The Barrow Administration has been served a stern and unequivocal warning of looming civil disobedience by conservation groups and activists who are lobbying for a ban on offshore drilling and oil exploration in protected areas.
The activists, belonging to the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage, held a press briefing on Tuesday morning to publicly scold Prime Minister Dean Barrow for his January 5th statement that his Government will allow oil drilling in the Sarstoon Temash National Park, if oil companies are prepared to do so.
The Prime Minister had already been responded to by a letter dated from the leader of the national park’s management organisation, Gregory Cho’c, who said that the PM’s assertion that the Supreme Court would not object based on a past ruling, was inaccurate and misleading.
Unlike other times when he has been challenged, Cho’c’s letter is yet to get a response or “clarification” from the PM.
Tuesday’s press conference demonstrated that Cho’c was not alone. The members of the Belize Coalition, which includes the Association of Protected Areas Management Organisations, COLA, Oceana, the National Trade Union Congress of Belize, Belize Tourism Industry Association, among many others, stood in solidarity to send a clear message: “No oil drilling!”
Cho’c said there was already evidence of environmental damage to the Sarstoon Temash national park from exploration studies already conducted by the oil company, and drilling for oil would be even more detrimental.
Cho’c indicated that no one is convinced that the oil industry is benefitting Belizeans. Cho’c said he recognised that Government has legal contracts with foreign companies, but, he said, so too do they have binding contracts with the people of Belize to protect our natural heritage.
“So Hon. Prime Minister, you have said you will not 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 it is written on? We know the choices are difficult; but we must never abandon the duties thrust upon us by our future generations. I hope you will choose to stand with us and reason with us,” remarked Cho’c.
One group tired of attempting to ‘reason’ with the Prime Minister is COLA. Its former Chairman, Geovannie Brackett, who is now the Coordinator for the Belize Coalition was livid in his demands that the Prime Minister should withdraw before it is too late.
“It is time for our people to rise up. It is only when we come together and move in the direction of unity and be willing to pay the price and make the sacrifice for freedom that we will see justice roll in this nation…It [Government] continues the hope that this will blow over. But let me promise you this. The hell of a storm that is coming – this won’t pass over so quickly.”
Brackett then warned that members of the Coalition stood ready for civil disobedience. “We are willing to stand in front of the PM’s house, to protest in front of the PM’s office, the National Assembly. We won’t abide by no 8 to 5. We will stay and we will bring the heat until every contract is being revoked,” he declared.
On Wednesday, Oceana revealed that the Barrow Administration is contemplating the granting of over a million acres of marine waters for offshore exploration. The area was recently held by the Taiwanese group, OPIC, but relinquished based on findings that there was no oil. “The Government should not engage in any new offshore leasing until the matter is taken to referendum to the Belizean people,” stated Oceana’s Audrey Matura-Shepherd.