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Being an environmentalist in Honduras, a mortal risk

Honduras has become one of the most dangerous places in the world for defenders of the earth and environment. Between 2010 and January 2017, more than 120 people were killed in the country for defending the earth and the environment.

 

Odalys Troya Flores

 

This is what Global Witness believes, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works to break the links between exploitation of natural resources, conflicts, poverty, corruption and human rights abuses across the world.

The most recent report from the United Nations Special Rapporteur indicates that in this Central American nation, defenders of civil and political rights, LGBTI people, the indigenous population, the earth and the environment, migrants and others, are in a risky position.

Those advocates are subjected to threats, harassment, intimidation and beatings, as well as being criminalised and stigmatised in media smear campaigns, it added.

According to testimonies cited, the perpetrators of the attacks include members of the National Police, the Army, hired guns and persons unknown, while the masterminds of the attacks comprise public officials, the business world, security forces and especially corrupt sectors of those mentioned who act in collusion to ensure their own financial gain.

It concludes that the vast majority of murders and attacks on those defenders go unpunished, due to either no investigation being launched or this not providing any results.

In the opinion of the UN Special Rapporteur, the case of human rights defender, Berta Cáceres, could become the first exception if there were advances in the area of accountability, beyond just condemning the perpetrators of the murder. Particularly if the masterminds and those who financed the crime were identified, investigated, prosecuted and sanctioned.

Berta Cáceres, a known defender of human rights and coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH), was murdered in the early hours of 2nd March 2016, by armed men who entered her home, following orders from supposed businesspeople interested in exploiting natural resources within the Council’s area of influence.

The environmentalist of the Lenca people was already receiving protective measures provided by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH). Even so, the authorities abandoned her and allowed her murder while she was defending the Galcarque River, which had been ceded by the government to build the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, belonging to the Atala family and the Desarrollos Energéticos company (DESA).

She was a fervent fighter against the construction of Agua Zarca, which is why she received the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, the most important award in the world that can be won by an environmental defender.

Although, in this case, seven of the eight accused were convicted, the businesspeople who gave the orders for her murder have gone unpunished.

The environmentalists’ demands

Destruction of protected areas for many reasons, such as mining activity and forestry, as well as building dams, is one of the causes of the Honduran people’s battles, particularly for rural and indigenous people.

“We fight against plundering and the deadly extractive model, we reaffirm our agreement and conviction to keep fighting for freedom of our lands and against state policies that plague the lives of the Honduran people”, stated Copinh.

In Honduras, the mining sector has been bogged down in conflict for more than two decades due to the increasing number of land concessions that exceed twice the total area of land designated for extracting resources from the ground.

According to the World Resources Institute and the Access Initiative, Honduras breaches nature conservation laws, does not respect decisions from communities to accept or deny projects that take advantage of or exploit their ecosystems, and the authorities allow the destruction of those ecosystems.

Surface mining razes trees and all vegetation, then it destroys the fertile layer of earth in the area where gold is extracted and, following that, gigantic craters are dug, measuring 100 hectares and up to 200 metres deep with explosive charges and machinery.

The Siria valley in the department of Francisco Morazán, made up of the towns of El Porvenir, San Ignacio and Cedros, is an example of the damages caused by mining and why the environmental defenders are fighting.

In 1995 the Sociedad Minerales Entre Mares Honduras company, a subsidiary of the Canadian titan Goldcorp Inc., asked permission for intensive surface mining activity in the San Martín mine, which was granted in January 2000.

The activity lasted until 2008 and left in its wake a veritable exodus of youth and growing protests from towns that reported severe socio-environmental effects.

According to police reports, this mining company alone had removed more than 50 million tonnes of earth to extract gold, which affected farming production with a 70% reduction.

Furthermore, 19 of the 21 water sources that existed had dried up and those that remained were contaminated by heavy metals, causing an unprecedented water-related emergency, stated Pedro Landa, a mining specialist, quoted by the Mesoamerican Movement against the Extractive Mining Model.

In October of last year, the Diocese of Choluteca stated that in Honduras, “there are not two separate crises, an environmental one and a social one, there is only one complex socio-environmental crisis”. He asked the State not to criminalise people that are involved in legitimate social battles and he rejected the presence of companies in the extractive industry. (PL)

(Translated by Donna Davison – Email: donna_davison@hotmail.com) – Photos: Pinterest & Pixabay

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