Courtesy Toledo Alcaldes Association
Supporters of the 13 Mayan villagers and leaders arrested by Belizean police last year hold signs waiting for their release.

Mayan Leaders Free Of Charges; Will Sue Government Of Belize

Rick Kearns

Mayan leaders in Santa Cruz, Belize will no longer face assault charges according to a June 27 press release from the Public Prosecutor’s office, and those leaders have announced they will continue their suit against the Belizean government for failing to protect their community as directed by a recent law.

The Director of the Public Prosecutor’s Office announced that the charges against the leaders would be “discontinued” and that it “had no intentions to lay charges against the accused in the future.”

On June 24 of last year Belizean police arrested 13 Mayan villagers and leaders of the Mayan Leaders Alliance (MLA), including the principal leader or alcalde, on charges of illegally imprisoning and assaulting Rupert Myles, a man that the MLA asserted had illegally started to build a structure on top of a sacred site.

After being asked to stop construction before the arrests, Myles appeared at a Mayan Council meeting and threatened the officials with a gun. Myles was then arrested on the orders of the Santa Cruz Alcalde who according to legal sources had the right to do so.

In their press release of June 27, 2016, the MLA expressed their support of the recent court decision and what it means to the Maya communities and the entire country.

“The Mayan Leaders Alliance welcomes this decision… This was never a case about the difference between Belizean and Maya customary law. This was always a case about the constitutional rights of poor people in Belize and whether or not officials would respect the rule of law.”

For activist Cristina Coc, one of the Maya leaders who had been arrested, the prosecution of the leaders was more than just a criminal matter.

“All along the Maya community was behind us in saying there was no case,” Coc asserted in a radio interview on June 28. “And as we anticipated the Crown was unable to provide any evidence of cause to substantiate their claim… this was clearly a situation where the community was being politically prosecuted.”

“This showed that the state was willing to place one group against another,” Coc said referring to the issue of pitting an indigenous community against one of African descent, Myles is Afro-Belizean.

Since the announcement of the dropped charges the MLA has continued with their prior claim against the Belizean Government in the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The community had charged that the Belizean Government had failed to protect their territorial rights which had been ordered by the CCJ in April of last year, two months before the conflict with Myles and the subsequent arrests of the leaders.

On July 20 Coc reported that both the MLA and the Belizean Government had submitted their reports to the CCJ regarding the events and were waiting for further rulings.

One of the attorneys involved in the case is Professor James Anaya, an internationally known legal scholar and who was the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples from 2008-2014. Anaya will serve as an advisor in the current litigation before the CCJ. (Anaya has been the legal architect of the Maya defense since 1996.)

“So what stands now is the Maya’s continued effort to defend their land rights and the lawsuit against Myles and against the government for being complicit in allowing the trespass,” Anaya said in a phone interview in late July.

“The questions are now focused on Myles and the government for not complying with the CCJ Justice’s opinion,” he added.

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