BELIZE CITY–Oil drilling in rural Toledo has been a contentious matter in light of the ongoing land rights dispute between the Government of Belize and the indigenous Maya of Toledo, and the new executive director of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Froyla Tzalam, told Amandala today that she was not aware that drilling had already commenced inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park, which the NGO deems to be indigenous land.
Alistair King, the local representative of US Capital Energy in Belize, told Amandala when we called him this morning that the company has in fact been drilling for three weeks now, and they are now down to 4,000 feet.
Director of Geology and Petroleum, Andre Cho, told Amandala the data being gathered is confidential and he could not discuss specifics with us. Cho indicated, though, that they are monitoring drilling operations and should have some indication as to the prospects at the drill site within the next couple of weeks, and foreseeably, in October.
Attorney for SATIIM, Eamon Courtenay, SC, declined comment when we contacted him. He told us that he also was not aware that drilling had begun. Courtenay also mentioned that Tzalam had tried to reach him earlier today, but he was unavailable at the time.
“I will have to talk to Froyla first and find out exactly what’s happening,” Courtenay told us.
Tzalam notes that Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana had recently appointed a mediator, Gregory Young, to engage SATIIM and four of the buffer Maya communities near the national park, on the one hand, and the Government of Belize, on the other hand.
However, the Government contends that the mediation cannot proceed, because it has mounted a challenge in the Court of Appeal.
“What happens if oil is found, where does that leave us?” Tzalam questioned.
She expressed the view that the land rights of the Maya are not respected by the Government of Belize.