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Should we drill for Oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park?

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Posted: Tuesday, January 28, 2014. 4:40 pm CST.

Should we drill for Oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park?

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Belizeans have heard about many of the pros and cons of drilling for oil. Firstly, we know that Oil is “Money”.  Secondly, given the dire economic stance of our country, most if not all “eyes” are on how we can make money to keep the economy properly revolving and of course, to sustain the burdensome debts accumulated over the years. Given the recent reports I have went through, oil is in “expected” commercial quantity in the Sarastoon Temash National Park. So the question is: Should we Drill?

SATIIM, the organization responsible for co-managing the Sarastoon Temash National Park is ensuring that and I quote from the official website: “to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Sarstoon-Temash region and employ its resources in an environmentally sound manner for the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual well-being of its indigenous people”. Greg Choc, who is the Founding Executive Director, has a point here. These are lands of the indigenous people: the Maya & Garifuna. SATIIM is helping to safe guard what their ancestors have relatively left for them. This park is rich with resources, which the Maya and Garifuna people “traditionally” rely on to make a living.

However, SATIIM’s new co management agreement, allowed third party access into the park. SATIIM doesn’t agree with this and haven’t signed the agreement. Furthermore, Government has dismissed their management of the park because of their delay in signing this agreement. Now, SATIIM is not allowed to enter the park to perform their regular operations (I believe B.D.F is carrying out security and making sure of this). Now, if I may divert a bit, Chiquibul in the west is losing billions of dollars in its resources to outsiders – is the Government worried about this? Aren’t they putting enough security there too?

Now, we also know that this is communal land, as the Supreme Court has declared that. However, recently the Court of Appeal affirmed this right with the condition that the Government decides how these rights are used. This now opens a big debate between Government & the Indigenous People for more talk on why we should or shouldn’t drill for oil on their lands. The Maya Leaders Alliance has been very vocal stepping up their campaign for Government to respect their right to communal land. But what they fail to realize that while they have a right to the land, the Government has ownership of petroleum, minerals and accompanying substances found anywhere on or under the territory of Belize.

US Capital Energy Belize Ltd is preparing the drill for oil very soon, as preliminary phases have been completed. This company has invested millions of dollars in preparation for the different phases. This company has also invested millions of dollars in our education sector, in the cultural sector and many others. They have contributed greatly so far in developing this district. But is that enough? Will the success of drilling for oil in Sarastoon Temash outweigh the alternative of not drilling, thus preserving the lands? Will the people of Belize greatly benefit from the royalties collected from the company? Will Toledo gets if fair share of development, educational and economic wise? Or will just a “select few” benefit from this?

That brings us to the people of Toledo. We are very poor, financially, but we are rich with natural resources. However, we are not utilizing these resources properly to receive the greatest benefit. I honestly think that if US Capital Energy Belize drill for oil in a sustainable manner and help to “spark” the Toledo economy, then yes, it would be outstanding! The Indigenous People must come together and decide their future: should we agree to support the oil company that would aid us in providing jobs and future economic development? Or should we preserve our lands for future generations of traditional living? The question is: will the future generations want to live on traditional lands, and occupying traditional ways of life? Or will they prefer living in the cities and sporting urban features?

I am very sure that US Capital Energy Belize Limited has good intentions to help the local Toledo economy. They have been doing quite good this far, in providing jobs, and regulating the economy. The big question I ask again is: will the success of drilling for oil in Sarastoon Temash outweigh the alternative of not drilling, thus preserving the lands?

This I leave for you to decide as I am not an oil expert. This is only an objective analysis on my part.

 

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1 Comment

  1. Kencelan says:

    Mr. Jacobs, I’ve happened on a few of your articles and I must commend you on electing to issue a position or at least forging a discussion on the topic. Having said that I would like to address a few of your points in the present article. Your central question is will the success of drilling for oil in Sarstoon Temash outweigh the alternative of not drilling, thus preserving the lands? 1. your article assumes property rights of Sarstoon Temash to be that of 1. Government and people of Belize, 2. People of Toledo and 3. the Mayans. Traditional property rights of the Sarstoon Temash national park are inalienable property rights of the Mayan people (affirmed by the Courts of Belize or otherwise). They are neither the rights of (1) or (2) and therefore not within the power of decision of either entity. It is for the Mayan people to decide use of their lands. Now surely I know development of such industry can “contribute” to the national economy. Approaches in other nations include the rental of this land from the indigenous people and compensating them with royalties and development programs according to their own charter. 2. You indicate that what “they [the Mayas] fail to realize that while they have a right to the land, the Government has ownership of petroleum, minerals and accompanying substances found anywhere on or under the territory of Belize”. This is a move by the Government of Belize to ensure that sub-surface property rights remain in control of the Government. This is a political effort by Belize government and many other states. This does not make it just but legal. The political moves by the oil company,government, as well as the Mayan organizations have complicated the issue. Bringing all stakeholders to the table and building a “good governance” approach into the process would have been (and can still be) the move of the government to move forward. 3. You assume (atleast in the article) that the options for the Maya people are 1. to drill resulting in economic benefits for all of Belize especially the people of the south and 2. maintain a traditional style of living and preserve the lands. The options for the Mayans are many and should be decided by their communities. Many Belizeans have been swept up with this notion of a “Traditional Mayan life”. Once they dont fit within that “authentic/traditional” notion of Maya it starts raising eyebrows. 4. You posit that “[you are] very sure that US Capital Energy Belize Limited has good intentions to help the local Toledo economy.They have been doing quite good this far…” I am not sure whats your rubric for such evaluations and thus conclusions. From my first hand experience of working in these communities your statement couldnt be further from the truth. Sure the company have invested negligible funds in school refurbishing, computer lab construction, and roadworks. The latter of which primarily affects their company. Having spent the totality of a year living in these communities the disparity of use attached to use of lab facilities as well as school facilities is sad and only contributes to a division within the communities. To answer your big question then (or atleast to give my take) is that in the current context drilling and production of oil will not result in equal and just benefits to all stakeholders and the economy of Belize. Good governance principles (participatory, deliberative, collaborative, accountable, multilayered, and just) have to be built in the system which can be led by the government. P.S. I’m a PhD candidate of Natural resources policy with research experience in both Belize, Indonesia, and Taiwan. I’m a Belizean writing my dissertation on resilience, political ecology, and adaptive governance in Sarstoon Temash National Park.

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