Archive for the ‘environmental dangers in Honduras’ Category

Berta’ Mother: The Honduran State is Responsible for this Crime

Public Letter from Austra Bertha Flores López.

Austra Bertha Flores López mother of Berta Caceres

As you know, I am the mother of Bertha Isabel Cáceres Flores, assassinated on March 2nd of this year. A month has gone by since this abominable and cowardly crime took place. I write this public letter despite the pain it causes me, in order to reach as many people as possible with these messages:

1. I want to express my deepest thanks to all of the people, social movement organizations, human rights organizations, representatives of indigenous and afro-descendant peoples, women’s organizations, representatives of different churches, diplomats, teachers’ organizations, youth organizations, LGBT organizations, environmentalist organizations, members of the media, in summary, to all of those who have shown solidarity during this tremendously difficult time that I have had to live through as a result of this violent crime. The same is true, of course, for my grand daughters and my grandson, who had their mother stolen from them in the most horrendous way imaginable, along with all of the other family members who have suffered this irreparable loss.
I have painstakingly served my people as a midwife, a mayor, a governor and a congresswoman, roles which allowed me to push for the approval of ILO Convention 169, for the defense of women, of children and of human rights in general. At 83 years of age this crime has hit me hard and I am only able to stay strong thanks to the steadfast solidarity that I have received from you. I want to tell you that I hope not to leave this world before achieving justice for my daughter Bertita, who has given her life for our mother earth, for the rights of indigenous and black peoples, for women and for the rivers. For this reason I ask you to please continue to vigorously support me so that we may achieve justice and end impunity in a country so beaten down by the oppressors’ political violence against those who work to build a more just and humane society. I reiterate to you my appreciation, and ask that we make our cries for justice even louder, since that is the only way we can end the impunity that has surrounded this crime. You all can decide on the way to do this, whether through a prayer, a poster, a march, a drawing on a wall, or a non-violent but powerful action. Our sisters and brothers have demonstrated enormous creativity. Keep it up, so that a world without violence can one day be possible.

2. Secondly, I write to you to say that it is the Honduran state that is responsible for this crime, for the following reasons: The Honduran state was under obligation to comply with the protective measures ordered to secure my daughter’s life, yet the state did not fulfill these international commitments. It was the Honduran state that approved the concessions of our natural resources, including the Gualcarque River, a river that is part of the Lenca territory, without the required prior, free, and informed community consultation, despite knowing that it is required to do so under an international agreement approved by the Honduran state. That agreement is the Untied Nations International Labor Organization Convention 169, which mentions the right to consultation. The violation of this convention has generated tremendous conflict, leading to bloodshet in the communities, assassination of indigenous leaders and environmentalists.
The Honduran state criminalized my daughter by leveraging state institutions to mount several cases against her for the crime of carrying out her work in defense of our natural resources and the rights of indigenous and black peoples in Honduras. The Honduran state has taken it upon itself to defend the private interests of extractive companies, to such an extent that when my daughter, as general coordinator of COPINH, led a march this past February, she was insulted, vilified and threatened by people linked to DESA’s interests in front of the police and the army, whose response was to repress her and the Lena people that were mobilizing, going so far as to seize the buses that were transporting them.
The Honduran state contaminated the crime scene instead of preserving and investigating it. It has been a month already and despite national and international pressure, the state has been unable to capture the material or intellectual authors of this crime that has brought grief to our family and our people.
After the coup d’état lists of people to be targeted by death squads for assassination circulated. The first person on those lists was Bertha Isabel.
I know that nobody can bring my daughter back to life, but that will not stop my determination to fight with all of my strength so that Bertita’s assassination does not remain in impunity. That means fighting for the Honduran state to allow an independent commission to investigate this painful assassination and to cancel all of the concessions of natural resources that have been handed out in clear violation of ILO Convention 169, particularly the concessions along the Gualcarque River, for which my daughter struggled and continues to struggle from wherever she may be. It means the Honduran government must commit to not allow any more crimes against the women and men who defend human rights. That Honduras allow our family to participate in the investigation. That the Honduran state cease the criminalization of COPINH and the social movement organizations.
I would like for UNESCO to designate the Gualcarque River as part of humanity’s cultural and natural heritage.

I also want to use this opportunity to express how happy I am that Gustavo Castro, a dear friend and another victim of this crime, has been able to return to his country.
I close by asking that all of our people in Honduras and all of the peoples of the world take up the struggle in defense of life and mother earth. Towards that end, I leave you with the words of my daughter: “WAKE UP HUMANITY, THERE’S NO TIME LEFT.”
With conviction, appreciation and solidarity, sincerely,
Austra Bertha Flores López
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A Voice for Honduras’ Voiceless

The Lasting Legacy of Berta Cáceres

By Lauren Carasik

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/honduras/2016-03-22/voice-honduras-voiceless

Honduras is reeling from the assassination of prominent indigenous rights activist and environmental leader Berta Cáceres, who was gunned down in her home in La Esperanza on March 2. For years, she had faced death threats from industrialists who laid claim to the land of her people, the Lenca. Her hallmark fight pitted her against powerful figures who sought to dam the Gualcarque River—a sacred site for the Lenca. The construction would have threatened the indigenous group’s livelihood and spiritual connection to the river.

Cáceres’ most public battle may have focused on the small indigenous communities of Rio Blanco that live adjacent to the river, but her struggle was far from local—indeed, her efforts to protect indigenous land rights made her a national and global symbol, standing against transnational capitalism and the threat it poses not only to indigenous people throughout the developing world, but to global ecology as well. In the wake of Cáceres’ death, thousands mobilized to march in Tegucigalpa on March 17 and 18. Outside of Honduras, the killing has galvanized a groundswell of outrage as well. Hundreds of international organizations and academics have signed letters condemning the killing and demanding justice, and activists unfurled a protest banner in front of the headquarters of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in Washington and disrupted a meeting of the Council of the Americas attended by U.S. ambassadors to Central America. Inside the beltway, U.S. Senator Patrick Leahydenounced the United States’ role in “supporting and profiting” from the “corruption and injustice” in Honduras, and 62 members of the House of Representatives have sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew to demand an independent investigation into Cáceres’ death and the suspension of U.S. military aid to Honduras. Washington is the Honduran government’s biggest patron, and it must now decide which side of the nation’s history it wishes to be on.

AGE OF RESISTANCE

Cáceres came of age during the 1980s, a decade marked by brutality across Central America. She was raised in a household that was steeped in the ideas and actions of resistance. The Cáceres family spent nights huddled around a radio listening to revolutionary dispatches from Nicaragua. Her mother, also named Berta, frequently took in refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador.

Cáceres first entered politics in 1993 when she co-founded the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras(COPINH). COPINH sought to resist illegal logging and protect therights of indigenous people, a group historically excluded from Honduras’ political system. Cáceres soon emerged as a leader in a broader social movement that united a coalition of marginalized groups seeking greater political and economic inclusion. Cáceres spent the next 16 years advocating for the rights of indigenous peoples, women, and other marginalized groups. To advance those goals, she helped build a social movement in Honduras and established strong connections to groups across the region and around the world.

Her work became particularly urgent after the coup in Honduras in 2009 that ousted democratically elected president, Manuel Zelaya. The president had laid the groundwork for populist changes which included land reform, efforts that were scrapped once Zelaya was out of office. Since then, life has become harder for activists of all stripes. Indeed, any groups who opposed the new regime’s neoliberal agenda became an official target for retribution.

Since the coup, successive administrations have courted foreign capital, engaged in privatization efforts, granted hundreds of hydroelectric and mining concessions to international corporations, and built infrastructure to support the accelerated exploitation of natural resources in Honduras. Among the projects was the Agua Zarca dam over the Gualcarque River—the issue the defined Cáceres efforts. The dam is being built by Desarrollos Energéticos, SA(DESA). Among the company’s owners is the powerful Atala family, suspected of ties to the coup, including Camilo Atala, president of theFicohsa Bank, the largest in the country. The Chinese hydroelectric engineering firm Sinohydro was initially overseeing the work with financing from the World Bank. But the protests over the construction compelled both to withdraw in 2013. Cáceres had also implored other foreign financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank FMO, the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation and German firms Siemens and Voith, to pull their funding. Mounting public pressure after the murder of Cáceres’ and COPINH activist Nelson Garcia two weeks later finally prompted the Dutch and Finnish banks to suspend disbursements on March 16, although they have not permanently withdrawn from the project.

JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS

The words “Berta Lives” are seen written in chalk to honour the slain environmental rights activist, Berta Caceres during a vigil to mark International Women’s Day in Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 8, 2016.

The heart of Cáceres’ strategy was to push the government to recognize that the COPINH’s demands were grounded in internationally recognized rights, including the right to prior and informed consent for projects that affect indigenous communities, and to target the project’s international financiers. At first, Cáceres and COPINH tried to block the Agua Zarca dam’s construction through political channels, including indigenous assemblies, public declarations opposing the dam, and legal challenges. When these failed and construction was set to begin in 2013, it seemed like the community was out of options.

The next salvo was peaceful protests. COPINH set up a roadblock that prevented DESA from accessing the river. DESA responded with a concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation that, at times, turned violent. Tomás Garciá, a COPINH protestor who was unarmed, was shot at close range and killed by a Honduran soldier in 2013. Two other members of COPINH have also been killed since then, and others have been attacked with machetes. Cáceres herself had been arrested on charges of illegal possession of a firearm (which she claimed was planted), as well on charges of usurpation, coercion, and damages as a result of the blockade. These charges were ultimately dismissed.

In the IACHR’s December 2015 Situation of Human Rights in Honduras report, the group specifically decried the criminalization of Cáceres’ protest movement. According to Global Witness, Honduras was the most deadly country in the world for environmental and land rights defenders in 2014.

In the end, COPINH’s orchestrated resistance to the Agua Zarca dam halted its construction in Honduras’ Rio Blanco community, but failed to thwart the project altogether. DESA moved the dam project across the river, near the town of San Francisco de Ojuera, where the company boasted of winning support for USAID projects. Construction began in August of 2015. The conflict simmered on, reaching a boiling point again on February 20, as security forces detained 100 protesters, including Cáceres, who had traveled to the new dam site to register their disapproval. Among those seeking to block the path of the protestors were members of the Honduran military. During the altercation, COPINH members reported that a local official told Cáceres that she would never come back to the project’s new site, and that she might be killed.

A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.
JORGE CABRERA / REUTERS
A man puts flowers on the coffin of slain environmental rights activist Berta Caceres at a cemetery in the town of La Esperanza, outside Tegucigalpa, Honduras March 5, 2016.

UNDER PRESSURE

Since Cáceres’ death, the Honduran government has yielded to tremendous public pressure and agreed to launch a prompt investigation into her murder.

Initial signals, however, have inspired little confidence. State investigators ignored the Cáceres family’s demand for an independent expert to attend the autopsy. The crime scene was compromised, and authorities were quick to suggest that her murder was either a crime of passion or a random robbery. Gustavo Castro Soto, a prominent Mexican environmental activist who was injured in the attack and is the sole eyewitness, provided testimony over multiple days in harsh conditions, but was prevented from leaving the country for 30 days, though he believes his life is in danger in Honduras. His lawyer’s license was suspended for 15 days after lodging a request that the decision to detain him in Honduras be revised. To this day, Castro remains in the Mexican Embassy compound in Tegucigalpa for his own safety, despite his stated desire to return home to his family. Intense and prolonged questioning of COPINH leaders have fueled concerns that Honduran authorities are more interested in extracting intelligence about Cáceres’ activist group to distract their efforts, rather than finding her murderer.

Cáceres’ family has expressed their doubts about the integrity of any investigation conducted by the Honduran government. They have demanded an independent international investigation to be overseen by the IACHR—one that could not only name the material perpetrators of the crime, but its masterminds as well, however high up the chain of command they may be. Honduran authorities have cited an agreement with the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights to accompany the investigation, but there is good reason to doubt that the local office has the capacity, expertise, and investigative authority necessary to ensure an independent inquiry.

STAYING SAFE
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Cáceres’ family and the international community have also demanded that the Honduran government implement the IACHR’s orders to keep members of COPINH safe. But activists cannot be protected with armed guards and cameras alone. Rather, Tegucigalpa must confront the root of the social conflict that claimed Cáceres’ life, by respecting the rights of indigenous people, and canceling the concession to the Agua Zarca dam and others. Short of this, the cycle of unrest and repression in Honduras is sure to continue.

As U.S. secretary of state, Hillary Clinton provided tacit support for the administration of former Honduran interim President Roberto Micheletti despite near universal condemnation of his tenure. Cáceres herself criticized Clinton for opposing the demand for Zelaya’s reinstatement, which set the stage for a deepening of the human rights crisis inside the country. And despite pervasive and persistent reports of repression—some of which has been directly linked to Honduras’ state security forces—Washington has continued to provide security aid as well as development financing to Honduras.

When Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015, she dedicated it to “all the rebels out there, to my mother, to the Lenca people, to the Rio Blanco, and to the martyrs who gave their lives in the struggle to defend our natural resources.” She now takes her place on that list, but if her killers thought they could silence her voice and derail her mission, they were mistaken.

Links

  1. [1]  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/world/honduran-activist-shot-killed-home-article-1.2552454
  2. [2]  http://www.britannica.com/topic/Lenca
  3. [3]  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2013/08/20138510295334159.html
  4. [4]  https://intercontinentalcry.org/indigenous-peoples/lenca/
  5. [5]  http://fpif.org/one-year-resistance-rio-blanco/
  6. [6]  http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-death-of-berta-caceres
  7. [7]  http://web.mit.edu/urbanupgrading/upgrading/resources/organizations/USAID.html
  8. [8]  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/patrick-leahy/
  9. http://hankjohnson.house.gov/sites/hankjohnson.house.gov/files/documents/03_2016_Letter_Honduras_Berta_Caceres.pdf

10] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/03/04/who-murdered-environmental-activist-berta-caceres.html

[11] http://www.thenation.com/article/end-all-us-police-and-military-aid-honduras/

[12] https://www.foreignaffairs.com/regions/central-america-caribbean

[13] http://www.copinh.org/
[14] http://culturesofresistance.org/groups-we-support-COPINH
[15] http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/
[16] http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IPeoples/Pages/Declaration.aspx
[17] http://www.latinamericansocialmovements.org/honduras/
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/29/world/americas/29honduras.html
[19] http://www.britannica.com/biography/Manuel-Zelaya
[20] http://www.internationalrivers.org/blogs/227/european-funders-suspend-support-for-agua-zarca-dam
[21] http://www.bloomberg.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapid=298110979
[22] http://cepr.net/blogs/the-americas-blog/new-report-details-multilateral-development-bank-us-role-in-human-rights- abuses-in-rio-blanco-honduras
[23] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-04-21/central-american-billionaires-discovered-amid-citi-asset-sales [24] http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2015/01/27/ficohsa-becomes-honduras-biggest-bank/

Meet Miriam Miranda, Honduras

Miriam Miranda

Miriam Miranda

December 9, 2015

 

“We live almost on the sea, right on the beach. It’s a blessing but recently it’s also become a curse, because of course all those with power want to have a place on the beach. The displacement of communities and the loss of cultures that come with the development of tourism is growing… but the Garífuna women, many of them elders, have incredible strength. They participate in meetings, in actions, tearing down walls that are built on the beach. They’re sustaining the Garífuna youth so that they know who they are, without shame.”


Miriam has dedicated her life to defending the cultural and land rights of the Garífuna people in Honduras. Miriam’s brave, unwavering leadership is currently guiding the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH).

Miriam was born in Santa Fe, Colon, a small Garífuna village located near Trujillo on the north coast of Honduras. Like many other Garífuna in Honduras, Miriam and her family eventually had to leave their village in order to find work and educational opportunities. As a young adult, Miriam moved to the capital city Tegucigalpa to study at the public university.

Still a student, Miriam immersed herself in social movements that worked closely with women living in poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa. Miriam traveled to these neighbourhoods to listen to the women’s stories and speak to them about their rights. In these conversations, Miriam’s lifework as a feminist took root.

Miriam’s pride as a Garífuna woman lies at the heart of her activism. After years of working alongside mestizo, or mixed indigenous women, Miriam decided to shift her focus to promote the rights of her own people—the Garífuna.

The Garífuna people are descendants of West Africans who escaped the slave trade and found refuge on the island of San Vincente, an island in the Caribbean, in the early 1600’s—where  they intermarried with Carib, Indian and Indigenous peoples. Following expulsion from San Vincente in 1797, the Garífuna people arrived on the coast of Honduras. Approximately 100,000 Garífuna now live in Honduras, but there are also community strongholds on the coasts of Belize, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Garífuna culture is intrinsically linked to the land and access to the sea.

Land reforms in Honduras have disregarded cultural land titles, and have made it easy for foreign tourism and real estate investors to displace Garifuna communities to build hotels and retirement communities. Illegal drug cartels also steal Garífuna land for their operations. The Honduran government has failed to protect Garífuna land titles against foreign interests and, in many cases, has been directly involved in their displacement.

Under Miriam’s leadership, OFRANEH and the Garífuna people have organized to defend their land and their culture. They currently have two cases against the state of Honduras pending at the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR). Most recently, the Garífuna succeeded in bringing Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen to trial in Trujillo, Honduras for his mega-tourism project illegally built on Garífuna land.

Miriam’s activism has come at a cost. She faces incredible risk for the work she is doing and has been threatened many times and kidnapped. Miriam and her colleagues are regularly arbitrarily detained and portrayed as criminals in the media. In the face of these threats, Miriam is not backing down from her struggle to ensure the Garífuna people’s land and culture is protected.

– See more at: http://nobelwomensinitiative.org/2015/12/meet-miriam-miranda-honduras/#sthash.IB26Bxpo.dpuf

The Voice of Berta Cáceres

By  |  20 / March / 2016

The news shocked the world, but it wasn‘t entirely unexpected. As an opposition leader up against giant companies and international financial institutions that sought to grab indigenous lands, as an organizer against a patriarchal system that dominates women by force, and as critic of imperialism’s arming of repressive forces in Honduras, Berta Caceres was a marked woman. And she knew it.

On March 3, hit men entered Berta’s house in La Esperanza, in Lenca indigenous territory. In the middle of the night they burst in and shot her and then her colleague, Mexican environmentalist, Gustavo Castro. The murderers committed this atrocious act knowing that to kill Berta—recognized worldwide for her defense of indigenous and women’s rights—would carry a high political price.

But their determination to silence Berta won out over political calculations, for two reasons. First, because the race to gain control of dwindling natural resources, removing all obstacles in the path, has reached a point where in lawless countries like Honduras social and human costs don’t matter any more.

And second, because Berta’s voice was not just any voice. It was, and continues to be even after her death, an extraordinarily powerful and articulate voice, a voice that united people in defense of land and rights, and that brought together thousands of likeminded people and organizations throughout the world.

Violent Times

Berta Cáceres led the opposition to the construction of the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project. The project included a series of dams on the Rio Gualcarque, the sacred river of the Lenca people. Indigenous communities protested that they had not been consulted and the project would cause severe environmental damage and uproot their communities and livelihoods. As a result of the efforts of the organization she co-founded, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Chinese investors and the World Bank backed out of the project led by the Honduran company, DESA, but Finnish and Dutch financing remained.

COPINH members have organized to recover ancestral lands and have won victories in blocking infrastructure projects imposed despite indigenous and environmental opposition. In many ways, it was the success of the organization and Berta herself that made her a target. Just a week before the assassination, Honduran federal agents threatened Berta directly in a confrontation with members of the organization resisting evictions from their lands.

In a communiqué dated March 7, the COPINH explicitly linked Berta’s death to her defense of natural resources. “We know for certain that Berta Cáceres’ assassination was a political assassination with the motive of silencing a national leader in the struggle against the neoliberal model of destruction and death that the Honduran state seeks to impose. We hold responsible the Honduran government and the economic and political powers that wanted to silence Berta Caceres’ protests.”

The assassination brings worldwide attention to the human rights crisis in Honduras. What’s at stake is the effort to rapidly transform a sovereign nation into a hunting ground for transnational corporations where, armed with private security guards and the support of government armed forces, they hunt for profits in the forests, rivers and seas that have been the lifeblood of human and animal communities for centuries.

Since the coup, the governments of Porfirio Lobo and now Juan Orlando Hernandez have handed out hundreds of permits and concessions to private companies for energy and tourism megaprojects and mining operations. So eager is the government to sell off public resources that it has adopted a “model cities” plan, formally called Employment and Economic Development Zones”, to attract foreign investment. These zones cede national territory and natural and human resources to transnational companies, which are then allowed to institute their own legal, political and administrative systems based on neoliberal economic principles.

Indigenous, rural and urban communities that actively oppose this all-out effort to transfer natural resources to global capital automatically become the enemy. Global Witness reports that between 2010 and 2014, 101 environmental activists were assassinated in Honduras. The Mesoamerican Network of Women Human Rights Defenders reports that in the region women defenders of land and territory receive more threats and attacks than any other category of defenders.

The war on drugs and repression of grassroots movements

The process of transformation of land use in Honduras has been accompanied by massive militarization. Private security guards hired by companies and businessmen now outnumber police and armed forces, according to a UN report, and in some cases can be considered mercenaries due to their role in clashing with the population to defend the interests of foreign companies. Then there are the military and police, which have been known to attack populations organized in defense of land and territory, as in the recent case of a young Garifuna man murdered by the Honduran armed forces last December.

The US government has supported the deployment of the Honduran armed forces with the pretext of the war on drugs. Millions of dollars in aid have flowed to the country, despite hundreds of documented cases of human rights violations and executions of civilians. In a nation where impunity reigns, and where violation of the law is a constant within the same institutions that are charged with enforcing it, U.S. support to the security forces bolsters a repressive apparatus that is frequently used against the population itself.

The result is the erosion of what was left of the rule of law. Drug trafficking has increased alarmingly in Honduras since the coup, at the same time as U.S. arms and security programs have spread throughout the country. In her last public declaration, Cáceres invited the society to join an international effort called the Caravan for Peace, Life and Justice against the misnamed war on drugs that creates the conditions for imposing the neoliberal transformation, as the force of contention against popular resistances.

Sins of Origin

The murder of Berta Cáceres occurred in the context of the 2009 military coup d’état that was never resolved. That year, after many deaths and daily mass demonstrations in the streets for nearly five months, the maneuvers of the U.S. government and the coup leaders prevented the return to power of the democratically elected president, Mel Zelaya and the restoration of the constitutional order. Illegal elections were held, organized by the coup and boycotted by a large part of the population that demanded an end to the illegitimate regime.

In her autobiography, Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State during the coup and currently candidate for the presidency, wrote about the 2009 coup in Honduras: “In the subsequent days [after the coup] I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere, including Secretary [Patricia] Espinosa in Mexico… We strategized on a plan to restore order in Honduras and ensure that free and fair elections could be held quickly and legitimately, which would render the question of Zelaya moot.”

Cáceres cited this statement frequently to prove firsthand what was already evident at the time: the central role of the U.S. government in perpetuating the coup d’état in Honduras.

That history that goes beyond the scope of this article. What’s relevant is that this sin of origin—the failure to restore constitutional order in Honduras after the 2009 coup—gave rise to the many deadly sins that have followed, giving Honduras one of the worst human rights records in the world and culminating in the assassination of Berta (up to now, because there were many before and, sadly, there will likely be others to follow).

They killed her because she was an obstacle, and because the message of 2009 was read loud and clear: if crime benefits the powerful, it will go unpunished. In other words, they killed her because they knew they could get away with it.

Endemic crime and corruption in Honduran institutions make it absolutely necessary to demand an independent investigation into the assassination. There is a major risk that the Hernandez government will attempt to write it off as a crime of passion, a common robbery or a conflict within her own organization. In this way it could attempt to criminalize, and it won’t be the first time—the victims. The U.S. State Department has steadfastly refused to call for an international investigation to date.

Berta’s Voice

In the context of predatory capitalism, human life is devalued. If people have to be killed to pave the way for profits, they will be. And Berta was a huge boulder in the road to converting Honduras into the latest laboratory for corporate globalization. She ended up on the growing list of defenders of the rights of indigenous peoples, campesino, LGBT, dissidents and others who have fallen in Honduras since the coup.

But in addition to her role, Berta Cáceres had an extraordinary voice. Her indigenous worldview gave her spiritual strength and the clarity of viewing the environment as Mother Earth that must be constantly protected. Her anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist analysis provided her with a framework to understand and explain what was happening to her people by linking it to the national and global context. She believed in international solidarity to confront an international system that continually threatens the peace and wellbeing of the vast majority in all parts of the world.

And she was profoundly feminist. She said that defense of the environment is by definition anti-patriarchal, that the defense of territory implies the fight for women’s rights because patriarchy considers a woman’s body as its territory.

It is this integral resistance that they wanted to kill. Berta Cáceres united sectors and issues, across borders. And by bringing paths together, she was building a broad road to freedom. That is the road she has left to her children, and to the many others who will follow in her footsteps.

Columna publicada en Palabras al Margen, 15 de marzo. http://palabrasalmargen.com/index.php/articulos/internacional/item/la-voz-de-berta-caceres

Photo: Laura Carlsen

A Martyr of ‘Laudato Si’?

The indigenous spirituality of assassinated activist Berta Cáceres

– See more at: https://sojo.net/articles/martyr-laudato-si#sthash.aAAaM0eX.dpuf

By Betsy Shirley 03-18-2016

Less than two weeks after the March 3 murder of acclaimed indigenous Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, Nelson García, another Honduran activist, was murdered outside his home. Both García and Cáceres were members of the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), the indigenous rights organization Cáceres co-founded.

Though Honduran police have claimed Cáceres’ murder was the result of an attempted robbery, many believe it was a political assassination, intended to silence her. Cáceres’ family, along with more than 200 human rights organizations and now the Holy See, are calling for an independent international investigation into the crime.

“I want to express my desire that there be an independent and impartial investigation into what happened in order to resolve this horrendous crime as soon as possible,” wrote Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, in a letter addressed to Cáceres’ family and friends.

For those closest to Cáceres, it’s a small but encouraging sign.

“It’s justifying what we’ve all been saying: that Bertita’s had a profound effect around the world,” Cáceres’ nephew, Silvio Carrillo, told Sojourners.

And, by some measures, that legacy can be found everywhere from remote villages in Honduras to papal encyclicals.

“I am vulnerable”

Berta Cáceres knew persistence was dangerous.

“Giving our lives in various ways for the protection of the rivers is giving our lives for the well-being of humanity and of this planet,” she said on April 20, 2015, after accepting the Goldman Prize for her leadership in a nonviolent campaign that pressured the world’s largest hydroelectric company to withdraw from the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River.

That same day, an international organization that monitors environmental abuse reported that Honduras is “the deadliest country in the world to defend the natural world.” According to the Global Witness report, at least 109 environmental activists were killed there between 2010 and 2015. Cáceres herself had received death threats for more than a decade, and her colleague, Tomás García, was shot by a military officer in 2013. Later that year, Cáceres told Al-Jazeera, “I take lots of care but in the end, in this country where there is total impunity I am vulnerable…when they want to kill me, they will do it.”

The deadly environment for activists is closely tied to recent Honduran history. Following the 2009 coup, in which democratically elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was deposed, the new government declared Honduras “open for business” and granted profitable contracts to transnational companies looking to capitalize on Honduran natural resources — including resources on indigenous land. When leaders like Cáceres demanded the rights guaranteed to indigenous people by the U.N and the International Labor Convention — including the right to determine how indigenous land is used — it wasn’t great for business. The death threats followed.

Cáceres’ words about “giving our lives” not only underscore her persistence and courage but also her deeply rooted indigenous spirituality — an understanding that the well-being of humanity depends on the well-being of the earth.

“When we started the fight for Rio Blanco, I would go into the river and I could feel what the river was telling me,” Cáceres said in 2015.

“I knew it was going to be difficult, but I also knew we were going to triumph, because the river told me so.”

Image via Goldman Environmental Prize.

The spirituality of resistance

According to the Lenca creation story, when the first man began to clear land to grow maize, the trees bled and cried out against him. God then instructed the man to perform a compostura, “during which the man should sacrifice domestic animals to God and the earth to ask forgiveness for the violence he was about to do.”

Today, the Lenca people live in eastern El Salvador and western Honduras. But according to David Escobar, a Salvadoran Lenca and indigenous activist based in California, the concept of compostura remains an essential part of Lenca culture.

“‘Permission-giving’ is a common value that is still practiced today among the Lencas of Honduras and El Salvador,” he explained.

Consequently, when heavy machinery arrived on the Gualcarque River in 2011 to begin constructing a dam, without the permission of the Lenca people, the Lenca viewed it not only as the destruction of their livelihood and water supply, but also as the destruction of a sacred site and complete disregard for their indigenous rights.

So with the help of Cáceres and COPINH, the Lenca people fought back: On April 1, 2013, members of the Lenca community created a human road block to the construction site. They held out for 21 months.

As part of their defense, the Lenca people made traditional composturas, offering food and drink to the earth and asking the spirits of the earth, water, and sun for protection as they worked for justice. They also engaged the indigenous tradition of caminata, walking as a community to the dam headquarters while offering prayers or incense.

Cáceres identified these actions as a major turning point in halting construction on the Agua Zarca dam.

“In our fight to protect the Gualcarque River, the most powerful element has been the Lenca people’s spirituality and an impressive tenacity in the struggle that continues to this day,” she said.

Photo of Berta Caceres as a young child. Image via Betsy Shirley/Sojourners.

“Forgive me!”

Shortly after Berta Cáceres was murdered, Fr. Moreno Coto, a Jesuit priest known in Honduras as “Padre Melo,” wrote a note expressing “pain and rage” at the death of someone he called a “friend” and “sister.”

“We had a particular history of close friendship and common struggle,” he said.

A few days later, with the help of Fr. Fausto Milla, a diocesan priest who was another of Cáceres’ closest allies, Padre Melo conducted Cáceres’ funeral.

Cáceres, like many Lenca people, was raised Catholic, but she herself identified most closely with the practices and beliefs of her indigenous heritage. Though Cáceres had the support of local leaders like Frs. Coto and Milla, Carrillo said his aunt had a complicated relationship with the Catholic Church.

“Certain parts of the Catholic Church have not done well by the indigenous population there,” explained Carrillo.

For Cáceres, this complicated relationship included ongoing legacy of colonization by Spanish Catholics — which, by conservative estimates, cut the indigenous population in half — as well as Cáceres’ ongoing struggle with the Honduran hierarchy. According to Cáceres, Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez instructed churchgoers not to work with COPINH or listen to radio stations that were too critical of the Honduran state. Throughout his tenure as archbishop, Cardinal Rodríguez has also been accused of endorsing the 2009 military coup by reading “a statement on national television that seemed to bless the action.” The cardinal has denied these claims.

Cardinal Rodríguez’s feelings about Cáceres seem unchanged by her murder. Carrillo told Sojourners that although someone from the apostolic nunciature in Buenos Aires — the Holy See’s embassy in Argentina — had called Cáceres’ mother, offering condolences on behalf of the pope, no one in his family had heard from the highest-ranking Catholic in Honduras.

Jenny Atlee, who has worked on human rights issues in Central America for more than three decades, confirmed that Cardinal Rodríguez had made “disparaging remarks” about Cáceres and COPINH. But Atlee also noted that the discrepancy between the hierarchy and grassroots of the church wasn’t unusual.

“There’s a real gap between those two positions … with the top levels of the Catholic church being very allied with the powers that be … and another layer of church which is more rooted in the lives and struggles of the poor and accompany those struggles and interpret and reflect on scripture from that reality,” she said.

Image via Goldman Environmental Prize.

A martyr of Laudato Si?

But when it comes to the powers that be vs. the poor, at least one person on top level of the church seem to be squarely on the side of the latter: Pope Francis.

In 2014, Cáceres met Pope Francis at the first World Meeting of Popular Movements at the Vatican. During that meeting, the pontiff assured delegates that their concerns — a desire to have “land, housing, and work” — would have a place in his then-forthcoming encyclical on the environment.

And the Holy Father delivered,

“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions,” he wrote in the fourth chapter of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, his 2015 encyclical. He also acknowledged that “agricultural or mining projects” posed a serious threat to the survival of indigenous people.

Even the broader themes of Laudato Si sound like the interconnected worldview of indigenous spirituality that was so central to Cáceres’ work.

“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach,” wrote Pope Francis.

“It must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”

Following Cáceres’ death, one Italian newspaper hailed her as “a martyr of Laudato Si.” Jenny Atlee, who knew Cáceres for more than 20 years, pointed out that while that descriptor might be accurate, the Lenca woman should also be viewed as part of the “long, ongoing history of violence and genocide against indigenous people.”

Perhaps the best suggestion for how we memorialize Cáceres comes from Naomi Klein, a secular activist who was invited to discuss Laudato Si at the Vatican.

“Particularly in Latin America, with its large indigenous populations, Catholicism wasn’t able to fully displace cosmologies that centered on a living and sacred Earth, and the result was often a Church that fused Christian and indigenous world views,” she wrote in the New Yorker.

“With Laudato Si’, that fusion has finally reached the highest echelons of the Church.”

As Klein points out, the lines of influence flow from indigenous spirituality to the encyclical, not the other way around.

Or more to the point: Berta Cáceres is not a martyr in the tradition of Laudato Si. Laudato Si is an encyclical echoing what indigenous leaders like Cáceres have been saying for centuries.

Betsy Shirley

Betsy Shirley (@betsyshirley) is Assistant Editor at Sojourners.

Canadian mining is murder

Homegrown companies are among the worst human rights offenders on the planet

by

March 9, 2016

Four days after the assassination of Honduran indigenous leader Berta Cáceres captured worldwide headlines, a vigil to remind of the blood on Canada’s hands for all those who have died protesting Canadian mining projects abroad interrupted the mining industry’s annual confab in Toronto on Sunday, March 6.

The vigil held by the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network at the convention of the Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) was presided over by Anglican priest Maggie Helwig. “We are here to name the dead,” she said.

The vast majority of killings have not been solved or, in many cases, even investigated.

The names of some two dozen victims of such violence were read out at the PDAC vigil. The protesters were then escorted out by police.

Canadian mining companies are among the worst human rights offenders on the planet. The most recent evidence of that is a 2014 report submitted to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A 2009 report commissioned by PDAC but never made public also detailed targeted assassinations and persecution of activists and union leaders opposing Canadian projects abroad. 

It’s impossible to know exactly who killed each of these people. The vast majority of the cases have not been solved or in many cases even investigated. But they all have something in common: all were assassinated and all resisted Canadian mining projects. 

Merilyn Topacio Reynoso Pacheco The 16-year-old was killed and her father seriously injured in an April 2014 attack. The activists, part of the Peaceful Resistance in Defense of Natural Resources of Mataques-cuintla, Jalapa, had led the fight for a referendum on development of Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala. 

Adolfo Ich Chamán The respected community leader was hacked by machetes and then shot in the head on September 27, 2009, allegedly by security personnel working for Hudbay’s Fenix mining project in El Estor, Guatemala. A multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed in Canadian court by Chamán’s wife alleges negligence on the part of the company. The ex head of security for the mine is on trial in Guatemala for Chamán’s murder and the wounding of at least 10 others.

Telésforo Odilio Pivaral González The member of the Committee in Defense of Life and Peace in San Rafael Las Flores was killed near Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala on April 5, 2015. According to a statement released by members of the “We Are Human Rights Defenders” campaign, González, who had taken part in protests against expansion of the silver mine, was attacked “by unknown persons with firearms.”

Mariano Abarca Roblero The anti-mining activist was killed outside his home in Chiapas, Mexico, on November 27, 2009. He had blamed Calgary-based mining company Blackfire Exploration for contaminating local rivers, loss of crops and the deaths of livestock. Blackfire’s open-pit barite mine in Chiapas was closed in 2011 over environmental concerns.

Dora “Alicia” Recinos Sorto A member of the -Cabañas Environment Committee, which had been campaigning against the reopening of Vancouver-based Pacific Rim’s El Dorado gold mine in El Salvador, Sorto was shot and killed on December 26, 2009, as she returned home from doing her laundry. She was eight months pregnant. 

Ramiro Rivera The vice-president of the Cabañas Environment Committee was gunned down on December 20, 2009. His anti-mining activities against Pacific Rim in El Salvador were believed to be behind the killing. In an earlier attempt on his life, a would-be assassin shot Rivera eight times in the back and legs, but he survived.

César García Moreno A member of the farmers’ rights group Conciencia Campesina, García was active in the movement opposing multinational gold-mining company AngloGold Ashanti in Cajamarca, Colombia, when he was killed on November 2, 2013.

Rigoberto López Hernández The Honduran activist was found with his throat slit and his tongue cut out on May 3, 2014, an assassination that activists say was clearly meant to send a message over his opposition to the iron oxide mine in Quita Ganas.

José Isidro Tendetza Antún The indigenous leader, vice-president of the Shuar Federation of Zamora, was found bound and buried December 2, 2014 (with signs of torture and strangulation on his body). He was last seen on his way to a meeting of protesters opposed to B.C.-based Corriente Resources’ Mirador copper and gold mine in Ecuador. 

Rafael Markus Bangit An elder of the Malbong tribe in Kalinga province in the Philippines and regional council member of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance, Bangit was at the forefront of opposition to mining activities on indigenous land, including against Calgary-based TVI Pacific. He was gunned down by a hooded assailant on June 8, 2006. 

Kibwabwa Ghati The 23-year-old Tanzanian farmer was shot and killed by police near Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine on November 6, 2012. Police accused him of trying to steal from the mine, but some media -reports suggest he may have been caught in the crossfire as other men tried to get into the facility. 

Emerico Samarca The director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood -Development, which opposed large-scale mining in the Philippines, including by Canadian company TVI Pacific, was killed in Lianga on September 1, 2015, by alleged members of a paramilitary group. 

Demetrio Poma Rosales Killed protesting Barrick Gold’s Pierina open-pit gold mine in Peru’s Ancash region on September 19, 2012. 

Juan Francisco Durán Ayala The student anti–mining activist disappeared after posting flyers as part of a campaign against Canadian mining company Pacific Rim in Cabañas, in northern El Salvador, on June 17, 2011. The Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador suspects local mayors with ties to organized crime had a hand in his killing.

José Reinel Restrepo The parish priest of the municipality of Marmato, Colombia, was killed on September 2, 2011, days after travelling to Bogotá to register his opposition to the open-pit gold mine proposed by -Toronto-based Gran Colombia Gold.

Jerónimo Rodríguez Tugri and Mauricio Méndez Both were killed February 8, 2012, when police opened fire against indigenous Ngöbe-Buglé protesting a new Panamanian law allowing Vancouver’s Corriente -Resources access to indigenous lands. 

Henry Tendeke, Taitia Maliapa, Paul Pindi, John Wangla, Pyakani Tombe, Yandari Pyari, Jerry Yope, Jackson Yalo, Joe Opotaro, Aglio Wija, Mina Mulako, Alonge Laswi, Manata Pita and Pyakane Eremi Fourteen of the dozens of people killed since 1993 by security forces defending Barrick’s Porgera mine in Papua New Guinea. 

Alvaro Benigno Sanchez The 23-year-old was killed by two men reportedly employed as security guards by a U.S.-Canada-owned Glamis Gold subsidiary in Guatemala on March 13, 2005. 

Damodar Jhodia, Abhilash Jhodia and Raghunath Jhodia Murdered on December 16, 2000, in the Kashipur region of Orissa, India, reportedly over their opposition to a mining project partially owned by Rio Tinto Alcan. 

Exaltación Marcos Ucelo The community activist, secretary of the Xinca Indigenous Parliament, was kidnapped, tortured and found dead on March 18, 2013, because of his opposition to Tahoe Resources’ Escobal mine in Guatemala.

Unnamed mine worker He died of heat exhaustion and dehydration at Nevsun’s Bisha Mine in Eritrea (date unknown). His death is the subject of a Canadian lawsuit against BC’s Nevsun Resources.

Rachel Small is a member of the Mining Injustice Solidarity Network.

“They Want to Prohibit Us From Dreaming”

A 2014 interview with renowned Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated last week.

The late Honduran activist Berta Cáceres and members of the group she co-founded, COPINH, in the Rio Blanco region of Honduras. Goldman Environmental Prize

The late Honduran activist Berta Cáceres and members of the group she co-founded, COPINH, in the Rio Blanco region of Honduras. Goldman Environmental Prize

 

Since the 2009 coup that deposed democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya, scores of Hondurans have been slain for resisting the attempts of corporations, international banks, and Honduran oligarchs to seize rivers, plantations, and mining lands for their own enrichment

It appears this violence has now claimed its most high-profile victim. In the early morning hours of March 3, gunmen attacked renowned human rights activist Berta Cáceres in her home, killing her and wounding Mexican activist Gustavo Castro. A United Nations official said it is “highly probable” that the crime was politically motivated. (Honduran police initially called it a robbery.)

Government assassination list that appeared in 2013 with Berta Cáceres as number 1

Government assassination list that appeared in 2013 with Berta Cáceres as number 1

The co-founder of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), Cáceres also received the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize last year for her work organizing against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam. The project would disrupt the Gualcarque River, cutting off access to a body of water the Lenca people of Río Blanco view as sacred.

Over the past several years, COPINH and Río Blanco residents have filed official complaints, staged protests, and blockaded the dam company’s access road. Cáceres faced constant persecution for her involvement, including death threats in the week preceding her killing.

In May 2014, during a protest outside the Honduran National Congress in Tegucigalpa, freelance journalist Chris Lewis spoke with Cáceres about her work, the persecution she experienced, and the global victims of US foreign policy. In her memory, Jacobin presents a translated and lightly edited transcription of the conversation.


What is important to know about the work of COPINH?

COPINH was founded in 1993 and is fighting for the purpose of defending the territorial, cultural, and spiritual rights of the Lenca people. But not just the Lenca people — COPINH also works to have a national and international influence. Its struggle is against all colonialism, and also capitalism, patriarchy, racism.

Berta was a co-founder of COPINH

Berta was a co-founder of COPINH

We still live in a country of multiple enclaves of domination. And COPINH has started important struggles, like road blockades, hunger strikes, and occupations of the National Congress, the house of the president, the judiciary. We have fought against the coup, against militarization, and against the United States military occupation in Honduras.

We are in a struggle for the defense of individual and collective human rights. We have been working for a long time, including before the coup, for the construction of a social movement that has more respect and more comprehension of resistance, diversity, and the multiplicity of experiences.

We do it with the objective of refounding this matria. We propose a refoundational process, not just the refoundation of the state in an official, institutional sense, but rather a refoundation of each of our customs. We do it without waiting for a constitutional assembly, but instead with what we live daily, because that is what we think we can put forth.

You can’t imagine how many and what type of powers we have had to confront in this struggle. COPINH works a lot against the privatization of rivers, water, and energy. We see energy as a human right, not through the logic of capitalism and consumerism.

We are also involved in the struggle to defend forests from industries exporting timber. We have confronted seventeen projects that privatize rivers. We stopped the El Tigre Dam, a very important binational mega-project.

Berta Cáceres10In all of this, we have had to confront the World Bank, the European Union, USAID, transnationals like Siemens, and now other banks that we didn’t even know existed like the Dutch FMO and Finnfund. We have also confronted Sinohydro, the planet’s transnational hydroelectric monster, and we expelled them. We have had a pile of successes, but we continue on.

What campaigns are you involved in right now?

COPINH puts forth a strong fight in defense of the rivers. Those seventeen concessions that we are confronting in the departments of Intibucá, Lempira, and La Paz were approved illegally and illegitimately in this National Congress, without respecting the right of free prior informed consent of indigenous peoples. So we have had to confront them directly.

For example, in Río Blanco, in defense of the sacred Gualcarque River against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project being pursued by the company Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA), Sinohydro, Siemens, and all those banks that I mentioned.

That project has been imposed with militarization, with very wicked maneuvers on the part of the company. There have been murders, they have threatened us with death, there has been judicial, political, and military persecution.

For now, we have succeeded in stopping the project, blockading the road, and exercising territorial control for over a year. We are also involved in other struggles, like the fight to respect the indigenous government elected in the town of San Francisco de Opalaca. We also have fights in defense of other rivers.

Bertha Cáceres67There are financial bodies, there are companies, there are oligarchs, there are transnationals, and they all want to impose mining projects as well. For example, the town of Erandique, where they want to extract opal. They say that the opal of that region is the second most valuable in the world, after what exists in Australia. They are going after gold, silver, rare earth metals, and other metals and minerals.

There is militarization not only of the repressive forces in Honduras but also from the gringo army, which hopes to put a military base in the San Antonio Valley, a very beautiful place, a place filled with biodiversity and culture. And we know that they are going after the common property resources of the nature that exists there.

The gringos have been conducting operations, including with tanks and cannons. That’s something that we hadn’t seen for quite some time. All of these operations are linked to plunder and colonization. To subdue us. So that is part of the struggle of COPINH.

What are your main strategies in these struggles?

I’ll say that the struggle of COPINH is a peaceful struggle, but a vigorous one. Why vigorous? Because we are confronting the forces of global capital, we are confronting the Honduran oligarchy, the banking and finance power of this country, we are confronting the World Bank. A state that has leveraged all of its machinery against COPINH. From the public ministry to all three powers of the state, the army, the attorney general.

So because of that it’s vigorous, because it’s an honorable, historic struggle. This is the history of our people.

It’s clear that a principal stage of the struggle is the fight for territorial control. It’s not the only one, but it is the most important because what institution of justice can we go to? If there is absolute impunity, who can we trust among the authorities of this country? We can’t trust anybody, simply put. 

Have you experienced any persecution for your work?

"You have the bullet ...I have the word, the bullet dies when fired but the word lives to be multiplied"

“You have the bullet …I have the word, the bullet dies when fired but the word lives to be multiplied”

Yes. Almost always. For almost my whole life. I come from a family that fought a lot against militarization, and in solidarity with refugees from other armed conflicts in Central America. From the kidnapping of my mother to the torture of my siblings, I lived through all of that. That’s how I grew up.

But also right now, as I have assumed responsibility within COPINH. I also know I have been persecuted not just for political leadership but also for being a woman, for being Lenca. In this country it’s not the same being a male leader and being a female leader. And that comes with a very heavy weight.

I think it may be easier to confront the transnationals and the army than it is to confront the patriarchy, because that we encounter everywhere. Within our own organizations as well. There won’t be justice or democracy, nor will we humanize this society if the patriarchy exists, and even worse if we don’t discuss it in our organizations.

So, I have been the object of repression just like many compañeros. They have threatened me with death. I have received threats by cell phone. Sexual harassment from the security guards of these companies. I have received threats against my family, against my daughters, against my son. I have been threatened with criminal charges. Accusations. Everything from the illegal possession of arms to coercion, usurpation, and continued damages.

And now they want to open another case for sedition because of my work in Opalaca. There have been a lot of illegalities, lots of manipulation and holes in the cases. We have won some with the political and legal efforts of COPINH, but I still have provisional release — we haven’t been absolved. It’s not just me — there are three of us, and the cases are still pending.

What is your vision for Honduras in the years to come? What do you want to see in five, ten, twenty years?

Look, here in this country, they have prohibited us from dreaming. They want to prohibit us from dreaming.

We, as COPINH, put forward an effort with communities in which we had to collectively reflect on what Honduras we dream for. It was really interesting. Here’s what I take from the sentiment of the communities: first, we dream of a Honduras in which we have the right to be happy. It’s the most insurrectionary, most subversive, they could say the most “terrorist” right there could be. The right to be happy.

Berta Cáceres13It seems so simple, so plain, so easy, but it has a really deep meaning. It has to do with peace with justice, it has to do with the end of impunity, it has to do with the respect of spiritual and territorial rights, to have the right to walk without feeling assaulted. To live in a demilitarized society — not just the weapons, but also culturally. It’s going to require a cultural revolution.

That’s what we dream of. We dream of a Honduras where women aren’t just present but where we also make decisions. Also, black and indigenous people, sexual diversity, and people who work in the streets, the women of the maquinas. Everyone, no? And so that we be respected, listened to, and this country be ours.

That’s what we dream of. It seems like a small thing to say, but it’s a monumental act of defiance.

If you could say anything to the people or the government of the United States, what would it be?

Well, first that we have a lot of respect for the people of the United States. We know your story, your resistance, your rebellion, your support for the struggle of indigenous people, the struggle of black people for their rights. We know the struggle for peace, for the end of war, for the right US citizens have to housing. For many things.

But the government of the United States wants to be the first enemy of its own people and also all the peoples of the world. Because its big business is pillaging our peoples, starting wars, selling weapons. It’s the exploitation of immigrants.

The United States has a great responsibility for the violation of human rights in Honduras. They have financed and trained these repressive forces, not just right now, but for a long time. They have invaded this country. They have occupied it. They used us as a banana enclave, and still for mining enclaves.

Today as an enclave for multinationals, for the capitalist project on the subject of energy. The United States uses us as a laboratory for the invasion of brother and sister peoples. And they have the cynicism to say that what we do is terrorism. The government of the United States is terrorist, because massacring entire villages — boys, girls, women — that’s terrorism.

So we demand equal respect. Respect for the self-determination of our people, our lives, and our right to decide our own destiny. It could be crooked, whatever it may be, but it’s going to be ours.

‘Little Canada’ displacing Afro-Indigenous communities in Honduras

Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen blames concerns on ‘extremist factions’

As Canadian investors gradually take over lands in Honduras’ Trujillo Bay for tourism and real estate projects, Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities along this stretch of Caribbean coastline are being displaced.

A new cruise ship port is now open for business in Trujillo, a town of just over 10,000 about 400 kilometres north of the Honduran capital. Rio Negro, a Garifuna community, was largely displaced under threat of forced expropriation to make way for the project. Sixteen kilometres to the west, the Garifuna community of Guadalupe is now bordered by Alta Vista, one of Canadian investor Randy Jorgensen’s several residential development projects marketed to Canadian snowbirds.

It’s 32 degrees out but it feels like 40 in the midday sun as local Garifuna activist Celso Guillén points things out along the short walk through Guadalupe and over to Alta Vista. A group of youth are busy separating plantain rhizomes into piles by size and other men and women are organizing the shipment of cacao seedlings for distribution. The problem is that community members don’t have much land left to plant the crops.

“We’ve lost almost 80 percent of our community’s lands, and the majority of those lands are in Mister Randy’s hands,” says Guillén.

Guadalupe’s inalienable community title covers nearly 250 hectares, but the municipal government of Santa Fe has issued deeds within those lands and they have been registered by the country’s Property Institute. The municipality “has issued fee simple land titles — overlapping titles that are basically fictitious and without validity because there’s already a collective title,” says Guillén. “The title says that the lands are inalienable, and any act of that nature violates the spirit of the title.”

‘They don’t have a purpose’: Jorgensen

Just after six in the morning, Jorgensen sips his coffee outside his home in Coroz Alta, a residential development a few kilometres west of Trujillo on an estate now billed as a private nature park. Beside the road leading down to his house, monkeys, coatimundis and scarlet macaws are on display in enclosures.

Cruise ship passengers come here on day trips organized by Banana Coast Tours, one of Jorgensen’s companies linked to the new Banana Coast cruise ship terminal, another of his projects.

Jorgensen dismisses the Garifuna community land claims. It’s the same story in Guadalupe as it is in Rio Negro and it’s not really about the land, he says. “They have extremist factions in there that are extremely politically motivated and go out of their way to create whatever problems that they can for anything that doesn’t actually put money into their own personal pockets.”

Other Canadian developers have since followed, but Jorgensen remains the main player in the area. He opened an Adults Only Video store in a small town in Saskatchewan in 1987, and the company quickly expanded to dozens of outlets across Canada. After more than a decade of winter visits to Trujillo, Jorgensen decided to make the move permanent, and later began working on plans for a cruise port facility and real estate projects in Trujillo Bay.

“Our goal is to create $300 million of investment in this area to create $100 million economic activity annually. So it’s not a small thing,” says Jorgensen. His company, Life Vision Developments, is developing several projects in the area: Campa Vista, Coroz Alta, New Palm Beach and Alta Vista. “We have about 1,500 acres of residential development underway now. We sold 500 properties to Canadians. They’re starting to call it Little Canada.”

Jorgensen categorically denies that the Alta Vista project overlaps with the Guadalupe community title, but he also alleges the community didn’t use the land for anything anyway. “It’s not as though this land needs to be preserved for ‘this purpose.’ They don’t have a purpose. They don’t have a plan. They don’t have something to do with it. The whole purpose of the exercise is ‘how do I get money into my pocket?’”

‘We used to go there to work’: Guillén

Alta Vista, however, is one of the main areas that was used by community members to grow subsistence crops like yucca, plantains and beans. “I know this because we used to go there to work the land with our parents. That’s where we worked. We would work in another place for a while and then there for a while,” says Guillén.

Along with fishing, Garifuna communities traditionally practice the fallow system of farming, rotating between areas to allow the soil to recuperate for periods between crops. Both land and sea are vital to both the sustenance and culture of the Garifuna.

The ethnogenesis of the Garifuna began in the early 17th century on the island of Saint Vincent, where shipwrecked Africans trafficked as slaves for colonial plantations in the Caribbean — and later also escapees — mixed with local Arawak and Carib Indigenous people. The Garifuna were forcibly expelled by the British in 1797 and dropped off on an island off the coast of Honduras, from where they spread out and formed communities along the Caribbean coast of Central America from Belize to Nicaragua.

Both the Garifuna language, part of the Arawak family, and culture have diverse African and Indigenous Caribbean roots. In 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared the Garifuna language, dance and music to be among the 19 inaugural Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Today, though, many Garifuna communities in Honduras are facing yet another expulsion.

Leaving Guadalupe behind, the old yellow school bus rattles past the Garifuna community of San Antonio before passing Njoi Santa Fe, another real estate project under construction by Canadian developers. After the community of Santa Fe, it’s a steady stream of Canadian-owned tourism and real estate projects along the 11 kilometers back to Trujillo: New Palm Beach, the Banana Beach Resort, Njoi Trujillo, Coroz Alta and Campo del Mar, Campa Vista and the Tranquility Bay Beach Resort.

There has been some critical outside attention on tourism projects in Garifuna territory further west along the Caribbean coast. This stretch, however, has flown largely under the radar, according to Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, a Garifuna federation at the forefront of the struggle to defend Garifuna rights, lands and territory in Honduras.

“No one really talks about all the investment that’s happening in the Trujillo Bay, all the way out to the Guadalupe area even. They’re taking over the whole corridor,” said Miranda. The new Banana Coast cruise ship port has certainly been a hot topic of discussion in the area lately, but there too, the issue of land acquisition usually goes unmentioned.

“That case is the first experience we had where eminent domain legislation was used, facilitating Randy Jorgensen’s takeover of Rio Negro,” said Miranda.

Cruising the Canadian-owned Banana Coast

The atmosphere of anticipation was almost palpable in Trujillo on Oct. 15, 2014. The Norwegian Jewel, a 2,376-passenger Norwegian Cruise Line ship with more than 1,000 crew members, was about to arrive. The Jewel and other companies’ cruise ships will be calling at Banana Coast all season, through April 2015. Banana Coast is owned and run by Grande Trujillo Autoridad, of which the driving force, primary owner and president is Randy Jorgensen.

There was little cause for celebration in Cristales and Rio Negro, two historic Garifuna communities on the coast at the western and eastern edges of Trujillo respectively. The Banana Coast cruise ship terminal and retail complex is located in Rio Negro.

“It was a community. That was part of their habitat. That’s where they would leave their cayucos [dugout canoes], where they would go fish. Now they can’t go to leave their cayucos on the beach. The entry of Rio Negro community members is strictly prohibited there because it’s a private zone now,” says Victor García, a member of the Cristales and Rio Negro community council.

When some Garifuna community members refused to give up their lands, the municipality of Trujillo declared the Banana Coast project in the public interest in December 2009. The decree was published in the Official Gazette in February 2010, allowing the state to exercise the right of eminent domain. Through threat of forced expropriation, the cruise ship port developers were able to acquire the remaining lands.

But the contested Banana Coast project still lays within one of two inalienable Cristales and Rio Negro collective land titles. The 1886 and 1901 titles cover nearly 100 square kilometers in various sectors in the region, including some of Jorgensen’s real estate development.

Colluding with the state

Jorgensen’s projects may benefit from the investment protection provisions in the new Canada-Honduras Free Trade Agreement, negotiated in the wake of a June 2009 coup d’état, but attracting tourists and snowbirds to the country with the highest per capita homicide rate in the world outside of a war zone is no easy task.

On Aug. 4, 2014, the Honduran government signed a $133,334 contract with Burson-Marstellar, an international public relations firm, to build a “national image” and “country brand” to boost foreign investment, exports, and tourism. That same day, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández launched a new national tourism website.

Tourism and real estate promoters in Trujillo maintain that the violence plaguing Honduras is largely concentrated in certain pockets elsewhere around the country and particularly in its two main cities, San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa. In fact, the 2013 homicide rate in the municipality of Trujillo was 93.3 per 100,000 inhabitants, higher than the national rate and even that of the capital district. From Banana Coast, it is only about 10 kilometers to the edge of the heavily militarized Bajo Aguan region, where more than 100 people involved in farm worker movements and land occupations have been killed since the 2009 coup.

The area has also been identified by the government as one of 14 possible sites for Economic Development and Employment Zones, regions that would essentially function as semi-autonomous, privatized city-states. These zones “embrace trade liberalization beyond simple tax and infrastructure incentives: they enable the corporate entities, organizations and individuals who will fund and participate in the zones to structure the social organization itself. This process includes the content of laws, the tax structure, educational, labor and health care system, security forces and other basic elements typically managed by the state,” wrote the authors of a September 2014 National Lawyers Guild report.

Attention on specific Economic Development and Employment Zones projects is largely focused on southern Honduras, where feasibility studies, investment agreements and community resistance are all underway. However, documents obtained by Ricochet reveal that detailed maps, plans and studies have been drawn up for a special development zone encompassing the full territorial area of the municipalities of Trujillo and Santa Fe.

The principal author of the studies was Arquitecnic. The company’s president, Honduran architect and planner Dino Rietti, was commissioned as the construction and project manager for the Banana Coast cruise ship port complex. Rietti has also advised the government on special development zones.

Turning to the law

Garifuna communities continue to defend their lands despite the difficulties. “The government’s in collusion with everything that’s going on here,” says Guillén, adding that a lawsuit might be one of the only options. However, neither Guillén nor García consider it likely that their respective communities will be able to address illegal community lands sales or obtain justice within the domestic legal system.

“We’re going to have to launch both national and international lawsuits,” says García.

The cases of three other Garifuna communities, accompanied by OFRANEH, are currently before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Two of them involve tourism projects in Garifuna territory. At least one ruling is expected next year.

Incumplimiento de consulta previa en proyectos mineros genera violencia

Jun 13, 2014

Una carta llegó a la comunidad de Nueva Esperanza y otras comunidades del sector Florida en Tela, Atlántida. Procedía de la Honduras Mining Company, pidiendo el derecho de paso de servidumbre para un proyecto minero que pretenden instalar en la aldea Carmen colindante con Nueva Esperanza. La comunidad encendió las alertas de nuevo, hace apenas un año un proyecto minero les había quitado la paz montaña arriba.

El derecho a la consulta previa, libre e informada es muy poco conocido en las comunidades del interior del país. Procesos organizativos en el departamento de Atlántida (uno de los más ricos en minerales y agua) han intentado luchar por el mismo y antes que un proyecto, ya sea hidroeléctrico o minero, se instale, están exigiendo toda la información necesaria para que desde su autodeterminación, el pueblo tome la decisión de dejarlo pasar o detenerlo.

Ese día en que el empresario Gustavo Urrutia, minero conocido en el sector por instalar proyectos mineros sin consultar, la comunidad de Nueva Esperanza montó vigilancia y colocó una pancarta en la entrada de la aldea que decía: el agua y los territorios son de los pueblos.

Doña Evangelina y don Enrique recuerdan que no hace mucho, el proyecto minero de otra empresa llamada La Victoria, les causó muchos problemas. La policía confabulada con el empresario los intimidaba, llegó a disparar en la tranca que ellos habían colocado para evitar el paso de los camiones, y varias personas tuvieron que huir de la comunidad para sobrevivir ante amenazas a muerte. A manos de empleados del empresario de la zona, en Nueva Esperanza se dio la privación de libertad de 5 extranjeros observadores de derechos humanos que apoyaban la lucha contra la minera en ese entonces.

Ayer se llevó a cabo el seminario “Derecho a la consulta previa y la defensa de los territorios” organizado por la Convergencia por los derechos humanos zona noroccidental, en la que especialistas explicaban la normativa nacional e internacional para el desarrollo de un proyecto extractivo y los derechos de las comunidades. Doña Evangelina estuvo allí escuchando atentamente junto a otras mujeres y jóvenes del sector.

El expositor Pedro Landa, miembro de la Coalición de Redes ambientalistas de Honduras explicó la nueva Ley de Minería y en su análisis concluyó que según esta normativa, la consulta ya no tiene que ser tan previa. “si la consulta no se realiza en plazo (60 días), la solicitud está aprobada directamente. Y si el resultado de la consulta es negativo, se puede volver a realizar dentro de 3 años.  ¿Pero por qué no se aplica lo mismo para el caso que se acepte, que cada tres años se pueda volver a  realizar?”, dijo Landa. Todo esto contradiciendo tratados internacionales como la Declaración de las Naciones Unidas sobre los derechos de los pueblos indígenas y el Convenio 169 de la OIT.

“Existen mecanismos de protección internacional ante los organismos de Naciones Unidas que exigen  la consulta y  consentimiento libre, previo e  informado de los pueblos cuando se ven afectados, y hacen énfasis en los proyectos de explotación de bienes naturales. Esta exigencia va incluso  cuando se llevan a cabo medidas legislativas (nuevas leyes), incluso del rango constitucional”, explicó la abogada Ivania Galeano de la Convergencia por los derechos humanos.

Falta de consulta previa provoca violencia

San Juan Pueblo del municipio de La Masica, Atlántida es una comunidad muy conocida a nivel nacional, especialmente por la crisis de temblores que sufrió el año pasado. Por esta comunidad pasa una falla geológica que atraviesa la cordillera Nombre de Dios donde además hay múltiples áreas protegidas por ser productoras de agua. Aun así las comunidades han sido alertadas por solicitudes de concesión para explotación minera e hidroeléctrica.

El padre Marco Ayala, párroco de San Juan Pueblo, Atlántida, también participó en el seminario “Derecho a la consulta previa y la defensa de los territorios” y concluyó que es necesario que estos talleres lleguen a las bases, a los líderes comunitarios.

Ayala escuchó atentamente a Landa quien explicaba que la nueva Ley de Minería en la que los minerales son catalogados como bienes mercantiles y no naturales presenta muchas trampas para beneficiar la explotación minera. Por ejemplo, explicó Landa, el artículo 48 dice que en ningún caso se otorgarán  permisos mineros en  las áreas protegidas declaradas e inscritas  pero de las 117 áreas protegidas declaradas, solo el 8% están inscritas.  Lo mismo con las zonas productoras de agua, tienen que estar inscritas, y el ICF les cobra a las comunidades por hacerlo (aunque debería ser gratis).

La Masica es un municipio rico en fuentes de agua, vida silvestre y tierra productiva.

El sacerdote cuenta que en San Juan Pueblo, la falta de consulta previa ha generado tal violencia que por el conflicto minero ya hay 8 personas asesinadas. La comunidad de Betania, montaña arriba ha sido codiciada por dos empresas mineras que han puesto en confrontación a la comunidad y alrededor de 30 familias han sido desplazadas por el conflicto. Los proyectos aún no se desarrollan.

“Las normas sobre la consulta previa son violadas en estos proyectos, se meten a la brava y cuando supuestamente socializan el proyecto continúan haciendo las mismas cosas que antes invitando solo a los que están de acuerdo dándoles regalitos y eso es contrario a las leyes. El proyecto actual es de extracción de piedra de hierro, primero un señor apellido Rojas se introdujo a la montaña, sin tener el consentimiento de la municipalidad ni del pueblo pero tenía documentos de la Serna (Secretaría de Recursos Naturales). Se introdujo a la brava, cercó el camino, y generó violencia”.

En su participación en el seminario, Landa explicaba que a partir de la nueva Ley de Minería se han dado 19 conflictos mineros de esta envergadura. Y que la llamada “narco minería” está agarrando fuerza, junto con el sicariato y crímenes de terror, para paralizar a la comunidad.  Al plantearle la situación al gobierno de Porfirio Lobo Sosa, Landa dijo que la respuesta fue que era algo normal en los proyectos mineros.

La ley establece que una persona podrá tener 10 concesiones. Estos mineros de San Juan Pueblo ya son conocidos por solicitar varias concesiones en el sector. Landa explicó que el 45% de las solicitantes de concesiones son hondureños, luego buscan los socios en el extranjero. Los empresarios  extranjeros son los dueños, pero piden a un hondureño que solicite la concesión a cambio de regalías: velo corporativo para evadir las  responsabilidades jurídicas.

Y es que en la práctica, el Estado parece favorecer a los concesionarios por encima de los derechos de las comunidades.

“Como iglesia nosotros nos sentimos involucrados, hemos convocado a caminatas por la paz rechazando este tipo de violencia y responsabilizando a los entes involucrados en el conflicto. Eso nos ha traído amenazas. Yo no tengo miedo porque no hago nada malo lo que hago es defender y  darle la información necesaria a la gente.”

Comunidades indígenas también han sido afectadas por la falta de consulta previa y los conflictos que se generan a raíz de esto. Un ejemplo es el caso de Locomapa, Yoro en el que indígenas Tolupanes han sido asesinados y amenazados por su defensa del territorio ante proyectos mineros que se quieren establecer en sus montañas.

La justicia aún no ha llegado luego del asesinato de tres Tolupanes indígenas que eran defensores de bienes naturales; María Enriqueta Matute de 60 años, Armando Fúnez Medina y Ricardo Soto Fúnez en San Francisco Locomapa, Yoro. Los responsables materiales e intelectuales no han sido capturados.

El crimen ocurrió el 25 de agosto del 2013 a las 5:30 de la tarde, cuando los tres indígenas pertenecientes a la tribu San Francisco, fueron asesinados con armas de fuego, cuando estos realizaban acciones en defensa de su territorio ante la explotación ilegal de los recursos naturales en la zona.

A pesar que se ha reconocido por medio de testigos los responsables de este crimen, la policía no ha dado el seguimiento correspondiente a la investigación de estas muertes, los testigos indican a Selvin Fúnez y Carlos Matute como los responsables, ellos supuestamente estaban al servicio del Consejo Indígena y de empresarios mineros que explotan antimonio en los territorios de estas tribus y debido a la oposición que realizaban estas tres personas, los victimarios les quitaron la vida.

Después de estos hechos, la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, CIDH, ordenó medidas para proteger a 38 personas de la comunidad, sin embargo el Estado no responde y la comunidad plantea la posibilidad de recurrir nuevamente ante estas instancias para exigir justicia para los indígenas Tolupanes.

Desde los años 90 hasta la actualidad se han contabilizado 43 asesinatos en la comunidad de los Tolupanes, según un recuento realizado por Juan Mejía del Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia (MADJ).

Municipios libres de explotación minera

El padre Ayala es de la idea de que al tener toda la información de las contrapartes, las decisiones que el pueblo tome serán en beneficio de todos y todas. Con experiencias cercanas como la de Balfate en Colón, o la de El Negrito en el departamento de Yoro, que han sido declarados municipios libres de explotación minera. La Masica quiere seguir un camino y al hablar con el alcalde actual, la comunidad corroboró que hay apertura para que el pueblo decida.

“El alcalde actual del municipio de La Masica nos ha dicho que está disponible a apoyar la lucha y si las comunidades quieren declarar el municipio libre de minería lo va a hacer. Para eso hay que darle una información amplia a la gente, en las dos partes, en los desastres que ocasiona la explotación minera y los beneficios que podría generar también”, dijo Ayala.

Sin embargo, Landa explicó que las leyes de Honduras no están hechas para este tipo de iniciativas. “No pueden establecerse zonas del territorio que quedan excluidas de la minería, sin cumplir con el procedimiento legal  correspondiente, dice la ley ¿Pero  cuál es el procedimiento correspondiente? No se sabe.  ¿Y cómo quedan las declaratorias de municipios libre de minería?  La ley se lo pasa por encima. Los abogados de las empresas mineras se agarran de este artículo para todo”.

Si las leyes nacionales no contemplan la consulta previa, las organizaciones exigen que se cumplan las leyes y tratados internacionales y han llevado el tema de consulta previa a la Comisión Interamericana de Derechos Humanos. También pretenden presentarlo  dentro del Examen Periódico Universal y aprovechar los mandatos de Naciones Unidas.  Han solicitado al Consejo de derechos humanos de la ONU  que brinde una opinión sobre el no cumplimiento de los Convenios a  partir de esta ley de minería, esto puede tener impacto.

“Es importante hacer todas las acciones legales para demostrar que el  sistema interno no funciona”, concluyó Landa.

“We came back to Struggle”

Indigenous communities in Honduras are fighting against new mining projects

The dirt road winds its way up into the mountains of Yoro, dropping down to cross the Locomapa River at several points along the way. It’s March, nearing the end of the dry season in this part of Honduras, and the pink blossoms of carao trees stand out against the dusty landscape of corn fields and coniferous forest. Near the river, in the community of San Francisco Campo, Celso Alberto Cabrera sits outside his simple wooden home. It is here that Indigenous Tolupan members of the San Francisco de Locomapa tribe maintained a 13-day road blockade in August 2013 to protest antimony mining in the tribe’s territory. And it is here that three Tolupan blockade participants were murdered on August 25. Cabrera’s 71-year-old mother, María Enriqueta Matute, was shot and killed in her kitchen. Armando Fúnez Medina and Ricardo Soto Fúnez were shot on the dirt patio outside the house, next to the road that runs through the middle of town.

photo of a hillside that has been stripminedphoto John Donaghy

“They died because they were involved with the resistance,” Cabrera said. The blockade ended with the murders and, that same day, Cabrera and seven other community leaders fled the region due to death threats. An arrest warrant issued for the two murder suspects hasn’t been carried out, but after the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights ordered precautionary measures for 38 people from the region, Cabrera and six others returned to Locomapa in February.

In theory, tribal policies mandate that no resource extraction can take place in the tribe’s territory without the approval of the tribal assembly, in which a majority of the tribe’s 900- plus members must be present to make decisions. No such authorization has occurred. “If the communities say no to mining, then that must be respected,” said Ramón Matute, who spent six months in exile due to his leadership in the struggle against mining.

Extractive projects are moving forward at an ever-increasing pace across Honduras, as the government tries to stay afloat by putting natural resources on the auction block. A combination of militarization and the lack of proper consultation – let alone free, prior, and informed consent from local communities – is causing conflict and resistance in Indigenous territories.

“We’re up against powerful interests,” Bertha Cáceres, general coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, said of the struggles against extractive and energy projects throughout the country. It’s not only mining that worries her, but also hydroelectric dam construction, logging, and oil exploration. “Our concern is that all of the territories could end up in the hands of transnational corporations,” she said.

In the five years since the June 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, the Honduran government has issued an unprecedented number of natural resource concessions. National and international energy corporations now hold rights to dozens of rivers, including waterways on which Indigenous Tolupan, Lenca, and Garifuna communities depend. In March, British multinational BG Group began offshore oil and gas exploration in a 13,500-square-mile area off the coast of the remote Moskitia region, and Chevron has expressed interest in the area. Mining activities are expanding, and mining interests are exploring the mineral potential of 950 sites throughout the country.

Honduras is a signatory to the International Labour Organization Convention No. 169 on the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples, as well as a signatory to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Yet the government’s obligations under these international agreements have not been adopted into national legislation. At the same time, legislative initiatives such as the 2011 Investment Promotion and Protection Law have strengthened the legal protections for private investment.

“Never before in all the history of Honduras has there been a greater push by the state to guarantee foreign investment,” said Miriam Miranda, general coordinator of OFRANEH, a federation representing the 46 Afro-Indigenous Garifuna communities spread out along the Caribbean coast. The Honduran government is increasingly focused on natural resource exploitation, and particularly mining, as a solution to its crippling debt. “The greater the economic crisis of the state, the greater the crisis for Indigenous peoples as well because the resources in our territories are placed at much greater risk,” Miranda said.

A new General Mining Law, passed in January 2013, opened the floodgates for mining around the country. The law put an end to a moratorium on mining concessions in place since 2006. Less than a week before the National Congress ratified regulations defining how the new mining law would be enacted, the Honduran government announced that 280 new mining concessions were in the works.

North American and European companies are currently operating four large-scale metallic mines in Honduras that produce gold, silver, zinc, lead, and iron. The extraction of iron oxide for export to China is expanding at a rapid pace, and new metallic and non-metallic mining plans are underway. The environmental and social impacts from the now closed San Martin gold mine in the Siria Valley, less than 100 miles from Locomapa, have been the center of mining resistance. “We’ve heard and seen that mining in the Siria Valley left behind destruction, left behind illnesses,” Ramón Matute said. Siria Valley residents have carefully documented and shared with communities throughout Central America their experience with community displacement, contamination and depletion of water sources, and health problems in the region affected by Goldcorp’s open pit mine.

Tolupan activists don’t have to look far for positive inspiration, either. Fifty miles west of Locomapa, thousands of residents of the municipality of El Negrito took to the streets on March 28 to protest gold and coal mining concessions. During a packed town hall meeting, municipal authorities backed the communities’ decision to ban all mining in the municipality. More often, however, the official response to community struggles for their lands and resources is militarization, criminalization, and repression. For example, when residents in Santa Barbara in western Honduras took to the streets on March 24 to protest mining, the Honduran government sent in the military police to evict their road blockade. Under the 2013 mining law, a percentage of mining royalties are paid directly into a security fund that finances the military police and other recently created security forces.

In Tolupan territory the resistance movement continues despite the 2013 murders and ongoing threats. Since Matute and other community leaders returned home to Locomapa and reunited with those who stayed behind, they have been busy organizing. “We didn’t come here to stay hidden in our houses. We came back to continue the struggle,” said Matute, secretary of the grassroots tribal Preventative Council, which was organized in the 1990s to defend natural resources from unrestrained exploitation.

José María Pineda hasn’t returned to Locomapa since August 2013. One of the most visible community leaders speaking out against resource extraction in Tolupan territory, Pineda has been the main target of death threats. But his time away from home hasn’t been wasted. He has traveled as far as Washington, DC to denounce human rights violations to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. For Pineda, the issue comes down to consultation and consent. “So long as that doesn’t happen, we’re right to oppose the continuing extraction of the riches of our Indigenous tribes in the municipality of Yoro,” he told Earth Island Journal in an interview in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital.

Back in Locomapa, the sweet aroma of ocote pine lingers in the air as the sun begins its descent behind the mountains. Sitting outside the house where his mother was killed, Celso Alberto Cabrera plays with his granddaughter. “My mother died defending a right, and we have to do the same because we’re thinking of the children who will be around after we’re gone,” he said.

Cabrera takes comfort in the fact that communities throughout Honduras are speaking out against destructive mining practices. “We feel it gives us great strength because we know that it’s not just us, that there are other organizations that are fighting this same battle,” he said. “We know that if at a certain point all of us in this struggle shout together, we will be heard.”

Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist currently based in Central America. Follow her on Twitter: @Sandra_Cuffe.