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US Capital Energy drilling in Sarstoon-Temash National Park, Belize


Description:

In 1994, the government of Belize converted an area of roughly 17,000 hectares of Maya ancestral land into the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, without holding a consultation of the Maya people residents. However, the majority of local communities quickly embraced the protected status of their land. After the conversion, the government of Belize took another turn and opened up the national park for oil exploration by a Belize-owned subsidiary of the company US Capital Energy Inc. The communities refused this initiative, pointing out the lack of consultation. The resistance against the oil exploration activities was carried out by local residents in different ways. On the one hand, communities advanced local indigenous conservation models within the park. On the other hand, they started to challenge oil permits and exploration through Belize's legal system.

In 1997, the Sarstoon-Temash National Park Steering Committee was created and later became the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) which represented different Mayan communities in their legal battle against the drilling. Following their creation, a number of important legal decisions were handed down. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) issued a report in 2004, which recognized the Maya people's rights to land traditionally used and occupied in Toledo and found that the government of Belize was violating these rights under international law. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Belize confirmed the binding nature of the IACHR decision and in 2010, it also clarified the application of the 2007 judgment to Maya throughout the district and an injunction prohibiting concessions was also issued. In 2012, SATIIM was contacted by US Capital Energy to provide its views of the planned exploratory drilling activities in the park. A public consultation was held by the Department of Environment for the company's proposed activities in the area. The buffer zone communities (villages of Barranco, Midway, Graham Creek, Conejo, Crique Sarco) all wrote to the Chief Environment Officer in October 2012, and also formalized their objections to the drilling in the National Park by writing to the Hon. Prime Minister.

After the government of Belize had appealed the decision, the Court of Appeal affirmed Maya land rights in multiple 2013 decisions. It also concluded to struck out the Supreme Court's injunction against government interference with Maya ancestral land.

In its latest decision in April 2014, the Supreme Court of Belize ruled that the permits granted to US Capital Energy for oil drilling and road construction were unreasonable and unlawful. Although this was considered a success for the Maya leaders alliance and SATIIM, the Supreme Court did not explicitly render the permits void. As they were set to expire at the end of April 2014, US Capital Energy announced its intention to carry out the drilling activities nevertheless, and the Government of Belize has since then waived the expiration date of the permits. Following the ruling, several public protests were organized by Maya communities of Toledo district.

Despite the legal victory of SATIIM and the local communities, US Capital Energy has begun drilling inside the Sarstoon-Temash National Park in Toledo district in September 2014.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:US Capital Energy drilling in Sarstoon-Temash National Park, Belize
Country:Belize
State or province:Toledo
Location of conflict:Sarstoon Temash National Park
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details

US Capital Energy's project is still in its exploration phase. Drilling activities in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park have just recently begun. Expiration dates of the permits granted by the Belize government to the company have been waived and not been rendered explicitly void by the Supreme Court. The company has vowed to continue its drilling activities.

Project area:17,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:050 – 1,100 (around 900 of the Kekchi Mayas, 150-200 of the Garifuna Community)
Start of the conflict:01/01/1994
Company names or state enterprises:US Capital Energy, Inc. from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Government of Belize
International and Finance InstitutionsInter-American Commission on Human Rights
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM): http://www.satiim.org.bz/
Cultural Survival: http://www.culturalsurvival.org
Maya Leaders Alliance

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Mayan and Garifuna communities
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Oil spills, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the 2014 Supreme Court decision, drilling activities in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park have recently begun. Expiration dates of the permits granted by the Belize government to the company have been waived and not been rendered explicitly void by the Supreme Court. The company has vowed to continue its drilling activities, even though the local Maya communities still oppose the project.

Sources & Materials

Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Consolidated Claims N° 171 and 172 of 2007, Judgment, Supreme Court of Belize, A.D. 2007
http://web.archive.org/web/20131019062425/http://www.law.arizona.edu/depts/iplp/advocacy/maya_belize/documents/ClaimsNos171and172of2007.pdf

Claim N° 394 of 2013, Judgment, Supreme Court of Belize, A.D. 2014
http://www.belizejudiciary.org/web/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Supreme-Court-Claim-No-394-of-2013-Sarstoon-Temash-Institute-for-Indigenous-Management-et-al-v-The-Attorney-General-of-Belize-et-al-.pdf

Report N° 40/04, Case 12.053, Merits: Maya Indigenous Communities of the Toledo District, Belize, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 12 October 2004,
http://cidh.org/annualrep/2004eng/Belize.12053eng.htm

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Unión Mundial Para la Naturaleza (UICN) (2006), Áreas Protegidas y Pueblos Indígeas y Tradicionalas: Diversidad de Casos en América Latina y el Caribe, prepared by Laura Meza-Morales, December 2006
http://nuevo.portalces.org/sites/default/files/migrated/docs/1253.pdf

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

SATIIM and Indigenous Mayan Communities Supreme Court Victory is a Victory for all Belizeans, Press Release, Oceana, 4 April 2014,
http://oceana.org/en/ca/news-media/press-releases/satiim-and-indigenous-mayan-communities-supreme-court-victory-is-a-for-all-belizeans

SATIIM and Indigenous Peoples – Another Legal Victory, Press Release, SATIIM, 4 April 2014,
http://www.satiim.org.bz/claim-394-of-2013-judgement-by-justice-arana-dated-3-4-2014/

In Support of the Rule of Law, Press Release, Oceana, 15 April 2014,
http://oceana.org/en/ca/news-media/press-releases/in-support-of-the-rule-of-law

Indigenous Communities Challenge Big Oil in Belize, by Sandra Cuffe, Earth Island Journal, 27 October 2014,
http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/indigenous_communities_challenge_big_oil_in_belize/

Belize's Persistent Denial of Maya Land Rights, by Curtis Kline, IC Magazine, 28 July 2013,
https://intercontinentalcry.org/belizes-persistent-denial-of-maya-land-rights/

US Capital Energy and Government of Belize Taunt Supreme Court SATIIM file for Injunction, Press Release, Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), 18 March 2014,
http://www.satiim.org.bz/download/press-release-resources/SATIIM-PressRelease.pdf

Belize: Our Life, Our Lands – Respect Maya Land Rights, Cultural Survival, 1 February 2013
http://www.culturalsurvival.org/take-action/belize-our-life-our-lands-respect-maya-land-rights/belize-our-life-our-lands-respect

Meta information

Last update18/08/2019

Images

 

Temash River in the Sarstoon Temash National Park

Source: http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/elist/eListRead/indigenous_communities_challenge_big_oil_in_belize/ Photo by The Advocacy Project Temash River in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, near where US Capital Energy has been conducting seismic tests.