GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemala’s Constitutional Court upheld a decision by the executive branch to renew French oil company Perenco’s oil-drilling contract in a protected national park.
Chief Justice Roberto Molina told a press conference Friday that his court analyzed the decision by President Alvaro Colom’s administration and found nothing illegal.
The magistrate said the information provided by the government shows that it did not violate any agreement in renewing the French company’s license for another 15 years.
In its ruling, the high court denied an environmental group’s request for an injunction to void the contract.
The Center for Legal, Environmental and Social Action, or Calas, had argued that the decision to renew Perenco’s contract to drill for oil in the Laguna del Tigre National Park, in the vast northern province of Peten, was detrimental to the country’s interests.
Calas attorney Rafael Maldonado said Colom and other members of his administration who backed the contract extension violated the nation’s Hydrocarbons Law, which prohibits the government from authorizing oil contracts if they harm the national interest.
But the chief justice said the government did not break any laws in renewing the contract.
Colom, for his part defended the decision to allow Perenco – which has operated since 1985 in Laguna del Tigre, part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve, the largest tropical forest area in Central America – to continue its operations for another 15 years.
Under the new contract, the government will control 50 percent of Perenco’s local subsidiary, Perenco Guatemala Ltd. That percentage is up from 41 percent under the previous contract, Colom said.
The president also said the amount Perenco will pay into government coffers under the new deal will rise from $83.25 million annually to $161.87 million per year.
During a visit Thursday to different areas of Peten province, Colom said oil drilling is not the cause of environmental damage in that region and instead put the blame on land invasions by small farmers and cattle raising.
Perenco, for its part, says on its Web site that its footprint in Laguna del Tigre amounts to just 0.3 percent of the park and that serious problems in that reserve, “such as those caused by migrant communities’ illegal slash and burn farming techniques ... are not related to Perenco’s activities.”
The company also says it is “committed to a reforestation program that will ensure that the small area used by Perenco is returned to its original condition.”