Photo: NGerda / WikiMedia Commons
Environmental and Human Rights Defenders Call for U.S. to Halt Aid for Honduras to Stop Murder and Exploitation
“If we go one week without someone in COPINH getting attacked or killed it’s like a victory – you want to have a party,” Beverly Bell told Planet Experts from the COPINH headquarters in Honduras.
Bell is the founder of Other Worlds and a member of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an advocacy group dedicated to protecting the indigenous rights and lands of the Lenca people and local farmers.
“Since its formation in 1993, over 90 COPINH members have been killed, every single one defending their territories and democracy,” recounted Bell.
“The most pressing issue now affecting Lenca lands is a series of large hydroelectric dams which are already under construction,” she wrote in 2013. “They are part of 41 dam concessions which may soon come under active exploitation.”
Most of the dams are to be built on indigenous territories protected under both the national constitution and the 169th convention of the United Nations (UN) International Labor Organization.
The convention states, “The rights of ownership and possession of the peoples concerned over the lands which they traditionally occupy shall be recognized.”
Furthermore, “The rights of the peoples concerned to the natural resources pertaining to their lands shall be specially safeguarded. These rights include the right of these peoples to participate in the use, management and conservation of these resources.”
In Honduras, this is being blatantly disregarded.
Modern Political History
In 2009, a military coup d’etat derailed democratically elected president Jose Manuel Zalaya Rosales, who promoted poder ciudadano (citizen power), and fostered outcry from international world leaders.
The President of the United Nations General Assembly at the time, Miguel d’Ecosto Brockmann proposed, “with a heavy heart and deep personal outrage,” an international intervention “to ensure a peaceful restoration of the legitimate government.”
That didn’t happen. Instead, the coup persisted and in 2013 the government held a rigged election in which the National Party in control again took the presidency. European Union election monitors contested the ruling but it was not revised.
“The whole world condemned those elections in 2009 and 2013,” said Bell, “except the United States and Canada, who are the country’s biggest financial backers.”
The U.S. has substantial military presence in Honduras, including the Soto Cano base camp, and Canada is the biggest financial partner behind damming and extractive projects, financing an estimated 90 percent of mining activity.
Recent Murders of Lenca People
Last week, Lesbia Yaneth Uruia, a member of COPINH and an activist opposing Aurora dam in San Jose, La Paz, Honduras was brutally murdered.
“Lesbia was stoned to death,” said Bell, “and her body was just dumped on the side of the road by a pile of rocks and rubbish.”
“She was the fourth person in five days who has been killed for trying to stop mining on their lands,” Bell told Planet Experts.
“We hold the Honduras government directly responsible for this murder,” COPINH wrote on its website.
This Wednesday, police arrested three people for Uruia’s assignation, one of them being her brother-in-law. Officials claim turbulent family affairs caused the violence and that “the murder has nothing to do with the political decisions about granting concessions and the privatization of natural resources.”
“The day she was killed the president was in that town,” said Bell, referencing the governments overt involvement.
Bell said that some community residents and COPINH members are evacuating with fear for their lives.
The Murder of Berta Cáceres
The Guardian reported strong evidence that indicates Berta was on a government hit list. Since her death, multiple members of COPINH have been threatened by “the army, the police, the mayor Raul Pineda, and the Company DESA (responsible for the dam).”
COPINH demands an independent investigation of Berta’s murder, which the Inter American Commission of Human Rights agreed to support, but the Honduran Government refuses inspection.
The justice system is a complete farce “because this is a fake government,” Bell contends.
What Can Be Done?
Berta Cáceres’ murder sent shockwaves around the globe. On June 15, 2016 thousands of people in over 20 countries celebrated Berta Cáceres Day by publicly demanding “justice for Berta.”
“It doesn’t take violence,” said Bell. “It just takes the U.S. and Canada to stop supporting the most oppressive dictatorship in the world in terms of environmental defenders.”
“We are calling for the US to cut off its aid to the Honduran government” through the BERTA CÁCERES HUMAN RIGHTS IN HONDURAS ACT, proposed to the U.S. House of Representatives in conjunction with Berta Cáceres Day.
“We are also calling for international financiers to suspend their assistance for the Agua Zarca Dam” explained Bell. “The three main backers are Finfund, the Dutch Development Bank – both of which says they have cut off funding but we don’t have confirmation – and the Central American Bank for Economic Integration, which as far as I know is basically controlled by the U.S. Government.
“Finally, we call for the Honduran government to allow the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to participate in the trial on Berta’s assassination.”
Tragically, COPINH’s fight for the environment and human rights is one of many around the world. In recent years, unprecedented numbers of activists standing to preserve nature and their lands have been murdered in the name of profit and power.