The land rights dispute between the Government of Belize and the Maya of Toledo continues unresolved, and tomorrow Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana is scheduled to commence hearing at 11:00 a.m. in the case lodged by the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) and four Maya communities adjacent to the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. The case was lodged against the Government of Belize in a challenge to a decision to grant US Capital Energy permission to drill in the area, which the claimants deem to be ancestral lands, without consulting them.
The Supreme Court of Belize and the Court of Appeal have both declared that Maya customary land rights exist in Southern Belize; however, there is now a dispute over how those rights are to be enforced.
In July, SATIIM, supported by the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO), filed a court claim, challenging the lawfulness of the Barrow administration’s decision to permit drilling inside the protected area—a move which they said violates Maya customary land rights as well as laws governing activities that can be carried out in a national park.
For its part, Government contends that its actions are perfectly legal, as it continues to assert that petroleum resources belong to the Government and people of Belize.
Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, who is representing the claimant in the case, told Amandala today: “It is an extremely important case in which the indigenous people that we represent are seeking once again to vindicate rights that are recognized internationally, and we hope will be recognized locally.”
Courtenay said that they have submitted their evidence and are waiting to hear the Government’s defense.
The communities surrounding the national park are five Q’eqchi’ Maya villages – Crique Sarco, Conejo, Graham Creek, Sunday Wood and Midway – and a Garifuna village: Barranco. (Sunday Wood and Barranco are not a part of the action.)