EO travels to Belize to meet with Maya leaders

On the 22 and 23 of August, Equitable Origin President David Poritz and VP of Standards and Stakeholder Engagement Soledad Mills traveled to Belize with James Anaya, former UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to meet with the Maya Leaders Alliance and the Toledo Alcaldes Association. Meetings took place in the town of Punta Gorda, near the Sarstoon-Temash National Park in southern Belize, where approximately 35 indigenous communities in the area have been fighting for land rights for almost three decades.

The purpose of the trip was to discuss the use of the EO100 Standard in negotiations over oil and gas exploration in the Sarstoon-Temash national park, where exploration activities began in the mid-2000s without consultation or consent from indigenous peoples.

These exploratory activities negatively impact Maya land and communities . In February 2012, explosives from seismic testing caused a forest fire that burned for a day and destroyed tracts of protected land.

Though an environmental impact assessment for the project was posted online in October 2012, the web is largely inaccessible to Maya communities and the report was not translated into local languages. When Maya leaders requested that a consultation meeting in the same month be rescheduled to allow for translation and dissemination of the 273-page assessment, the request was denied.

“It was interesting, because communities there are quite organized but they know very little about the oil and gas industry, which reflects what we have seen in Latin America,” said David Poritz. “They are really looking for support.”

The event with Equitable Origin consisted of a detailed presentation on the EO100 Standard and examples of good practices, as well as a screening of the documentary film Oil & Water . This film, which will premiere on PBS’s Global Voices channel on September 21, follows the experiences of the Cofán community in Ecuador with oil exploration in the Amazon, and documents the founding of Equitable Origin.

The groups who attended the meeting found many similarities between their own experiences with oil and gas activities and those of the Cofán, and thanked EO for the presentation.

“The work of EO is of great interest to us,” said Pablo Mis, Coordinator of the Maya Leaders Alliance. “It was important to hear from our leaders of [this] work and how it may lend itself to our efforts.”