Monday, January 31, 2011

Kimano, son of Denys - Oil Prospector!

 Posted: 28/01/2011 - 10:32 AM

Author: Adele Ramos -

Amandala received a revised printed version of Belize’s petroleum contracts map on Wednesday, January 26, showing that a major concession—the largest onshore block—has been granted to a newly formed company, Paradise Energy Limited, whose shareholders are listed as Alfredo Acosta and Kimano Barrow, nephew of Prime Minister Barrow and son of Justice Denys Barrow. The company (in which Barrow holds 50% stake) was formed less than a year ago.

Kimano Barrow, Commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission, confirmed via phone that he is a shareholder of the company, but he told us that he has no further comment at this time.

Before we could ask the younger Barrow why he has invested in a concession for an area that government experts have publicly declared has “no petroleum potential,” he dismissed our call, saying he only returned our call because he thought we were calling him about something important.

Amandala was unable to reach Acosta, who we understand has interest in another petroleum concession granted under the People’s United Party administration.

The concession area which Barrow and Acosta have acquired spans the Maya Mountain Massif, and includes some of Belize’s most prized forests, particularly the area spanning the Chiquibul, where gold prospects are said to be very promising. (See map)

In our July 1, 2010, headline story captioned “Broke, no experience, but gets oil concession!!” we had reported on a statement made to us by Director of Geology and Petroleum, Andre Cho, that no contracts were given out for the Maya Mountains area, because it is not a sedimentary basin.

A Canadian company going by the name Centam Canadian Energy Corporation had, nonetheless, won a concession for the Maya Mountains under the Musa administration in January 2008.

Cho had told Amandala back in July 2010 that that company, owned by an Arab, Bassam Al-Sarraj, was a “fly by night” venture. “He got it under [Florencio] Marin,” Cho said, claiming that there is no petroleum potential in that portion of Belize.

He had also told Amandala that the Canadian company did not pay the first year of fees and the concession was cancelled. The BZ$300,000 that comes in yearly from such concessions is “enough to pay some bills,” Cho had told us.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow told Amandala this evening when we asked him about Paradise Energy Limited that “the name doesn’t ring a bell.” When we told him that his nephew is a shareholder, he said, “I don’t know about that.”

The Minister of Natural Resources, Gaspar Vega, who Amandala was unable to reach today, brings those contracts to Cabinet, and if the company got a concession, then it would have had to have been after Cabinet consideration, said the Prime Minister.

If indeed Kimano got a concession, then “bully for him,” Prime Minister Barrow commented, saying that his nephew would have gotten the contract “fair and square.”

He went on to say that he is sure that the concession is “in some low potential area.”

He insists that Toledo is the most promising part of the country for petroleum exploration, and reiterates his government’s position that it will allow petroleum exploration onshore Belize—not barring such activities in protected areas.

This Tuesday, the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage held a press conference to reiterate its call on Government to ban petroleum exploration offshore Belize and inside protected areas.

For Barrow, the Supreme Court has already established that petroleum exploration can be done inside protected areas. He said that he will await the results of a national referendum, for which the Coalition is calling, to finally decide how to proceed with new petroleum contracts offshore.

Yesterday, Oceana issued a call on Government to not issue any further offshore contracts in light of its finding that the Chinese Petroleum Corporation, owned by the state of Taiwan, had relinquished its entire offshore concession for 1.139 million acres. The contract was acquired through CPC’s overseas arm — Overseas Petroleum Investment Corporation.

Oceana says, “Among the reasons OPIC is abandoning its lease is the growing public opposition to any oil exploration and development that would harm the country’s prized barrier reef.”

It points out that the government did not make this relinquishment public—but neither did the government report that concession areas in Orange Walk for two other companies—RSM Production Corporation of the USA and West Bay Belize Limited—were also vacated during 2010, our newspaper has observed.

“A hell of a storm is coming”: Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage

Posted: 28/01/2011 - 10:20 AM

Author: Adele Ramos -

Maya activist and environmentalist Greg Ch’oc had the support of the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage and the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations (APAMO) at a press conference held in Belize City Tuesday morning, at which he made an ardent appeal to Prime Minister Dean Barrow to reason with them to revisit Government’s policy of permitting petroleum exploration across the entire length and breadth of Belize, including protected areas, which comprise 26% of national territory.

The issue has come to the fore after the Prime Minister said in recent media interviews that drilling could proceed in Toledo on the concession area for which US Capital Energy, a US-based company with operations in both Belize and neighboring Guatemala, has a contract.

However, Ch’oc argues that whereas the government has a contract with the oil companies, it also has a contract with the people of Belize—one that is just as valid and binding.

“So, Mister Prime Minister, you have said that you won’t break legitimate contracts. Is it, then, that our laws which bind and commit us as a people to protect our natural wonders not worth the paper [they are] written on? Furthermore, [are] the international conventions that Belize has signed on also rendered meaningless in this country? Are you saying that the only legitimate contracts recognized by the government are those signed to accommodate special interest groups at a specific time?” he questioned.

Ch’oc points out that through the laws of the land, the government has limited access of people living in Toledo to protected areas, such as the Sarstoon Temash National Park, which he helps to manage.

“Through the instrument of law, these communities that live around protected areas have been denied their traditional resources for their livelihood by denying them access to these protected areas. Therefore, government has a moral and legal obligation to respect these protected area laws and honor the sacrifice our communities keep making,” he commented.

Although PM Barrow has so far not responded to Ch’oc’s letter expressing concern over his recent statement in the media about drilling in the South, Ch’oc is extending an appeal to the Prime Minister to revisit his position. He said that he is still hoping for a response from Barrow.

“I hope you will choose to stand with us and recognize our contract and reason with us,” Ch’oc said, directing his public comments to the Prime Minister. “We are all aware of the state of our economy. It requires bold and swift action. The actions we take must not only be for the purpose of creating jobs, but must lay the foundation for dignity, equality and opportunity for all our people. Rebuilding our economy requires innovation and creativity—certainly not by destroying its foundation.”

According to Yvette Alonzo, APAMO executive director, petroleum exploitation and exploration entail the construction of roads and infrastructure, deforestation and biodiversity loss, contamination of water and soil, among other impacts.

“By virtue of their protected status, these protected areas should remain free from destructive human intervention,” said Alonzo. “We cannot get away from the fact that oil exploration and exploitation often requires lots of construction which can destroy natural environments.”

She added that, “APAMO strongly believes that as a country, we need to have areas that are off-limits to oil exploration and production—and protected areas should be one of such areas...”

She expressed the view that petroleum exploration is not the economic solution for Belize. It has been proven worldwide that foreign-owned oil companies garner the bulk of revenues, while locals and their governments get a small percentage, she said, adding that “oil will not last forever.”

As an umbrella organization which represents SATIIM and other non-governmental organizations that partner with the government to manage protected areas across Belize, APAMO issued a call on the government “to do the right thing”—that is, to ban petroleum exploration in protected areas, onshore or offshore, and world heritage sites, such as the barrier reef that spans offshore Belize.

“APAMO is seriously concerned about the negative impacts [that] oil exploration and exploitation inside our protected areas would have on its rich biodiversity and most importantly on its critical ecosystems services, which would, in turn, affect the people of Belize,” she stated.

“The clear position of APAMO is that these activities are incompatible with the objectives of our protected areas legislation,” she added. “Furthermore, the government has failed to develop a policydealing with protected order to protect these precious resources.”

Alonzo also pointed out that the government does not have the proper legal framework or the human and technological capacity needed to meet the demands that would be created by the impending petroleum exploration projects.

Geovanni Brackett, speaking for the Coalition, said: “We are here to take a proactive measure. Maybe it should have been done a decade ago; maybe it should have been done years ago—but it’s happening now. And the government today has the opportunity to adhere, to show its people that it is willing to listen, to show its people that it will not carry on with its status quo and continue to have the same oppressive system....”

The risk of serious accidents—including mass casualties—is real, Brackett also stated, citing a series of international incidents. The Coalition also presented a video exposing the lingering effects of oil exploration and abandoned well pits left by Texaco on indigenous tribes in Ecuador.

“The threats are real, and don’t let the oil companies fool you. Damages, deaths, explosions, accidents can occur at all levels of operation—whether exploration, production, transportation,” said Brackett.

Close to home was the accidental death, which our newspaper had reported on last year, of a worker, Allen Bonnell, who was killed when an oil rig capsized as it was being towed to Big Creek. That oil rig, said Brackett, is owned by Island Oil but was built at Shipyard in Belize.

The Niger Delta petroleum operations are infamous for the negative repercussions they have had on the lives of locals, and, according to Brackett, there was no comprehensive strategic plan in place there. Companies moved into sensitive habitats, including areas vital to fish breeding. That, he said, sounds similar to how things are being approached in Belize right now. He said that Belize has no framework to protect people and national resources.

“We are being led by a government straight on to a financial hell, and if we as a people will not stand up, if we as a people do not get informed and start a move to action, the government will continue with its intention to drill,” Brackett commented. “And it’s not that we are scared of technology; it’s not that we are scared of development—it’s because we are scared of the very same oppressive system that has continued to drag us down this road.

“It is because we know how the financial minds of most of these companies have acted in the past and how they continue to act that makes us take a stand, and we are calling on our government to protect our people first and foremost.”

Rather than letting the oil companies dictate the policies of the day, it is the people that should dictate how they want their government to run, he said.

“This government, like Pontius Pilate, cannot wash its hands and pretend as if though it is clean, when it has been guilty of defending the status quo. Our entire country continues to be on sale to the oil companies—every single inch!” Brackett commented.

“There are so many areas of Belize that have not been explored outside of protected areas, and I can’t believe...we have blocked out our people for years from out of our protected areas, and yet now we open fully to the oil companies. It doesn’t make sense to me!” he remarked.

Ch’oc said that SATIIM has not ruled out the option of taking the government to court over the matter. In 2006, it won a partial victory when it got the court to stall seismic testing in Toledo until an Environmental Impact Assessment could be completed. Government is of the view that the EIA also covers exploration drilling in the same area.

Deon “Ras Pitta” Pitter, who attended the press conference, presented a copy of the 2008 general election manifesto of the ruling United Democratic Party, and read from the section that deals with oil and energy—promises which he deems to be a valid contract with the voters who elected them to power.

In that document, the ruling party spoke of ensuring proper management of the industry that will increase standards of living and help realize citizens’ dreams of a prosperous future.

“I don’t want to hear anything about any offshore drilling. Let us solve this situation here first before we even go there. This is what I voted for the government for,” said Ras Pitta.

The manifesto promised that the UDP will, among other things, revisit existing agreements to guarantee equitable return to all Belizeans; offer shares in a national oil company so the masses of people can have a prosperous stake in the petroleum wealth; increase the number of scholarships in relevant fields; and establish an office of energy responsible for regulating the petroleum industry.

In that manifesto, the UDP also said there would be a review of the petroleum contracts that had been signed, in an effort to improve the benefits to the Belizean people.

Dean Barrow and the UDP contracted this with the people, he added. “If Barrow and the government stand up for the things promised, I will stand with them too,” he said.

Ch’oc said that rather than revisiting the contracts as the UDP had promised in its manifesto, the Barrow administration back in 2008 simply extended the expired contract of US Capital Energy.

Ch’oc said that this is a matter that all Belizeans should care about—not only the people of Toledo: “Today, it might be the Sarstoon Temash National Park; tomorrow, it might be right in front of Belize City.” he said.

Friday, January 28, 2011



January 25, 2011
The organizations, namely the Sarstoon-Temash Institute for indigenous Movement, SATIIM, the Association of Protected Areas Management Organizations, APAMO and the Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage, continue to stand firm in their opposition to oil exploration in protected areas and off shore. Their fight now has been thrust into a stronger sense of urgency following a statement made by the Prime Minister, Dean Barrow earlier this month where he said oil drilling will be permitted at the Sarstoon-Temash National Park. SATIIM’s Executive Director Greg Choc says the statement was irresponsible.
Greg Choc – Executive Director, SATIIM
“I said the statement was irresponsible, inaccurate and misleading as it relates to the SATIIM versus Forestry Department judgment of 2006. I stand by my words.Through the instrument of law these communities that live around protected areas have been denied their traditional resources for their livelihoods by denying them access to these protected areas. Therefore, government has a moral and legal obligation to respect these protected areas law and honor the sacrifice our communities make and keep making. So honorable Prime minister you have said you will not break legitimate contract. Is it then that our laws which mind and commit us as a people to protect our natural wonders not worth the paper it is written on? Furthermore are the international conventions that Belize has signed on also rendered meaningless in this country? Are you saying that the only legitimate contracts recognized by government are those signed to accommodate special interest groups at a specific time?”
Coordinator at APAMO, Yvette Alonzo says the government should be more committed to respecting the protected areas legislation.
Yvette Alonzo – Coordinator, APAMO

“APAMO strongly believes that as a country we need to have areas that are off limits to oil exploration and production and protected areas should be one of such areas. After so many years of conservation efforts and resources invested in these protected areas by conservation groups, the international community the government and the people of Belize it is unacceptable for any oil company to pursue profits with total disrespect for both our protected area and the people of Belize. Furthermore the government has failed to develop a policy dealing with protected areas and oil exploration in order to protect the country’s precious resources. The government does not have the proper legal framework nor the human and technological capacity to protect the natural resources and the people from oil exploration and production.”
Geovannie Brackett, Chairman for Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage adds they are not completely against oil exploration but says parameters need to be set.
Geovannie Brackett – Chairman, Belize Coalition to Save our Natural Heritage
“Where exploration extraction is considered, we must ensure that the highest environmental standards are adhered to. But let us not confirm our debate to only the environmental as ecological aspect but government should ensure the people of Belize must benefit significantly from the oil industry. We are not saying no completely to oil, but conduct it to benefit the people, let it be done in a safe manner, with parameters to protect our people.”

When asked whether they have considered joining in the development of policies or framework to protect Belize’s natural resources should their efforts prove futile, this was Choc’s response.

Greg Choc – Executive Director, SATIIM

“If we embrace what you are saying, in fact we have become like the politicians because we want to amend the law, we want to circumvent the law for personal interest when we should be looking at the interest of this country.”

At this juncture, Choc says they are hoping the Prime Minister heeds to their cause.

Greg Choc – Executive Director, SATIIM

“I hope he stand with us; I hope he reasons with us because I think what binds us together is our commonness, our wish to safeguard and protect Belize, what we call home. Rebuilding our economy requires innovation and creativity, certainly not by destroying its foundation”.

SATIIM Executive Director, Greg Choc added that they maintain their options open in terms of the next action they will take in their protest against oil exploration in protected areas in the country.

Oceana Victory: Oil company gives up concession on sea

Jan 26, 2011

Oceana Victory: Oil company gives up concession on sea

Oceana has scored a major victory in its battle to preserve the Barrier Reef. There have been about seventeen companies which have been granted concessions to explore for oil on land as well as deep in our terrestrial waters. But today the N.G.O. announced that the second largest holder of a concession has backed off and relinquished its claim to drill in over a million acres of sea that spans the length of the country. According to Audrey Matura Shepherd, Oceana’s Vice President for Belize, OPIC, the Taiwanese state owned company has voluntarily released its block of one point one million acres since October.

“That is very good news that OPIC would say look we are stepping out of this game. And our understand is through certain channels and sources that two main reasons. One being; after they looked at the seismic and all the data and heavy study that had been done previously and did the desk work, because you can look at previous seismic and could tell what are your chances, they don’t believe there is oil there, and if there is even, it is not worth the investment, it might be just something small. And two, apparently when they got into the agreements with governments in 2006 and then 2009, there were of the view and understanding that there is no opposition to the issue in Belize. And as such, they like that because they don’t want as a state owned oil company to come into another country that there would be this controversy that can affect relationships between the two countries. And so in 2006, there were told that there was no opposition and that don’t worry, you can go ahead. Of course, a lot has changed since 2006, because people from the embassy have been seeing our local presentations through the news and different medium and they know that the people are aware about the issue. We don’t want offshore drilling in our waters. And especially if you look at that map, you will see that they had a substantial portion from Belize City down to Dangriga and it stretched the entire barrier system there. So now that’s being released and I think that’s good.”

Jose Sanchez

audrey matura-shepherd

“This is clearly a victory for Oceana, environmentalists and people who care about the reef itself, but throughout this entire time, we were all under the impression that OPIC still had that million plus body of water. What is the significance now of this information coming out?”

Audrey Matura Shepherd

“Well it serves a major problem for the government if we believe what the government has been saying. Remember the Prime Minister has said in several interview some of them with yourself that yes we may be calling for these contracts to be made null and void but they wouldn’t go and do that because they would suffer serious legal repercussions because imagine if we break these contracts—this is not a B.T.L. situation and so we will honor these contracts because these are valid contracts. And so now with OPIC gone, without the contract being withdrawn from them or nullified, they had left. So this means that the Prime Minister doesn’t have to worry that OPIC will sue them because OPIC left on their own. And it means the second thing, what we’ve been saying is, do not give out the area, do not reissue. If they feel that there is a need to really comprehensively study the aspects of offshore drilling in Belize, it has to be, we would strongly recommend after the referendum. What we are saying through the petition drive we have is that Belizeans should be given an opportunity to vote on the issue—to say yes we want offshore drilling or no we don’t want offshore drilling. Now we in good faith, if the government is really talking to us in good faith, they would say this area is free and we will not do anything with it until we hear from the people.”

Matura Shepherd says OCEANA is calling for a referendum on the issue. OCEANA has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister and has also sent letters to key personnel in related ministries. The letter calls for a dialogue instead of any new issuances of contract for the area once parceled off to OPIC.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Open Letter to Prime Minister Dean Barrow

Dear Prime Minister Barrow,

In a recent interview with the media, on January 7, 2011 with Channel 5 Belize, you stated:

“…In terms of the national parks, we are hopeful that the U.S. Capital Energy people in the south will be able to proceed. Everything is coming up roses in terms of seismic that has been shot. And I’m telling you, since that matter has already went to court, if they say they are ready to drill they will be allowed to drill. That matter I was involved in the issue when it went before Mister Justice Awich and that’s been cleared and so I believe that’s also part of your breech. But while I can’t give you a definitive position on offshore, I am giving you a definitive position on that one. Drilling will be permitted.”

I am shocked that you would make such inaccurate statements about the Supreme Court ruling. As former Lead Council for SATIIM, you shouldn’t have to be reminded of the the 2006 Supreme Court Decision regarding SATIIM v the Government of Belize.   That case was specific to the seismic testing aspect of oil exploration in the Sarstoon Temash National Park (STNP).   You said so yourself in a September 28, 2006 interview with Love FM:

“…we asked for the decision of the forest department to issue that permit be quashed. It has been quashed. The sole release sought was the quashing of the permission granted by the forest department to the US Capitol energy to enter the national park and to conduct and to conduct seismic surveys.That permission has been quashed.” 

SATIIM wanted the Supreme Court to find seismic testing (setting off explosives below the ground to generate seismic waves to test for oil) illegal in the park.  However,  the court accepted seismic testing as “research” as provided for in the National Parks Act.   The court quashed the permission granted by the Forest Department because by law it required an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Hon. Prime Minister, your statement to the press gives the public the perception that the court also gave a green light for oil drilling inside the national park.  Your statement is not only irresponsible, but also inaccurate and misleading.    It is not a done deal Mr. Prime Minister. 

Respectfully yours

Gregory Ch’oc

SATIIM's Environmental Education Program

Satiim Science Fair 2010

DM2009 Proposal 1401 - Belize

Land, Value and Economic Development in Toledo

By Gregory Choc, 16 June 1996

"May the spirit of Mother Earth watch over her children."
Today most of us live in a capitalist world where land is regarded as a commodity,-something that has an exchange value and can be traded. This attitude has alienated land from man: man has relinquished his proper role of stewardship and protector of land resources. This is one reason why the plea to save the rainforests, the home of the Aboriginal people of Central America often seems to be something belonging to another time. In the present age of "progress," the concern about Aboriginal ties to the land often seem to be anachronistic.
The propriety attitude of land ownership usually destroys land stewardship, since the owners of land often buy and sell land as an economic commodity, with little concern for such matters of environmental degradation, pollution, erosion and so on. This unfortunate "Euro-American" attitude to land use is gaining ground in Belize; and, in many cases, is being supplemented by the present Asiatic attitude to land use, which is to grab what you can from the environment and take off. In the specific case of Belize, something even more sinister may be in progress.
The Asiatic money that is, with Belize Government consent, backing the attack on our Toledo Forests will have a serious effect on the Mayas. Their attitude about land is different and has evolved over a time scale of many centuries. Maize (corn) has long been the basic food crop and is almost considered as a "gift from God" since their earliest days. It is still considered a sacred crop. Land that can grow corn is still important for the Mayas and they have evolved an agronomic system using forest fallowing to ensure that the soils remain reasonably fertile. Their system provides the nearest thing to sustainable production of essential food crops in most of Central America. Despite years of agricultural use, the land is still largely clothed in forest. To turn loose Asiatic entrepreneurs to destroy the Mayan agricultural system (and the cultural value that go with it) is something about which all Belizeans should be ashamed.
It has not escaped the notice of the Mayas that most of the local Asiatic stooges are from our own East Indian (Asiatic in origin) ethnic population, who have never had much to do with environmental conservation. They are "front" men used to help legalize the activity of the Taiwanese entrepreneurs. In effect, there is a battle in progress in Toledo between an Indigenous (to Central America) ethnic group who care about how they treat the land and have no wish to sell or buy land, and foreign ethnic invaders who think of land only as a means of making profit by acquisition and subsequent sale - something Mayas simply cannot understand or approve of. For the Mayas the "value" of land and its resources is life itself - something priceless. For centuries the Mayas derived their food, clothing and shelter from the land. The system of government, religion and beliefs sprang from the intimate relationship with the land. The cultural identity is still tied to the land - therefore a land base is vital for the continuity of the Mayas. We have seen what happened to native people and their land since 1492.
What needs to be understood is the centuries of betrayals. When woodcutters were extracting hardwood from the forest of British Honduras, they wanted only the wood. It was not the wood, but its effect that enabled other parties to exploit the Mayas and the resources of their land. We are not against 'progress' or development per se, but there is the need to find a fair solution to the cultural orientations underlying the land conflict in Toledo.
The ideological, spiritual and economic relation of the Mayas to the land has meant that land and its resources are perhaps the most decisive element to ensure successful economic development. It is critical if the Mayas are to successfully pursue traditional forms of economic life, since development programs supported by government continued to cause social and cultural stress to the Mayas.
For development to benefit the Mayas it is critical for them to actively participate in all levels in any and all development so that they benefit from any development. This specifically important to development which affects the land and the livelihood earned from it, so that the Mayas participate in the economic benefits which flow from such projects.
Sad to say that the logging madness rampant in Toledo by unscrupulous business interests aided and abetted by the government is not benefitting the Mayas or the economy of Belize. If the Ministry of Natural Resources believes that based on the economic needs of Toledo they decided to make the concession more favorable to Atlantic Industries Ltd. then they must be 'nuts', because only the Asiatic conglomerate will reap the millions from Toledo's resources.
All the Asiatic loggers are doing is creating an irreversible ecological nightmare for the Mayas. At the same time disorienting Mayas' environmental concepts which centers on the preservation of the Maya Culture. The Mayas are fighting back by strongly opposing the logging concessions. For now this is the only means by which the Mayas are defending their habitat against the drastic changes associated with commercial logging to ensure free access to the natural resources in Toledo upon which the Maya Culture depends. Through their various organizations they are demanding to have more political input into decisions made about developments in Toledo. Their organizations are working hard and in many ways to foster the survival of the Maya Culture.
The Mayas are endangered by the exploitation of the resources of their land. Can the Mayan People survive this attack or will they become part of the statistics as another victim of ethnocide in the world today? The government, by consistently justifying its position is indicating that the Mayan People are too poor to contribute anything worthwhile to the Belizean economy and are a worthless ethnic burden. Li Kawa chi iloc re xbehen li ka tyuam.


 Since 2008, SATIIM has been piloting community-based forest management in Q'eqchi' Maya communities of southern Belize.  In 2009, SATIIM won the World Bank Development Marketplace Award for it's work in the communities.  Funding was provided for a third initiative in the community of Crique Sarco.