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Plustv Belize: Maya Communities Win Judgment in Court

As seen on Plustv Belize

Maya Communities Win Judgment in Court

On Thursday morning in Belize City, the Maya of southern Toledo descended on the Supreme Court to hear the latest decision in their ongoing fight to gain respect from the Government of Belize and U.S. Capital Energy, whom they say have invaded their communities without their consent while seeking petroleum in the Sarstoon Temash National Park. And it was another victory for them, as Justice Michelle Arana handed down her decision in their favor. Attorney for the Maya, Senior Counsel Eamon Courtenay, outlines what was won.

Eamon Courtenay – Attorney for SATIIM and Toledo Maya:

“The Judge made two declarations and she granted an order. The two declarations: the first is that the decision to give the permission to do the road construction and commercial oil drilling was irrational, unreasonable and it follows that it is unlawful. The second declaration was that the decision to allow the road building and commercial oil drilling was in breach on the legitimate expectation of the claimants based on their rights under the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People and international law and the cases that have already been decided in Belize. That is their right to free prior and inform consent to this type of activities. It consequently means that the decision is unlawful. Then the Judge ordered that the government engage the Maya people, the claimants in this case, in consultations and negotiations in respect of any license, permit or permission in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park.”

But what is the effect of the judgment? Very little, in the view of U.S. Capital, whose local representative Alistair King says there is not much in there preventing them from continuing with their work. According to Mr King, it is business as usual.

Alistair King – U.S. Capital Local Representative:

“The Judge just gave the papers to the lawyers, so they’ll have to explain it to me.  I came here prepared for either answer.  So as soon as these lawyers, our lawyer and the Governments lawyer, get through explaining it to me, I’ll be able to give you a better answer.  Right now it’s all a little unknown.  As far as I know, we will continue drilling. I will have to be advised on that, but I don’t think there is anything in there that says we have to stop work.  So for right now, unless the lawyers tell me differently, we will just continue.”

But not so fast. According to Courtenay, U.S. Capital’s permit to work in the area expires on the 30th of this month. It leaves them little time to do what he says must be done.

Eamon Courtenay:

“They can proceed until the 39th of April 2014, and if they wish to do that, then let them go ahead.  I will just say this, and no decision has been taken by the claimants in this case.  Every day that they drill, or they prepare to drill,  without free prior and informed consent, is a violation of the rights of the claimants in this case.   It is a violation of their rights.  The court just exercised her discretion not to quash the permit, but she recognized that the decision to allow them to do it is in violation of the rights.  So I say, they do it at their own risk.”

U.S. Capital attorney Michael Peyrefitte effectively reserved comment until he had formally read the judgment. We also heard from SATIIM executive director, Gregory Ch’oc.

Gregory Ch’oc – Executive Director of SATIIM:
“What we asked for is rooted and affirmed in the Constitution of this country.  If it’s to have any meaning, all Belizeans must enjoy what is affirmed in the Constitution.  We have yet to be shown the respect and the consideration that we deserve.  The time has come for the Government of Belize to change course, to step up, join the international community, and respect the rights of our communities.”

On Thursday, the Mayas’ attorney Eamon Courtenay directly responded to Michael Peyrefitte’s comments last week on the Maya’s motives for advancing the claim. When we asked if his views had changed as a result of today’s decision he said, “This decision goes hard against the Maya, they want drilling.” But Eamon Courtenay was not so forgiving. Here was his message for Michael Peyrefitte and his clients.

Eamon Courtenay:

“Last week Thursday Mister Michael Peyrefitte, on behalf of U.S. Capital, said certain things with respect to my clients.  Mister Peyrefitte was crude.  He was rude.  He was insulting.  He expressed neo-colonialist views.  I call on U.S. Capital to condemn what he said, to reject the philosophy he espoused, and I call on the owners of U.S. Capital to show very clearly that they are genuine investors in this country, that they respect the people of the Toledo District.  Let it be clear.”

Gregory Ch’oc earlier said that the Maya find it easier to take the moral high ground, and work to convince local leaders to change their minds, than respond to what Mister Courtenay later called “neo-colonial garbage.”

As seen on Plustv Belize



Posted By Karina Navas at 5:20pm on April 04, 2014

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