The issue of Mayan ancestral rights to land in the Toledo District, as now resolved by order of the Caribbean Court of Justice has been the most complicated, most devisive problem the Barrow Government has been called upon to face.
The court order not only requires the government to respect and protect the rights of indigenous Maya peoples to the land of their ancestors. It requires the Government to walk a thin red line between ancestral rights of a group of Belizeans and sovereign rights of the rest of the country.
Under the new order, the Maya community in the Toledo District represented today by the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Belize Alcalde Association, the lands are to be held as communal property. There is to be no buying or selling or personal ownership of these lands. They are to be held in perpetuity for the use of Mayan indigenous people.
Mayan men and women who do not want to dwell in community; men and women who want personally to own their homes and their land for inheritance or for other private reasons, may find themselves out of favour and out of doors.
Belizeans who are not Mayans who want to live and work on those lands will have to seek and receive permission from the Maya collective – an entity which does not yet exist, but which must come into being for the smooth administration of Mayan Affairs.
Exploration companies, mining companies, logging companies and others who want to pass through Mayan lands or establish permanent or temporary occupation on these lands will first have to get approval to do so from the Mayan collective, or whatever the new governing body chooses to call itself.
If the Mayan collective should decide one day to set up a community-run casino in any one of the Mayan villages, or any other enterprise not approved by the government of Belize, GOB would under the new regime, have no veto power in the matter. Similarly, if the Government wants to build a road through Mayan territory, it would need to first get approval from the Mayan collective.
The new Mayan collective that will come into being as a result of the CCJ’s ruling will need to set up its own governing council, and existing legislation which gives the Government of Belize legal authority to determine land titles and other real estate matters will have to be changed or revised.
The new Mayan collective will have enormous powers, and the question will naturally arise about who will supervise this new entity, and to what extent this new entity will dictate or influence national policy.
It’s all very complicated, which is perhaps why the Prime Minister said this week that the Government of Belize will not concede sovereignty. But there is little doubt that the Mayan collective, by whatever name it chooses to call itself, is well on its way to self-government.
And already, Garinagu elements are jockying for position to make their own bid for ancestral rights to coastal lands such Barranco and Seine Bight, and Hopkins.