Belize: Photo story - Oil drilling on Maya and Garifuna land
Toledo, Belize, is the ancestral homeland of indigenous Maya people and Afro-descendant Garifuna people. Under human rights law, the government of Belize must recognize and protect the rights of Maya and Garifuna peoples to their traditional land.
But without consulting Maya or Garifuna, the government has opened Toledo to oil drilling by USCapital Energy Belize, Ltd. The government has ignored decisions by domestic and international tribunals instructing it to stop oil exploration on Maya land.
Chelsea Purvis, MRG’s Legal Fellow, travelled to Toledo in March and April 2013. She visited ten Maya and Garifuna communities to ask residents how oil exploration activities have affected them.
Click on the images below to view a gallery of photos from her trip.
You can read more about her findings in MRG’s new report, ‘Suddenly we have no more power’: Oil drilling on Maya and Garifuna land in Belize.
Click on image for larger view
Maya and Garifuna communities of Toledo rely on local natural resources to preserve their way of life. I visited this traditional Maya home, made of materials gathered from the local environment. A solar panel provides a sustainable source of energy, and a thatched roof keeps the home cool. MRG-GAL-3054Download High Res Download Low Res
I enjoyed a delicious meal made with ingredients produced in this Maya village. Maya practise subsistence agriculture known as milpa, a form of shifting cultivation that preserves soil fertility. Garifuna are expert small-scale fisherpeople. MRG-GAL-3055Download High Res This file may be low resolution. Please check before using it for print Download Low Res
Maya and Garifuna people also depend on local natural resources to preserve their unique cultures. Here a man competes in a palm weaving competition at a cultural festival. MRG-GAL-3056Download High Res Download Low Res
Incense fills the air as Maya perform a traditional dance celebrating their heritage. MRG-GAL-3057Download High Res This file may be low resolution. Please check before using it for print Download Low Res
To reach one village, I made an hour-long journey by foot through the Sarstoon-Temash area. Maya and Garifuna communities have traditionally accessed the Sarstoon-Temash area to gather medicinal plants, fish, and hunt. In 1994, the government secretly converted nearly 42,000 acres in this region into government land, the Sarstoon-Temash National Park (STNP). It did not seek community consent. MRG-GAL-3058Download High Res This file may be low resolution. Please check before using it for print Download Low Res
The government is allowing US Capital to use the Temash River as a water source for drilling. When I passed over the river, I saw children swimming and people bathing and washing their clothing here. Nearby residents told me that the river is a major source of food. MRG-GAL-3059Download High Res Download Low Res
For years, the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for Indigenous Management (SATIIM) has co-managed the STNP. They provide the day-to-day protection of the park. Garifuna and Maya rangers like this one patrol the park for poachers and monitor the health of park species. But the government recently terminated its co-management agreement with SATIIM and has blocked rangers from accessing the park. MRG-GAL-3060Download High Res Download Low Res
Meanwhile, Maya and Garifuna residents told me that US Capital has campaigned aggressively to build its popularity in Toledo. This interferes with Maya and Garifuna communities' right to freely consent to development on their ancestral land. In this road sign, US Capital promises that it is 'working for the community.' MRG-GAL-3061Download High Res This file may be low resolution. Please check before using it for print Download Low Res
Communities told me that US Capital has made unrealistic promises of employment, aired radio advertisements, visited communities frequently without sharing accurate information, and lobbied traditional leaders. US Capital has also provided large gifts to communities, such as the second floor of this government school in village Crique Sarco. These activities interfere with communities' right to exercise free, prior and informed consent to development on their land. MRG-GAL-3062Download High Res This file may be low resolution. Please check before using it for print Download Low Res
I left Toledo convinced that the government of Belize must recognize the rights of Garifuna and Maya over their traditional lands and resources, and it must respect these rights. US Capital should immediately cease oil exploration on Maya and Garifuna ancestral land. MRG-GAL-3063Download High Res Download Low Res