The Julian Cho Society (JCS), founded by Cristina Coc, is dedicated to the conservation of the environments and rights of Indigenous peoples of southern Belize. Coc is program director, and an organizer and co‐spokesperson for the Maya Leaders Alliance. As a Maya woman, she brings a wealth of knowledge of these communities, fluency in Q’eqchi’, and experience mobilizing local residents.
When the government of Belize granted unrestricted logging concessions to a multinational company in the mid‐1990s, the Maya built a social movement that fought back. They also sued the government for Indigenous rights to their lands. In 2004, the Inter‐American Commission for Human Rights ruled that the Maya had full Indigenous rights to the lands of southern Belize, but concrete changes have been slow.
In 2007, two Maya villages, Conejo and Santa Cruz, brought a claim against the government for its failure to recognize and protect the customary land rights of the Maya people. After a trial, the Supreme Court of Belize accepted the villages’ argument that Maya property rights, like other forms of property, are protected by the Belize Constitution and international human rights law.
Recently, Coc and other Maya leaders have worked with lawyers from the Indigenous People’s Law & Policy Institute at the University of Arizona to test the lawsuit, negotiate with the government and build capacity among local Maya.
Coc is a young woman, but in this work, she has accumulated vast experience. She has felt the cold reality of discrimination. She has negotiated complicated and contentious issues at the highest level. Most important, she has gained the respect of the Q’eqchi’ and Mopan villagers of Toledo.