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Sep 2, 2013

SATIIM’s media tour of Temash Two goes without a hitch

Last Friday and Saturday, the media was hosted by SATIIM on a trip to the Sarstoon Temash National Park to witness first-hand ongoing work by U.S. Capital Energy.  On the eve of the tour, it appeared that a standoff was afoot, but the tour proceeded without trouble because SATIIM chose an alternate route to access the site without needing permission from the Forest Department and the oil company.  U.S. Capital Energy is constructing a four mile road and SATIIM says long term the seismic activity will have negative impact on the environment and food security for Maya communities. SATIIM is also before the court challenging the concession to conduct oil drilling within their communal lands. News Five’s Isani Cayetano reports.

 

Isani Cayetano, Reporting

It is high noon in Crique Sarco, one of the oldest Mayan communities in southern Belize.  Traditional leader Andres Bo is summoning villagers to a public meeting by repeatedly blowing into a conch shell.  Resonance of the baritone travels across the land where, in one household, a family is busy preparing its midday meal.  Beneath a wooden shack nearby, a pile of logs is painstakingly being hacked.  The fragmented pieces will serve as fuel for a small fire over which an ethnic dish is being prepared.

 

Elsewhere in the yard, several ears of corn are being husked.  These too will be boiled over the open flames and served as appetizers.  Caldo, as it is known in Kekchi, is a staple in the Mayan diet.  The soup, made from local poultry, seasoned and simmered in tart spices, is often complimented with a side of corn tortillas.  Lunch is a confluence of age-old farming practices.  Food here is grown within the environs of this rural community.

 

After eating, residents slowly congregate inside a classroom, the venue for a free discussion on oil exploration within the Sarstoon-Temash National Park.  Today’s topic is U.S. Capital Energy.  Since being granted a concession to conduct seismic activity and other exploratory work within the protected area, there has been legal contention between the multinational, the Government of Belize and five buffer communities which surround the national park.

 

Greg Ch’oc

Greg Ch’oc, Executive Director, Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management

“The Supreme Court has affirmed that this is Maya customary land.  The communities have the right to delimit those areas.  And you ask any community, they will tell you that this is their ancestral land.  Having said that, what is happening here today is selective application of the law as it relates to this land.  The government declared a national park on ancestral land, denying communities access to resources that they have traditionally used for generations.”

 

The dispute concerns the construction of a roadway, a little over four miles in length, into the reserve, where U.S. Capital Energy will utilize a four-acre plot to build a drill pad.

 

Alistair King

Alistair King, Country Representative, U.S. Capital Energy Belize Ltd.

“We are doing what the government allows us to do and, you know, they are very strict on that.  We have gone through all the different permits, EIAs [Environmental Impact Assessment], ECPs [Environmental Compliance Plan], Ministry of Works road designs.  So we feel [that] as long as we are doing everything that the government wants us to do then, you know, we don’t have an argument with them.”

 

That argument, according to U.S. Capital’s country representative Alistair King, is between the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management and the Barrow administration with which SATIIM has opted not to renew its co-management agreement of the broadleaf, wetland and mangrove forest.

 

Greg Ch’oc

“We cannot just remain silent and not speak the injustice, the discrimination that we are suffering at the hands of this state.  If it was a Mayan person [who] came and clear-cut this [area] he would be thrown in jail.  There’s no question about that.”

 

Sarstoon-Temash, established in 1994 and designated as a wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention over a decade later, has a strict policy prohibiting hunting, fishing and gathering in the region.

 

Timoteo Bo has returned to Crique Sarco as a teacher, after twenty years of being away.

 

Timoteo Bo

Timoteo Bo, Teacher

“As it stands, I think the idea of the national park has prevented the residents [from] entering that area to conduct subsistence farming, doing fishing or hunting or any sort of activity that the people were depending on.”

 

While those regulations have remained intact, the Maya Leaders Alliance has written to Professor James Anaya, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, concerning food security.  They contend that, quote, oil exploration activities by U.S. Capital Energy Belize Ltd. on Maya customary lands and the distribution of Maya customary land to private individuals in the Toledo District of Belize that is allegedly taking place without the prior, free and informed consent of the affected communities, is negatively affecting their livelihoods and access to food, unquote.

 

Timoteo Bo

“So, the oil company having prevented people from entering the area where they are exploring for oil will not actually prevent them, or to avoid them from a big, large extent because it has been in existence by SATIIM.”

 

Greg Ch’oc

“The territories of the indigenous people is their supermarket.  That’s where they earn their livelihood, that’s where they get their livelihood.  Recently we published a report looking at the impact of climate change on food security of indigenous people.  We found that a significant source of food is from the forest, as well as those that are cultivated.  Now when you look at the source of food from the forest then you need to understand that any declaration of protected areas automatically eliminates, deny some kind of tangible resources, some resources that the communities may have been using.”

 

There has been, reportedly, two hundred miles of seismic paths already cut in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park and clear cutting for those testing lines has already caused negative impacts to important forest areas and waterways used by the Maya for subsistence purposes.

 

Isani Cayetano

Today, along with a team of reporters and cameramen from across the media, led by SATIIM’s executive director Greg Ch’oc, we journeyed up the Temash River to one of those seismic testing lines.  There we alighted our vessel and threaded several hundred yards of murky, waist deep water littered with centipedes and other poisonous insects and snakes.  The coarse path was the most treacherous expedition in my career as a journalist thus far.

 

Isani Cayetano

“Accessing the Temash Two drill site, from the banks of the Temash River, is a thorough exercise in negotiation.  We’ve had to traverse through waist height water to get to this construction where there is a massive landfill taking place in order to erect the drill pad.”

 

Once there, albeit unauthorized, we were greeted by an engineer flanked by heavily armed law enforcement personnel.  This parcel is only but a microcosm within a forty-eight thousand acre national park.  Our newfound guide, despite initial apprehension, would later allow us a tour of the site.

 

Nuani Cayetano

Nuani Cayetano, Engineer, U.S. Capital Energy

“The ten meters within the national park, it’s well outside of the range to cause major, major damage to our ecosystem itself.  Would it displace some animals?  That may be a possibility; however, I haven’t seen any exotic wildlife for the past six months that I’ve been here.  The only thing I’ve seen probably would be worms and some snakes may be.”

 

Back in neighboring Crique Sarco a day later, residents, having responded to the bugle, are debating the potential impact of an oil spill, the effect of this denuded plot on the wider environment, employment by U.S Capital Energy, food security and safety, as well as educational opportunities for their children.  Ultimately, the fate of their many concerns rests with the Supreme Court. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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