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#468818 - 07/23/13 05:29 AM Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company  
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Tomorrow morning at 3:00 am, Mayan Communities in the Toledo District will stir as early as 3:00 am, to get ready to head to Belize city for a major press conference. That’s where the Sarstoon Temash Institute of Indigenous Management (SATIIM) will outline a law suit the Mayan communities are bringing against US Capital Energy and presumably the Government of Belize. The suit was filed today by SATIIM’s Attorney Eamon Courtenay. The details of it will be outlined tomorrow.

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#468870 - 07/24/13 05:03 AM Re: Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company [Re: Marty]  
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Why Mayan Communities Are Taking Oil Company to Court

As we noted Ch’oc spoke at a press conference held in Punta Gorda Town. Last night we told you that press conference would be in Belize City – but plans had to change this morning due to heavy rains in the Toledo Districts that made a few of the roads from the villages impassable. So rather than bringing the villagers to the press conference, Ch’oc had to activate his plan b and bring the press to the people. In a quite munificent stroke, SATIIM chartered a Tropic Air Plane and flew down 10 press people for the event. Here’s how it went.

Jules Vasquez reporting
About 115 Mayan villagers crowded into the Social Security Building Hall in Punta Gorda Town this afternoon for a press conference explaining why they are taking on the Government of Belize and US Capital Energy.

Village Leaders from Crique Carco, Cornejo, Graham Creek and Midway gave presentations in Kekchi explaining their issues with US Capital Energy.

Andres Bol, (through Greg Ch’oc, Translator) - Crique Carco
"I want to be clear here that we have never said that we do not want development - we want development but we recognize that it will not occur if we do not alter and change how the equation and how the benefit and the resources of our land is going to be distributed. We don't want the company or the company to say 'yes you're going to get a bridge and benefit' - we want agreements and contract between ourselves and the community so that we can hold them accountable. Words are too cheap and easy to say and we have learned from experiences in the past that it doesn't mean anything in the end."

Enrique Makin, (through Greg Ch’oc, Translator) - Cornejo
"It has to be more and beyond more than paper work and yes communities have worked in the past but it is not sufficient - it has to be a long term approach if we are going to benefit our resources of our land. We want them to sit with us and address those long term concerns that we have. On the sound token they have already begin to violate their words to us because they came telling us that there was going to be a lot of money and a lot of employment and what we now recognize is happening in the community is that there are only a handful of people."

Juan Ico, (through Greg Ch’oc, Translator) - Midway Village
"They're saying that the villages in the Sarstoon area are developing but how do we develop if we are not even involved? Can we really develop with part time -two weeks employment in the company? We are not asleep anymore - we want to benefit and that is the bottom line. US Capital is among us but do not see any benefit - we want to ensure that when we give our consent that there is concrete action and benefit derived from the exploitation of our resources."

And while that is the problem with US Capital Energy - the problem with Government is what it has authorized US Capital to do in a national park.

Edilberto Romero - Chairman, APAMO
"National Parks does not allow certain extractive activities but yet the turn around and they gave permits to developers like US Capital to go in and do the same things that they don't want the communities to do. It's not only US Capital - it's the Government of Belize, if the government does not give permission to US Capital to do drilling, exploration in the National Park and in the communities - US Capital wouldn't be here; but they're here because the Government has given them permission."

Gregorio Ch’oc - Executive Director - SATIIM
"Over the last ten months, SATIM and the communities have witnessed blatant disregard for the rule of law. Our environmental laws have been violated, our rights have been violated, and we have been ignored on our Maya customary titled lands. We have witnessed hundreds of acres of unique eco-system, the sphagnum moss in the National Park burnt and the US Capital energy is not held responsible. As a people we have sacrificed, we have been denied access to the very land that we own."

And so now SATIM is going to the Supreme Court to seek redress.

Gregorio Ch’oc
"So after ten months to attempt to reason with the government - we are saying ENOUGH. We have concluded that the government as duty bearers has abandoned its obligation to protect and safe guard our constitutional rights and instead has chosen to protect the interest of US Capital Energy therefore, we have come to appeal to the good hearts and minds to the justices of the Supreme Court. We believe that we are on the right side of the law and on the right side of history as part of this. We're asking for an injunction for US Capital Energy to suspend its operation until this larger issue is ventilated in the court. My friends we have reached the lowest point of integrity in this country when the poor people, the marginalized people have to bring a case before the supreme court to force the duty bearers of this country to uphold the law and to protect and safeguard the rights of its people."

Due to the change in the location for the press conference, SATIIM’s Attorneys Lisa Shoman and Eamon Courtenay could not make it. We hope to have comment from them tomorrow. The case was filed on Monday, but at this point, there’s no word on when the injunction hearing will be held.

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#468931 - 07/25/13 05:12 AM Re: Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company [Re: Marty]  
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The Premise Behind SATIIM's Pending Challenge

< Courtenay is also the attorney for SATIIM and four villages – who are suing government and US Capital Energy for various breaches in the Sarstoon Temash National Park.

As they explained at yesterday’s Punta Gorda Press Conference, they want the villages to exercise informed consent over the activities of US Capital Energy in the Park. Courtenay – who couldn’t make it to PG yesterday - explained -

Eamon Courtenay, S.C. - Attroney for SATIIM
"This is in my view a very simple case - does the law of Belize allow commercial drilling in a National Park? That's the question - second question is - does the law of Belize allow the Government of Belize to allow commercial drilling in communal lands of the Maya indigenous people without their consultation, without their informed consent, without their permission? The question of whether we are going to allow a non-Belizean oil company and rape the National Park in the search for dollars and trampling on indigenous rights and environmental protection - is a very stark case and we will see which side the government takes. The law as it stands is as it was pronounced by Chief Justice Conteh and the rights of indigenous people must be respected. The law of Belize says that that land is owned by the indigenous people and they have certain rights in relation to that. Their rights are to be involved in the exploitation of the resources below their land. It does not mean that the Government of Belize cannot give a permit - it does not mean that an oil company cannot participate or drill etc. What it means is that they must be in compliance of the law which requires consultation, engagement with the indigenous people and of course US Capital is doing this with the blessing and permission from the Government of Belize and so the claim is also challenging the legality of that permission that has been granted by the Government of Belize."

Jules Vasquez
"Now you all will be seeking an injunction against US Capital Energy?"

Eamon Courtenay, S.C.
"Yes we are seeking an interim injunction against US Capital to stop them from going any further depending the outcome of the case. Based on the experience that we have seen, particularly in the OCEANA case, we have joined our company, we have joined all the relevant ministers so no one will be able to say that no declaration or no order that is made by the court is not binding on them."

No date has been set for the injunction hearing, but the court is expected to go on recess soon, so Courtenay is pushing to have the hearing before that time.

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#468935 - 07/25/13 05:31 AM Re: Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company [Re: Marty]  
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SATIIM not allowed to co-manage national park

Another hot-button issue involves court action by SATIIM and Maya Alcaldes against U.S. Capital Energy and the Government of Belize. This issue is the oil exploration which is already underway within the boundaries of the Sarstoon Temash National Park, as well as an access road to the drill site more than four miles long and forty feet wide. The action was filed on Monday and publicly announced on Tuesday at a press conference in Punta Gorda. But while the lawsuit is one thing, another issue looms on the horizon. SATIIM has been officially banned from the National Park and as far as the government is concerned, the co-management agreement does not exist, in theory or in black and white. Mike Rudon has an update on the story which was aired on Tuesday.

Mike Rudon, Reporting

SATIIM Executive Director Greg Choc and these Alcaldes from Crique Sarco, Conejo, Midway and Graham Creek have filed suit against US Capital Energy and GOB for works being done by the oil company within the national park. One of the defendants in that lawsuit is Attorney General Wilfred Elrington.

Wilfred Elrington

Wilfred Elrington, Attorney-General

“I don’t know the details of it. My own recollection is that I had been involved in one of the cases and the judge’s decision was that the Mayans have communal rights over the land. Now what are communal rights over the land? My thinking was they have rights to use it, to earn their living; they do hunting, fishing and that kinds of things. I don’t know what else communal rights entail, but it certainly in my view does not stop the government and other people from using the land. It is not as if the court said you have free-hold title to this land and it belongs to you absolutely. That’s a different case.”

Whether it’s a different case or not will ultimately be decided by the courts, but even before that gets started there is another looming issue. SATIIM has been kicked to the curb by the Forest Department. The official co-management agreement between SATIIM and the Forest Department expired in 2009, and since then the N.G.O. says it has been managing the park based on a verbal agreement with Prime Minister Dean Barrow. But with the oil issue taking center stage and both parties unable to come to terms for a new co-management agreement, the Forest Department has taken off the velvet gloves. In this letter to SATIIM dated July seventeenth, 2013, the Forest Department formally terminates its working relationship with SATIIM as it relates to the management of the Sarstoon Temash National Park effective immediately. In fact, SATIIM has even been denied, at least in writing, access to the national park. So will that have a bearing on the lawsuit?

Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for Claimants

Eamon Courtenay

“That does not affect the lawsuit against the defendants which includes U.S. Capital and the government of Belize. SATIIM represents indigenous people to start with and it also has a right to manage the national park. I think it is important for us to remember that the primary basis of the challenge is that under the national park system act; there is no provision for commercial drilling for oil within a national park. I mean it is oxymoron for you to have a national park and at the same time tell someone that they can go and drill for oil in it. So that is a legal challenge. Secondly, it is important to remember that in addition to SATIIM, there are four villages, indigenous villages from the Maya villages who are bringing the lawsuit. So despite what view the government takes with respect to SATIIM, the case will continue by those four villages.”

Those four villages, with SATIIM along or not, will have a fight on their hands since G.O.B. is insistent that communal rights or not, national park or not, the government has the final say one way or the other and while progress brings problems, progress it must.

Eamon Courtney

“There are two judgments of the supreme court of Belize which states specifically that the owners of that land are the Maya indigenous people under communal title. So the government I believe will have to at some point in time rationalize the legal position and who has the final say in terms of the exploitation, exploration, development of that land. Suffice it to say that at this stage, it is our view that the indigenous people who have had the ownership and control of this land for centuries are the persons who need to be consulted and whose permission and approval needs to be got. Chief Justice Conteh said that from 2007.”

Wilfred Elrington

“So the fact that you may have rights over land does not allow you or empower you to stop anybody from doing anything on the land particularly the government which owns the subsoil.”

Mike Rudon

“And this applies even within a national park which is part of their claim?”

Wilfred Elrington

“This applies all over the world and wherever it is. A national park is designated by government as a national park. The government can at any time denationalize that park in a sense that they say we are no longer going to consider this part of our property as national park. That is  done in countries all over the world as the population expands and the need for the land becomes greater; government has to do that. So it is nothing sacrosanct. The important thing is that the resources of the country are there for the people of the country.”

While SATIIM has effectively been kicked out of the Sarstoon Temash national park by the Forest Department, there is no word on who will now manage and monitor the affairs of the park. Mike Rudon for News Five.

Minister of Forestry, Lisel Alamilla, will be holding a press conference this Thursday to discuss the co-management agreements in national parks. 

Channel 5

#469016 - 07/26/13 05:02 AM Re: Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company [Re: Marty]  
Joined: Oct 1999
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Hon. Alamilla Vs. Apamo

On Tuesday, the SATIIM flew the media to Punta Gorda where it announced that the Forestry Department had terminated its co-management agreement of the Sarstoon Temash National Park. And then the Chairman of the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations claimed that in fact the Forestry Department was basically trying to push a new co-management agreement down the throats of all the NGO’s that co-manage national parks.

Well, today the Minister of Forestry Lisel Alamilla held a press conference to give her side of the story – first on the SATIIM issue – saying they made a commitment and didn’t stick to it.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla - Minister of Forestry and Fisheries
"I sent a letter to SATIM on June 5th - again highlighting that we need to standardize this, he responded on June 9th and stated on his letter 'SATIM would be committed to signing the co-management agreement on June 28th, 2013' - it says 'SATIM requests your consideration to the date stated above to sign the co-management agreement as it would be impossible to sign before the 28th of June because of the ongoing organizational reform which included re-organizing programmes and strengthening internal financial controls and procedures. We are certain that we will conclude this important exercise on June 26th.' - this is what SATIM wrote to us."

Gregorio Choc - Executive Director, SATIM
"The Forestry Department is pressuring SATIM to sign a co-management agreement that is prejudicial to SATIM's interest. We have recently tabled that decision to the general assembly of the communities buffering the Sarstoon Temash region and they have rejected the agreement."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"SATIM has never come seriously forward - I think they've been playing games and just been dragging this along to say that they are going to sign and I don't believe that they have any intentions of signing this. They could still come back and say that they want to enter into co-management agreement with the Government of Belize. The Government of Belize doesn't have the capacity to manage these protected areas and this government recognizes that and recognizes that the partnership with the NGO's is important for us to achieve our conservation goals."

Gregorio Choq
"And I want to tell the Forestry Department and the Government of Belize that SATIM will continue to manage and protect the National Park because it is in our interest and the interest of the Belizean people."

Jules Vasquez
"How do you interpret the defiant statement made by Greg Choc - the executive director of SATIM that regardless of what that letter says - that they are barred from executing their former duties in the park. That in fact they will continue to do all their activities in the park because the park falls within their ancestral lands and the Supreme Court authorized them to occupy and have a certain domain over those lands."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Well I think that is something for us to get advice from the solicitor general if in fact that is a real threat or an empty threat - we don't know if they indeed will do that. But if you want to talk about the land, Greg himself has explained to me that not the entire park falls under what would be considered community lands - it's only a portion of the Sarstoon Temash National Park."

Gregorio Choc
"We had some agreement, however we have understood that this was tabled before Cabinet and they altered the agreement. They altered the agreement to extend that majority of the co-managers, whose agreement has expired, refused to sign this new co-management agreement because it's harmful to the organization and its members."

Edilberto Romero - Chariman, APAMO
"We reached an agreement with them and the government again took it and changed it and now they want us to sign it and we told them we weren't going to sign it because there were major changes that were affecting the protected areas."

"Did Cabinet make any adjustments in their absence or to the agreement that they signed or said that they would sign on to?"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Of course! When you take something to Cabinet it is within the Cabinet's right to say 'this is conditions in which we are interested in engaging in this agreement with XYZ'; they have a right to do that."

Edilberto Romero
"There are two APAMO members that have signed the Cabinet endorsed co-management agreement and it is because of that kind of pressure. The other co-managers are still struggling and still need the funding but they realize that by signing those co-management agreements that you are getting yourself into a huge liability."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Edilberto does not manage a protected area that needs a co-management agreement."

"Minister, did you receive a letter from APAMO on May 7th saying that they do not agree to this signing"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Yes, and my CEO met with them and entered into a dialogue and the report from my CEO was that he explained - they had a very good conversation. But what my CEO received was not was discussed but nonetheless that is another matter. Which co-manager is not in agreement with the co-management agreement that was sent to them? Because I have a long list that I shared with you earlier of co-managers that have already signed on and that are members of APAMO - that have signed on."

"How many are left to sign on?"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"I don't know how many are left."

Jules Vasquez
"It's about 15 though"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Yes but I am listing to you - Yaz Che, Friends for Conservation, SEA, STAKA, Rio Blanco, Rancho Dolores, SACD, Gales Point, TIDE, CSFI and several others have committed to sign."

Gregorio Choc
"The government for example can engage and sign contracts with third parties without the consent of the manager."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"Government is saying if we want to grant concessions in the area - we will entertain concessions in the area but they have to fall under the management plan and what is allowable legally."

"But will the co-managers have a say?"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"They will be consulted - yes."

Edilberto Romero
"When they say legally - yes we have legal expectations and there are certain rights that need to be respected as co-managers."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"I think that we have to understand that co-managers do not own these protected areas - they are managing these protected areas on behalf of the Government of Belize. Tomorrow the Government of Belize can decide that this framework is not achieving the goals that the government wants for its protected areas. This is what we're failing to understand - we are acting and pretending that these are private lands that belong to TIDE, that belongs to Belize Audubon Society, they are not - they belong and are the responsibility of the Government of Belize to manage."

Edilberto Romero
"How can the government say 'you cannot access and protect that' - the government should be saying 'thank you for protecting those areas.'"

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"And the NGO's who are involved in co-management need to recognize that these areas do not belong to them. They belong to the people of Belize and the Government of Belize has the responsibility to at the end of the day - deliver on the conservation goals of this country."

Edilberto Romero
"The co-management agreement, endorsed by Cabinet is a temporary agreement - it doesn't have any legal framework so to us it is an illegal co-management agreement that they want us to sign. Why? Because the legislation does not allow for it yet, two the Forestry and Fisheries Department does not have the legal mandate to sign co-management agreements."

Jules Vasquez
"In fact you all are entering agreements for which there is no counterpart legislation and that the agreement you all seek to enter into have no legal teeth."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"It is true - there's no legal standing for co-management agreements but then we all agreed that we would maintain status quo because there is no legal standing for the NGO's to manage the protected areas either."

Notable is that Alamilla said that APAMO is the one who requested formal co-management agreements at her first meeting with them. She says they had asked for co-management terms of 100 years; the final agreement sets it at five years.

Channel 7

#469211 - 07/30/13 04:56 AM Re: Mayans File Major Law Suit Against Oil Company [Re: Marty]  
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Marty Offline
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APAMO, Right Back At Hon. Alamilla

Last week you say Minister of Forestry and Fisheries Lisel Alamilla answer her critics at APAMO. Well today, they fired back at her. Now we don’t usually do, he said, she said, and then he said again, but that’s what it’s turned into in this case – and APAMO did add something new to the mix – they brought out protected area managers who are resisting.

Edilberto Romero - Chairman, APAMO
"After 2006, oil exploration became the largest threat to protective areas, by her actions and inactions, today; we think Minister Alamilla is the largest threat to protective areas, especially if she goes preventing organizations from doing their work to protect the protected areas."

Raymond Reneau - Rancho Dolores, Spanish Creek Wildlife Sactuary
"The reason why I didn't sign the co-management agreement is because of the third party, part under licenses, says the that 'after consultation with the co-managers, the government which is the regulatory agency body can give license to a third party' - it didn't say for what purposes. A co-management agreement should be between two bodies agreeing, with what should be done, it shouldn't be, 'you tell me what to do', it's like I'm working for you. If it comes to signing, I will sign but I am letting everyone know that the part I don't like with this signing."

Marcial Alamina, President - Swallow Caye Wildlife Sanctuary
"This is not a co-management agreement - they are telling us this is co-management, my buddy here is saying, you shoot across but how can you say that they are forcing him to sign, it's big people, how do you know it's because they need the money. These reserves and sanctuaries depend on funding, and they use PACT as, 'if you don't sign it, you can't get money from PACT'. It's like working for a regulatory agency, period, and they can come in and say, 'you are not doing this right' and who is the judge of that, this is supposed to be a democracy."

Edilberto Romero
"But she is insistent in that it is final, and it has to be signed or you're out and so she has been calling on co-managers, one by one, and we think it's a divide and conquer tactic; of course, the government has the final say in this thing and so all we can do at this point, is make sure that the public is clear as to where it is right now. And we are saying here that some decisions that are being made and some actions that are not being made, is affecting, and will affect the protected areas, that is what we're saying. At the end the government will decide what to do and yes, they have authority but we have a say also."

Four of APAMO’s 11 members have signed the new CO-MANAGEMENT agreements.

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