December 20, 2018
Honduras is full of natural riches: coral reefs, mountains covered in trees, clear rivers, and abundant flora and fauna. However, defending these natural resources can be a high-risk activity. According to an investigation by Global Witness, since 2010 more than 120 environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras.
Data compiled by the Observatory on Natural Resources and Human Rights in the Honduran Center for the Promotion of Community Development (Centro Hondureño de Promoción para el Desarrollo Comunitario - CEHPRODEC) shows that since September 2017, there have been a total of 302 mining exploration and exploitation concessions, and a total of 183 concession requests, related to the extraction of different minerals that can be found in Honduras, including gold, silver, and lead. In addition to minerals, Honduras has 39 affected rivers and river basins that by February 2018 were affected by the installation of 155 hydroelectric projects. Different human rights organizations claim that the extractive projects are installed in community territories without prior consultation and without providing them with all the information, both positive and negative, about how the project will affect their way of life, as required under ILO Convention 169 for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. The communities often do not find out about projects until the machinery and workers arrive to implement them. They are faced with companies arriving in their territories with concessions granted by state institutions, without anyone having asked them whether or not they were in agreement with the projects.
The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (Movimiento Amplio por la Dignidad y la Justicia - MADJ) is one of several human rights organizations that accompany communities in their struggles for natural resources and common property. Pajuiles, Jilamito, and San Francisco de Locomapa are three communities affected for a number of reasons, united by their tireless defense for their rights, properties, and lives.
The community of San Francisco de Locomapa, belonging to the Tolupán indigenous people, is located in the department of Yoro, and has been historically affected by the exploitation of the pine tree, the minerals in its mountains, and the water in its rivers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expressed concern in its 2016 report about the risk for the Tolupán indigenous people due to the implementation of mining and hydroelectric dam projects without an adequate process of prior, free, and informed consultation. The community has suffered murders, threats, attacks, and displacements. In 2013, Ricardo Soto Fúnez, Armando Fúnez Medina, and María Enriqueta Matute were killed after attending a demonstration to reject mining and logging. In February 2018 one of the perpetrators of the crime was sentenced to 45 years in prison, but in June of the same year he managed to escape from prison. For all the attacks the community has suffered, the IACHR granted precautionary measures to 38 people from the community. Even so, one of these people, Ramón Matute, indigenous leader and member of the Broad Movement, was attacked with machetes in June 2018, causing injuries to his forehead and back.
The community of Jilamito is located in the department of Atlántida, and is affected by the installation of a hydroelectric project by the company INGELSA, on the Jilamito River. The river provides water for 16 communities, and if the project continues, they will lose their main source of water for human consumption, washing clothes, watering their plantations, and even bathing. It is also important to remember that several indigenous peoples attribute a sacred spiritual force to the rivers, including the Lenca community of Río Blanco, who have been fighting against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project, a fight that has already led to several murders, such as that of environmentalist Berta Cáceres. Despite having to face these terrible consequences, there are still brave populations that are struggling and organizing camps for Water and Life, as is the case of the Pajuiles sector communities.
The Pajuiles sector, located in the Nombre de Dios mountain range in the Department of Atlántida, is affected by a hydroelectric plant called “Los Planes”, owned by the company HIDROCEP, on the Mezapa River. The concession for the exploitation of the river was approved in 2010 by the Honduran National Congress, but no prior consultation was conducted with the affected communities. The villagers noticed that when the machines began to work, the water became contaminated. The Broad Movement filed a complaint about the environmental impact of the project, and the Public Ministry issued an opinion in which it stated that this water was not suitable for consumption and warned of possible landslides. Even so the company works continued. For that reason, in March 2017 the Pajuiles sector communities decided to install a camp in protest against the hydroelectric project. The consequences of this struggle and opposition have been evictions, criminalization of community members, attacks, and threats, incidents for which the residents of Pajuiles have been granted precautionary measures from the IACHR. The camp has been repressed by tear gas on several occasions, such as in August 2017 after a confrontation in which several people were arrested, including a minor and the community leader Albertina López, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the arrest. To date, several members of the community have criminal proceedings brought against them, and have to go to the courts every week while they wait for a resolution from the Court of Appeals.
The inhabitants of Pajuiles are fighting to defend their river and their health. During this struggle at least 5 people have had to go to hospital with stomach problems after drinking contaminated water, and one child and one woman have gone to hospital due to a skin rash after bathing in the river. In July 2018, the Administrative Court of San Pedro Sula ordered that the works be halted, with joy and hope for the community. But even after that small progress, the difficulties continues to monitor the fulfillment of the court ruling.