SATIIM attorney says Maya should be allowed access to park

On Tuesday members of the Maya community spoke out about their frustration with the Government of Belize and U.S. Capital Energy who they say have denied them access to the Sarstoon Temash National Park where there is seismic testing ongoing. Attorney acting on behalf of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, says the group is right to demand access.

Eamon Courtenay – Senior Council:

vlcsnap-2013-07-25-10h30m09s140 SATIIM represents indigenous people, to start with, and it also has a right to manage the National Park.  I think it is important for us to remember that the primary basis of the challenge is that under the National Park System Act, there is no provision for commercial drilling of oil within a National park.  It’s an oxymoron for you to have a National Park, and at the same time tell someone that they can go and drill for oil in it.  So that’s a legal challenge.

Secondly, it is important to remember that in addition to SATIIM, there are four villages, indigenous villages, from the Maya villages, who are bringing the lawsuits.  Regardless what view Government takes with respect to SATIIM, the case will continue by those four villages.  Those villages are in the buffer communities, right next door to the Sarstoon Temash National Park, and they are affected by the activities that the Government wants to conduct in that national park.

And to any charge by the Government that it can do what it wants with the property, the Senior Counsel answers by referring to the two landmark judgments given by the Supreme Court several years ago.

Eamon Courtenay – Senior Council:

There are two judgments of the Supreme Court of Belize which states specifically that the owners of that land are the Maya indigenous people under communal title.  The Government, I believe, will have to at some point in time rationalize the legal position, and who has the final say, in terms of the exploitation, exploration, development of that land.  Suffice it to say that at this stage it is our view that the indigenous people, who have the ownership and control of this land for centuries, are the persons who need to be consulted, and who’s permission and approval needs to be got.  Chief Justice  Conteh said that from 2007.

We just filed it on Monday, and we’re expecting it to go through the normal course.

SATIIM’s Executive Director, Greg Choc, says the denial of access will not be made a separate court case, but Courtenay maintains that the Government has a debt to the NGO.

Eamon Courtenay – Senior Council:

It would be rather strange for the Government to have a National Park that is being managed by an NGO for decades, and for some reason now say, “You’re not allowed to go in.  You’re not allowed to manage.  You’re not allowed to monitor what is happening there,” when we all know very well that it is very close to Guatemala where we know there is a significant amount of illegal activities, that could easily take place in there.  I do not know whether the Government has the resources at this time to go in and manage and monitor the Park, or whether someone else is going to do it.  The best persons surely to do that is SATIIM, and SATIIM has its rangers, and I believe SATIIM will continue to monitor the park until they’re forcefully stopped.

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