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May 2, 2014

Standoff between Maya communities and US Capital Energy in the south

For months, tensions have been mounting between SATIIM, the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management, and US Capital Energy Limited that is carrying out pre-drilling activities within Maya communal lands in the Sarstoon Temash National Park. On Wednesday, despite numerous court rulings affirming the rights of the Maya on communal lands, Government waived the expiration date of the permit granting the oil company entry into the protected area. On the heels of that decision, on Thursday, representatives from thirty-eight communities headed to the village of Sunday Wood, one of five buffer communities and an access point to the operation of US Capital Energy in the area.  The undertaking was no easy feat for the Mayas, who, already feeling disrespected and insulted, had to obtain permission from the oil company to get to their own communal land. News Five’s Isani Cayetano was on the scene and has the following report.


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

A concert of voices, albeit joined in various iterations of prayer, is the climax of an excursion to Sunday Wood.  Men, women and children, approximately a hundred villagers from across the indigenous Maya community, have congregated along this seven-mile stretch.  In their native tongue supplications are being recited, seeking moral and spiritual guidance to resolve an ongoing conflict.  The symbolic gathering is an act of rebellion against the powers that be.


Pablo Mis, Program Coordinator, Maya Leaders Alliance

“If it is a crime to walk on our own land, if it is a crime to walk freely on our own land then let them take us where they want to take us.”


It is a day after the Government of Belize issued a letter waiving the deadline for a permit granted to U.S. Capital Energy to conduct exploratory work within the Sarstoon Temash National Park.


Greg Ch’oc, Executive Director, SATIIM

“From now on there’s going to be a vigorous monitoring of every detail of U.S. Capital Energy’s activity.”


Since its arrival a few years ago, the multinational oil company has found itself in a fix with the buffer communities fringing this protected area.  Despite successive rulings by the Supreme Court, affirming and endorsing communal land rights, the Maya of southern Belize are repeatedly disrespected.


Greg Ch’oc

Greg Ch’oc

“We are fortified by the Supreme Court judgment, several of them.  We are right, not only morally but we are right legally.  If there is anybody that is breaking the law of this country it is the Government of Belize.  If there is anybody that upholds the violation of the constitution of this country and enforces our political leaders’ arrogant policies towards the indigenous people it is the police.  So they are the lawbreakers, they are the lawbreakers.  We have every right to be where we are because the Supreme Court has successively said this land belongs to the Maya community.”


Notwithstanding that decree, permission to enter the national park from this particular access point has to be sought from U.S. Capital.  As part of its work within the area, the company has constructed a rock-strewn road leading to the A1 drill site.  Today, a delegation of leaders from the thirty-eight Mayan communities has journeyed to Sunday Wood and its members are intent on crossing the restricted entrance.


Michael Tewes

Dr. Michael Tewes, Health, Safety & Environmental Supervisor, U.S. Capital Energy

“We have had this discussion many times.  The company has always invited any village leader who would like to come in to visit the site, to please get in touch with us, let us know your desire that you want to visit and we would facilitate the visit. We have no problem to let any alcalde, second alcalde, chairman to come in, but we cannot have all this crowd go back there and be walking around.  It is unsafe.  There is a swamp back there.  We asked the last time, we asked please don’t bring children.  We took the entire village of Sunday Wood to visit, right and we asked them, “please don’t bring the children because we don’t know, we can’t see.”  People might fall in the swamp, we don’t know and then we are liable, you understand.”


In spite of the likelihood of injury caused by having children wandering around the location, a brief conference among themselves returned an ultimatum.


Pablo Mis

Pablo Mis

“The response from the leaders and the community members is that they want to join their alcaldes and the chairman that’s here, as we’ve been saying the purpose is to go and see what’s happening out there.  This is Maya lands and we want to be able to enter the land.”


Dr. Michael Tewes

“Mr. Mis, let me try and make it simpler for the people, right.  This is a big crowd of people, we can’t deal with all of this, we can’t deal with the security of this crowd.”


Before long, the police, who remained on standby since receiving word of the crowd’s intention, would become involved.


Inspector Ernel Dominguez, Deputy O.C., Punta Gorda Police

Ernel Dominguez

“The oil company, or the oil company representative, is saying that you did not go through the proper process to have this visit done today.  If you did not go through that proper process then you are giving people the reason to want to, one: to oppose on what you are doing or to create problems on the other side.”


Greg Ch’oc

“We have three boatloads of people from the sea coming into the site so we don’t need to be negotiating here.”


Pablo Mis

“Mr. Dominguez, you seem to be taking the lead in this discussion, I want to ask you for the record, are you speaking on behalf of the Government of Belize and the oil company expressing that the government is exercising a compulsory acquisition of Maya land?  Are you preventing Maya people from walking on their land?  It’s a yes or no question.  It’s a yes or no question; otherwise we’re going to walk across.”


Regardless of the answer which Inspector Ernel Dominguez attempted to give, the crowd would hear nothing of it.  Instead, he cautioned MLA’s Program Coordinator Pablo Mis, as well as President of the Toledo Alcaldes Association, Alfonso Cal.


Insp. Ernel Dominguez

“Besides all these people here I will hold you and you accountable for anything that should go out of the ordinary.  Please have that recorded that I will hold you accountable, so if after five, ten days you see the police come to your house to pick you up, we will not be picking up all of these people, dah you and you.”



“You have to pick up all ah we. You have to pick up; all ah we.”


And with that the throng stormed the access, proceeding on foot a distance shorter than half a mile into the territory, before stopping abruptly to hold worship.  The idea, from the onset, however, was to understand the lay of the land, as it concerns U.S. Capital’s activities within the Sarstoon Temash. Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.


This afternoon, the Ministry of Science Energy and Technology issued a release clarifying that, “The permit issued to US Capital Energy Belize Ltd by the Forestry Department is a permit to enter the Sarstoon-Temash National Park for the purpose of conducting petroleum exploration drilling operations and not a permit to conduct drilling operations.”

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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6 Responses for “Standoff between Maya communities and US Capital Energy in the south”

  1. Rod says:

    My Mayan people I will tell you again this is not the fight to pick how come I don’t see chuc and Pablo mis the stand up like this when the Guatemalans the go with our forest or with our gold or with anything else it’s because these individuals want money that’s the whole premise of this fight unu pick wa fight with the Guatemalans not with these people you are making us look bad. Choc. And Pablo mis you are certainly making us look stupid now stop unu nonsense and go protect our forest from the poaching Guatemalans fu the last time I di tell unu..

  2. Rasman says:

    We are doing our part here defending our land, you should take you foot out of your mouth and do your part and go and stop the illegal loggers – mf.

  3. Mr. Concern says:

    They are just fighting for their cause. Why don’t you take the initiative if you are concerned about it. Why asked them to that when you know there is problem and you can do that too. Stop fool your self

  4. Mellow Belizean says:

    This is unbelievable, how can a foreign company come to Belize and restrict access to their communal land?!! This guy Tewes tells them there’s a swamp back there. Don’t you think they know it? Haven’t their ancestors been going there since before the buccaneers even arrived on these shores?

    Even more unbelievable is that the government would allow such a thing. Let’s put it in perspective, would the American government blatantly disrespect it’s citizens and allow a Belizean company to drill on Native American land?

  5. moses x says:

    I agree with the Mayan brothers. It’s time that we stand up to the greedy capitalistic behemoth swines from the north. This is not Iraq. Dis da Belize. The foreigners are chancy but the Indians will surround them and eliminate them like Custer at Little Big Horn. It’s unacceptable in the 21st century to disrespect the rights of our Mayan brothers just because of money and cheap oil to feed the US economy. I’m sure the Belize government is allowing drilling to continue-despite the supreme court ruling- because they have already accepted large sums of money from the gringos. This is how how the US capitalists achieve their goal all over the world. They send operatives with suite cases of money to bribe politicians to do their dirty work. They did it with Arbens in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Iran and many other countries – didn’t work out so well in Cuba- thanks to Fidel. Big US companies make huge contributions to politicians who influence congress to corrupt other governments. They send operatives – CIA – to buy off local politicians to achieve their goal (cheap oil). This is what is happening now in Temash. Di white man di come again. I support the Mayans. My roots are in Barranco and I have sons with Mayan women who are ready for Little Big Temash. Unu come.

  6. venus says:

    The fuse on the powder keg has been lit; if the greed for money does not subside in the near future it will explode.

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