The expedited hearing of an application for an injunction against US Capital Energy was scheduled for this morning. SATIIM and leaders of Mayan communities bordering the Sarstoon Temash National Park had utilized every legal resource at their disposal to get the matter heard at this early date. They claim that US Capital Energy is pursuing activities which are damaging to the park and an immediate injunction is critical. But in a surprising turn of events, this morning the attorney for SATIIM et al withdrew the application for an injunction. Mike Rudon was in court this morning and has the story.
Mike Rudon, Reporting
The courtroom of Justice Rita Olivetti was packed to capacity this morning. The matter before the court was an application for an injunction against US Capital Energy, but that application was withdrawn by SATIIM et al’s attorney Eamon Courtenay. The move came as a surprise to US Capital Energy.
Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney for US Capital Energy
“When we got here this morning the attorney for SATIIM et al informed us that he would be withdrawing the application for the interim injunction that was brought forward from the nineteenth of September to today.”
Courtenay, on behalf of his clients, is instead asking the court to expedite the substantive case being brought against US Capital Energy and the Government of Belize. The decision to do so allegedly came about after discussion and agreement between counsels, but there seems to be some blurring of the communication lines somewhere.
Greg Cho’c, Executive Director, SATIIM
“I understand there was a discussion between counsels for the claimant and the defendants and I believe that what happened was the equivalent to an undertaking that US Capital will not drill before November or December which, from our perspective we feel that pressing for an earlier date for the trial on the substantive claim would have been better for us to advance.”
“We were under the impression that supposedly what US Capital was doing was causing such irreparable harm that we had to have a hearing now. But it’s welcome news for us. US Capital continues its work as it is authorized to do by the government of Belize.”
Denys Barrow, Attorney for Government Defendants
“I think implicit in the agreement by both sides that it would make sense to adjourn this application is the proposition that there is not any damage that would be done which needs to be stopped at this stage. So once the SATIIM people were satisfied that drilling would not take place until sometime in October then they were comfortable leaving things as they are and leaving US Capital to continue their preparation for drilling as opposed to actual drilling.”
But whether drilling commences in October, or November or December, it is doubtful that a decision in the substantive case will be handed down before that happens. But the judge in the matter will have the authority to deal with any pre-judgment drilling.
“Depending on what comes out in the course of the hearing the judge may or may not decide to give an interim order if the need for it arises, or the judge may decide, you know, drilling activity is really not so intrusive so stopping ti before I give a decision is not something I need to do. So the possibilities are wide open and the question of getting an actual decision in November…I don’t think there is a great chance of it but it’s possible.”
Eamon Courtenay, Attorney for SATIIM et al
“This is a matter that is purely law. I mean on the evidence there is no disagreement. We know that there is a national park. We know that activities have taken place there. The question is whether or not it can be done lawfully. And therefore I think that we will be able to put in all our submissions in good time for a decision by the end of the year, and that is our hope.”
As to the substantive case, Courtenay says it will be based on the provisions of the National Parks Act and the court declaration of Mayan communal rights.
“What we have is a company that wants to go in and drill for oil, that is, conduct commercial activities within a national park, and we are saying that the National Parks Act does not allow for that. Beyond that, it is going to be the argument of SATIIM and the indigenous people, the villages that we represent, that the law that has been declared by the Court of Appeal and by Chief Justice Conteh says that they have communal rights, land rights, land tenure rights, which include the right to property and which include the right to be consulted and to give consent with respect to the exploitation of the natural resources which is to be found on their land.”
According to Courtenay, this has never been about who owns the oil…but about who gets to share, and who gets to give permission to exploit the resources. Mike Rudon for News Five.
SATIIM requests expedition of substantive matter in its case against U.S. Capital
Attorney for SATIIM Eamon Courtenay is basing his argument on straightforward grounds. But, government attorney Denys Barrow says it won’t be all that straightforward, and he sees the claims in the substantive case taking this matter in all different directions.
Denys Barrow, Attorney for Government Defendants
“There are some things which are emerging in the claim which they are making which I think will become larger when the substantive case comes on. In particular I am thinking that this substantive case now concerns national park and who owns a national park. It concerns the question – when a national park has been declared, what is the effect of that upon pre-existing rights. So even without reference to the Mayas, for instance…let’s say a national park were declared in Orange Walk and it took in part of the BEC lands. One, is it competent for a declaration to include private lands and two, if a declaration of a national park includes private lands then what is the impact of the declaration upon the rights of the owner of the private lands. If you assume at its highest that the Mayas have outright and perfect title to this land as I think Greg Choc said in his second affidavit…when the national park was declared the Mayan people ceased conducting their traditional activities in the national park so they respected that declaration and they took it at that time as an indication that they could no longer act in the national park as if though it were regular community land. So a number of larger issues will arise. Related to that is…are the Maya in occupation of the national park? That is another question that will arise. And then thirdly…if they are not in occupation can they maintain a claim to stop the administrator from acting in relation to the national park as the law, we say, permits her to act?”
Barrow says that while the substantive case has been filed, it has not yet been served.