Last week, a four-page letter from an unnamed source titled “Concerned Maya and Garifuna youth from buffer villages,” was circulated claiming that Executive Director of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), Gregory Ch’oc, had resigned his post intending to study law.
The letter accused him of “abandoning” his people at a critical time, when SATIIM presses its case for a permanent injunction against the Government and US Capital Energy to stop drilling for petroleum in the Sarstoon Temash National Park. SATIIM is also supporting the Toledo Alcaldes Association and Maya Leaders Alliance in their efforts to secure Maya communal land rights in the District.
After the recent split decision in the Court of Appeal which reaffirmed those rights but took away key protections given by former Chief Justice Abdulai Conteh, Ch’oc himself said he was determined to see the case go all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).
During the press’ two-day tour of the Park and surrounding communities on August 30 and 31, Ch’oc hosted a press conference in this buffer community located between Barranco and Punta Gorda Town to respond to this and other allegations made in the letter.
Ch’oc explained that the letter was the work of an “idle mischief maker” who had taken advantage of a private consultation with community leaders to broadcast what, to him, was “a personal decision.”
He said, “Many of my detractors would love that I move on. Many would love that I get tired and frustrated. I am not going anywhere; I am here to continue the struggle with the Maya communities.”
He confirmed that he was to have been a student in the current academic year, 2013-14, at University of the West Indies Cave Hill branch campus in Barbados, reading for a Bachelor’s in Law (LLB), which normally takes three years, with the conjunctive Certificate in Legal Education (CLE) taking a further two at the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica.
Ch’oc, who appeared emotional at times during the lengthy session, said he plans to defer entrance to the next academic year and intends to see through the current Supreme Court case to its conclusion. Because he was appointed by the buffer communities as their facilitator and spokesman for the case, he said, he felt it necessary to consult with them on the decision.
Ch’oc maintained that he did not want to “dignify” the letter with a full response, but nonetheless addressed certain allegations, including a charge that he had discriminated against younger leaders out of fear of being replaced, and denied these persons their opportunity at personal success.
“I have not taken up a lot of opportunities that have come my way and I have done so because the work that I have been doing, I wanted to see them until the end and I can say that the work I started in 2006 to where we are now, we’ve had significant, and I think, impressive accomplishments.”
He also responded to alleged foot-dragging on the still-unsolved embezzlement of over $100,000 in funds from SATIIM in the last few years, saying that Police are yet to move on the case.
“I filed a criminal complaint with the police, when our external auditors found inappropriate transactions. All the evidence that was needed, that we had before us, we sent it to the police. I have no influence on how the police department conducts its work. Perhaps [the media] can help us by asking the police why they are taking over three months to file criminal charges.
“Is it that the person accused is a former UDP village councillor? I don’t know. I will never know. The facts are before the police and it is for them to make that decision, whether to charge.”