General — 16 April 2014 — by Adele Ramos
Maya threaten to block US Capital

Communiqué from SATIIM: “we along with our communities will take all necessary actions to block US Capital Energy from entering our Maya customary land”

Lisel Alamilla, Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development, has confirmed that the Government intends to issue an extension to its permit to US Capital Energy to continue petroleum operations inside the Sarstoon-Temash National Park—a move which has the Maya community up in arms, and threatening protest action to stop the oil company from proceeding with works inside the park.

Indications to our newspaper this morning are that the Government is looking at revisiting the position it took last week to extend the permit, which expires at the end of April, but we have had no signal yet that it has, in fact, decided to change its stance.

After a meeting held on Friday, April 11, the communities of the Sarstoon Temash region and the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management (SATIIM) issued a communiqué, expressing their concern over news that the Cabinet has taken a decision to extend the current permit of US Capital Energy.

The communiqué issued was firm that, “We will not stand idle as our political leaders abuse their authority to seek to extend the permit of US Capital Energy. Therefore, we have requested our legal team to move the court on this matter. Should Cabinet not rescind its decision, we, along with our communities, will take all necessary actions to block US Capital Energy from entering our Maya customary land.”

When we contacted Cabinet Secretary Carlos Perdomo Friday, to query that report, he said that he does not have any recollection of such a decision having been taken. He also told us that he could not divulge Cabinet details.

“We wish to make clear to the Government of Belize and US Capital Energy our decision on the matter of the Cabinet’s decision. We condemn any decision by Cabinet that seeks to circumvent the declarations and order of Justice Arana,” the communiqué issued by SATIIM said.

It pointed to last week’s ruling by Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana, which they described as “self-evident.”

That ruling indicated that (1) the decision of the Government of Belize to allow oil drilling and road construction in the National Park is irrational and Wednesbury unreasonable, that decision having been made without the free prior and informed consent of the indigenous Maya communities, and (2) the decision of the Government of Belize to allow oil drilling and road construction in the National Park is in breach of the legitimate expectation of the indigenous Maya Peoples, that the Government of Belize would comply with their obligations under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to respect the rights of Indigenous Maya Peoples to their lands, territories and resources which they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used or acquired.

The court then went on to issue an order, directing the Government of Belize to obtain free, prior and informed consent from the indigenous Maya peoples with respect to any contract permit or license that falls within the National Park.

Minister Alamilla told Amandala that the Government, via her ministry, would grant an extension of US Capital’s existing permit, as is the standard process. We asked her where Government stands on the order from the court, calling for it to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous Maya.

She said that the Government’s opinion is that the order would only apply to a new permit, and the US Capital permit is not new; it is merely an extension to an existing permit. She said that the requirement for consultation does not come into play for an extension to the permit.

She told us that they are not disregarding the ruling of the court, as precedent has been set by the practice of the Forestry Department and even Department of the Environment that they would grant an extension with merely a letter stating the reason why the extension is being requested.

Alamilla told us that it has been difficult to dialogue with the Maya community, because there are three different groups – the Toledo Alcaldes Association, the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management – which have differing views. What Minister Alamilla did concede, though, is that the three organizations are unified in their insistence on the need for the Government to get the “free, prior and informed consent” of the Maya community.

Early in her tenure, Alamilla was given the portfolio for indigenous peoples, but that was never formalized. She was subsequently chosen to engage the Maya on these unresolved issues; however, she told us today that “that really has not materialized in any major way.” She said that the dialogue on oil has had to be led by Energy Minister Joy Grant, but she has absolutely no objection to engaging with the indigenous peoples on these issues again.

“One of the greatest challenges for Government is having clarity from them on leadership within their own group,” said Alamilla.

She told us that this “is the kind of quandary” for them, because if they go directly to the Maya communities to engage them, and not through the organizations, they would be accused of disregarding the systems which the Maya community has in place.

The question now is, whether any attempt to dialogue will be entertained by the Maya leaders, given the recent Cabinet decision and response of the Maya community to that decision.

They ended their communiqué Friday with some very strong words: “The time is fast coming when talking will cease. It’s up to our Government to decide which road we take.”

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