Fighting Dams in Honduras is Deadly

June, 2016


In Northwest California, we are celebrating the imminent removal of four Klamath River dams that have destroyed salmon habitat and indigenous livelihoods. But in Honduras, such destruction continues to the detriment of both ecosystems and human communities, supported by internationally-funded dam construction projects.

In early March, Honduran human rights and environmental activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated after years of death threats and intimidation for leading the struggle against a proposed hydroelectric dam. (see Kin to the Earth, April/May 2016 EcoNews).

Cáceres won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 for her decade-long fight against the Agua Zarca Dam, a project planned along a river sacred to the indigenous Lenca people. She was co-founder of the COPINH (the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras). She was the fourth indigenous activist from the Lenca community of Río Blanco, Honduras to be killed since 2013. Less than two weeks after her death, another COPINH member, Nelson García, was murdered after returning home from helping indigenous people who had been displaced in a mass eviction by Honduran security forces.

Two of the four suspects arrested for her murder in early May are reported to have ties to Desarrollos Energeticos SA (DESA), the proponent of the Aqua Zarca dam project that would force the Lenca people off their land, destroying their culture and cutting off their access to food and water. Cáceres’ family has called for an independent investigation and an immediate suspension of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project.

Honduras has become widely recognized as one of the most dangerous countries in the world for environmental and indigenous activists. In March, Global Witness, a non-profit organization that tracks environmental and human rights abuses driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption, released figures showing that at least 109 people were killed in Honduras between 2010 and 2015 for taking a stand against destructive dam, mining, logging and agriculture projects.  

The Honduran government is under increasing international scrutiny for what many characterize as a culture of repression and impunity linked to international exploitation of natural resources. The World Bank has also received criticism for continuing to fund hydroelectric projects such as the Aqua Zarca dam that violate indigenous peoples’ rights, leading to violent conflicts and destruction of indigenous cultures.

In 2009, the Honduran military removed democratically elected President Mel Zelaya. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton led the U.S. effort to “normalize” relations with the new Honduran government. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton wrote, “I spoke with my counterparts around the hemisphere...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.” 

After the 2009 military coup, the Honduran government awarded concessions for 47 dams to power hundreds of new mining projects in just one law, without consulting the indigenous and campesino communities that rely on the rivers for food and water, as called for by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In 2014, Cáceres said on the Argentine TV program Resumen Latinoamericano, [translated] “We’re coming out of a coup that we can’t put behind us. We can’t reverse it,” Cáceres said. “Hillary Clinton, in her book, Hard Choices, practically said what was going to happen in Honduras. This demonstrates the meddling of North Americans in our country… And the international community accepted this, even though we warned this was going to be very dangerous and that it would permit a barbarity, not only in Honduras but in the rest of the continent.”

Many international observers condemn the U.S. government’s continuing role in supporting and funding the post-coup Honduran government, which has been described as waging a bloody war on the Honduran people in support of international development corporations and in complete absence of participatory democracy. For more on this tragic repeat of 20th Century American foreign policy, visit The Nation, Democracy Now!, and other independent news sources.

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