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Belize: Respect Maya Land Rights

From (

With over 90 protected areas, Belize has earned a reputation for conservation. Its magnificent barrier reef, tropical rainforests, and ancient Maya temples make it a popular eco-tourism destination. But just how deep is its commitment to protecting its natural resources and Indigenous Peoples? Not deep enough to safeguard its second largest national park, and the Indigenous Maya and Garifuna peoples who live there, from oil drilling.

In Southern Belize, Sarstoon Temash National Park holds within its 42,000 acres the most pristine rainforest in the country. Recognized as a wetland of “international importance” by the Ramsar Convention, it is home to many endangered species, including the jaguar, manatee, neotropical river otter, and Hicatee turtle. Its primary forests have been attributed by National Geographic as remnants of the ancient Maya’s agroforestry systems, and today continue to be sustainably maintained by the Maya peoples of Southern Belize.

The Supreme Court of Belize ruled in 2007 and again in 2010 that the Maya who have ancestrally cared for these forests shall hold the legal titles to these lands. This court ruling, along with national and international laws, mandates that Indigenous peoples must give their free, prior and informed consent before any development project that may affect them. But that right has been trampled on again and again by the Texas-based oil company US Capital Energy, which received a concession from the Belize government to extract oil in Southern Belize beginning in 2001.

In further flagrant violation of the Maya land rights under national law, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and recommendations by the Inter American Human Rights Commission, the government has now granted the oil company permits to move to the second phase of exploratory drilling in the park and on Indigenous territories. US Capital Energy has so far cut over 200 miles of seismic trails for oil exploration in the national park and on communities’ traditional lands, also causing forest fires destroying 400 acres, including the unique ecosystem of the sphagnum moss, the last of its kind in Central America.

The 21,000 Indigenous people in the region are fighting to defend their traditional lands, including the national treasure of the Sarstoon Temash National Park, against this short-sighted land grab. As Gregory Ch’oc of the Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management explains, “The government is counting on our regional isolation, our poverty, and our relative lack of power to continue marginalizing and discriminating against us and violating our rights. Therefore, we are urgently calling allies of the earth’s biodiversity and Indigenous Peoples to take a stand with us and support our struggle.”

TAKE ACTION: Demand US Capital Energy and the Belize Government Respect Indigenous Peoples' Land Rights



Greengirl's picture

The struggle must continue!

Thank you for sharing this all too important and eye opening article about the injustices meted out to the Maya people. It is a clear picture/ replica of the fate of the indigenous people in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. It is really sad that governments across the world price economic returns above the damages that oil exploration does to indigenous people and their ancestral lands. The worst part of it all is that all the people have to show for such intrusion into their lands, are the many life and livelihood threatening problems of degradation that result.

I cannot help but raise the following questions:
- When will Environmental Injustice end?
- When will the continued thoughtlessness of governments end?
- Where lies the political will of leaders to protect their citizens?

The struggle by affected and concerned individuals must continue in hope that Environmental sanity will prevail!

I stand in solidarity with the indigenous Maya as well as Niger Delta peoples in my own country.


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