U.S. Capital Energy is back in the news tonight because the company has applied for a new Production Sharing Agreement to carry out oil exploration in and around a specific area of the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. U.S. Capital previously held an oil concession signed in 2001 and in 2012. The company was granted the environmental ‘all clear’ which allowed drilling inside the national park in hopes of finding the precious black gold. That license expired and the company had no luck in its quest. Its bad fortunes were compounded when the Mayas of southern Belize launched a legal dispute, challenging the oil concession. Residents of thirteen buffer villages objected to oil exploration, saying that their free, prior and informed consent was never obtained. The matter was heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice which on April twenty-second, 2015, handed down a historic consent order. The order instructs the Government of Belize to develop a mechanism to recognize the already agreed communal land rights of the indigenous Maya people. So for an oil concession to be granted to U.S. Capital, G.O.B. had to carry out consultations. And this is where the issue is blowing up. We first go to Solicitor General Nigel Hawke, who says that the Government has obtained the “informed consent” of villages for the development to proceed.
Nigel Hawke, Solicitor General
“The once that I have been present at are Dolores, there were consultations before with village and the leaders but then when I went back we met with the leaders. In terms of Graham Creek and Hicatee we met with all the families in those villages. In one it is fifteen families and in the other it is twenty one. The village council, the chairman, the chairlady as the case maybe and the alcalde, first and second alcalde for those villages. The response that we got from most of the residents is that the company in the previous liens did a lot of work with roads. I think most of the villages wanted to have roads. For example for Graham Creek and Hicatee the roads stopped at a certain point so they are asking for roads to be built and renovations to the school and so on. They said they were very pleased with a lot of the work with US Capital had done in the previous license and they are hoping that that will be done. What they stressed important is that even if they grant permission for us to review the license to explore that we should have continued consultation with them at every stage and that is what we committed to. The Government is acting as a responsible government in accordance to the undertaking that we gave to make sure that we obtain the consent of these villages. Remember this is just in relation to the license to permit to explore. We are consulting whether we should. So we’ve gone to all those villages. So no one can say government just went in and granted a license. All of the villages were consulted. We’ve not force them. We have even given them time because two villages asked for more time. We have given them more time for them to consult again. So what we can say is that we want to honor the CCJ order and we have done that by consulting. We listened to all the concerns. We gave the best possible answers that we can give. I think it went very, very well in most of the villages. The villages that had major concerns asked for more time to go back and discuss again. We said fine and they are discussing.”