PUNTA GORDA—Last week, four of the buffer communities near the Sarstoon Temash National Park, where US Capital Energy plans to proceed with exploratory oil drilling later this month, issued a statement suggesting that some Maya leaders had excluded them from talks and had struck a deal with the oil company.
However, Pablo Mis, spokesperson of the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association, told Amandala today that no such deal has been struck.
In their statement last week, the buffer communities of Conejo, Crique Sarco, Midway and Graham Creek, said that they reject the move by the MLA and TAA to engage the oil company in talks over oil exploration without their knowledge. They added that “the prevailing perception in our communities is that a deal has been reached between the TAA, MLA and US Capital Energy.”
Mis, who told us that they were merely seeking information, said that the conclusion drawn by the buffer communities was based on hearsay and misrepresentation of their efforts to keep the Maya people informed.
“I want to repeat that it was merely an informational meeting and that it did not involve any kind of negotiation or benefit sharing,” Mis asserted.
We asked Mis why the buffer communities were not included in the talks, and he said that the only reason is that the information-gathering process was not intended to discuss anything specific to those buffer communities.
He said that the visit to the drill site was part of a plan that has been laid out by the MLA and TAA assembly that they must know what is going on and that they must actively seek out information.
According to Mis, the MLA and TAA had written the Forestry Department and US Capital, just as they did the last time they visited the site, stating their intent to visit, but US Capital responded saying that it is very unsafe because of onsite works to prepare for drilling.
Mis said that the MLA and TAA agreed to have a sit-down to talk about what exactly they wanted to do at the site, and subsequently, a small contingent of three went on tour. Mis told us that he was accompanied by Alfonso Cal, head of the TAA, and a technical advisor who is part of their international network of experts, whose name he declined to disclose to us.
Mis said that this is not the first time that they have had a rift within the Maya camp. It had also happened in the time of the late Julian Cho, when they were fighting against the Malaysian logging concession, he said. Now, it is apparent in the dispute over oil development.
“The important thing is that the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association do not own the struggle. It does not belong to the organization. We merely must satisfy the mandate given to us by the people. They are the constituencies that we chose to represent, and in the case of oil development, the position of my community [Laguna] is that they want development. What they don’t want is to stand by the side and watch everything happen,” said Mis.
“It is important to keep in mind that whatever oil development activities are done in the national park, are still part of a larger oil development under concession block 19. So the aggregate effect would be felt by all Maya villages in southern Belize,” said Mis.
Mis acknowledged that the buffer communities have chosen SATIIM to represent them, and said that the MLA and TAA have never attempted to engage those communities in any kind of initiatives that are directly the responsibility of Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), managed by Greg Ch’oc.
Last week, Amandala reported that US Capital is almost ready to drill and within a matter of days, it plans to commence exploratory drilling at a site located 800 meters within the Sarstoon Temash National Park.
Mis concedes that the intention of US Capital is obviously to drill for oil, and he told us that on their latest visit to the drill site, they observed that the camp for workers is almost complete and the drill site is ready. The company has also installed a water pump connected to the Temash River.
He said that this information will also be discussed with the alcaldes when they hold their usual assembly in the next two weeks.
“The change that we want to see is not going to be brought about by the offices of any organization, but through solidarity between the communities themselves. That is where the battle is going to be won,” said Mis.
“For us it is very clear that consent for any activity rests at the village level,” he also said.
Mis recollected that a few months ago, the MLA and TAA also took a very strong position, in terms of reminding US Capital and the Government of Belize that the place where they are proceeding to drill, within the park, is also Maya community lands. The matter is still being litigated.
Mis told us that the appeal of the Maya land rights claim probably won’t be heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice until 2015, due to procedural delays in paper-filings on the Government side.