Belize ignoring Indigenous land rights?

A non-profit group called the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) is demanding that the country of Belize in central America explain what an American oil company is doing on protected lands of Indigenous peoples.

SATIIM reportes that it learned on October 25 that the American oil company, US Capital Energy, has suddenly re-appeared on protected and Maya land — without prior notice or consent of the communities.

According to reports, the oil company has been operating for over a week inside the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP) in Southern Belize. The park is officially co-managed with the surrounding Q’eqchi Mayan and Garifuna villages, but the Belize government never informed SATIIM that a permit had been issued. And the company is wasting no time — a truck equipped for seismic drilling has already arrived along with a drill-ready tractor.

SATIIM says this is merely the latest ‘surprise’ in a shameful history of secrecy that began in 1997 when five Indigenous communities in Southern Belize learned that the government had declared their ancestral lands a national park in 1994. Ever since then these communities have struggled to defend their land at every turn.

Notably, in 2006 they won a temporary injunction against seismic testing in this protected area, where an entirely new ecosystem was recently discovered. Another ruling from the Supreme Court confirmed Maya rights to land and resources and Belize’s obligation to conform to international standards of informed consent established when it signed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Nonetheless, the government has kept all dealings with US Capital Energy secret.  SATIIM asked for information in several letters to the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Forest Officer. The government has ignored each one.

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2 Responses to Belize ignoring Indigenous land rights?

  1. I’m a Canadian whose lived in Belize for six years now and I must say the ongoing developments regarding the Mayan peoples struggles for land rights parallels the long and winding road indigenous peoples in Canada followed.

    Unfortunately, there are very few “pure” Mayans represented in high levels of Belize government, and the Mayan people comprise a minority in Belize thus resulting in the current state of affairs.

    The Mayans are pursuing several actions in the Belize Supreme Court, and I believe that in time, just like the indigenous peoples in Canada, the Mayans will prevail and be granted their suppressed land rights and also be entitled to compensation for land that has been unlawfully taken from them.

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