SATIIM challenges GOB over oil drilling in national park

oc of SATIMdownloadOn Tuesday, Justice Michelle Arana began the trial in the Supreme Court between the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) and the Government as well as U.S. Capital Energy. In this trial, SATIIM and the alcaldes of some of the Maya communities in the Toledo District are challenging multiple decisions of the Government of Belize in relation to petroleum exploration inside the park.   Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay and Pricilla Banner contend that the decision of the Government through its National Park Administrator and the Minister of Energy to allow activities related to petroleum exploration and the granting of a production sharing agreement to U.S. Capital, as well as the building of a road through the park, are in violation of the law and the right of the Maya people to free, prior and informed consent.   According to Eamon Courtenay, who opened his case on Tuesday, the Maya people seek a vindication of the rights they have maintained to customary titled land in the area, including the national park, notwithstanding the Government’s declaration in 1994 of the 41,000+acres in the area as a national park.   Mr. Courtenay contends that prior to the declaration of such park, villagers in these communities freely used the land in question as part of their traditional cultural practices and way of life, which was severely curtailed then and further endangered now. He noted that of the three main sites proposed by US Capital for drilling, one is a farmer’s cornfield in Crique Sarco and the others are located either side of Graham Creek in traditional milpa lands.   The Government, Mr. Courtenay said, has failed per the decision of Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh in the first Maya Land Rights case, abandoning its sole attempt over lack of consensus.   Despite the Government’s declaration, according to Mr. Courtenay, the Maya maintain actual customary land title and the Government has not appealed the first case, though a second was appealed and is likely to go to the CCJ. Senior Counsel Denys Barrow and Mrs. Iliana Swift appear for the Government parties while Attorney Michael Peyrefitte appears for U.S. Capital. The case continues through Wednesday.

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