Laura Burns

Laura Burns (The Sarstoon Temash Institute for Indigenous Management - SATIIM): For her undergraduate studies, Laura attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she majored in International Studies and Environmental Studies. At the time of her fellowship, Laura was studying International Development at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, Denver University, with a concentration in Environmental, Sustainable Development in Latin America and Humanitarian Assistance. Laura has volunteered for sustainable ecotourism in Costa Rica, and In Ecuador for Fundación Runa, a fair trade organic tea company. After her fellowship Laura wrote: "The best aspect of my fellowship was, by far, working with the women of Santa Teresa. I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend time with the women. I was reminded that what I enjoy most is really talking to people, listening to what they have to say, and sharing it with others. I was reminded that sometimes, it just takes a person willing to share that story, to make someone feel great."


19 Jul

Disclaimer: This blog entry is fact-filled, but it is laying the foundation for the next blog!

A few blog entries ago, I touched on the many issues facing residents in the Toledo District, especially the communities surrounding the Sarstoon Temash National Park in which SATIIM works. Of great interest to these communities, and in turn SATIIM, is the prospect of oil drilling by U.S. Capital Energy (USCE). I’ve held off on writing this blog entry primarily because the issue is complicated, and you get different information everywhere you turn when attempting to do research. After reading multiple Supreme Court Cases and the 2000 Petroleum Act, I feel like I may be on the edge of understanding. I’ll do my best to explain what I have unearthed so far.

In 2005 the Belizean government granted U.S. Capital Energy permission to drill for oil in Sarstoon Temash National Park, on lands traditionally held by Maya and Garifuna Indigenous Peoples. SATIIM and the indigenous communities came out strong against USCE, institutionalizing, through a 2006 Supreme Court Case, the use of environmental impact assessments in Belize, and in a 2007 Supreme Court Case securing indigenous land rights for the communities of Santa Cruz and Conejo. In 2010, these rights were secured for all Maya communities in Toledo. The 2007 and 2010 court cases ordered that all the communities had collective and individual rights to the land and resources they had historically occupied. This ruling, while importantly granting indigenous land rights, raises a point of confusion. It clearly states that Indigenous Peoples have a right to resources (i.e. petroleum), while the 2000 Petroleum Act states that the government owns all subsurface land rights, meaning the government owns the petroleum. This contradiction, in addition to the government’s ongoing appeal of the 2010 case, places indigenous communities in a rather precarious position.

Within this position, the 2007 and 2010 court cases provide indigenous communities with one bargaining chip: free, prior, and informed consent. According to the Supreme Court rulings and in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, before the government or third parties begin any activities on indigenous land, they must first have free, prior, and informed consent from the communities. Basically, this means that companies must ask for permission before beginning their work, that they must fully inform communities of their activities and the outcomes of these activities before they begin, and that they cannot buy approval. From there, it is up to the community to decide what to do with that information, and whether or not they want to welcome that company or deny them access to their land.

There is currently no foundation for obtaining free, prior, and informed consent, as it is a relatively new concept. This leaves organizations like SATIIM struggling to work with communities to develop the blue print. What does that consent involve? Is it the majority of the population? Is it a certain number rather than percentage? At what age does that consent start? How is consent collected? Door-to-door? Community meetings? Who is in charge of gathering signatures?

While in its infancy, free, prior, and informed consent is one of the only tools communities have when dealing with large international companies. It is for that reason that communities need to be guaranteed a process for achieving consent. As you’ll read in a future blog post, the need for free, prior, and informed consent has been ignored continuously by USCE, with USCE illegally cutting seismic lines throughout the region. These lines are not just dividing and scarring the environment, but also dividing and scarring communities.

Posted By Laura Burns

Posted Jul 19th, 2012

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