Friday, December 16, 2011

NGO and villagers working for SEISMIC OIL Operations clash in views of use of National Park in Belize

Martin Choco has a temporary job for cash flow and disagrees with objectives of SATIIM the NGO in charge of the Toledo National Park area.
Antonio Cacul working with seismic testing for oil company. Cash in a subsistance agriculture economy is appreciated.
SATIIM does not make jobs, the oil company does, workers say.
Harvey Sandoval at odds with Conservationist SATIIM over jobs with oil company seismic testing.


clarity for our foreign readers, we attempt to paraphrase the Creole quotes in English

Sarstoon Temash: The View From The Ground

As we closed the news last night - we told you about the flood of emails that have inundated government's executive inboxes - from the Prime Minister's office to the Ministry of Natural Resources to the Belize Tourism Board.

It finally slowed to a trickle this evening - but the mails kept coming - one every few minutes - each individually sent - for about twenty six hours. We got about 500 from all over the world, from the Phillipines, Norway, Hungary, Denmark, Germany, The USA, Italy, The UK, Canada, Peru, Australia, Norway, Seychelles, Portugal, Sweden, Canada, New Zealand, Ireland Serbia, Argentina, Switzerland, Malta, Morroco, Belize, Germany, Chile, France, Slovak Republic, Belgium Mexico and Colombia.

And while each is individually signed and sent, the letters all say the same thing: and we quote:

illegal oil exploration is being pursued in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park by US Capital Energy. Drilling in protected areas, and oil exploration without local prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples, is resource corruption." End quote. And then it tells the Prime Minister: "I urge you to immediately halt all oil exploration, construction of seismic lines, and any subsequent oil production in this ecologically fragile protected area." End quote. And indeed there is a body of opinion held locally and by allies of SATIIM worldwide which is firmly and unswervingly opposed to oil exploration in the Sarstoon Temash. But the residents of five so called buffer communities of Barranco, Midway, Sundaywood, Conejo, Crique Sarco and Corazon - can't call it as cleanly as that - they are desperate for any kind of economic opportunity - and desperation is a an especially sweet spot for capitalists, or as the case may be, US Capital Energy.

But while we can moralise and philosophize, on the ground, it's always about bread and cheese - and as the following story shows, US Capital Energy is putting both on the table in that depressed area. Jules Vasquez reports:

Jules Vasquez reporting
The Temash River unfolds across southern Toledo like a ribbon - its shoulders so broad and its span so beautiful that it seems to have an almost lyrical quality… as it empties out into the sea, here at Barranco, the historic coastal village.

The river wends through the Sarstoon/Temash National Park - a vast expanse for forest - from above, it appears unspoiled, pristine but beneath the brush line - visible from this clearing - this is the trail on which Belize Capital energy is shooting seismic.

The trails go into the forest and disappear under the forest cover - there are 119 kilometers of trails like this:

Martin Choco, Permitting Agent - US Capital Energy Ltd.
"We have 119km that we are shooting. At the moment we have surveys, cutting, under brushing 4 feet trail and not cutting trees that are not more than 3 inch in diameter, under brushing using portable equipment."

This is the type of portable equipment he's talking about - which a helicopter - their own helicopter - transports from the operations base here in Barranco into the remote seismic area which are inaccessible by sea, river or land.

The endeavor employs over 100 villagers from the buffer community - They do the manual labour - like filling the helicopter, or menial jobs, like cooks and watchmen Guatemalans do the specialized labour.

But they aren't complaining - far from it, these men are happy for the work:

Antonio Cucul, Conejo Resident - Working with US Capital Energy
"I think there are 70-85 persons that are working along with this seismic; Crique Sarco, Barranco, Sunday Wood and Mid Way. Yes everybody has a job, that's why there are 10 of us who goes along with oil drillers. That's why we have over 70 people. We don't have any job, there is no salary, there is nothing that we have. We are glad that these company are here to help us to change our lives not in 5-10 years but by step by step."

The steps may be as slow as hand carrying this piece of equipment - but these employees are clear, they are happy to be working - even in the short term, and defensive about their jobs, even hostile to those who would want the seismic testing to stop:

Area resident, Working with US Capital Energy
"As usual Satiim will say that people from the villages don't want to work with oil companies. That is automatically a lie; about 20 people from each village are working right now. With this oil company we have about 150 people working right now and we have transportation so I don't see how these people are saying that we don't want to work. We need the job because we want to live a better life. Even if the company is here for 3 months, at least we get job for 3 months."

Indeed much of the resentment is directed towards SATIIM - which is trying to stop the Oil Exploration Venture:

Harvey Sandoval, Barranco Resident
"They want to shut down the oil company. I think something is wrong with their brains. They need to go check a psychiatrist. They promise sustainable and alternative livelihood of which have never been done and the people are tired of their promises."

Barranco Resident
"Look at Satiim, they have been promising, nothing comes from Satiim, nothing. The only thing that comes from them is to stop what's going on. We are tired of that. We want something concrete."

Antonio Cucul
"I was along with Satiim for 9 years, we are telling them that there is more jobs, it's for you and it's not for us. But right now we don't see any investment in the villages from Satiim. I was on the board for 9 years and nothing was change, the communities are on the same level. That's why we are supporting this company."

Harvey Sandoval
"We have never got anything that was promise from Satiim. I was a board member of Satiim but I don't see anything that they have done for my village."

Indeed, it's the most activity Barranco has seen in decades. The sleepy coastal village's populations has been steadily shrinking, but now some of the villagers have work - even if only in the short term:

Area resident, Working with US Capital Energy
It's a temporary job; it's not a full time job. The time that they sign the contract for when that time comes the job is finish then we will be going back to farming again. If we do get another opportunity again with the oil company we will be happy."

And that's how it is all over these buffer communities, living in the teeth of poverty and beset with uncertainty about the future. Those conditions produce social desperation which makes these populations vulnerable and available targets for the highest and lowest bidders. It may be regrettable but it is understandable - after all their children want to go to college too:

Antonio Cucul
"In my village some children are going to high school and some of them want to go to UB. They want some money to invest in their children to get a higher education. That's why we are working and that's why we are here to work along with this company."

And so even as the company shoots seismic into the forests, these employees want it to go further, they want oil to be found in here:

Against oil exploration
"You may pose a threat to the land which the people have lived off of for hundreds of years."

Martin Choco
"The thing is we do not have any lines crossing into communities. All the seismic lines are outside the communities."

Barranco Resident
"Now they got the ok from government, they come with something else again, we don't want to hear that, we want to see oil. We want to see the big rig come down and find the oil of whatever the seismic results are."

So the seismic shooting continues, and these workers say, those who stop it- should offer an alternative:

Antonio Cucul
"They can't stop us because, I know this guy from Sarstoon/Temash National Park - they want to stop it but they stop it. If they stop it then we don't have any more job, no more benefit, we can't send our children to school. We can't eat because there is no job in the village. There is nothing, we only do harvest, crops, farming, only that."

Martin Choco
"There is no job here. Stop this thing and what else can the people do?"

Area resident, Working with US Capital Energy
"If they want to come out and stop the oil company, they could go ahead but they must give us jobs, let us have work like how we are working now."

And that other divisive southern issue, Rosewood also factors into this story. Interestingly, Martin Choco, the Permit Agent you saw in the story says the only men he can employ from the villages are the ones who are not busy cutting Rosewood.

We were unable to reach SATIIM Executive Director Greg Choq to respond to the claims made against his organization in the story. His office informed us that he was in a community meeting in one of the villages. We were also unable to reach him on cell phone, but left a text message asking him to respond… we hope to get to talk to him tomorrow.

But SATIIM's position was made clear in a press release sent out three weeks ago. SATIIM co-manages the park and It says that the seismic testing has created what they call 'international highways' for illegal loggers and poachers. SATIIM asks that the government require American oil company US Capital Energy to cover costs to monitor and patrol this unprecedented access into the Sarstoon Temash National Park.

SATIIM claims that the new seismic lines cut across the park all the way to the Guatemalan border, providing a quick getaway for poachers and loggers.

They claims that quote, "Gangs of illegal loggers are informed of SATIIM patrols via cellular phones and are then able to use the seismic lines to reach the river and escape into Guatemala by boat without being apprehended." End quote.

SATIIM has asked that seismic testing activities be suspended until it is agreed how impacts can be mitigated. As for the electronic cluster bomb that SATIIM's international friends have unleashed upon all our inboxes with an email blitz, it's slowed down, but continues at newstime; the precise count for 420 mails in 32 hours of inundation.

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