US energy company must suspend oil exploration until Government of Belize obtains free, prior and informed consent of Toledo’s Maya and Garifuna peoples, says new report

by Emma Eastwood | @MinorityRights | Minority Rights Group International
Thursday, 12 September 2013 10:59 GMT

Maya and Garifuna residents say that US Capital has campaigned aggressively to build its popularity in Toledo. This interferes with Maya and Garifuna communities’ right to freely consent to development on their ancestral land. In this road sign, US Capital promises that it is “working for the community.” Credit: Chelsea Purvis/MRG

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USCapital Energy Belize, Ltd must suspend its oil exploration immediately in Toledo, and resume activities only if the Belizean government obtains the free, prior and informed consent of the Maya and Garifuna peoples who live in the area, says an international rights organisation in a new report.

‘Toledo District, Belize, is the ancestral homeland of indigenous Maya people and Afro-descendant Garifuna people. Under human rights law, the government of Belize is obliged to protect and ensure Maya and Garifuna land rights. Private businesses operating in the area also have a duty to respect these rights,’ says Lucy Claridge, Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Head of Law.

‘The government of Belize must halt oil exploration in Toledo without further delay, and delineate and title Maya and Garifuna lands,’ Claridge added.

MRG’s new report, ‘Suddenly We Have No More Power’: Oil Drilling on Maya and Garifuna Land in Belize, finds that the Belizean government has allowed USCapital Energy Belize, Ltd to explore for oil on Maya and Garifuna land without consultation, or the free, prior and informed consent of these communities.

According to interviews with Maya and Garifuna residents featured in the report, USCapital Energy Belize, Ltd has campaigned aggressively to build its popularity in Toledo, interfering with the communities’ right to freely consent to development on their ancestral land.

The company has made unrealistic promises of employment, provided large gifts to communities, aired radio advertisements, visited communities frequently without sharing accurate information, and lobbied traditional leaders, the report says.

‘The government of Belize has a duty to protect and safeguard our constitutional rights, yet it has abandoned its obligation, and instead has chosen to protect the interest of US Capital Energy Belize, Ltd,’ says Gregory Ch’oc, Executive Director of the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM).

In 1994, without consulting Toledo Maya or Garifuna people, the government converted almost 42,000 acres of their ancestral territory into government land, the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP). The government then opened the STNP to oil exploration by USCapital Energy Belize, Ltd, a wholly owned Belizean subsidiary of American company USCapital Energy, Inc.

The legality of these actions has been challenged by both national and international bodies. First the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2004, and then the Supreme Court of Belize in 2007 and 2010 instructed Belize to abstain from oil exploration in Toledo.

These bodies concluded that the Belize government must recognize Maya collective land ownership in Toledo and obtain the free, prior and informed consent of Maya communities before awarding concessions. The government of Belize has refused to comply with these decisions, however, and recently awarded US Capital a permit to begin drilling in Toledo.

Notes to Editors

  • The report ‘Suddenly We Have No More Power’: Oil Drilling on Maya and Garifuna Land in Belize is available for download on MRG’s website.
  • MRG provides support to SATIIM, which works to protect the Sarstoon-Temash National Park.
  • Interviews can be arranged with the following:

Lucy Claridge, MRG's Head of Law

Chelsea Purvis, Author of the report

Gregory Ch’oc, Executive Director of SATIIM

T: 501-722-0103

M: 501-610-2412

E: gjchoc@satiim.org.bz

  • For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:

Emma Eastwood - MRG Press Office (London, UK)

T: +44 (0)207 4224205 M: +44 (0)7989699984

E: emma.eastwood@mrgmail.org

Twitter: @MinorityRights

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non-governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide.