Please allow me space in your newspaper to share my story titled “Should we drill for Oil in the Sarstoon Temash National Park?”
Belizeans have heard about many of the pros and cons of drilling for oil. Firstly, we know that Oil is “Money”. Secondly, given the dire economic stance of our country, most if not all “eyes” are on how we can make money to keep the economy properly revolving and of course, to sustain the burdensome debts accumulated over the years. Given the recent reports I have went through, oil is in “expected” commercial quantity in the Sarastoon Temash National Park. So the question is: Should we Drill?
SATIIM, the organization responsible for co-managing the Sarastoon Temash National Park is ensuring that and I quote from the official website: “to safeguard the ecological integrity of the Sarstoon-Temash region and employ its resources in an environmentally sound manner for the economic, social, cultural, and spiritual well-being of its indigenous people”. Greg Choc, who is the Founding Executive Director, has a point here. These are lands of the indigenous people: the Maya & Garifuna. SATIIM is helping to safe guard what their ancestors have relatively left for them. This park is rich with resources, which the Maya and Garifuna people “traditionally” rely on to make a living.
However, SATIIM’s new co management agreement, allowed third party access into the park. SATIIM doesn’t agree with this and haven’t signed the agreement. Furthermore, Government has dismissed their management of the park because of their delay in signing this agreement. Now, SATIIM is not allowed to enter the park to perform their regular operations (I believe B.D.F is carrying out security and making sure of this). Now, if I may divert a bit, Chiquibul in the west is losing billions of dollars in its resources to outsiders – is the Government worried about this? Aren’t they putting enough security there too?
Now, we also know that this is communal land, as the Supreme Court has declared that. However, recently the Court of Appeal affirmed this right with the condition that the Government decides how these rights are used. This now opens a big debate between Government & the Indigenous People for more talk on why we should or shouldn’t drill for oil on their lands. The Maya Leaders Alliance has been very vocal stepping up their campaign for Government to respect their right to communal land. But what they fail to realize that while they have a right to the land, the Government has ownership of petroleum, minerals and accompanying substances found anywhere on or under the territory of Belize.
US Capital Energy Belize Ltd is preparing the drill for oil very soon, as preliminary phases have been completed. This company has invested millions of dollars in preparation for the different phases. This company has also invested millions of dollars in our education sector, in the cultural sector and many others. They have contributed greatly so far in developing this district. But is that enough? Will the success of drilling for oil in Sarastoon Temash outweigh the alternative of not drilling, thus preserving the lands? Will the people of Belize greatly benefit from the royalties collected from the company? Will Toledo gets if fair share of development, educational and economic wise? Or will just a “select few” benefit from this?
That brings us to the people of Toledo. We are very poor, financially, but we are rich with natural resources. However, we are not utilizing these resources properly to receive the greatest benefit. I honestly think that if US Capital Energy Belize drill for oil in a sustainable manner and help to “spark” the Toledo economy, then yes, it would be outstanding! The Indigenous People must come together and decide their future: should we agree to support the oil company that would aid us in providing jobs and future economic development? Or should we preserve our lands for future generations of traditional living? The question is: will the future generations want to live on traditional lands, and occupying traditional ways of life? Or will they prefer living in the cities and sporting urban features?
I am very sure that US Capital Energy Belize Limited has good intentions to help the local Toledo economy. They have been doing quite good this far, in providing jobs, and regulating the economy. The big question I ask again is: will the success of drilling for oil in Sarastoon Temash outweigh the alternative of not drilling, thus preserving the lands?
This I leave for you to decide as I am not an oil expert. This is only an objective analysis on my part.
Executive Director/TV Host
Teens Belize Organization/Developing Toledo TV Show