Greg Ch’oc roughed up during [...]

Greg Ch’oc muzzled at oil drilling “consultation” – Whose side is Public Officer Martin Alegria on?

Greg Ch’oc roughed up during EIA consultation last Thursday

Toledo District, October 29, 2012

We already know how disrespectful the Barrow Administration treats our Maya people. In 2009, the Prime Minister’s ex-wife attorney Lois Young-Barrow was paid big money to argue why the Maya in the Toledo District are not entitled to customary land rights. The UDP Government has been fronting for big money oil companies. Young-Barrow went as far as saying that the Mayas in Toledo are not the real indigenous people of Belize. Imagine that!

The Court rejected the Government’s position and declared that the Maya do have customary rights and should therefore be consulted before anyone, even the Government, tries to do anything with the land. Of course, in Belize there is one man who has the face of brass to defy the Courts. Despite the ruling, Prime Minister Dean Barrow has declared that he supports and will allow oil drilling anywhere in Toledo, even in protected areas.

This is the background to the latest chapter of war between the Maya people of Toledo and the UDP Government which seems to be protecting the interests of the oil company, U.S. Capital Energy Ltd. The oil company intends to carry out exploratory drilling for oil inside the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. Last Thursday, the Government and US Capital held an Environmental Impact Assessment consultation for the public, even though groups including the Maya Leader’s Alliance (MLA), Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) and the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage had called for more time to review the document.

Despite the request, the “consultation” went ahead at 5pm on Thursday, October 25th, in the village of Sundaywood and from all indications it was really a staged event which muzzled participants and prohibited the freedom of speech.

Reports and video footage received by the BELIZE TIMES shows that numerous public speakers were cut off in the middle of their contributions. This is after representatives of the oil company took hours to make their presentations.

The crowd erupted in anger when Greg Ch’oc, who is the Executive Director of SATIIM, was interrupted by the Government’s Chief Environmental Officer, Martin Alegria. Video footage shows Alegria, a public officer who should be impartial, reaching for the microphone in an attempt to remove it from Ch’oc.

Alegria’s action is disturbing. He sits on the National Environmental Appraisal Council (NEAC) as the Chairman. This is the body which will decide whether or not U.S. Capital can go ahead with its “exploratory drilling” inside the national park and other Maya village.

Ch’oc was not the only one interrupted. Other speakers were also pulled away from the microphone. One of the elder Maya Leaders was abruptly stopped as he prayed in Maya language for his colleagues to make the right choices. Others were pulled outside the “consultation” hall by the Police when they refused to shut up. It appears anyone who opposed the exploratory drilling plans and wished to express their concerns was targeted for muzzling.

A release issued by the the Maya Leaders’ Alliance (MLA) and the the Toledo Alcaldes Association (TAA) on Tuesday, October 30th, condemned the Government of Belize for “disrespecting” the Maya people.

The MLA accused the oil company and the Government of demonstrating “blatant and utter disregard for the Maya leadership”. The release continued, “They view our people and leadership as if we are for sale and expendable”.

The NEAC met today to consider U.S. Capital’s request, but up to news time the BELIZE TIMES had not confirmed whether it was approved.

The Maya Leaders have pledged to continue the fight and say that the actions of the Government “will not stand unchallenged”.

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Greg Ch’oc muzzled at oil drilling “consultation” – Whose side is Public Officer Martin Alegria on?

Greg Ch’oc roughed up during [...]

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Greg Ch’oc roughed up during [...]

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