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Alumna Fights for Maya Land Rights, Receives Equator Prize

January 4, 2016

Alumna Cristina Coc receives award at the United Nations Global Climate Change Conference. 

equator cristina

Cristina Coc addresses the United Nations on the recent land rights case at the Caribbean Court of Justice (Photo: Dennis Jarvis).

UMD alumna Cristina Coc took center stage in Paris at the United Nations Global Climate Change Conference. Her role as a spokesperson for Maya Leaders Alliance (MLA) and her efforts toward social justice, human rights, and sustainable development for the Maya people of Belize brought her to the podium where she accepted the prestigious Equator Prize in December 2015.

Actor and conservationist Alec Baldwin presented the award to Cristina along with Toledo Alcaldes Association President, Alfonso Cal, for the MLA's work in the decades-long struggle to secure “fundamental rights and livelihoods” for the Mayan people at the same time as they achieved sustainable development goals. They were lauded for “protecting and securing rights to communal lands, territories and natural resources.”

The Equator Prize is given to outstanding local and indigenous community initiatives that are advancing innovative solutions for people, nature and resilient communities. Twenty-one organizations were chosen for the award from a pool of 1,461 nominations from 126 countries around the world. The award includes funding of $10,000 for each organization. The conference called for the involvement of indigenous peoples and local communities to assist the world to reach its collective climate goals.

About Cristina Coc
Cristina, from Belize, is a UMD 2008 College of Science and Engineering graduate. While studying in Duluth she volunteered on campus, including at the Women's Resource and Action Center. She also served as a peer advisor for the International Student Club. Her majors were biology and chemistry.

She has been an activist for Maya Land Rights and forest conservation since 2003, before she arrived at UMD. In addition to her work with MLA, Cristina is the founder and director of the Julian Cho Society. The society honors the late Belizean Julian Cho, who brought international attention to the deforestation of Belize. The organization's goal is to promote social justice, human rights, and sustainable development.

In 2007, Cristina helped to lead the movement in the Belize courts to settle who owns the land in southern Belize, the Mayan people of Belize or the government of Belize.

In an unprecedented victory, the Chief Justice ruled in favor of the Mayan communities both in 2007 and then again in 2010. The State of Belize appealed these cases to the highest court of the land, the Caribbean Court of Justice. After an unbroken string of victories in the courts, the final win came in June of 2015 where Cristina led the Mayan people in a court battle to secure rights for 39 Q’eqchi and Mopan Maya villages. The struggle was played out in the Caribbean Court of Justice and the victory for the Mayan people was cited as the first for the Caribbean.

Learn more about UMD's biology and chemistry majors: Swenson College of Science and Engineering

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