After weeks of lobbying, the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) packed the court with Toledo District alcaldes and supporters for the first leg of its latest legal battle with the Government of Belize. They wanted an injunction to stop US Capital Energy from proceeding with plans to drill for petroleum inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park. That drilling has been slated to begin in November. But the organization agreed this morning not to proceed and instead have the full trial of the case as soon as possible. By September 19, when the case is slated to come before Justice Michelle Arana for what would have been a hearing but is now a pre-trial review, all documents and submissions are to be in and exchanged. Greg Choc, SATIIM executive director, told us why the change.
There was a discussion between councils for the claimant and the defendant and I believe that what happened was an equivalent to an undertaking that US Capital will not drill before November or December which from our perspective, we feel that pressing for an earlier date for the trial on the substantive claim would have been better for us to advance. We believe that in trying to resolve the outstanding matters, it is before the court and I think it would be fool hearted of US Capital to proceed knowing that there is a pending date for the substantive trial.
However, attorney for US Capital, Michael Peyrefitte, says his clients are not exactly barred from continuing their work.
Michael Peyrefitte – Attorney for US Capital Energy
When we got here this morning, the attorney for SATIIM informed us that they would be withdrawing from the application for the interim injunction, that was brought from the 19th of September. They approached us with the opportunity for them to withdraw the application. I don’t want to comment too much about it. You would have to ask them as to why they did that. We were under the impression supposedly that what US Capital was doing was causing such irreparable harm, that we had to have a hearing now, but it’s welcome news for us. US Capital continues its work as it is authorized to do by the Government of Belize and that’s their choice. You would have to ask Mr. Courtenay why they withdrew their application. From what we gleam from it, its an application to stop US Capital from drilling and exploring for oil because supposedly the government did not have the legal authority to grant permission to US Capital, we naturally disagree with that.
Senior Counsel Denys Barrow represents the remaining four Government defendants including two Ministers, the Attorney General and Administrator of National Parks. Attorney for SATIIM, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, says he believes there will be enough time for litigation and a decision.
Denys Barrow – Attorney for GOB Defendants
There are some things which are emerging, which I think will become larger when the substantive case comes on. In particular, I am thinking that this substantive case now concerns National Parks and who owns a National Park. It concerns the question when a National Park has been prepared, what is the effect of that upon preexisting rights? So even without reference to the Maya, for instance, let’s say a National Park was declared in Orange Walk, and it tool in part of the BEC lands: One –Is it competent for a declaration to include private lands? And two – If a declaration of a National Park includes private lands, than what is the impact of that declaration upon the rights of the owners of the private lands? So these are some things which need to be addressed, and it is a broader question that purely Maya Customary Rights.