The deplorable destruction of the Noh Mul archeological site has prompted an aggressive response from the government.
CEO in the Ministry of Tourism, Tracy Panton, said that once the Institute of Archeology concludes its damage assessment and formal report of the site, the report will be forwarded to the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to bring those those responsible to justice.
According to the National Institute of Culture and History (NICH) Act, the penalty for destroying an archaelogical site is 10 years imprisonment or a fine of $10,000.
Panton and the director of the Institute of Archaeology, Dr. Jaime Awe, said that the fine prescribed by statute is insufficient when considering the priceless cultural loss the country has suffered.
Panton said that the Ministry is looking into what additional charges can be levied against De’Mars Stone Company, the contractor responsible for the excavation.
This week, Deputy Prime Minister Hon. Gaspar Vega also issued a statement saying that he is “outraged by the wanton destruction of the Noh Mul archaeological site.”
His release follows a barrage of criticisms some of which suggested that Vega had a role to play in the site’s destruction. Since the incident was reported last Friday, the media have drawn connections between De’Mars’ managing director, Denny Grijalva, a well-known United Democratic Party supporter, and Vega.
Vega, who is also the Minister of Natural Resources and Agriculture—the ministry responsible for issuing permits to mine from archeological sites—called for a full investigation into the matter and that those responsible to be “persecuted to the full extent of the law.”
Dr. Awe said that even in his optimism the site is unsalvageable for tourism purposes. He described the situation as “deplorable and unforgivable.”
He explained that apart from conducting the investigation, the Ministry of Tourism, Institute or Archeology, and NICH have been meeting to draft amendments to legislation, to increase the penalties levied in the hope of deterring any possibility of a reoccurrence.
Awe stressed that these sites represent a part of Belize’s heritage and calls on all the citizens to work with the Institute to protect that heritage. He underscored that education is the key to understanding and appreciating what Maya archeological sites mean to Belize.