Features — 23 May 2014 — by Kareem Clarke

GOB is not going to frustrate us; the legacy of resistance is in our blood … for the last 500 years! – Greg Ch’oc

On Monday, a large gathering of 38 Mayan communities and their leaders and representatives convened at the Machaca Outreach Camp in Toledo, where the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) explained the way forward in their efforts to stall the controversial pre-drilling activities being done by US Capital Energy and discussed the next steps in their ongoing fight against the Government of Belize (GOB) and the oil exploration company.

Since the government-sanctioned waiver of the expiration date on the company’s license came into effect, leaders of the Mayan villages buffering the national park have been consulting with their communities and trying to arrive at a consensus position in their struggle against oil exploration in their communal lands.

The indigenous advocacy group has faced challenges in its efforts to mobilize all the Mayan communities, and it believes this is the result of US Capital Energy’s use of economic influence to create allies in certain communities where financial opportunities are scarce, in addition to GOB’s full-scale backing of the oil exploration company.

Executive Director of SATIIM, Greg Ch’oc, is trying his best to get the communities to reach a consensus position in light of the fact that US Capital has attained alcalde support in a buffer community like Sundaywood, the nearest village to the US Capital A1 drill site.

Ch’oc said, “We therefore reassert our inherent right to self-determination as indigenous people under international law. We will not stop nor be deterred from achieving this objective. We demand an immediate halt to the violation of our internationally and nationally recognized right, including the planned destruction of our livelihood, which we condemn as a form of cultural genocide. We call on the Government of Belize to respect the laws of this country and orders of its court by immediately recognizing, respecting and protecting the ancestral customary rights of our people to their lands, territories and natural resources.

“We oppose any attempt by the GOB to conduct dealings on our land without the free, prior, informed consent of our community as a whole. We reaffirm our consent to have SATIIM, its lawyers and experts to be our legal representative, technical representatives to take all necessary steps to protect and defend our territories.”

Presently, an application for an injunction to bar U.S. Capital from resuming its work within the protected area is before the Supreme Court, and according to SATIIM’s attorney, Eamon Courtenay, that hearing will be heard on June 16.

Courtenay stated, “The government has embarked upon a charade of having supposed consultations with other parties who are not parties to the claim. We call on the government to obey the rule of law and the order of the Supreme Court. We have filed an application for a post-judgment injunction which is to be heard on June 16. The purpose of that is because the permit under which U.S. Capital is in the Sarstoon Temash National Park has expired on April 30. There has, according to the government, been no extension of that permit. That company is therefore involved in unlawful activities within the Sarstoon Temash National Park and we call on that company to submit itself to the rule of law and not the rule of money.”

Ch’oc told the audience that right now they are being patient, but warned of the dire consequences should GOB and US Capital proceed with their “lawless” activities within the national park.

“We are cognizant of the fact that we could block US Capital and their people from going in, but I think that we want to give time to the new injunction application that we have applied for. I think we’re being restrained among ourselves and decided that we should refrain from physically confronting US Capital. The time is drawing near when I believe that the community is becoming impatient, because we want to ensure that we live in a society where the rule of law prevails. But, it cannot be a one-sided process. We as indigenous people understand and know what our rights are, and I know that the time is fast drawing near when we will stand to defend those rights because it means that either we have a community of Mayas in the future, or we have a population decimated by the policies of GOB”, he maintained.

The Maya leader then sent a stern message to the Prime Minister and his government, cautioning that all hell might break loose when all legal options have been exhausted.

He asserted, “To the Government of Belize and especially to the Prime Minister of this country – if he believes that the Maya community is going to waver or is going to be frustrated, he needs to understand the legacy of resistance is in our blood; it has been there for the last 500 years, and as long as we are alive, we will continue with our sustained effort. We are giving the opportunity of due process a chance — as I said earlier, we believe in the court. And when we reach that point where we believe the court is no longer able to protect our interest or the government refuses to protect our interest, then it is the community that will make a determined decision on what appropriate action they will take.”

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