“…It is not the view of the government that that judgment applies to all the villages….the first case…was not vigorously argued by the Government’s side….When next this matter comes to court it is going to be vigorously argued.”
Belize Attorney General Wilfred Elrington, June 13, 2008
“…The people of Golden Stream have customary rights to these lands, and the fact that the government has never recognized or respected our rights to this land, and therefore never granted any legal title to those lands to these people, should not cost them their right to those lands.”
Cristina Coc, Maya Leader, Executive Director of the Julian Cho Society, Belize, June 13, 2008
These excerpts are from a radio program on Belize Love FM radio, transcribed here.
Melissa Coc of Blue Creek, Toledo District plays with her pet parrot.
The Maya of Toledo remain at risk. Their farms are being bulldozed, in the village of Golden Stream and elsewhere, by government-sanctioned developers. Indigenous rights are being eroded; meanwhile the Kuwaiti-sponsored roads that will facilitate oil drilling in the region will be completed within the year. Most residents of the area have accepted the assurances of the government that environmental impact studies are enough to insure that the destruction of agricultural and natural resources just won’t happen, and that oil development will bring prosperity to the local economy. If only this were true! Similar cases throughout the world, from Nigeria to Ecuador, have invariably been launched with the same credulous enthusiasm. The results have not been economic security for local communities, nor the careful protection of the environment. Instead, there have been the inevitable land grabs and corruption, the theft of resources and the disempowerment of local voices. If the Maya leaders’ voices are not heard and respected, outsiders will profit while indigenous communities are forced to subsist in toxic wastelands.
The delicate loveliness of the coastal reefs and rainforests here are fragile ecosystems. Their beauty alone gives them intrinsic value, while they harbor rare and endangered species of wildlife, and provide a livelihood for the equally rare and endangered human communities that live sustainably among them. In addition, the potential value of the medicinal herbs and the historical archaeological sites that are still being discovered and explored, is unfathomably rich. And finally, so long as tourism is the primary legitimate economic engine in Belize, the choice to place at risk the natural resources that sustain the tourist trade is a shortsighted one, and can only be explained as self-interest in the short term, by those in power and by those who hope in vain to benefit.
Stay tuned for a more detailed narrative of this important struggle for indigenous rights and the environment in Belize.