Maya communities win judgment in court

Maya people await judge's decision (Belize City)

Maya people await judge’s decision
(Belize City)

April 3, 2014. AARON HUMES Reporting: This morning 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 favour.

Madam Justice Arana ordered the Government of Belize and U.S. Capital Energy to enter “good faith negotiations” with the Maya communities of southern Toledo before continuing to prepare to drill for petroleum in the Sarstoon Temash National Park.

She declared 1) that the decision of the Director of Geology and Petroleum Andre Cho and related Government departments to allow a permit to build a seven-kilometre road into the drill site at the Park and allow activities relating to commercial oil drilling was “irrational, unreasonable and unlawful,” and separately 2) declared that it was contrary to the legitimate expectation of the Maya communities under international law and in accordance with previous litigation that they would be consulted before such activities commenced.

Allistair King (US Capital Energy representative)

Allistair King
(US Capital Energy representative)

But local representative Alistair King says there is not much in the judgment preventing them from continuing with their work.

According to King, “As far as I know we will continue drilling. I would have to be advised on that, but I don’t think that 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 the attorney for SATIIM, Senior Counsel Eamon 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, which is properly consult with the Maya.

Michael Peyrifite (Attorney for US Capital Energy)

Michael Peyrifite
(Attorney for US Capital Energy)

U.S. Capital attorney Michael Peyrefitte effectively reserved comment until he had formally read the judgment.

He did insist he would not back down from his comments last week that the Maya were after “money”, specifically a bigger share of the oil revenue than that to which they were formally entitled under the terms of the production sharing agreement (PSA) for U.S. Capital.

Eamon Courtenay’s hard-hitting reply described Peyrefitte’s remarks as “crude,” “rude,” “insulting” and “express(ing) neo-colonialist views,” and called on U.S. Capital to condemn the remarks and “reject the philosophy which (Peyrefitte) espoused.”

Eamon Courtenay (Attorney for SATIIM)

Eamon Courtenay
(Attorney for SATIIM)

He added that the company should prove that they are “genuine investors” who “respect the people of the Toledo District.”

SATIIM executive director, Gregory Ch’oc, affirmed that the Maya are prepared to work with all concerned, but said,“not here, not now, not this way,” referring to U.S. Capital’s approach to date.

Later, he said that the Maya’s “cosmo-vision” involves ensuring that all are afforded every opportunity for success and development.

But he maintained that all the Maya ask for is for the law to be followed and for GOB to “change course” and adopt a more consultative approach.

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