Land, Value and Economic Development in Toledo
By Gregory Choc, 16 June 1996"May the spirit of Mother Earth watch over her children."
Today most of us live in a capitalist world where land is regarded as a commodity,-something that has an exchange value and can be traded. This attitude has alienated land from man: man has relinquished his proper role of stewardship and protector of land resources. This is one reason why the plea to save the rainforests, the home of the Aboriginal people of Central America often seems to be something belonging to another time. In the present age of "progress," the concern about Aboriginal ties to the land often seem to be anachronistic.
The propriety attitude of land ownership usually destroys land stewardship, since the owners of land often buy and sell land as an economic commodity, with little concern for such matters of environmental degradation, pollution, erosion and so on. This unfortunate "Euro-American" attitude to land use is gaining ground in Belize; and, in many cases, is being supplemented by the present Asiatic attitude to land use, which is to grab what you can from the environment and take off. In the specific case of Belize, something even more sinister may be in progress.
The Asiatic money that is, with Belize Government consent, backing the attack on our Toledo Forests will have a serious effect on the Mayas. Their attitude about land is different and has evolved over a time scale of many centuries. Maize (corn) has long been the basic food crop and is almost considered as a "gift from God" since their earliest days. It is still considered a sacred crop. Land that can grow corn is still important for the Mayas and they have evolved an agronomic system using forest fallowing to ensure that the soils remain reasonably fertile. Their system provides the nearest thing to sustainable production of essential food crops in most of Central America. Despite years of agricultural use, the land is still largely clothed in forest. To turn loose Asiatic entrepreneurs to destroy the Mayan agricultural system (and the cultural value that go with it) is something about which all Belizeans should be ashamed.
It has not escaped the notice of the Mayas that most of the local Asiatic stooges are from our own East Indian (Asiatic in origin) ethnic population, who have never had much to do with environmental conservation. They are "front" men used to help legalize the activity of the Taiwanese entrepreneurs. In effect, there is a battle in progress in Toledo between an Indigenous (to Central America) ethnic group who care about how they treat the land and have no wish to sell or buy land, and foreign ethnic invaders who think of land only as a means of making profit by acquisition and subsequent sale - something Mayas simply cannot understand or approve of. For the Mayas the "value" of land and its resources is life itself - something priceless. For centuries the Mayas derived their food, clothing and shelter from the land. The system of government, religion and beliefs sprang from the intimate relationship with the land. The cultural identity is still tied to the land - therefore a land base is vital for the continuity of the Mayas. We have seen what happened to native people and their land since 1492.
What needs to be understood is the centuries of betrayals. When woodcutters were extracting hardwood from the forest of British Honduras, they wanted only the wood. It was not the wood, but its effect that enabled other parties to exploit the Mayas and the resources of their land. We are not against 'progress' or development per se, but there is the need to find a fair solution to the cultural orientations underlying the land conflict in Toledo.
The ideological, spiritual and economic relation of the Mayas to the land has meant that land and its resources are perhaps the most decisive element to ensure successful economic development. It is critical if the Mayas are to successfully pursue traditional forms of economic life, since development programs supported by government continued to cause social and cultural stress to the Mayas.
For development to benefit the Mayas it is critical for them to actively participate in all levels in any and all development so that they benefit from any development. This specifically important to development which affects the land and the livelihood earned from it, so that the Mayas participate in the economic benefits which flow from such projects.
Sad to say that the logging madness rampant in Toledo by unscrupulous business interests aided and abetted by the government is not benefitting the Mayas or the economy of Belize. If the Ministry of Natural Resources believes that based on the economic needs of Toledo they decided to make the concession more favorable to Atlantic Industries Ltd. then they must be 'nuts', because only the Asiatic conglomerate will reap the millions from Toledo's resources.
All the Asiatic loggers are doing is creating an irreversible ecological nightmare for the Mayas. At the same time disorienting Mayas' environmental concepts which centers on the preservation of the Maya Culture. The Mayas are fighting back by strongly opposing the logging concessions. For now this is the only means by which the Mayas are defending their habitat against the drastic changes associated with commercial logging to ensure free access to the natural resources in Toledo upon which the Maya Culture depends. Through their various organizations they are demanding to have more political input into decisions made about developments in Toledo. Their organizations are working hard and in many ways to foster the survival of the Maya Culture.
The Mayas are endangered by the exploitation of the resources of their land. Can the Mayan People survive this attack or will they become part of the statistics as another victim of ethnocide in the world today? The government, by consistently justifying its position is indicating that the Mayan People are too poor to contribute anything worthwhile to the Belizean economy and are a worthless ethnic burden. Li Kawa chi iloc re xbehen li ka tyuam.
Since 2008, SATIIM has been piloting community-based forest management in Q'eqchi' Maya communities of southern Belize. In 2009, SATIIM won the World Bank Development Marketplace Award for it's work in the communities. Funding was provided for a third initiative in the community of Crique Sarco.