Archive for the ‘Canadian mines in Honduras’ Category

Honduran troops deploy in San Pedro Sula during the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernández in January. Photo by Kevin Clarke.Honduran troops deploy in San Pedro Sula during the inauguration of Juan Orlando Hernández in January. Photo by Kevin Clarke.

Though thousands of Hondurans left in recent weeks to form the main party of the so-called migrant caravan now making its way to the United States through Mexico, on a typical day hundreds of people leave Honduras, caravan or not. And as those hundreds depart, scores of others are returned after deportation from the United States. Many deportees will try their luck again.

“We are living in calamity, a humanitarian crisis in Honduras,” said Bartolo Fuentes, a well-known Honduran journalist and former member of its Congress, arriving at the Toncontin Airport in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, on Oct. 19 after being detained in Guatemala where he tried to report on the caravan. “Today they left,” he said. “Tomorrow they will leave…. Three hundred people leave Honduras every day.”

U.S. and Honduran officials, he said, prefer that this regular exodus remains “out of sight” or that migrants “die on the way,” their plight unnoticed by the wider world. But “now that they’re going together, it’s a scandal,” Mr. Fuentes said in evident frustration.

“We are living in calamity, a humanitarian crisis in Honduras. Today they left. Tomorrow they will leave…. Three hundred people leave Honduras every day.”

Honduras has endured years of economic and political crises. The November 2017 election results, endorsed by the U.S. government but widely perceived as fraudulent, led to mass protests and dozens of deaths of demonstrators at the hands of security forces and police. The U.N. Office of the High Commission for Human Rights reported that military police and army “used excessive force, including lethal force, to control and disperse protests, leading to the killing and wounding of protesters as well as passers-by.”

According to Joaquin Mejia, a human rights attorney and researcher at the Jesuit Reflection, Research and Communications Team (ERIC-sj) in El Progreso, Honduras, in addition to economic policies that have led to an increase in poverty, the migrant caravan is an expression of frustration with years of structural violence and impunity, corruption and the militarization of Honduran society. High-ranking, active-duty military officers have been implicated in drug and human trafficking and homicide.

Karla Rivas, the coordinator of the Jesuit Migration Network, spoke with America by phone from Queretaro, Mexico, where she was accompanying a separate caravan of mothers who were searching for their children—young migrants who had gone unaccounted for after heading north. “The humanitarian exodus [from Honduras] is the culmination of several crises that have been manifesting themselves over time with the implementation of an unjust economic model.” She called it “an inhumane economic model that is based on extracting [resources] from communities.”

“And if communities say anything,” she added, “they are extracted…too.” By eviction, she explained.

Years of economic policies that have served to further the divide between the rich and the poor in Honduras seem to be at the root of the search for new opportunities in the north. Remittances sent home from Hondurans living in the United States are the foundation of the economy in Honduras and other Central American states. In May 2018, Hondurans sent an all time high of $456.2 million per month to loved ones.

Honduras has “the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America.”

The Center for Economic and Policy Research reports that Honduras has “the most unequal distribution of income in Latin America,” a inequity that has been accelerating since President Manuel Zelaya was deposed in 2009. In the two years after the coup, “over 100 percent of all real income gains went to the wealthiest 10 percent of Hondurans,” according to the report.

The Support Mission Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras, sponsored by the Organization of American States, reports that $450 million is lost to tax evasion and fraud each year. This money deprives the nation of resources “that should be invested in education, health” and other social services, says Mr. Mejia.

Violence is another key driver of immigration from Honduras, which endures one of the world’s highest homicide rates. Much of the violence has been associated with drug trafficking and acts of extortion—criminal gangs can essentially control entire urban communities—but some of the violence results from collusion among gang members, police and security forces, sometimes in acts of intimidation directed at community or environmental activists.

“In the past years, there have been 3,000 cases of femicide,” Mr. Mejia said. “Only 29 have been investigated and only one led to a conviction,” he said. “This high level of impunity is seen over and over again in the murders of lawyers and journalists.”

He points to increased numbers of targeted killings, especially of L.G.B.T. people and youth under 30, since 2013 when Juan Orlando Hernández was first elected to the presidency. Those responsible for protecting the civilian population have sometimes been accused of being the ones who are killing them.

“This high level of impunity is seen over and over again in the murders of lawyers and journalists.”

Mr. Fuentes has become a target in the controversy about the origins of this latest caravan from Central America. Detained after crossing into Guatemala in an effort to report on the migrant caravan, he was moved to Guatemala City by National Police.

Attorney Edy Tabora from the Honduran Committee for Freedom of Expression joined other activists in securing his release. His supporters are concerned that Mr. Fuentes has become a scapegoat for the Hernández and Trump administrations as they press for an end to the Honduran exodus. As an outspoken advocate for democracy and migrants rights, Mr. Fuentes has been repeatedly targeted by the Hernández government.

In a nationally televised broadcast, the Honduran chancellor, Maria Dolores Aguero, dismissed the grassroots aspects of the migrant caravan and alleged that Mr. Fuentes was trying to create political instability in the country. That official line was taken up by Heide Fulton, chargé d’affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Honduras, in a televised message encouraging Hondurans to stay home. “You are being deceived by false promises by leaders with political and criminal intentions,” she said.

On Oct. 31, Mr. Fuentes left Honduras for El Salvador after government officials repeatedly said that he would be charged with human trafficking. In a statement released after his departure, he said that the government “wants to put me behind bars to show the U.S. government its ‘efficiency in fighting irregular migration.’”

On Nov. 5, President Hernández reiterated that the organizers of the caravan should have the law “severely” applied and called on neighboring countries to take action.

Mr. Mejia believes that the militarization of Honduran society has increased as a result of calls for greater public security. ”Funds that should be used for education, health or civilian police [for public security] go to the military,” he said. Honduran “armed forces become involved with a authoritarian solution to social conflicts, and that leads to forced displacement.”

“The United States has a lot to do with this because when we talk about violence and militarization, the United States is [financially] supporting this agenda,” he added. The Alliance for Prosperity Plan, introduced and implemented by the United States, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in 2014 with the mission of curbing migration from the “Northern Triangle” countries, spends 60 percent of the $750 million budget on security, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs.

The Honduran conference of Catholic bishops released a statement on Oct. 25, describing the caravan as “a shocking reality” that reflects ”the current situation in our country, which forces a multitude to leave what little it has, venturing without any certainty for the migration route to the United States, with the desire to reach the promised land, the ‘American dream’, which allows them to solve their economic problems and improve their living conditions, for them and their families and, in many cases, to ensure the long-awaited physical security.”

The bishops urged the Hernández government to respond at home to the crisis suggested by the caravan. “It is the duty of the Honduran State to provide its citizens with the means to satisfy their basic needs,” the bishops said, “such as decent, stable and well-paid work, health, education and housing.”

“When these conditions do not exist,” the bishops said, “people are forced to live in tragedy and many of them hope to undertake a path that leads to development and improvement, finding themselves in the shameful and painful need to leave their families, their friends, their community, their culture, their environment and their land.”

As more than 6,000 people passed through the Mexican state of Chiapas at the end of October, the Human Rights Monitoring and Observation Group in Chiapas reported a heavy presence of Mexican anti-riot police and military, including helicopters, drones and boats, threatening the group of migrants, many of who were exhausted and weak after walking hundreds of miles. The group, which includes representatives from the American Friends Service Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service and Doctors of the World, added, “The militarization of the border does not guarantee the security and integrity of the people, on the contrary it increases [their] risks.”

“The migration route is where entire families are looking for the possibility of a new life,” Ms. Rivas said, “but a large number of the participants on the march are also people simply trying to save their lives.”

Advertisements

Canada’s Deadly Diplomacy and the Plight of Political Prisoners in Honduras

 http://upsidedownworld.org/archives/honduras/canadas-deadly-diplomacy-plight-political-prisoners-honduras/

Honduras

At least 35 people have killed in the political crisis since the Nov. 26 election in Honduras, mostly at the hands of the military police and other state forces. Source: Mark Coplan

Ismael Hernandez was the most recent fatal victim of police and military violence in Honduras. The 40-year-old man was killed Feb. 5 in Choloma, about 200 kilometers north of the country’s capital. According to eyewitnesses and national human rights organizations, Honduran security forces launched tear gas and opened fire with live bullets at protesters, who continue to reject President Juan Orlando Hernandez’s highly questioned re-election.

The same day, hundreds more Hondurans were injured as police cracked down on the university students’ movement protesting as classes resumed at the National Autonomous University of Honduras in Tegucigalpa.

The incidents of state violence in Tegucigalpa and Choloma were far from isolated cases. Participating in an International Emergency Faith Delegation to Honduras in the days leading up Hernandez’ Jan. 26 inauguration, I witnessed first-hand police and military impunity and brutality against Hondurans. Not only those denouncing electoral fraud on the streets experienced repression, but other Hondurans have had their homes filled with tear gas as early as 6:00 a.m. while they were still sleeping. A Honduran I was with joked sadly, “In Honduras, you don’t even have to get out of bed to be targeted with violence by the police.”

In less than a week in Honduras accompanying Radio Progreso, a critical alternative media outlet, I witnessed three illegal detentions, police using the political context of fear and intimidation to loot possessions of value, and the use excessive force. In one instance, more than 200 military and police agents launched more than 50 tear gas canisters at a group of less than 40 people to forcibly disperse the unarmed demonstrators. I was with a former member of Congress whose home was ransacked and family members threatened with guns to their head by uniformed police. I heard testimony from a 35 year old mother of five, who recounted that two days earlier, uniformed military and police agents dragged her husband, Geovany Dias, out of bed in the middle of the night and shot him 40 times. The state agents are accused by locals of being part of a death squad wreaking havoc and killing organized famers nearby. The man hadn’t been part of the demonstrations against Hernandez, but the message from the state security forces that left him on the side of the road for everyone to see was clear: anyone could be next.

This is state-led terrorism in Honduras, and the Canadian government is supporting it. Late on Dec. 22, 2017, the Canadian Embassy in Honduras threw its support behind Hernandez, recognizing his highly contested election win in a tweet. The Honduran president, who ran for a second term in office on the Nov. 26, 2017 ballot despite a constitutional ban on re-election, came out as the victor after three weeks of behind-closed-doors ballet counting and widespread allegations of fraud that prompted hundreds of thousands of Hondurans to take to the streets. In its message, the Canadian Embassy called on the Honduran government, which had already declared a 10-day military curfew and continued violently repressing opposition protesters, to respect human rights and ensure those responsible for the violence were held accountable.

Seven weeks later, Hondurans continue to bear the brunt of heavily militarized government repression, tacitly supported by funding from Canadian taxpayers. Honduras is home to Canada’s largest bilateral development program in Central America, and Ottawa offers significant contributions to strengthen security institutions in the country despite a poor human rights record. Since the election, more than 35 people have been killed, mostly at the hands of state security forces, and hundreds more have been detained. Meanwhile, Canadian companies, mostly in garment manufacturing and mining, have reaped major profits in Honduras since the 2009 U.S. and Canada-backed military coup, thanks in part to a free trade agreement ratified in 2014 and behind-the-scenes political support to ensure favorable changes to the Honduran mining law in 2012.

Amid the deepening crisis, on Jan. 19, Honduran police detained Edwin Espinal, sending him to a maximum security military prison on the eve of a week-long nationwide strike. He faces charges related to arson, property damage and use of homemade explosive material. According to a blog dedicated to the release of Espinal, he is also under investigation for terrorism and criminal association related to damages to the Marriott Hotel during a Jan. 12 protest in Tegucigalpa. Espinal is a recognized human rights and resistance activist who has participated in pro-democracy movements since the 2009 military coup.

Since being incarcerated, except for a brief visit by his lawyers, Espinal has been denied contact with family, journalists and international human rights organizations. The conditions of his detention — and that of the dozens of others illegally detained on trumped up charges — are unknown. Espinal’s partner, a Canadian human rights expert and activist who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working in Honduras, and other supporters have urged the Canadian government to speak out regarding the case. Despite touting strong political and diplomatic ties with Honduras, Canada has failed to act in Espinal’s case — and the cases of others in situations like his — by not condemning the systemic and ongoing human rights crisis in Honduras.

The same day Espinal was incarcerated, the Canadian government issued an alert to Canadians to “Exercise a high degree of caution in Honduras due to violent demonstrations.” In a country where the army and police are armed to the teeth — due in part to Canadian government funding — and have shown little restraint when attacking citizens in the name of protecting elite economic and political interests, it’s time for Canada to condemn the real perpetrators of violence. It’s time to demand the freedom of all political prisoners, like Edwin Espinal, being held without cause by the Honduran government. It’s time to stop quietly supporting a fraudulent government through economic aid, military training and private investment that is allowing the Honduran state to train death squads to act against its people.

Demonstrators hold crosses commemorating the victims of state violence in the wake of the election. Source: Mark Coplan

Ottawa’s response to Honduras’ 2017 election was eerily similar to its response to the 2009 coup d’etat in Honduras, when then-Minister of State Peter Kent called for a peaceful resolution to the “political crisis.” Bob Rae, then-Liberal foreign affairs critic, said that Canada should suspend military aid and training of Honduran soldiers. In the wake of the Nov. 26 election, Canada has similarly called for dialogue, but failed to condemn grave violations of human rights at the hands of Honduran state forces, continuing tacit support for a repressive government.

It’s time for Canada to rectify its dangerous diplomacy toward Honduras and this time, not through a tweet, but through real action that will allow true democracy and freedom of expression in Honduras.

Jackie McVicar has worked accompanying human rights and land defenders and survivors of the Guatemalan genocide for the past 14 years. Recently, she traveled to Honduras as part of an international emergency faith delegation. She currently works with United for Mining Justice and is a member of the Atlantic Region Solidarity Network.

Aura Minerals ALERT in Honduras
  • Illegal cyanide release into river, killing fish and acquatic life
  • Backed by Honduran security forces, Aura Minerals preparing to exhume bodies from 200 year old cemetery to get at more gold
This is what “bringing development” means; million dollar profits flowing to Canada, the company and shareholders.  For this, no political or legal oversight in Canada & little media coverage.


(Azacualpa cementery, worth fighting for.)

*******
Public statement
July 10, 2017

We, men and women representatives of the communities of Azacualpa, Toreras, Ceibita and Cedros, and of the Environmental Committees of San Miguel and Azacualpa (La Unión, Copán), make this statement in response to more harms to the environment and violations of our rights caused by Aura Minerals (of Canada) and its subsidiary Minerales de Occidente (MINOSA):

Contaminated Rivers
Thousands of dead fish were found on the riverbanks of the Lara River, caused by the discharge of the cyanide leaching pools belonging to Aura Minerals/MINOSA, on June 26 2017.

Representatives of INHGEOMIN (Instituto Hondureño de Geología y Minas), DECA (Dirección de Evaluación y Control Ambiental), Mi Ambiente, National Police, Military Police, the Attorney General’s office and the Municipal Government of La Unión, Copán came to confirm the occurrence.  To date we have not received any information back from government authorities.

This illegal release of cyanide and other contaminants also puts at risk the health of 45,000 people from the city of Santa Rosa de Copan, since their drinking water comes from the Higuito River which receives waters from the Lara River.

Exhuming the cemetery
What we have received information about, in a meeting on June 29th with Mr. Monty Reed, manager of Aura Minerals/MINOSA, is that the company will try, in mid-July, to push ahead with a test run exhumation at our community’s cemetery, in violation of agreements reached with our communities.

As community leaders and environmental committees, we oppose these illegal exhumations and the destruction of our cemetery, which goes against the agreements reached in the addendum, and violates our rights to live in peace.

We hold Aura Minerals/MINOSA responsible for what may happen, and we hold the government of Honduras responsible for knowingly allowing such actions, fully aware that the inhabitants of these communities are not in agreement with the exhumations, and later, mining exploitation at this cemetery.

We request the support of national and international organizations – particularly in Canada -, to ensure that there be justice for our communities and that this death-promoting company leave once and for all, and let us live in peace in our communities.

Community Leadership and Environmental Committees
Area Affected by Mining Exploitation
La Unión, Copán, Honduras

*******
More info

Canadian Ambassador & Corporate Social Responsability Counsellor misled Honduran villagers in community environmental defense struggle with Toronto-based Aura Minerals
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/canadian-ambassador-csr-counsellor-misled-honduran-villagers-in-community-environmental-defense-struggle-with-toronto-based-aura-minerals

Mining in a State of Impunity: Coerced Negotiations and Forced Displacement by Aura Minerals in Honduras, by Karen Spring, published by Mining Watch and Honduras Solidarity Network: http://miningwatch.ca/publications/2016/6/29/mining-state-impunity-coerced-negotiations-and-forced-displacement-aura

*******
Write to

Ambassador Michael Gort
Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua
PO Box 3552, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
Tel: (504) 2232-4551
Michael.gort@international.gc.ca
tglpa@international.gc.ca

Jeffrey Davidson
Extractive Sector Corporate Social Responsibility Counsellor
Jeffrey.davidson@international.gc.ca
Esma Mneina, Esma.Mneina@international.gc.ca
Global Affairs Canada, Government of Canada
Tel: (343) 203-5181
11 Sussex R2-102 Ottawa, K1A 0G2

Aura Minerals
Rodrigo Barbosa, President and Chief Executive Officer
William Monti Reed, Honduras mine manager
155 University Av, Suite 1240
Toronto, ON, M5H 3B7
T: 416-649-1033info@auraminerals.comwww.auraminerals.com

Member Parliament
http://www2.parl.gc.ca/Parlinfo/Compilations/HouseOfCommons/MemberByPostalCode.aspx?Menu=HOC

*******
More information
Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Jen Moore, Mining Watch, jen@miningwatch.ca
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, grahame@rightsaction.org

European investors drop support of controversial Honduran dam

FMO and FinnFund, two of the biggest funders of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in Honduras, today announced their exit from the venture. This comes more than a year after the murder of the Indigenous rights defender Berta Caceres and a subsequent campaign by Oxfam and allies pushing them to drop the project.

George Redman, Oxfam’s country director for Honduras, said: “This is a long-awaited and important step in the hard road Berta’s family and her organization, COPINH, have travelled in their fight for justice and respect for the rights of the Lenca people.

“History cannot repeat itself. Finnfund and FMO must work more closely with communities on the ground to ensure they only back projects that fully respect international and national laws. Any complaints of irregularities in their investments must be taken seriously and responded with swift and appropriate action. Profits cannot come before people.”

Oxfam notes that the biggest investor, CABEI, has not made any public announcement on the project since April of last year, when they said they would act in tandem with FMO. The longer this silence continues, the more questions will be asked of CABEI’s true priorities and values, and the more this project will become a stain on their record.

Oxfam calls on other companies still connected with the project, including the German firms Voith and Siemens, to also withdraw.

“Today’s announcement does not mean justice has been done in Berta’s case. While the capture of eight suspects in her murder is a positive step, their trials have been beset by delays and irregularities, and the intellectual authors remain at large. Until those individuals, and others responsible for threats, attacks, and killings of community members are brought to justice it, the conditions required for the dialogue amongst local communities that FMO wishes for will not exist. We will continue to follow the case closely.”

Notes to editors:

Berta Caceres was murdered on March 3, 2016. Days later, Oxfam called for FMO and FinnFund to drop their support for the Agua Zarca project, and soon after launched a public campaign aimed at pressuring the companies to act.

Winnie Byanyima, visited Berta Caceres’ family in Honduras last year, and marked the anniversary of Berta’s death by again calling for justice to be done.

Contact information:

 

Simon Hernandez-Arthur 

simon.hernandezarthur@oxfam.org

+1 585 503 4568

@SimonHernandez

A hidden cost of corruption: environmental devastation

 June 16 at 2:22 PM
Sarah Chayes is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the author of “Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security.”

In Honduras, corruption is leading to the devastation of the Patuca River and communities on its banks. (Eve Chayes Lyman)

Krausirpi, Honudras

The Patuca River is a long, shining serpentine — achingly beautiful — that travels through the last great swath of pristine rain forest in Central America. On the map, the region is a fat green stripe, indicating two national parks end to end. But the water, as I trail my fingers in the warm bath, is tawny brown. It is carrying way too much sediment: acres of dirt washed down by the deforestation that’s making way for cattle ranches along the supposedly protected banks, and tons more dumped by construction on a massive hydroelectric dam a day’s voyage upstream.

Both are existential threats to this place and its people. And both are products of the pervasive and sophisticated corruption that characterizes the Honduran government.

I have spent a decade living through and researching how corruption has helped fuel some of the world’s most significant security crises — from the expansion of violent extremism to revolutions and their bloody aftermaths. Last year, I began wondering if similar links exist between corruption and another grave threat: environmental devastation. It didn’t take long to find them.

Corruption, in this context, should not be understood as merely the opportunistic lapses of an underpaid game warden or a customs agent who looks the other way in exchange for an envelope. Rather, in Honduras and more than 60 other countries worldwide, senior officials, key business leaders and out-and-out criminals weave themselves into sophisticated networks for the purpose of maximizing personal gains. Natural resources are a principal source of the cash these kleptocrats capture.

One of the most lucrative is oil. Nigeria’s national oil company, to pick an egregious example, could not account for nearly $20 billion in revenue from 2012 and 2013 alone. A byproduct of such looting — and the predatory attitudes it engenders — is the oil-soaked Niger Delta. The once-vibrant web of winding creeks and inlets is black with sludge, its mangroves gone, grasses and palm trees reduced to tar-smeared stumps. People who once navigated their slender-bowed boats and swam, fished and gathered shellfish there now find an oily sheen in their well water. They suffer skin and lung ailments.

Royal Dutch Shell admits to more than 1,800 spills there in the past decade. In January 2015, Shell agreed to pay $84 million to settle a lawsuit about just two of these. Meanwhile, according to Amnesty International, Nigeria’s National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency continues to certify visibly filthy areas as clean.

his pattern is consistent across the corrupt countries I have studied: Agencies charged with protecting the environment are rendered functionally inoperative — budgets are slashed, staff is short or demotivated, equipment goes missing. Predatory extraction of natural resources for personal gain requires lax enforcement of whatever regulations exist. In Nigeria’s case, the predators aren’t just the huge oil multinationals, whose behavior may be encouraged by the ambiguous nature of many of their dealings with officials they know are corrupt, but also host-country operators and outright thieves, who often work in partnership with government institutions. When they see the magnitude of the theft at the top of the pyramid, they consider themselves entitled.

In countries that lack hydrocarbons, other natural resources substitute. The investigative charity Global Witness has documented the Cambodian ruling clique’s control of an illegal logging syndicate that is stripping that country of its tropical forest.

The United States obviously does not fall into the same category as Nigeria or Cambodia when it comes to corruption. Still, certain trends should alarm Americans. Consider West Virginia, where, in 2004, the chief executive of Massey Energy smeared a judge and bankrolled the campaign of a previously unknown judicial rival, who, once elected, ruled favorably on cases affecting the coal company — including at least one the company had lost in a jury trial. Judge Brent Benjamin argued that there was no basis for presuming that the $3 million Massey spent on his campaign might affect his impartiality.

This is the same Massey executive who was sentenced to a year in prison for conspiring to violate mine safety rules in a 2010 explosion that killed 29 miners. Over the years, Massey has taken advantage of the lax enforcement guaranteed by the coal industry’s hold over West Virginia politics, not just to repeatedly ignore health and safety requirements, but also to decapitate forested mountains and routinely dump rubble, slurry and wastewater into the state’s rivers.

Another conduit for corruption: dams. Brazil’s sprawling corruption scandal has implicated several mega-dams in the Amazon. One of them, Belo Monte, would displace at least 20,000 people and extinguish some of the world’s most diverse habitats, in some areas flooding and in others drying up hundreds of square miles of rain forest and croplands, according to studies by International Rivers and others. It would produce more greenhouse gases than an equivalent fossil fuel plant, for at least 20 years. One executive in the construction consortium was sentenced to a 19-year prison term for corruption and money laundering, and the consortium is under investigation for allegedly paying millions in bribes to Brazil’s beleaguered then-ruling party to secure the concession.

Oxford University research published in 2014 indicates that most such dams worldwide will not recoup the cost of their construction, let alone improve standards of living for local populations. Such “white elephants” may not even be meant to serve their stated purposes. Rather, in the words of James Robinson and Ragnar Torvik, authors of an earlier study on large infrastructure projects in developing countries, “it is the very inefficiency of such projects that makes them . . . appealing” as vehicles for channeling money into the hands of a ruling coterie.


The construction site of the Patuca III dam, which is designed to generate 105 megawatts of power. There are currently no plans for it to supply electricity to the communities along the river whose lives will be impacted. (Eve Chayes Lyman)

Honduras’s Patuca III dam is just such a project. According to lawyer and veteran environmental activist Mauricio Torres, the river probably cannot build up sufficient pressure to generate the intended 104 megawatts: The water is too shallow and the topography too flat. A 2008 government-sponsored environmental impact assessment was “so weak,” according to a 2012 letter from the Inter-American Development Bank to the Honduran government, “that we could not even envision starting to study [Tegucigalpa’s request for project funding] seriously.”

Mario Vallejo, a specialist in environmental law, is not surprised by such meaningless environmental oversight. He says it’s the norm in Honduras. “There’s an evaluation process that must happen before construction on such projects can begin,” Vallejo explains. “But typically, work starts before the study is even completed. Developers get a license in a single day. It’s called temporary, but it won’t be revoked. And the impact assessments, when they’re completed, accommodate what the constructors want.”

When the IDB declined to finance Patuca III, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China stepped in with a loan. The Chinese engineering firm Sinohydro is racing to complete work by next spring, but the contract has raised eyebrows, even in kleptocratic Honduras. The somewhat independent Honduran National Anti-Corruption Council is investigating several officials at the national electricity agency for the alleged embezzlement of more than $4 million from the construction of the barracks that house Sinohydro’s technicians and laborers.

Among the failings the IDB’s assessment identified, the Honduran government neither adequately consulted with nor compensated affected communities. On a trip to the area last summer, two Honduran naturalists; my sister, artist and photographer Eve Lyman; and I amply confirmed that finding. Villagers told us they signed for government distributions of rice, for example, and those signatures were later used by the state electricity company as evidence that they approved of the dam.

According to media reports and numerous interviews, a 2015 protest against the project in Tegucigalpa was defused when the largest landowners — many of them wealthy absentee landlords — were paid off.

“The rich got a higher price for their land than we did,” said a farmer we met on the road, riding a mare with a chestnut foal trotting behind. “They asked us and we said no. This earth doesn’t have a price. But the rich said yes, and we’re backed into a corner.”

Late last year, when the second installment of promised compensation payments failed to materialize, landowners protested again, temporarily interrupting work on the project.

Every single person we interviewed along the river, above and below the dam site, detested the very idea of Patuca III. “It’s a barbarism to nature,” said a man who ran a small lunch counter by the worksite. “And the people living according to their ancestral traditions will be the worst affected.”


Children play near a small hydroelectric dam in the la Paz region of Honduras. The electricity produced powers three indigenous communities, and each family in the area sent a representative to supply the labor. The communities now own and maintain it. The dam allows a portion of the river to flow, thus not harming the ecosystem. (Eve Chayes Lyman)

To talk to them, the indigenous Tawahka and Miskito peoples who live downstream of the dam, we took to the river in one of the long wooden boats, “pipantes,” that are the only mode of transport along the sinuous, silver artery. “This river is the road for all these communities,” said Gil Cardones in Krautara, the first Tawahka village we visited. “Already the water’s so low it’s hard to navigate in winter.”

According to the IDB’s and other studies, changes in the river’s flow also threaten several species of migrating fish, as well as lizards, crocodiles and turtles. “Now our people are having to abandon fishing,” a young teacher told us at a community meeting in the largest Tawahka village, Krausirpi. “We are losing this whole part of our life and culture. The fish and turtles will go extinct.”

Until recently, the Tawahkas hunted and foraged and fished and interspersed crops with untouched ground and overgrown fallow, preserving this last uninterrupted stretch of rain forest. Patuca III will accelerate its destruction.

For mile after mile upstream of this village, we had seen it: trees hacked off with machetes, the splintered stumps jutting skyward. The tropical wood isn’t even salvaged. “They make boards to build their camps and burn the rest,” said a man who’d asked for a ride in our boat. “It’s too expensive to transport.” Lime-green, deathly silent grass takes over where once stood a vibrant, multi-story forest filled with countless varieties of trees, vines, air plants, orchids, a riot of birdsong and hundreds of endangered species.

Another hitchhiker helped us understand how even apparently petty local corruption contributes to the devastation. As she grew comfortable with us, she began excoriating the mayor who presides over that stretch of river. Government-funded small-scale development projects, such as village clean-ups, used to provide a trickle of cash that residents need to buy amenities, pay for boat rides to larger towns a few times a year or to purchase medicine, she said, enabling them to retain their lands in an area bereft of public services or access to local markets where they could sell crops.

But under Mayor Walter Bertran Gonzales, the cash-for-work stopped.

“He gets 25,000 lempiras (about $1,100) in public funding to spend on this project, 25,000 for that project, but he carries it off on his shoulder,” a farmer in the village of Bilalmo had told us the previous day. Newspaper reports echo the corruption allegations. As the projects dried up, depriving villagers of the meager wages they earned from making small repairs to public facilities, cleaning up their communities or other such efforts, residents turned to the only recourse they had: selling their land.

“In just the past year, almost all my neighbors have sold their land,” the hitchhiker told my sister. “People have no other way to get money.” The buyers “bring in outsiders to clear it and plant pasture for cows.” Several people displaced from this area are known to have fled north to the United States.

According to some who dared talk about it, many of the buyers are narco-traffickers or their proxies. In the article “Drug Policy as Conservation Policy: Narco-Deforestation ,” Kendra McSweeney and her co-authors note the “close correlation between the timing and location of forest loss and drug transit .” Buying and “improving” land by converting tropical forest into ranches is a good way to launder money. With two dozen villages about to be submerged or badly affected by this dam, and the pockets of wealthy absentee landlords suddenly flush with compensation, the hunger for land will only intensify.

But all of these transactions our passengers described are illegal. Under the 1999 decree that established territories downstream of the dam as a national park, its lands are either inalienable public patrimony or the collective property of indigenous peoples, and only inhabitants present when the decree was enacted may live there. The prosecutor’s office has pleaded lack of resources to investigate complaints, says Erik Nielsen, one of the authors of the narco-deforestation article, so the “sales” proceed unchecked.

Such pretexts are to be expected in a country that is almost a textbook case of the systemic corruption I have been studying. Economic activity is dominated by less than a dozen families. Congress, operating out of a dilapidated 1950s building, has passed law after law lavishing incentives on their businesses, and helping President Juan Orlando Hernández consolidate power and shroud government activities in secrecy.

Environmental activists — in the world’s deadliest country for them — have documented systematic bias on the part of the legal system, including persistent police harassment and false accusations leading to lengthy and expensive proceedings or unjust convictions. In the case of Berta Caceres, a locally beloved and internationally celebrated campaigner who was assassinated last year, the preposterous initial police suggestions that a botched robbery or a “crime of passion” had taken place, and the rush to investigate Caceres’s fellow activists, fit the pattern.

After intense international pressure, the former vice minister of environment is in jail pending trial for illegally issuing the permit for the dam Caceres was protesting. If the allegations are accurate, it would be another example of the Environment Ministry’s rubber-stamping that experts and practitioners describe.

Given Chinese President Xi Jinping’s high-profile anti-corruption campaign, Chinese businesses are beginning to think differently about corporate social responsibility in cases like this. In fact, in 2013, Sinohydro pulled out of the project Caceres died protesting.

Patuca III is far worse, yet Sinohyrdo continues work on it.

And it’s not as though its construction will improve ordinary Hondurans’ lives, even if it does generate electricity. With the country losing nearly a third of its power through poorly maintained transmission systems, the explicit objective is to sell electricity to neighboring countries, according to Giovanni Ayestas, head of social relations at UEPER, the government agency managing Patuca III. And thus generate a cash flow ripe for capture.

Stepping ashore as we nosed our boat onto the bank below her village, our hitchhiker summed up what we had been hearing for days: “That dam will kill us.”

It won’t leave the rest of us untouched, either. Irreplaceable environmental treasures such as the Patuca River and its surrounding national park belong to us all, not just a handful of kleptocrats. Only persistent public pressure can reliably protect the wild lands that are everyone’s birthright — whether they lie in national monuments west of the Rockies or in Appalachia or along the Patuca River.

schayes@ceip.org

Canada’s Controversial Engagement in Honduras

By: Sabrina Escalera-Flexhaug, Research Associate at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Photo Credit: The Dominion

Increasing Involvement

Since Hurricane Mitch struck Honduras in 1998, Canada has cast an increasingly long shadow over the small Central American country’s economy and policy; a presence that has grown stronger since Honduras’ controversial 2009 coup. The self-proclaimed peacekeepers have since built a stronghold over Honduras via investment in industries and support for the illegitimate government created in the wake of the coup. Canada’s relationship with Honduras is emblematic of its shifting position within the international community, as an imperial presence, establishing and expanding industries in the less developed country at the expense of local citizens and the environment.

Canadian economic and political ties with Honduras intensified following Hurricane Mitch. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged much of Central America and resulted in the deaths of over 11,000 people.[1] It also left Honduras with $3 billion USD in damage from the catastrophe, causing utter economic devastation in one of the poorest countries in Latin America.

Following the hurricane, Ottawa responded with a “long-term development plan,” offering the Honduran government $100 million USD over four years for reconstruction projects. Part of this proposal included the introduction of forty Canadian companies into Honduras for investment purposes, which provided them with the opportunity to claim Honduran land and mineral assets. Canadian and U.S. developers helped rewrite the Honduran General Mining Law, and created the National Association of Metal Mining of Honduras (ANAMINH) to advance their interests in the nation. Under the new law, foreign mining companies have the right to subsurface land rights and tax breaks, marking a sharp change from the mining laws of the colonial era.[2]

Not surprisingly, mining—bolstered by foreign capital—has grown to be the dominant industry in Honduras. Foreign mining companies have done well under the new laws, with the Honduran government granting approximately 30 percent of Honduran territory in mining concessions.2 These companies, now owning a substantial portion of Honduran land, have a vested interest in the country’s politics. This is particularly true for Canadian mining corporations, which dominate the Honduran mining sector. According to the president of the ANAMINH, 90 percent of foreign mining investments in Honduras are Canadian.[3]

The Coup

Canadian mining corporations have a deep-rooted interest in keeping Honduran regulatory mining laws weak. These interests were threatened, however, when left-of-center candidate Manuel Zelaya was elected in 2006. Shortly after taking office, Zelaya announced his plans to reform the mining sector by restricting foreign mining companies in Honduras, distinguishing himself as a leader of an anti-foreign mining viewpoint. In May 2009, only a month before the armed forces ousted Zelaya, the Honduran Congress drafted a new mining bill. The bill was set to increase taxes on foreign mining companies, prohibit open-pit mining, and outlaw the use of toxic substances in mining activities. The bill would have required approval from local communities before mining operations went forward. However, Zelaya was forcefully removed from power on June 28, ending all discussion of mining reform.[4]

A Pointed Silence

After the coup, nearly every country denounced the removal of the democratically elected president. However, Ottawa remained silent and the Canadian media hardly reported on the political crisis.[5] According to Professor Tyler Shipley at York University in Toronto, Canadian reporters waited over twenty-four hours to report on the issue, even as international media immediately flooded into Honduras to report on the coup. When the Organization of American States (OAS) met to discuss the issue in July of 2009, Canada stood out again for its asymmetrical relationship with Honduras. Although most countries favored the return of Zelaya and the implementation of sanctions against the coup government, Canada argued that the international community had no grounds to intervene. Peter Kent, a minister of state for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, wanted to restore democratic order with Honduras’ interim government and strongly opposed Zelaya’s return. In contrast, the U.S. ambassador claimed that the U.S. government would most likely move to suspend economic development and military assistance to Honduras.[6] However, behind the scenes, U.S. support for the coup government was key in keeping the new regime in power. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went as far as to criticize Zelaya for wanting to return to his own country, calling it “reckless.”[7] Nevertheless, Canada declined to condemn the coup and publicly supported the status quo, while most of the international community rejected the coup government.

Illegitimate Democracy

In November 2009, the Honduran government held its scheduled elections. However, only the United States, Colombia, Costa Rica and Canada argued that the elections were fully democratic.[8] Most nations dismissed the elections as an obvious attempt to retroactively provide legitimacy to the coup government. In the eyes of many onlookers, the elections left much to be desired in terms of legitimate electoral participation.

One of the major flaws of the election was the pressure placed on the political opposition. The coup government accomplished this through mass arrests, illegal detentions, and violence. International human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (at the OAS) thoroughly documented these violations.[9]

In response to this widespread repression, more than 50 candidates for public office, including one would-be presidential candidate, removed their names from the ballot in protest against the interim government. Meanwhile, the coup government compiled the names of anti-coup activists and gave them to the military, which then threatened these leaders, making it difficult for protesters to unite against the fraudulent election.[10] Due to the lack of progressive candidates and political coercion, only 35 percent of the population voted, and 70 percent of voters were from Honduras’ wealthy neighborhoods.[11] This was not an election in which the poor were invited. In short, the election that brought President Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo to power was far from democratic; nevertheless, countries such as Canada and the United States endorsed it.

Lie and Reconciliation Commission

After the coup and the fraudulent election, a dispirited Honduran society scrambled to return to normalcy. One of the primary ways Canada sought to help Honduras return to business as usual under the new government was by offering to help create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The role of this commission was to investigate events surrounding the coup.

Shortly after President Lobo created the commission, Canada supplied funding and nominated Michael Kergin to be a commission member. Kergin had been a Canadian diplomat and employee of Bennett Jones, a Canadian corporate law firm that specializes in investment law and mining.[12] In spite of Canadian support, the commission was not recognized by any social or human rights organization that had spoken out against the military coup. Furthermore, the commission failed to consult the family members of victims that were tortured, murdered, and repressed by the post-coup government. [13] Therefore, the commission claimed to validate the post coup government without consulting the necessary parties.

Readmission into the OAS

Immediately following President Lobo’s inauguration on January 27, 2010, Peter Kent announced his support of the Lobo administration’s initiative to reintegrate the country into the international community, particularly into the OAS. Kent met with OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza on February 16 of that year to push the Canadian government’s goal of reinstating Honduras into the OAS. [14] After the OAS accepted Lobo’s administration, Canada further solidified its role as the government’s protector. In 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper became the first foreign leader since Lobo’s inauguration to visit Honduras and meet with the President.[15]

Industrial Abuses

Critics have long held that Canadian involvement and investment in Honduras is plagued with corruption, and that the situation has only worsened since the coup. In particular, many criticize the manufacturing sector, which is Honduras’ second largest industry, for mistreating its workers. One of the industry’s worst offenders is Gildan Active Wear Inc., a Montreal-based textile manufacturer that laid off hundreds of Canadian workers in order to facilitate its move to Honduras in 2007. Gildan Active Wear Inc. is one of three dominant, low-wage sweatshop companies operating in Honduras. The company’s stated goal for the relocation was to improve its competitiveness and efficiency.[16]However, there is a darker side to its operations in Honduras. Many women working in Canadian-owned sweatshops have reported serious injuries caused by repetitive work in the factories. These injuries include musculo-skeletal problems and injuries sustained from major accidents, and they often leave women unable to work. Still, female workers must continue to feed and clothe their families while paying costly medical bills. According to Karen Spring with Rights Action, Gildan is aware of these atrocities; it has refused to provide compensation.[17] The company has also been accused of firing workers for attempting to unionize.[18][19]

Exploitive Tourism

Similarly, many criticize Canadian investment in Honduras’ tourism industry for its impact on the local population. One of the industry’s leading promoters is Randy Jorgensen, who is also the president of the Canadian pornography chain Adults Only Video and the owner of the real estate development company Life Vision Properties, based in Trujillo, Honduras. In 2007, Jorgensen and some local intermediaries purchased property illegally in the Bay of Trujillo, resulting in the expulsion of an Afro-Indigenous community known as the Garífunas from the region. Jorgensen has also acquired Garífuna land in other Honduran towns such as Santa Fe, San Antonio, and Guadalupe. Prior to the 2009 coup, local inhabitants had lodged formal complaints about these fraudulent purchases, but government authorities failed to intervene. Jorgensen used the chaos and the political instability during the coup to acquire environmental permits to construct villas on the hillsides overlooking the Caribbean in the protected area of Capiro and Calentura National Park. In spite of these offenses, Ramon Lobo Sosa, President Lobo’s brother, strongly supported Jorgensen. In 2011, Lobo himself praised the businessman in a cabinet session. To make matters worse, Jorgensen receives financial support from the Canadian Shield Fund, which itself receives funding from controversial mining companies Barrick Gold and the Canadian Oil and Gas Company. [20] These economic earnings come at the expense of factory workers and local inhabitants. Canadian investment in Honduras operates without restraint, and the industry’s ability to manipulate the Honduran economy and its local population only increases with time.

Free Trade Agreement

Once the chaos surrounding the coup quieted down, Canada made quick use of its newfound political capital and began discussing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the Honduran government. The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement was signed into law on November 5, 2013, along with parallel labor and environmental cooperation agreements.[21] By June 2014, the Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act—designed to implement the Free Trade Agreement—received royal acceptance. [22] According to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, “The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement includes provisions on market access for goods, services (including financial services), investment and government procurement. Once the agreement is fully implemented, over 98 percent of tariff lines will be duty-free.”[23]

The free trade agreement is meant to create transparency and promote a rules-based commercial and investment environment. However, the Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement is a flawed agreement, benefiting only foreign corporations and those that support them, much like other FTAs in Latin America. For example, Gildan Activewear Inc. recently closed its last North American factory in Alabama as a result of the agreement and announced that it would be investing 100 million dollars into a new sock factory in Honduras.[24]

The corporation will increase investment and hire additional workers in Honduras, despite its failures to properly provide for its current employees. The agreement will lower taxes for Canadian corporations and encourage further investment, thereby increasing their power and influence in Honduras. Canadian companies are bound to benefit from the agreement while the Honduran population continues to suffer environmental and human rights abuses.

Expansion of the Oil Industry

Canadian investment and influence has expanded since the FTA was signed, as shown by Canada’s growing interest in oil development in the country. The Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development has been financing technical assistance to the hydrocarbon sector in Honduras as part of a larger project managed by the Latin American Energy Organization. The Canadian International Development Agency originally approved the project to set out a five-year plan that would start by reviewing the country’s oil and gas potential. Initial tests revealed that the land with the most hydrocarbon potential was offshore, in the inland region along the Caribbean coast, and in the Moskitia, a remote region in the northeast with a large indigenous population.[25]

Some indigenous organizations have voiced their opposition to expanding oil and gas activity in Honduras. A closer examination of the history of extractive industries in the region causes the indigenous communities to suspect that these industries will only benefit transnational corporations at the expense of local communities.[26] However, Canadian corporations now hold considerable political and economic clout in Honduras and will most likely profit off of these social losses.

The New Imperialism

Canada’s increasing dominance over Honduras is indicative of its shifting imperial role in Latin America and the international arena. Over time, Canada has increased its influence through subtle diplomatic and economic manipulations in Honduras. These political maneuvers include Canada’s response to the 2009 coup, its recently enacted free trade agreement, its manufacturers’ abuses, and its dangerous policies with regard to oil. Unlike the outright militant actions pursued by other superpowers in Latin America over the past century, Canada has increased its hold on Honduras without impactful restrictions on its industries in Honduras. Thus, Canadian relations with Honduras demonstrate a new, subtle, and insidious imperialism.

Special Thanks to Professor Tyler Shipley, York University Toronto, Ontario 

Please accept this article as a free contribution from COHA, but if re-posting, please afford authorial and institutional attribution. Exclusive rights can be negotiated. For additional news and analysis on Latin America, please go to: LatinNews.com and Rights Action. 

References

[1] “Mitch: The Deadliest Atlantic Hurricane Since 1780,” National Climatic Data Center, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/reports/mitch/mitch.html

[2] Ashley Holly, “Shame on Canada, Coup Supporter,” The Tyee, July 9, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://thetyee.ca/Views/2009/07/09/ShameOnCanada/

[3] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[4] Jennifer Moore, “Canada’s Subsidies to the Mining Industry Don’t Stop at Aid: Political Support Betrays Government Claims of Corporate Social Responsibility,” MiningWatch Canada, June 2012, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.miningwatch.ca/sites/www.miningwatch.ca/files/Canada_and_Honduras_mining_law-June%202012.pdf

[5] Dawn Paley, “Canada, Honduras and the Coup d’Etat,” The Dominion, January 8, 2010, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.dominionpaper.ca/articles/3080

[6] Ginger Thompson and Marc Lacey, “O.A.S. Votes to Suspend Honduras Over Coup,” The New York Times, July 4, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/05/world/americas/05honduras.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[7] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-zuesse/hillary-clintons-two-fore_1_b_3714765.html

[8] “Nations Divided on Recognizing Honduran President-Elect,” CNN World, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/americas/11/30/honduras.elections/index.html?iref=24hours

[9] http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2009/11/25/the_sham_elections_in_honduras

[10] ibid

[11] Rory Carroll, “Honduras Elects Porfirio Lobo as New President,” The Guardian, November 30, 2009, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/nov/30/honduras-lobo-president

[12] Todd Gordon, “Military Coups are Good for Canadian Business: The Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Global Research, March 3, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

[13] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[14] .( http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/03/19/canada-s-long-embrace-of-the-honduran-dictatorship/

[15] Todd Gordon, “Canada Backs Profit, Not Human Rights, in Honduras,” The Star, August 2, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/2011/08/16/canada_backs_profits_not_human_rights_in_honduras.html

[16] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[17] http://hondurashumanrights.wordpress.com/2011/01/24/sweatshops-mining-tourism-free-trade-negotiations-canadas-involvement-in-honduras-support-for-the-post-military-coup-regime/)

[18] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement Will Deepen Conflict,” The Council of Canadians, February 13, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.canadians.org/blog/canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement-will-deepen-conflict

[19] Adrienne Pine, “Sweatshops, Mining, Tourism & “Free” Trade Negotiations,” Quotha, January 13, 2011, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.quotha.net/node/1468

[20] http://www.wilderutopia.com/international/earth/honduras-mega-tourism-and-garifuna-communities-collide/

[21] “Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 26, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/honduras/index.aspx?lang=eng

[22] “Canada-Honduras Economic Growth and Prosperity Act Receives Royal Assent,” Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, June 19, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://www.international.gc.ca/media/comm/news-communiques/2014/06/19a.aspx?lang=eng

[23] Ibid.

[24] http://www.globalresearch.ca/military-coups-are-good-for-canadian-business-the-canada-honduras-free-trade-agreement/23492

 

[25] Sandra Cuffe, “Canadian Aid, Honduran Oil,” Upside Down World, March 24, 2014, accessed July 16, 2014, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/news-briefs-archives-68/4759-canadian-aid-honduran-oil

[26] (http://www.breakingthesilenceblog.com/general/the-media-coop-canadian-aid-honduran-oil-ottawa-funds-set-to-encourage-oil-investment/)

Open Season in Honduras on Indigenous Women Leaders

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía – member of COPINH – murdered July 5, 2016

By Phil Little  July 7, 2016

On March 3, 2016 the world was aghast with the news of the assassination of the celebrated Berta Cáceres, co-founder of COPINH (The Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras). Berta Cáceres had received over many years numerous death threats because of her work for the rights of the indigenous Lenca people, from whom she is descended. Berta followed the example of her mother, known as MamaBerta, and a long line of militant and active Lenca women who defied patriarchal powers and colonialism to defend their families, their land and their people. Berta Cáceres was listed on an assassination list revealed to an international observer, a visiting Spanish judge, during the fraudulent election process of 2013 which established, as designed by the U.S. embassy, the National Party as the government and Juan Orlando Hernandéz, a military general trained at the infamous School of the Americas at Ft. Benning near Columbus, Georgia, as President.

The Lenca people are the largest indigenous group in Honduras, whose origins are pre-colonial. They co-existed with the Mayan and other indigenous groups. The Lenca people have maintained many of their ancestral traditions and spirituality despite the powerful forces of assimilation of church and state. In some areas the Lenca people still preserved communal lands for cultivation of their traditional crops. However the recognition of indigenous rights has been resisted by the Honduran state and the families of the oligarchy.

In June 2016 it was revealed that Berta Cáceres was number 2 on an assassination list carried by a U.S. trained murder squad known as the Inter-institutional Security Force (Fusina). One of the 5 persons arrested and jailed in Honduras for the assassination of Berta Cáceres is Major Mariano Díaz Chávez, a graduate of the U.S. trained Tesón squad, and at the time of Cáceres murder was still an active member of the military.  There is also a link to a specially trained taskforce known as the “Xatruch” which is partially funded by the more than $200 million provided by the U.S. as military aid. While the members of the assassination squad have been supposedly identified, the government blocks further investigations that would lead to the main conspirators who paid US$50,000 to kill Cáceres.

Less than two weeks later, on March 15 an associate of Berta Cáceres and an active member of COPINH was also assassinated. Nelson García, 38 years old, was returning to his home after attending the scene of a violent eviction process affecting the community of Río Chiquito, in the same mountainous region where the Honduran dictatorship has granted concessions to foreign and national investors to build dams on every river of the area. In Río Chiquito the homes of the villagers were destroyed in order to force the people off of their ancestral lands. Since 2010 more than 120 environmental investigators and defenders were assassinated in Honduras, making it the most dangerous country in the world for those who defend the land and the environment.

It is in this context that the most recent assassination occurred on July 5, 2016, just four months after the murder of Berta Cáceres which focused the international spotlight on Honduras. In the evening of July 5, 2016 Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía left her home with her bicycle as she regularly did but failed to return. A search by friends and family ended near a garbage dump where the lifeless body of Yaneth was found with obvious head wounds from what police have described as a machete blow.  Yaneth Urquía was a small business owner in the small town of Macala, and was a known activist of the same peasant and indigenous group COPINH, co-founded by Berta Cáceres.

Berta Cáceres received the prestigious Goldman Award for environmental activists because of her stalwart defense of the Gualcarque River, considered by the Lenca people as a sacred waterway. A foreign consortium, involving well connected Honduran political and oligarch elites, were involved through the DESA corporation in the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, a hydro-electric project designed to support mining projects in the country. The international consortium (Dutch, German, American and even the Canadian “Blue Energy” company) employed the military unit of TIGRES, an efficient murder squad of the Honduran military, disguised as “security guards”. The municipal government which supported the Agua Zarca project is composed of members of the National Party, the ruling national government of Honduras.

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía was a woman activist in a country with an extremely high rate of femicide which was described by the W.H.O. as reaching “epidemic” proportions.  At a rate of 12 per 100,000 population the number of murders of women is among the highest in the world. It is said that “men are killed for what they are doing, but women are killed for being women”.  In Honduras impunity is the norm and 94% of homicides remain without even an investigation. In the past decade an average 440 women are killed each year; that is a woman is killed every 18 hours in Honduras. Just being a woman activist put Yaneth Urquía in danger.  The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights issued a powerful denunciation of the State of Human Rights in Honduras with a report dated December 31, 2015 (Doc 42/15).  (The official homicide rate is said to be 79/100,000 but it is strongly suspected that the official tally low balls a much higher rate that could be closer to 112/100,000 as in 2014). The Commission Report stated:

Human rights defenders in Honduras are targets of attacks by those who have been identified as responsible for rights violations, and by sectors and groups with interests opposed to their causes. The risk of losing their lives or suffering harm to their integrity has caused a great many human rights defenders in Honduras to have precautionary measures granted by the Commission that require implementation on the part of the Honduran government. (Art.44)

 

The “precautionary measures” are important to understand. Human Rights workers, journalists, environmentalist, lawyers, and anyone in a position to question or expose government complicity or fault and who have received credible threats are identified as persons at risk. Public demonstrations of opposition to the oligarchy or the government too often result in arbitrary detentions, beatings, kidnapping, and frequently death threats. Berta Cáceres had been identified by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights as a person needing these “precautionary measures” which would oblige the state to provide protection. It did not do Berta any good as it is obvious that the Honduran military were involved in her assassination and the intellectual authors of the crime reach to the highest levels of the government.

Lesbia Yaneth Urquía Urquía as well had been granted these “precautionary measures” but again it did not protect her. COPINH has denounced the murder of Yaneth Urquía as another “political femicide”. Yaneth Urquía was an active member of COPINH since the military coup of 2009 which eventually led to the dominance of the National Party and the dictatorship under Juan Orlando Hernandez.  Yaneth Urquía was active in opposition to the construction of another hydroelectric dam on the Chinacla River, which flows through traditional Lenca territory and is essential to the livelihood of peasant agrarian communities in the municipality of San José, La Paz.

This hydroelectric project on the Chinacla River known as “Aurora I” however is directly linked to the office of the President of the Republic through Gladys Aurora López who was elected as a Deputy to the National Congress in the fraudulent elections of 2013 and is the Vice-President of the National Congress. She is also President of the Central Committee of the “National Party” (CCPN). Gladys Aurora López and her husband Arnold Castro had been previously identified as having threatened community members and leaders who opposed the hydroelectric project on the Chinacla River.  The owner of the company behind the “Aurora I” hydroelectric dam is none other than Gladys Aurora López.

COPINH stated: “The death of Lesbia Yaneth is a political feminicide, and an attempt to silence the voice of those brave women who are courageously defending their rights and opposing the patriarchal, racist and capitalist system of their society”.

The assassination of Yaneth Urquía suspiciously comes in the context of what is supposed to be a period of “consultations” conducted by the government dealing with the approval of a proposed regulation of the rights of indigenous community to “Prior Consultation that is free and informed”.  This would be in accord with international standards and the rights of indigenous communities to their historical traditions and settlements. This assassination could be interpreted as a statement by the government that it does not want the consultation process to be negative to the interests of economic development, such as that of “Aurora I”.

The parallels to the assassination of Berta Cáceres are far too obvious not to consider. Many of those who have opposed the industrial developments on the rivers of the departments of Sta. Barbara and Sta. Rosa de Copan have opted to flee the area for fear of repression and harm to themselves or their families. Those who stand forward in leadership, such as Berta Cáceres, Nelson García, and Yaneth Urquía, brave the intimidations, false arrests, beatings, trumped up legal complaints, and death threats because they come from a different place where they feel connected to their indigenous ancestors and are nourished by a spirituality that connects them to the “land, the water and the corn”.  They did fear death, but more they feared betraying the “Madre Tierra” (Mother Earth) who gave them courage and life.

No Light At End Of Tunnel:
Summary conclusions of Rights Action delegation to Honduras

From June 5-11, 2016, Rights Action led a human rights solidarity trip to Honduras. (The trip was co-sponsored by the Mir Centre for Peace at Selkirk College). In the aftermath of the March 2, 2016 assassination of Berta Caceres and attempted assassination of Gustavo Castro, the focus of our trip was:

Honouring The Life, Vision & Struggles Of Berta Caceres:
What Do The U.S. & Canada Have To Do With Repression, Human Rights Violations, Corruption & Impunity In Honduras?


(Olivia and Laura, daughters of Berta Caceres, and her mother at Mama Berta’s home, La Esperanza, June 6, 2016)

Over the course of seven days, our delegation – 5 Canadians, 4 US citizens, 1 US-Argentinian, 1 Australian – travelled to and met with:

  • The family of Berta Caceres in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • COPINH, the Lenca-campesino organization co-founded by Berta Caceres, at their “Utopia” solidarity center in La Esperanza, Intibuca;
  • The Azacualpa Environmental Committee, in Santa Rosa de Copan, resisting harms and violations caused by the Canadian Aura Minerals gold mining company;
  • CODEMUH (Collective of Honduran Women) working with women whose rights are being violated by the garment “sweatshop” industry, including the Canadian company Gildan Activewear, the US company Hanesbrand Inc, and more;
  • OFRANEH (the Honduran Fraternal Organization of Black and Garifuna peoples) working in defense of Garifuna Indigenous rights and territorial control along the north coast of Honduras, resisting violent and illegal evictions and human rights violations carried out in the interests of Canadian and US tourism operators, the African palm industry (including the World Bank funded Dinant corporation);
Summary Conclusions: No Light At End Of Tunnel In Honduras
In the foreseeable future, there will be no remedy to human rights violations, poverty, repression and impunity in Honduras.  The country is characterized by systemic exploitation, poverty and racism; by government sanctioned repression; by government tolerated and induced crime and violence; and by corruption and impunity in all branches of the government, police and military and most aspects of the economy, particularly the dominant national and international business and investment sectors.

During our short, but intense and moving road trip to visit communities and organizations around the country, we were able to confirm:

  • No justice has been done in the political murder of Berta Caceres and attempted murder of Gustavo Castro, even as members of Berta’s family are targeted with threats and harassment;
  • COPINH member continue to be criminalized and threatened, as they carry on with their Lenca community and territorial defense struggles, and as they support efforts for justice for Berta and Gustavo and for the multiple victims of political murder and government repression since 2009;
  • The Aura Minerals Canadian mining company continues, direct supported by the military, police and government, is applying huge and even threatening pressure on Azacualpa community members to force them to “agree” to allow Aura Minerals to move a 200 year old cemetery, to continue with their mountain-top removal, cyanide leaching, gold mining operation;
  • CODEMUH continues its courageous work with exploited garment industry workers (mainly women), even as labor and health rights violations have further increased since the 2009 military coup;
  • OFRANEH members continue to be victims of criminalization, threats, attacks and killings, all of which have worsened since the 2009 coup, as they organize and work to defend their territories, collective rights and culture against forced and illegal evictions and human rights violations caused by US, Canadian and other international tourism companies and investors.
There will be no end to this situation as long as the “international community” – particularly the US and Canadian governments, the World Bank and IDB, a host of international companies and investors – maintain mutually beneficial military, economic and political relations with the post-coup regimes and dominant economic sectors in power.

Forced Migrancy: This situation took a serious turn for the worse after the US and Canadian-backed military coup in 2009, and is directly causing the highest rates of forced migrancy in Honduran history.

Over the next weeks, Rights Action – as well as delegation members and their organizations – will publish information related to the community, environmental and life defense struggles that we directly learned about.

More Information: Grahame Russell, Rights Action director, grahame@rightsaction.org, 416-807-4436

Delegation Members

  • Cara-Lee Malange, Mir Peace Centre, British Columbia
  • Professor Claudia Chaufan, California & Toronto
  • Alison Fjerstad, Texas
  • Warwick Fry, Australia
  • Kay Gimbel, Mining Justice Action Committee, British Columbia
  • Barb Hill, Texas
  • Steven Johnson, Texas
  • Scott Martens, British Colombia
  • Margaret Anne Murphy, British Colombia
  • Danny Vela, Texas
*******

See conclusions of a Canadian delegation to Honduras, April 12-19, 2016, that Rights Action participated in:

Leer en español.

GUSTAVO CASTRO was the sole witness to the murder on March 3 of Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, the co-founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Movements of Honduras (COPINH). Castro, the director of Other Worlds, an environmental organization in Chiapas, Mexico, was also shot in the attack. After being barred from leaving Honduras, Castro was released on March 30 and has since settled in an undisclosed location. Last week he spoke by phone to The Intercept about the night of the murder and the reasons why environmental activism in Latin America is so dangerous.

Castro’s experience over the past month provides a remarkable glimpse into the Honduran justice system, which is notorious for its culture of impunity. In the months before her murder, Cáceres repeatedly said that she was being harassed by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA (DESA), the private energy company behind the Agua Zarca dam project, which she had vigorously opposed. After the murder, Cáceres’s family immediately pointed to DESA. On March 31, the Honduran public prosecutor’s office announced that it had seized weapons and documents from DESA’s office and questioned several employees.

Contacted for comment, DESA provided the following statement: “The board of directors of the company that is carrying out the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project has not given any declaration nor does it plan to do so until the authorities in charge of the investigation determine the causes and perpetrators of this regrettable incident that ended the life of the indigenous leader Berta Cáceres.”

What happened during your last hours with Berta Cáceres?

I arrived on March 1 in San Pedro Sula, and that day they put me up in another home that belongs to other COPINH members in La Esperanza. It had been years since I had seen Berta in person, although we had been in touch by email. I was there to facilitate a workshop on environmentalism. That day Berta said to me, brother, come to my house, I have internet so you can get in touch with your family. We spent a while talking, even discussing the threats that she had received in the past and in recent weeks — intimidation and threats to her safety by employees of DESA and people who seemed to be hit men contracted by DESA, the company behind the hydroelectric project called Agua Zarca.

And I said to Berta, this is a very isolated home, how is it that you live here alone? So I decided to stay the night. I started to get ready for the second day of the workshop, and she was in her room. At midnight, there was a loud bang on the door and immediately one hit man entered my room, and simultaneously another entered hers. Everything happened very quickly, within 30 seconds, in which simultaneously they assassinated her and shot me. They had clearly been following her and were expecting her to be alone, so I think it surprised them to find another person there and they didn’t know what to do, so they just shot me and ran away.

Were their faces covered?

I don’t know about the other one, but the one who shot me wasn’t masked. I wasn’t able to decipher his face well, but that’s the moment when I became the principal witness, and a protected witness.

When Berta told you that she had received threats from DESA and Agua Zarca, did she say at any point that the people threatening her were from Honduran state security forces? Or were they gang members, or just random individuals?

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Caceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016. Caceres, a respected environmentalist who won the prestigious Goldman Prize last year for her outspoken advocacy, was murdered in her home on March 3, her family said. AFP PHOTO/Orlando SIERRA. / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)

Human rights activists take part in a protest to claim justice after the murdered of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa on March 17, 2016.

Photo: Orlando Sierra/AFP/Getty Images

I don’t remember her saying anything like that. She did say they were employees, people in favor of the company. In fact when I arrived in Mexico, on March 30, the public prosecutor’s office in Honduras published a press release publicly linking the company to their line of investigation. In the press release they also announced that they had seized weapons and questioned some of the company’s people. But they didn’t want to get to this point. Before coming to that line of investigation, I got the impression they wanted to see if another line of investigation could be useful or believable for national and international public opinion, but that was impossible. Everyone in COPINH already knew the recent history, so they had no other option than to finally go after the company. I’m unaware of any advances they’ve had in this line of investigation.Over the last decade there were more than 100 murders of environmentalists in Honduras. And these conflicts are often linked to the army and the police. That’s part of the reality of Honduras. In this specific case, Berta said that the guilty party was the company. It was the company with which she had a strong and direct confrontation.

At first we were hearing that they questioned you, took you to the airport, and then suddenly told you that you couldn’t leave the country. Is this how it happened?

The whole process was confusing and handled poorly. I spent the first three or four days in constant legal procedures in La Esperanza. I could have refused several times, because one has the right to solicit a six-hour prevention order as a victim and a protected witness. Nevertheless I never used this instrument, and every time they asked me to take part in more legal procedures, I did — at any hour, in the middle of the night, whenever. So I went nearly four days without sleeping. I gave the statement for the attorney general, the statement for the public prosecutor, medical examinations, cross-examinations, photographic identification, etc.

And, yes, at first they said I could go. They always said, just one more thing, and then just one more thing, and then it finally seemed like everything was done and ready. They even prepared a helicopter for me to get back to Tegucigalpa on March 5. But because of weather conditions they weren’t able to land the helicopter, so instead they deployed a security detail to accompany me to Tegucigalpa by land. Later, the public prosecutor’s office claimed I was trying to escape, which was a huge lie.

So I arrived at the Mexican Embassy, where the ambassador and the consul bought me a plane ticket for March 6 at 6:20 a.m. But when we got to the airport, Honduran officials were waiting in hiding around the airport for me, as if this were necessary, as if this were a criminal matter and as if I weren’t a protected witness and a victim. It was so shameless. It felt like having an army at my heels. And the ambassador and the consul were with me. Suddenly eight or 10 people from the attorney general’s office and the public prosecutor’s office stood in front of the door and said that I couldn’t leave. They wouldn’t hand over any official document explaining anything. I know that this government is the result of a coup, but this game was so ridiculous that even they had to ask for apologies from the ambassador and me. What they did was totally unnecessary. And obviously they had to justify themselves before the national and international press by claiming they thought I was fleeing. Even then I could have said I was leaving. Because of a convention on penal matters between Mexico and Honduras, as a victim and a protected witness, I had the right to participate in the legal procedures from Mexico. I’m not a criminal — I’m a victim. But they forgot that.

They said, we need just one more thing. So I asked for more protection for the ride back: a bulletproof vest and more bodyguards. What they originally said they needed was more testimony, but what it ended up being was more cross-examination. At the end of the night they produced a document saying it was necessary for me to stay 30 days more. That was also illegal — the judge used arguments based on international human rights laws regarding suspects. When my lawyer argued they were violating my rights, the judge not only removed her from the case but furthermore suspended her ability to practice law for 15 days.

The government wanted me under its control. It has no laws that protect victims. Nor does it have regulations or protocols or a budget to protect human rights activists. Nor does it have regulations for protected witnesses. So they wanted me under their so-called protection where there is no law that obligates them to do anything. Which is why I stayed in the Mexican Embassy. But it was a month of horrible stress and tension, in which the government, with its complete lack of regulations or protocols, could easily accuse me of anything at any moment, show up with a judicial order, and the Mexican Embassy wouldn’t have been able to do anything. One week before I arrived in Honduras, the Judicial Commission had been dissolved, so there was no legal instrument with which I could defend myself. There was no commission before which I could denounce a judge who acted illegally, because that commission had been dissolved. So I found myself in total legal defenselessness — without a lawyer, because they suspended her. And it seemed neither international pressure nor the Mexican government could do anything. So it was a state of complete insecurity and a constant violation of my human rights.

Did they ever try to accuse you of anything officially?

There wasn’t anything explicit. There were rumors in the press that the public prosecutor’s office was trying to justify involving me in the crime in some way. But with the evidence and my declarations, it was simply impossible for them to invent such a farce. No matter how many circles they ran around the matter, they eventually had to go to DESA. They had no other option. I had the sense that they wanted to keep me there while they were trying to find something. It was a horrible uncertainty, because you have no lawyer. They have the ability to leave you totally legally defenseless.

HONDURAS - APRIL 04: A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant (Photo by David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images)

A 745-foot-high dam under construction for a future power plant in Honduras, April 4, 1983.

Photo: David A. Harvey/National Geographic/Getty Images

How do you explain the fact that opposing dams is interpreted as a threat?

This isn’t true only in Honduras — also in Guatemala, Mexico, Chile, etc. One of the reasons is that these dams mean flooding out huge swaths of jungle, forest, and indigenous and campesino lands. And this causes a strong reaction from these communities, because there are thousands and thousands of them displaced violently.

Another reason is that one of the most profitable businesses at the moment is the sale of electrical energy, especially in Latin America, because free trade agreements are opening huge investments for transnational corporations. And what does this mean? For example, free trade agreements allow major investors to put up factories, industrial parks, infrastructure, and mines, which all consume a ton of electricity and a ton of water. And bear in mind that one gold mine can use between 1 and 3 million liters of water every hour. That implies relinquishing the water that belongs to communities, their rivers, and their wells — using it to instead generate electricity for the big industrial corridors. So the sale of energy, and thus investments in energy, is one of the most profitable businesses for big capital. But that means entering into battle over territory with campesino and indigenous communities.

Additionally, with the Kyoto Protocol they’ve invented the stupid idea that dams make “clean energy.” Thus in order to gain carbon credits and reduce their greenhouse gases, wealthy countries started investing in dams. That’s why we have a world full of dam construction.

In Latin America almost every country has free trade agreements with the U.S., Canada, and Europe, and many also with Asia. This means changing your constitution, your environmental legislation that concerns water, energy and foreign investment, in order to adopt and facilitate these free trade agreements. If you don’t, companies sue. For governments, it’s easier to repress people than to pay damages and compensation to corporations. A good example is the case of the gold mine in El Salvador. El Salvador has had to pay millions to defend itself against a mining company before the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. And we are talking about one mine. But imagine 10,000 or 15,000 — we are talking about thousands of mining concessions in the region. And to this if you add dams, and to that you add highways, ports, airports, mines, fracking, petroleum, huge shopping malls, tax-free zones, charter cities, huge elite tourist resorts — there are so many concessions.

If the human rights claims that activists make are actually upheld — contamination of water and land, violating previous and informed consent of communities — or if they kick out a company for dumping toxic waste into rivers, for murdering community members, for causing cancer around mining sites like we’ve seen in Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala — if governments have to do something about these human rights claims by kicking out the extractive industry, they’ll have to pay millions and millions of dollars that they don’t have. Each country would have to sell itself 20 times over to pay off the debt. So this is not easy to solve.

This leads to confrontation with communities. This will only deepen with things like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and governments prefer to react by criminalizing citizen protest. Peaceful protest used to be a human right. Now they call it “terrorism,” “violence.” They’re criminalizing human rights.

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said that the coup in Honduras was legal. What do you think about this statement?

It seems to me that in the end, the government had to justify a way for another group to come to power. And Honduras’s legal antiquity allows you to make any argument you want. For example, one of the reasons they gave for overthrowing Zelaya was that he proposed to modify the constitution to allow for re-election. Which the current president, Juan Orlando Hernández, is now trying to do, to modify the constitution to allow for re-election for him next year. So that’s why I say it depends on how you want to see it. If Zelaya proposes it, it’s unconstitutional and he has to go. If the oligarchy and the global hegemony says it, it’s legal, it’s democratic.

How do you see your future? Or are you living more day by day right now?

More day by day. Many are asking me if I’m going to throw in the towel, if I’m like the boxer who can’t take any more and gives up. I say no, I’m picking that towel up. This struggle must continue. I am not alone. Across Latin America there are thousands of people who are criminalized, who are being persecuted and threatened for defending human rights, who are defending the well-being of our planet. We must realize that that no one is exempt from this criminalization. Like so many friends who have been murdered for resisting. But there are many of us, and we will carry on.

The voracious capitalism we face cannot continue as is, with its accelerated and extractionist logic that is finishing off our planet. I think our great challenge is to realize that other worlds are possible. We can build something different, something dignified and just. There is enough water for everyone. There is enough land, enough food for everyone. We cannot continue feeding this predatory system of capital accumulation in the hands of so few. That system is unsustainable. So from wherever we are — in the Americas, in Europe, in Asia — we will all be affected by this system. Sometimes it seems that the crisis doesn’t touch certain places, and sometimes we don’t make the structural link to capitalism with the crises that the U.S. and Canada and France and Spain face. But I hope that we realize this soon, because it will affect us all sooner or later. And I want to say that there is still time to do something. This is urgent.

Top photo: Activist Gustavo Castro at a news conference at the Miguel Agustín Pro Juárez Human Rights Center in Mexico, April 4, 2016. Castro is a key witness in the March 3 fatal shooting of activist Berta Cáceres in Honduras.

A youth takes part in a protest seeking justice after the murder of indigenous activist leader Berta Cáceres in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, March 17, 2016.

Death Squads Are Back in Honduras, Activists Tell Congress

Apr. 12 2016, 7:35 a.m.

https://theintercept.com/2016/04/12/death-squads-are-back-in-honduras-honduran-activists-tell-congress/

THREE WEEKS AGO, Honduran activist Gaspar Sanchez spoke at a briefing on Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to support an impartial investigation into the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres.

Cáceres had mobilized native communities to speak out against the Agua Zarca Dam, a hydroelectric project backed by European and Chinese corporations, before being killed by two unknown gunmen last month.

Last week, back in Honduras at a protest outside the Honduran Public Ministry in Tegulcigalpa, Sanchez unfurled a banner demanding justice for Cáceres’s murder.

When nearby soldiers saw him, they dragged him away from the crowd and brutally beat him, stopping only after the crowd of protestors came to his defense.

Sanchez is a member of the organization Cáceres founded, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH). The group’s leadership believes that Sanchez’s assault was meant to send a message against speaking out internationally, and that if the crowd had not intervened, Sanchez would likely have been imprisoned.

But Honduran activists are refusing to stay silent.

Back on Capitol Hill, two days after the beating, a panel of human rights leaders hosted by Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., spoke to lawmakers about the dangers of speaking out against the U.S.-backed Honduran government.

Victor Fernandez, a prominent human rights attorney and lawyer representing the Cáceres family, insisted that her assassination was carried out by either the Honduran government or by “the paramilitary structure of companies.”

“Honduras is the victim of international theft due to its national resources,” said Fernandez, speaking through a translator. “What we have now is our natural resources — minerals, rivers, forest. Cáceres was killed because she was confronting the extractive model.”

Bertha Oliva compared the current situation to the early 1980s, when the CIA funded, armed, and trained Honduran government death squads that murdered hundreds of opposition activists.

Oliva founded the Committee for the Relatives of the Disappeared in Honduras (COFADEH, by Spanish initials) in 1981, after government forces kidnapped her husband from their home. He was never seen again.

“When we first began in 1982, we faced death squads,” said Oliva, also speaking through a translator. “Now, it’s like going back to the past. We know there are death squads in Honduras.”

In 2009, a coup toppled Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who had long been seen as a leftist threat to the interests of international corporations. In 2008, Zelaya blocked a series of hydroelectric dam projects, citing concerns raised by native Hondurans. Less than a year after he was deposed, the new government had already approved 40 dam contracts. When the current President Juan Orlando Hernández came to power in 2013, his slogan was “Honduras is open for business.”

The coup was accompanied by a huge rise in political violence. By 2012, state security forces had assassinated more than 300 people, and 34 members of the opposition and 13 journalists had disappeared, according to data compiled by Honduran human rights organizations. The political assassinations added to the emboldened violence from gangs and drug traffickers, making Honduras one of the most dangerous countries in the world. In 2012, Reuters reported that it had the highest murder rate of any country.

Although the murder rate has since declined, political violence in Honduras has continued. Since the end of 2012, at least 22 prominent environmental activists have been killed, according to Global Witness.

Due to the Honduran government’s abysmal human rights record, critics have called on the U.S. to stop supporting the coup regime.

Citing the flow of drugs as a rationale, the U.S. government gave at least $57 million in military aid to Honduras between 2009 and 2014, not including the tens of millions of dollars spent on U.S. military contracts in Honduras. The Pentagon has not released figures for 2015 or 2016.

The U.S. military also maintains a force of more than 600 troops in Honduras, as part of a program called “Joint Task Force Bravo.” U.S. Special Forces play a large role in training their Honduran counterparts. In February, the Wall Street Journal published a video report showing Green Berets teaching Honduran soldiers how to raid homes.

The U.S. also helps maintain at least 13 military bases in the country, three of which were built after the coup, according to David Vine, author of Base Nation.

Congress has placed restrictions on military aid to countries with poor human rights records, but the State Department rarely applies them. The “Leahy Law,” for example, requires the State Department to suspend military aid to any country that it determines “has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Congress has even singled out Honduras in State Department appropriations bills, requiring the Secretary of State to withhold aid if he finds the Honduran government did not “protect the right of political opposition parties, journalists, trade unionists, human rights defenders, and other civil society activists to operate without interference.” The State Department, however, is still sending aid.

Under the spending laws passed last year, Congress can withhold 50 percent of the military aid budgeted to go through the State Department.

Following Cáceres’s murder, 62 members of Congress also signed a letter calling on the administration to “immediately stop all assistance to Honduran security forces … given the implication of the Honduran military and police in extrajudicial killings, illegal detentions, torture, and other violations of human rights.” More than 200 activist organizations signed a similar letter, requesting Secretary of State John Kerry suspend military aid until an independent investigation into Cáceres’s murder is completed.

Panelists at the briefing last Thursday argued that the Honduran government should receive the condemnation, not the assistance, of foreign governments.

Fernandez, Cáceres’s lawyer, said, “This government produces so much corruption, it can’t just have subtle backing from world governments.”

When asked by The Intercept whether U.S. aid is contributing to human rights violations in Honduras, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner responded by condemning Cáceres’s murder. “We strongly condemn the murder of civil society activist Berta Cáceres,” Toner said, “and extend our deepest condolences to her family, friends, and the people of Honduras, who have lost a dedicated defender of the environment and of human rights.” The Pentagon declined to comment, deferring to the State Department’s response.