Mayan, Rupert Myles, was building a house on Uxbenka, a sacred Mayan mound, the police did not intervene. Even after the community complained about Myles’s increased aggression and his refusal to stop building on Uxbenka, the police did nothing—nothing until the community, after being threatened by Myles with a gun, detained him for a few hours, and then released him, insisting that he leave their village. It was only at this point that the police arrived and arrested members of the Mayan community.
“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.”
– Christina Coc, a Maya leader and one of the accused, in an interview with 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.
As Pablo Mis from the Maya Leader Alliance reported to 7 News Belize, this “incident is merely a 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, and 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 the 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.