Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana will consider her decision in the case between four Government entities and U.S. Capital Energy on one side and Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) and the Alcaldes of four Maya communities surrounding the Park on the other. On Wednesday Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay tried to persuade the court that his clients are seeking the enforcement of the rights they had already acquired over the property which had been affirmed by the courts. According to Senior Counsel Denys Barrow, he wanted to argue the opposite. Courtesy of our colleagues at KREM News, here is his summary of the arguments.
“They say that the Maya have not established that they own coat-and-coat the lands, where the drilling is to take place, they say that they have not established what are their rights in relation to this are, even if they have rights in relation to the area. One of the things about customary land ownership or rights is that it is a wide range of rights which may be included in that term. So, it may include a right which is a right of exclusive possession and occupation, a right such as any Belizean under the normal system of law, ha, when he buys his house and land…the right to exclude everybody. There is on the other side of it, a whole range of other rights, including rights as fleeting as the right to go on land for ceremonial or spiritual or religious purposes”.
According to Denys Barrow, the Maya must prove what specific rights they have established in the area and where those rights are being violated.
Denys Barrow: “There was the question whether he evidence which was presented in this case was capable of establishing that I relation to the affected areas within the park whether the Maya communities have any customary land rights in respect to these particular areas. So, the question is not whether the Maya have customary land rights. The courts have repeatedly declared that they have such rights. But the particular question is: Where those rights reside? Where are they located? And we say that it is for the claimants to prove where those rights exist and they say that there is not any evidence that establishes that in the particular areas in dispute [in question], those rights exist”.
The Maya have repeatedly asserted that they consider these lands, including the 41,000 acres of the Park, to be their communal property which they have used from time immemorial, but they have by their own admission abandoned the area now known as Sarstoon Temash National Park since its declaration in 1994. Additionally, they have not been able to prove where the boundaries are in relation to the park and the drill sites, or the park and the villages, or even between the villages themselves. The question now, says Denys Barrow, is whether the oil activity in the park infringes the Maya’s rights.
Denys Barrow: “In our view, the Maya need to establish first of all, in relation to the particular drilling areas, what rights they have and then secondly, that drilling for oil in those areas will violate those rights. The parallel really is with Spanish Lookout and BNE. BNE as many of you will know, are drilling for oil right next door to the people’s houses, etc., and it is a very happy coexistence. So, the question is, giving US Capital drilling rights in relation to the park, which they say, will affect only 2 acres of 41,000 acres of park land. Does that violate anybody’s right? Is it on the infringement on the rights of the Maya? Does it do anything to detract from what present Bill.”
The Maya are asking for the orders to be struck down or for the Government to officially ask their consent to enter the area. Justice Arana will render a decision at a later date.