A two day oil summit finished in Punta Gorda Town at noon today. The event was organized by SATIIM to come up with a position statement on oil exploration in the Toledo District, specifically, the Sarstoon Temash National Park. But it's not just another dry position paper thrown together by airy technocrats - the summit produced a People's Position Paper. That sounds mighty and that way it was presented it seemed that way as well. Jules Vasquez was in Punta Gorda Town:….
At the Punta Gorda Parish Hall, SATIIM hosted the Alphabet Soup of the Conservation NGO movement: APAMO, BELPO, COLA, SATIIM, YCT, BGYEA, the Oak Foundation, BELIZEANS FOR JUSTICE, Belize Audubon Society, TIDE and Oceana all huddled for an oil summit which sounded to us a lot like an anti-oil summit in the SATIIM position statement.
Greg Cho'q SATIIM
"SATIIM is calling for the government of Belize to make decisions in line with the law of our country. To drill for oil in the Sarstoon/Temash National Park, is to disregard laws put in place to preserve our natural resources in the national interest. SATIIM holds that permitting oil drilling inside the national park is ultra vires, the national park systems act and is therefore illegal. Legal experts have agreed with SATIIM's interpretation of this statute. Drilling in Maya lands would be contrary to the Supreme Court judgment of 2007 to go ahead with oil development on land traditionally used by Maya communities without their free prier and inform consent constitute a human rights violation, before we drill we must have a guarantee that every Belizeans will benefit, we must be confident that the wealth generated will reach every family in this country. Only then should we be willing to sacrifice our natural resources."
And while the demands are great - the grassroots, ground support is what counts - and these Alcaldes and Chairmen from communities within the Footprint of US Capital Energy were called forward to show their support:
Greg Cho'q SATIIM
"I trust the wisdom of the Maya community, I trust that despite the characterization, despite the name calling they gave the leader of the Alcaldes and the Chairman, they have always come forward with reason, with wisdom to defend the interest of their communities and I applaud them for that and none of them have phd."
But to make sure they weren't just there for empty symbolism, the Alcaldes were challenged by Amandala's Adele Ramos to show their hands in support of a people's position statement which laid out stringent demands - and they all raised their hands in support of the statement which does not say not to oil exploration - but makes clear the conditions under which it would be acceptable to the communities.
Mario Chub - Santa Teresa
"We call for transparency and transparency in the consultation process and reject any attempt to mis-inform or mis-lead and divide our community; 2. We demand that the communities' voices be heard and there traditional decisions making structured and process be honored; 3. We demand that factual information be provided upfront and that the rights of the communities to their free prier and inform consent must be respected in the event that the community decided in favor of oil development, we demand that the oil company and the government of Belize; 1. All communities should have the full and effective participation in all negotiation of all oil development contracts; 2. Establish a petroleum community trust fund to which the contracts are to contribute at the start of any contract period to be increase at the start of the first commercial year. This fund mush be manage by the community of Toledo and directly benefit the health, education and environment of all the people of Toledo. Amend the production sharing agreement of providing a greater percentage of the revenue directly to the community and the government of the Belize. Provide a meter on when to determine, how much oil is extracted, and ensure that all communities receive their adequate share of compensation all oil activities."
And while that is the moral authority - the technical authority came yesterday from a presentation by Leonard Reimer and John Carr who have experience with oil exploration.
Leonard Reimer, Former Member Petroleum Board, Sp. Lookout
"First thing is in the beginning it was the seismic, they did verbally agreed to pay and we had confidence that they were honest people they would and then they went all over and did their lots of damage and sure they estimated how much damage it was and they paid for it, but it was not near what the damage was. The second time when they came in for another field to look to explore another field. Then we had it very clear that we didn't want to trust them, with what they did on the first field. So we just stood back and waited until they came by force, they came unto or property again with their equipment and all that. What we did, we had about three or four guys with the cameras, from a distance watching them and that. And then a couple days later they came up with the check, because they didn't want to be published. (Applause) Now the oil company is requesting good rules because they come in with heavy machinery. So the money that we are getting, our biggest portion of that money that we are getting, we have to put it into our roads so that they can work."
John Carr, Landowners' Association
"Royalties to landowners must be defined, the law right now says that we get 5% of 7% , so we are struggling with getting what we do think is a fair percentage. So as a citizen the taxes payers are losing, landowners are losing and I don't know exactly where the money goes, it fly's around in jet airplanes, it goes in bank accounts and I don't know where money goes."
Those firsthand accounts were eye openers - and Cho'q says education is what this is all about:
Greg Cho'q SATIIM
"We need the education, information on oil to reach every Belizean in this county. The time must end when an oil company come to a village and say ok write your name on this blank piece of paper and you're going to get a job, you're going to get employment, that has to stop, that must stop, we deserve greater dignity as a people."
Geovanni Brackett, COLA
"It's not because we're hungry, it's not because some of us we live below the property line, not because some of us live in impoverish means that the government should take advantage of us, or Oil Company should come and have its way. And so the coalition joins and supports SATIIM. We do call for yes a ban against oil exploration offshore and within protective areas, but this summit was to disseminate information."
And going forward with the declarations, SATIIM hopes it can change the terms of engagement both with oil companies and the government.
Greg Cho'q SATIIM
"The battleground is Toledo, what happens in Toledo will determent what happens in the rest of the country. So if we do nothing they will run over everybody in this country, if we stand up and there is a collision, obviously there will be collision up north as well."
The SATIIM and People's Position paper will be sent to the Prime Minister's Office tomorrow. Cabinet already has oil on its mind after it yesterday reviewed applications for a production sharing agreement for vacant petroleum exploration blocks in the northwestern Orange Walk District. Cabinet decided to award the PSA to a company called Maranco Ltd - but decided to allow members of the public to have two weeks to make representation and offer any objections. No word on where or to whom that representation should be made.
But APAMO - the Association of Protected Management Organizations - has already made its representation via press release. That organization says that it is disappointed at the decision of the Government of Belize to give out parts of the Rio Bravo Conservation and Management Area, which is a protected area, in a concession to oil companies before developing an adequate policy that deals with oil exploration and protected areas.
Maranco is a company incorporated in 2005 with involvement of at least one former Director of Belize Natural Energy. Most recently ownership was transferred to a group of local attorneys.