The government of Belize this month quietly granted a US oil company drilling rights to protected Maya lands inside Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in southern Toledo district. The move comes in defiance of an historic Supreme Court ruling that confirmed Belize’s obligation to adhere to the international standard of informed consent, says the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM). SATIIM, a community-based indigenous environmental organization that co-manages the STNP, found out that Belize had granted a permit to US Capital Energy only after being alerted by residents that the company had suddenly returned to the protected lands. SATIIM reports that seismic equipment has already been brought in and trees felled to begin operations near Sunday Wood village, one of the reserve’s “buffer zone” communities.
The national park was declared by the government in 1994 on lands traditionally used by the Maya and Garifuna communities that live in the area. Oil companies were nonetheless allowed to begin exploration in the STNP, until a 2006 court injunction halted it. The Supreme Court later ruled the exploration violated international standards of informed consent that Belize committed to when it signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. SATIIM charges that US Capital Energy’s new operations are illegal, and being carried out in virtual secrecy. SATIIM and the indigenous communities have pledged to use “any means necessary” to make the government and the oil company comply with national and international law. (SATIIM blog, Nov. 26; Intercontinental Cry, Nov. 23)