Martín Gómez is a small, slim man. He walks with confidence and you can see that he has planted corn and grain all his life. He lives in the middle of green mountains in Santa Elena, southern Honduras. Martín is part of the MILPAH indigenous movement, created in 2010 to defend land and the Lenca indigenous community, a predominant indigenous people in Honduras. A year after the organization was founded, the Honduran government approved a concession for the construction of the Los Encinos S.A. hydroelectric dam in Santa Elena on the Chinacla river. For Martin and his community, this river is significant, since it supplies water to nearby communities. “This resource is for our whole people, we go there to bathe, to fish, to have fun, to get to know the river”, Martin insists in a soft voice and with a shy smile.
Santa Elena is an emblematic example of the reality that exists in Honduras, where extractive projects have been granted to private companies without respecting the right to free, prior and informed consultation with indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers. This usually leads to confrontation, and has even led to the assassination of land defenders, such as the activist Berta Cáceres in 2016. She lost her life because she opposed the construction of a hydroelectric dam.
Honduras has become the most dangerous per capita country in the last decade, with 127 assassinations of land defenders since 2007. According to Global Witness, the hydroelectric industry has been closely linked to the murders in many cases.
Martín has also received threats. One of his horses was killed with a machete alongside two of his cows and two dogs. This has meant an important economic loss for his family, humble people with few resources. Even worse, they have left Martin uneasy and fearful for his life. “Psychologically speaking it makes me worried,” he confesses.
In 2016 more than a thousand inhabitants of Santa Elena went to the polls in an autonomous consultation process and 80% voted “no” to the installation of a hydroelectric plant in indigenous territory. According to Global Witness, widespread corruption, lack of consultation with communities and total failure of the government to protect activists are the triggers for attacks.
From PBI Honduras