By Aaron Humes
U.S. Capital Energy has received official word that it can continue with its work in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, where it is searching for petroleum.
Chief Forest Officer Wilber Sabido and National Parks Administrator Hannah St. Luce-Martinez wrote to the oil company’s local representative, Alistair King this Tuesday, stating that they consider it appropriate in their discretion, to defer deciding on the application for an extension until the outcome of the consultations with the people of southern Toledo District ordered by Supreme Court Justice Michelle Arana is known. This is on the condition that the operations for which the permit is granted continue since they were not specifically stopped by Justice Arana.
For this reason, the Forest Department has decided to waive the expiration date of April 30, 2014, contained in the permit granted to the company.
Attorney for U.S. Capital Michael Peyrefitte says this essentially confirms the status quo. The company can proceed because Justice Arana did not strike down the permit, making their presence and activities legal; and there is presently no injunction stopping them (although attorneys for SATIIM have applied for the third time for an injunction, this time post-judgment following Justice Arana’s decision on April 3.)
There is no specific extension of time that the company seeks. Peyrefitte says. It is up to the Forest Department how to move forward. Peyrefitte went on to restate his clients’ intentions in the area. He gave an assurance that U.S. Capital would not move without permission of the Government or against an order of the court.
As for threatsby the Maya community, to physically stop U.S. Capital, Peyrefitte is unfazed.
“We have a permit in place to conduct operations where we have been given a production sharing agreement to do so. We are within the law.” Referring to SATIIM executive director Gregory Ch’oc he added, “If he wants to break the law that is his prerogative,” since the judgment makes the position clear.
First Alcalde of Conejo village, Valentin Makin, was removed on April 24 from his position at the request of his community and replaced after a community meeting on April 22 . He is said to have admitted signing a document at the behest of Justice of the Peace Alejandro Vernon on April 6.
This document purportedly stated that Conejo had granted its unequivocal free, prior and informed consent for US Capital Energy Belize Ltd. to continue its work and drilling on Mayan ancestral lands.
The villagers, in a press release, said Makin acted “unilaterally and without the consent and knowledge of the members of our community,”
Makin denied that he had not done at first, bue finally admitted it, claiming that he had been tricked.
But speaking with local media this week, Makin, who plans to challenge his removal, said he was acting in the right all along, and that the all the fuss was about a simple letter asking to be allowed to upgrade a community road.
Makin and others met with Prime Minister Dean Barrow in Belize City on Monday at Old Belize and apparently the Government believes that Makin has a case for unlawful termination from his duties.
Capital’s legal counsel, Peyrefitte noted that U.S. Capital does not get involved in village affairs, and will respect all duly elected community leaders. The authorities, he said, should settle the case in question.
Greg Ch’oc has defended his organization from allegations of manipulating villagers in removing unsympathetic leaders, several of whom appeared on local television maintaining that he, Ch’oc, did not speak for them. But did U.S Capital’s contributions to the communities’ development in the form of roads, bridges, school computer labs and the like sway or induce those leaders?
Peyrefitte admitted candidly to Reporter that if there was no such contribution, then the question would be rightly asked why it was not promoting such development. But the company, he added, has learned to ignore “the naysayers, the troublemakers, the ignorant,” and go about its business.
Dr. Joseph Palacio, chairman of the only Garifuna village in the area, Barranco, noted in an interview that both the Maya and the Garinagu are in charge of protecting the park but charges that the Garinagu have been sidelined and left out of the decision-making process.
The leaders maintain that U.S. Capital has delivered significant developments to their communities and the promise of jobs for all. Palacio noted that Barranco is in no position to say no to development of any kind, while Conejo resident Joaquin Cucul stated that Ch’oc and SATIIM have been consistently dividing the Maya people rather than presenting solutions to their problems.
Ch’oc in reply said that he works by consensus and thus cannot present the consensus position of the communities until they have consulted within themselves.