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Aug 26, 2014

New Leadership for SATIIM

For years, in fact for more than a decade, Greg Ch’oc was the head and face of SATIIM, the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management. Earlier today, flanked by Maya community leaders, Ch’oc officially announced thathe has stepped aside. After facing a myriad of challenges with the government, in particular on the issue of oil drilling and exploration, Choc is moving on to pursue a career in law at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus. His successor was carefully selected and has won the trust and blessings of the Maya communities to continue  “the legacy of resistance.”  News Five’s Isani Cayetano was down south for the traditional passing of the baton to a historian and emerging Maya leader.   


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The proverbial changing of the guard, a transition in the leadership of the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management, took place this morning in Punta Gorda, where outgoing executive director Greg Ch’oc formally handed over the reins to his successor.  Ch’oc’s resignation to pursue legal studies abroad was first announced a year ago, during a similar gathering in Midway.


File: Sept. 2nd, 2013 Greg Ch’oc

“Yes, I have been accepted to law school.  It’s a personal decision that I have taken in consultation with the leaders of these communities.  They have given me their trust to lead them and it’s only right that I consult with them in decisions, even those that are personal to me.  When I decide to go there will be someone that will rise to the challenge to continue to honor the legacy of resistance of our ancestors.”


While an heir apparent had not at the time been named, Froyla Tzalam will be taking over the post as SATIIM’s new executive director.


Froyla Tzalam

Froyla Tzalam, Executive Director, SATIIM

“Greg has left but the work continues and so our goals, our aims, our programs remain the same.  Now people have asked me if we’re still going to continue the legal battles.  For sure, because that’s one of the things that SATIIM has focused on over the last seventeen years.  We also do community development, we have programs focused on that.  We have community agro-forestry and we are currently working with a women’s group in Midway.  We also have environmental issues, you know, we were co-managing the park and we’re still monitoring it along with the village leaders.”


According to Ch’oc, his reason for stepping down was private and, during the year since the initial announcement, has worked closely with the respective indigenous communities to build their trust in his replacement.


Greg Ch'oc

Greg Ch’oc, Outgoing Executive Director, SATIIM

“This decision was taken last year but we had just recently filed a case and I deferred it to this year.  It’s a personal decision that I have taken to study law and I used this one year to work with the leadership of the community, to work with the community at large to find someone that they are comfortable with, that they can trust, that they can confide in, that they are assured will adequately represent their interests.”


Those interests, at the moment, primarily revolve around the exploration for oil by U.S. Capital Energy within the Sarstoon Temash National Park.  Tzalam shared SATIIM’s position on the matter where it concerns the relationship between both entities.


Greg Ch’oc

“It has been adversarial I believe primarily because U.S. Capital could have been, could have taken the moral high ground and said, “I want to pursue this industry in this area.  So who do I bring on board to make sure that everyone understands the positions that we are now discussing?”  That has never been the case.  As a matter of fact, government has linked its hand clearly with U.S. Capital and said, “You do what you have to do, whatever it takes and we will support that.”  Now until that position changes Isani, one that recognizes the claimant communities as the rightful owners of their land, that position will not change.  We are not changing our position.  That is what U.S. Capital has to acknowledge first before we commence any negotiation or any process with them.”

Isani Cayetano

“In terms of the transition with regards to all the litigations and the subsequent outcomes of those particular processes, how will that work, transitioning from your leadership and what we have on the table in front of the courts to one where Ms. Froyla Tzalam is now taking over from where you’ve left off?”


Greg Ch’oc

“Well in terms of the strategies, the way we work at SATIIM, the community decides should happen you, know and we work.  My duty is to, how do we get it accomplished, and I have done it my way.  I don’t expect Froyla, and she’s said it publicly today, that I am not stepping in Greg’s shoes, I will do it the way I think it needs to be done.  So I think that, and this is reflected in what the leaders have said today, which is the work that I have done, the work that Froyla will be doing is not Froyla’s work or is not Greg’s work.  It is our work.”


SATIIM is moving towards assisting the communities it represents to clearly demarcate the boundaries of the respective villages in an effort to enforce the ruling of the Supreme Court on customary land rights. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


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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