A Long Road to Justice: The Struggle for Maya Land Rights in Southern Belize
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After a decades long struggle, the Maya people have just recently had their communal right to land officially recognized by the highest court in Belize. Although these land rights are guaranteed in political and legal terms, the promises of environmental and social justice remain unfulfilled as the Maya people continue to experience displacement, theft and oppression. This paper will undertake an exploration of the relationship between forest management, Indigenous governance and Maya land rights in Southern Belize. I have two main objectives in writing this paper. The first is to examine the economic, political and social forces behind forest management in Southern Belize and the second is to bring to light the barriers that the Maya people have faced as they attempt to enforce their land rights. It will be argued that the power dynamics in Belize favour those of the government and industry and therefore, forest management plans in Belize do not currently prioritize or incorporate local knowledge. As a result, Maya communities lack agency over their lands and livelihood. This paper pays homage to the dedicated Maya activists who demonstrate that, no matter how many challenges they are faced with, they will continue to resist oppression and marginalization while at the same time advocating for the resurgence and self-defined future of the Maya forests and the Maya people of Southern Belize.