COPINH-leader: “Our communities are terrified”
Last week, Global Witness published 'Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet'. This shocking report clearly shows the worrying situation of human rights in Honduras and backs the demand of Both ENDS and partner COPINH: FMO must divest from the Agua Zarca dam.
The report states that since the military coup in 2009, no less than 123 people have been killed who protested against projects like dams, mines, logging orlarge-scale agriculture. One of the examples in the report is the Agua Zarca dam. Since 2013, 6 members of the indigenous organization COPINH, who are opposing the dam, have been murdered. Amongst them their leader Berta Cáceres.
COPINH: fighting against huge financial interests
Both ENDS spoke with Tomas Gomez Membreño, Berta's successor, about the current situation of COPINH: "Our situation is very difficult, and has become worse since the murdering of Berta. The government and the company behind Agua Zarca, DESA, are campaigning against us in the media. We are being criminalized and falsely accused of drug trafficking. All this happens to defend the financial interests of politicians and the company."
The Global Witness report uncovers the connections between the threats and the violence against human rights and environment defenders and the Honduran elites. In this context of violence, intimidation and huge financial interests, it is difficult for COPINH to have any influence on what's happening on their lands. Gomez Membreño: "Our politicians don't care about our suggestions for the development of our communities, because they are at the expense of the gains of the private companies. Because these companies pay for the election campaigns of the politicians, the politicians listen only to the demands of the companies."
Organisations like COPINH have a totally different vision about what's 'development'. "The politicians and companies think privatising the river is development. They want to redirect the river to generate power. This will kill the animals in the river. Furthermore, the power will be used for activities like mining, that demolish even more nature and accelerate climate change on a global level!
For us, development is: access to water and land, producing our own foods. We defend nature: not only the land, the water and the air, but also our culture, our cosmovision and our identity. We are fighting for the recognition of our claims to our own territory."
Stop the investments in Honduras
Global Witness has a clear recommendation in their report: the Agua Zarca project must be cancelled and international investors have to divest from it. An important investor is the Dutch development bank FMO. COPINH and Both ENDS have been calling FMO to draw back from the project for a year.
Gomez Membreño: "FMO has made a mistake: not only in the Agua Zarca case but for example also in the Barro Blanco project in Panama. They invested in projects where corporate interests are leading, and the wishes and the autonomy of indigenous peoples are not taken into account. Governments should tell the banks to stop their investments in countries with indigenous peoples when the mechanisms for Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC*) are not in place. Our territory is being demolished and the indigenous peoples are being destroyed. Our communities are terrified."
* FPIC is an international standard. It means that local communities have a say in projects conducted in their own territories, without being put under pressure (free), before the projects begin (prior) and on the basis of correct information (informed).
• Global Witness report: Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet
• 30 September 2016: New report: lenders should exit from Agua Zarca project
• 13 May 2016: Arrest of DESA staff member for murder of Berta Cáceres seems last straw for FMO
• 21 April 2016: Honduran Indigenous activists visit Europe to call for action
• 16 March 2016: FMO's suspension of activities in Honduras is just a first step
• 5 March 2016: Brave human rights defender Berta Cáceres murdered
• Also read the story about Barro Blanco in Panama