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US Capital Energy drilling in Sarstoon-Temash National Park, Belize

Mayan and Garifuna communities opposing oil exploration; despite a Supreme Court decision, the company seems to have started operations


In 1994, the government of Belize converted an area of roughly 17,000 hectares of Maya ancestral land into the Sarstoon-Temash National Park, without holding a consultation of the Maya people residents. However, the majority of local communities quickly embraced the protected status of their land. After the conversion, the government of Belize took another turn and opened up the national park for oil exploration by a Belize-owned subsidiary of the company US Capital Energy Inc. The communities refused this initiative, pointing out the lack of consultation. The resistance against the oil exploration activities was carried out by local residents in different ways. On the one hand, communities advanced local indigenous conservation models within the park. On the other hand, they started to challenge oil permits and exploration through Belize's legal system.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:US Capital Energy drilling in Sarstoon-Temash National Park, Belize
State or province:Toledo
Location of conflict:Sarstoon Temash National Park
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Oil and gas exploration and extraction
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Specific commodities:Crude oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

US Capital Energy's project is still in its exploration phase. Drilling activities in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park have just recently begun. Expiration dates of the permits granted by the Belize government to the company have been waived and not been rendered explicitly void by the Supreme Court. The company has vowed to continue its drilling activities.

Project area:17,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:050 – 1,100 (around 900 of the Kekchi Mayas, 150-200 of the Garifuna Community)
Start of the conflict:01/01/1994
Company names or state enterprises:US Capital Energy, Inc. from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Government of Belize
International and Finance InstitutionsInter-American Commission on Human Rights
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM):
Cultural Survival:
Maya Leaders Alliance
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Mayan and Garifuna communities
Forms of mobilization:Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Air pollution, Oil spills, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Food insecurity (crop damage), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Violations of human rights, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the 2014 Supreme Court decision, drilling activities in the Sarstoon-Temash National Park have recently begun. Expiration dates of the permits granted by the Belize government to the company have been waived and not been rendered explicitly void by the Supreme Court. The company has vowed to continue its drilling activities, even though the local Maya communities still oppose the project.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Consolidated Claims N° 171 and 172 of 2007, Judgment, Supreme Court of Belize, A.D. 2007
[click to view]

Claim N° 394 of 2013, Judgment, Supreme Court of Belize, A.D. 2014
[click to view]

Report N° 40/04, Case 12.053, Merits: Maya Indigenous Communities of the Toledo District, Belize, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), 12 October 2004,
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Unión Mundial Para la Naturaleza (UICN) (2006), Áreas Protegidas y Pueblos Indígeas y Tradicionalas: Diversidad de Casos en América Latina y el Caribe, prepared by Laura Meza-Morales, December 2006
[click to view]

SATIIM and Indigenous Mayan Communities Supreme Court Victory is a Victory for all Belizeans, Press Release, Oceana, 4 April 2014,
[click to view]

SATIIM and Indigenous Peoples – Another Legal Victory, Press Release, SATIIM, 4 April 2014,
[click to view]

In Support of the Rule of Law, Press Release, Oceana, 15 April 2014,
[click to view]

Indigenous Communities Challenge Big Oil in Belize, by Sandra Cuffe, Earth Island Journal, 27 October 2014,
[click to view]

Belize's Persistent Denial of Maya Land Rights, by Curtis Kline, IC Magazine, 28 July 2013,
[click to view]

US Capital Energy and Government of Belize Taunt Supreme Court SATIIM file for Injunction, Press Release, Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM), 18 March 2014,
[click to view]

Belize: Our Life, Our Lands – Respect Maya Land Rights, Cultural Survival, 1 February 2013
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1818
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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