Photovoltaics lighting up the night in rural Nicaragua

Taken from Nicaragua News 15/03/15

Photovoltaic projects, both large and small, are transforming the night in rural Nicaragua. Salvador Mansell, minister of energy and mines, also noted that the Sandinista government is prioritizing the installation of electric service on the Caribbean Coast. He also said that a new substation in Mulukuku will supply power to the North Caribbean Autonomous Region. “We are beginning a very broad program of electricity coverage in the Caribbean,” he said. “Two hundred kilometers of transmission lines have been built between Siuna and Puerto Cabezas (Bilwi), and 1,500 solar panels will be installed as well as several new substations.” In Tipitapa, near Managua, Canadian Solar has announced it will build the largest photovoltaic park in Nicaragua (3.1 megawatts) to serve the Franca Astro Free Trade Zone which is home to 26 companies. Two Nicaraguan banks are financing the project.

Originally taken from Informe Pastran, Mar. 6, 2015

PROGELSA denounced for paying inhabitants to create a confrontation on the Petacón River.

From CRITERIO

redaccion@criterio.hn

January 16, 2019

Initially translated by ENCA member Rick Blower and adapted by Martin Mowforth.

Numerous entries in ‘The Violence of Development’ book and website have been critical of transnational corporations (TNCs) for their tactics of violence deployed against local people and communities who protest against the corporation’s ‘development’ being imposed upon them. These tactics can take the form of threats of violence, intimidation, criminalisation, defamation and even assassination. At times when we try to point out the use of such tactics by western corporations, we are accused of being extreme by people who cannot believe that western companies would be so blatantly immoral, illegal and criminal.

This particular article illustrates another tactic used by TNCs to create conflict and discord among local populations. It is essentially a case of ‘divide and rule’.

Key words: hydro-electric power plant; yellow jackets; local protest; poverty.

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

In 2015 the Honduran National Congress approved more than a dozen energy projects, including the Petacón River Hydro-electric Project. The approval took no account of the ability of the state to purchase the energy from the producing companies. In the case of the Petacón project, the company involved is PROGELSA (Promotora de Energia Limpia) which was awarded a 50 year lease on the project. At present the project is semi-paralysed due to protests by the local Lenca residents of the community of Reitoca.

The contract with the company stipulates that the project has to respect and maintain a regular flow of water in the original course of the river, but local people say that the river has already been deviated from its course when the company started to build. They claim that this has already affected their environment and their health.

On Wednesday 16th January 2019 a group of inhabitants from the community of Muluaca in the municipality of Lepaterique (in the Honduran department of Francisco Morazán) arrived in Reitoca (also in the department of Francisco Morazán) where the local Lenca people control the territory and have halted the construction of the hydroelectric project on the River Petacón.

The aim of the inhabitants of Lepaterique was to displace the inhabitants of Reitoca who are resisting the hydroelectric company in its attempts to build their project on the River Petacón.

It was evident that the inhabitants of Lepaterique were being backed by the company PROGELSA, since they were in possession of many supplies and all of them were dressed wearing ‘yellow jackets’ with ‘messages of peace’, the organisation of Madre Tierra [see notes below] pointed out in a communiqué.

Madre Tierra declared that it sees the tactics used by PROGELSA with sadness and as a display of cowardice. These tactics use conditions of poverty in which the community of Lepaterique live, to confront them against the peoples of Reitoca, brother against brother; whilst those who benefit from the conflict will always be the companies.

This attempt to divide and rule has failed, for now; but there are reports [from El Portal, 29 April 2019] of the Honduran National Police firing on some of the 300 protestors from Reitoca, injuring one, in a more recent incident. Both the police and military forces have been trying to dislodge the protestors.

  • A related note: The Movimiento Madre Tierra (MMT) in Honduras is directed by Dr Juan Almendares, a well-known environmentalist and human rights advocate. The MMT is the official Honduran branch of Friends of the Earth International and supports the people of Reitoca as an heroic people’s stand against the privatisation of water.
  • For more on MMT, see https://www.facebook.com/madretierrahn/  A 2010 interview with Dr Almendares was conducted by Martin Mowforth and appears in this website at: https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/dr-juan-almendares/

Firewood, tortillas and floods

???????????????????????????????It may sometimes be difficult to see the link between the tortillas served with your meals in Managua and the floods that frequently occur in the city, but it exists.

Tortillas in Managua are cooked over firewood from the higher zones of the city and neighbouring municipalities such as Tipitapa which is one of the most deforested in the country. Jaime Incer Barquero, president of Fundenic SOS and a former Minister of the Environment and Natural Resources, never tires of pointing out the contradiction to the people in the higher zones of Managua: “In the mornings they go down to the city with their carts full of firewood, and later they return with water.”[1] Incer points out that these people do not have any water because they are felling their trees for firewood which they sell in order to buy water. If they didn’t fell their trees, their water sources would still be viable and they could save themselves the journey.

According to the article in La Prensa[2], more than one of the wells of the Nicaraguan Company of Water and Sewage Systems (ENACAL) in the south of the city has dried up. Floods, droughts, a lack of water and even landslides are only some of the most dangerous collateral damage caused, at least in part, by the irrational use of firewood in Nicaragua. “Urbanisation has only increased the use of firewood for cooking. The Young Environmentalists Club believes that the firewood problem is a reflection of two things: the underdevelopment of the country and the difficulty in accessing alternative technologies.”[3]


[1] Jaime Incer Barquero cited in ‘La leña causa serios daños colaterales’, in La Prensa, Managua, 6 March 2011.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Nicaragua News (8 March 2011) ‘Firewood cooking has many consequences’, Nicaragua News Service, Managua.

Costa Rica’s New President Leads the Way with Fossil Fuel Ban

By Martin Mowforth

In May this year [2018], Carlos Alvarado Quesada of the centre-left Citizens’ Action Party (PAC) was elected President of Costa Rica.

In his inauguration speech he declared that “Decarbonisation is the great task of our generation and Costa Rica must be one of the first countries in the world to accomplish it, if not the first. We have the titanic and beautiful task of abolishing the use of fossil fuels in our economy to make way for the use of clean and renewable energies.”

Before becoming President, Alvarado was a journalist, writer and political scientist who had studied at the University of Costa Rica and later at the University of Sussex where he gained a Masters in Development Studies.

There is no doubt that Alvarado is keen to pursue and promote environmental initiatives, but the task of turning the country into what he calls “the world’s decarbonisation laboratory” will not be an easy one. As an article in ENCA 69 (March 2017, ‘Costa Rica’s environmental reputation’) pointed out, although the country produces well over 90% of its electrical energy without the use of fossil fuels, around 70% of that energy comes from hydro-electricity generated from large-scale dams, whose environmental credentials are increasingly questioned. Also the Costa Rican transport sector has generated growing use of fossil fuels as a result of the growth in car ownership and use in recent years, with so far few signs of a willingness to switch to electric vehicles.

It will be interesting to watch the statistics of Costa Rica’s fossil fuel use during the period of his presidency.

Land Defence Lawyer Carlos Hernández Murdered in Arizona, Honduras

April 27, 2018

Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC): www.ghrc-usa.org

I am grateful to the GHRC for permission to reproduce this report.

Keywords: hydroelectric power in Honduras; Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ); assassinations; Carlos Hernández; Victor Fernández; INGELSA Corporation; Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH); Berta Cáceres; municipal referendum; criminalisation.

Carlos Hernández

The Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ) of Honduras denounced the April 10, 2018 murder of lawyer Carlos Hernández. Hernández was the defence lawyer for Arnoldo Chacón, the mayor of the Honduran town of Arizona who is currently facing charges from a hydroelectric company.

Chacón is committed to defending the results of a 2015 municipal referendum banning hydroelectric development in Arizona.  In September 2017, Chacón told police that men had threatened the lives of those close  to him if he continued to obstruct INGELSA corporation plans to build a dam on the Jilamito river.

On March 12, 2018 four members of the MADJ and the Arizona Community Development Committee, Elena Gaitán, Tulio Laínez Gonzales, Julio Leíva Guzmán, and Claudio Ramírez Espinoza, sat in court in Tela, Atlántida, alongside the newly elected mayor of Arizona, Carlos Arnoldo Chacón, as a judge formalized criminal charges against them.  They explained that they were defending their communities’ river against blatant corruption that affected Arizona’s water; as much as half of the population of Arizona face daily hardships stemming from a scarcity of water.

Honduras’ most famous human rights advocate and environmentalist, Berta Cáceres, faced similar charges and narrowly escaped wrongful imprisonment in 2013, only to be murdered on March 2, 2016 after years of denouncing death threats by employees of the DESA hydroelectric company.  Intense international pressure forced prosecutors to investigate her murder.  Two years after gunmen stormed Berta Cáceres’ home near midnight and shot her beside her bed, the president of DESA was finally arrested.  The five men and women charged May 12 are confronting a similar hydroelectric company operating in Arizona, this one called INGELSA.

Yet another point Chacón and the other MADJ members have in common with Berta Cáceres is their lawyer, Victor Fernández.  Fernández is a former public prosecutor and while president of the National Association of Prosecutors in 2008, he led a hunger strike denouncing corruption in the judicial system. This protest led to the creation of the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice -MADJ, dedicated to defending rights of communities and fighting corruption in the judicial system.  Fernández defended Berta Cáceres in 2013 and is currently prosecuting her killers on behalf of her family and her organisation the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (COPINH).

Fernández is defending the five accused, but Chacón brought in another lawyer, Carlos Hernández, to support the case.  A former prosecutor, the young Hernández was shot dead in his office on April 10, 2018, less than a month after joining the defence team. Area residents fear his murder may have been an attempt by INGELSA to stop Arnoldo Chacón from saving the river for residents of Arizona.  Just a few months before, on September 13, 2017, while Chacon was a candidate for mayor and a member of the municipal corporate council, he told police that he had received threats from men who identified themselves as speaking on behalf of the INGELSA company.  According to Chacón, unknown individuals approached him. They wanted him to stop blocking the then mayor from illegally annulling the results of a 2015 municipal referendum which had rejected the construction of dams in Arizona. The hitmen explained that Chacón was INGELSA’s principal problem, and that if he didn’t allow the dams, they would have to kill him or people close to him. With INGELSA’s political influence they let him know they could also undertake an audit of the family business or other pressure tactics.  Just a few weeks before, men dressed as soldiers had illegally entered Chacón’s brother’s home, which houses the family business, and searched it.  Then on March 1, 2018 in an interview with Honduran press, Chacón reported that a local whistle-blower had told him a hitman who had been following him for weeks had been paid $6,500 to kill him.

In 2015 after months of pressure, the then mayor of the township of Arizona, Adolfo Paguada, had agreed to convoke a municipal referendum about the possible construction of a 14.8 MW hydroelectric dam on the Jilamito River.  It was convoked for 2pm on November 20, but neighbours denounced early that morning that Paguada brought 34 buses of people from neighbouring municipalities and held an illegal referendum in the morning.  Despite the problems, municipal council members oversaw the 2pm referendum, in which townspeople overwhelmingly voted against dams in Arizona, which according to Honduran law made the results binding.  The next day three legal complaints were filed against Paguada, but no investigation has occurred. The referendum made it impossible for the mayor to grant a construction license for the dam.  Additionally, Honduran law requires the municipal council to review and approve mandatory environmental impact assessments before granting construction licenses.  The municipal council never presented an environmental impact assessment. For both of these reasons, it was impossible for a construction license to be legally granted. Nonetheless, in January of 2017 INGELSA began construction of the dam.

Desperate to preserve the water source for 16 communities and over 24,000 people, in May of 2017 the communities installed a permanent encampment along the road leading to the construction site.  When INGELSA brought equipment to the area on May 29, neighbours did not let it pass.  Arnoldo Chacón and the Arizona community development committee attempted to dialogue with the company, which could not present the construction license.

Many formal complaints against INGELSA and former mayor Paguada were filed and never prosecuted, however malicious prosecution of community leaders and the mayoral candidate advanced quickly. Today, those community members have been charged with criminal usurpation of the State of Honduras’ road, while the 24,000 people who stand to lose potable water have yet to see a license for the construction and environmental defenders fear for their lives and for the life of their remaining lawyer, Victor Fernández.

Belize acts to end offshore oil exploration

Good news from Belize

By Martin Mowforth

In January this year [2018] the government of Belize voted to end all oil exploration in its waters. The policy is intended to protect the Belize Barrier Reef World Heritage Site, the world’s second largest coral reef after the Australian Barrier Reef. The reef is home to many endangered marine species such as hawksbill turtles, rays, various species of sharks and manatees.

It is rarely acknowledged in the mainstream media, but the ban is in part due to extensive lobbying by environmental groups in Belize since as early as 2006. Significant amongst these groups has been the Belize Coalition to Save Our Natural Heritage. But the decision has also been widely welcomed by international organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

Oil drilling puts at risk not just the marine biodiversity that is dependent on the reef, but also the country’s lucrative tourism industry which employs directly at least 25 per cent of the economically active population and indirectly and occasionally many more. Especially significant within the tourism industry is the dive sector which is dependent on the state of the reef. Belizean waters include three of the Caribbean’s four atolls: Lighthouse Reef; Glover’s Reef and the Turneffe Islands. Reef related tourism, fishing and other activities are estimated to have significant economic impact on a half of the country’s population.

By contrast with Belize’s decision, also in January this year Donald Trump opened up nearly all US waters to oil drilling in a move cheered by the oil industry. The decision affects many areas previously protected on environmental and conservation grounds. Clearly his memory covers only a short time span which can be no great surprise – Deep Water Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico appears to have been forgotten already.

On the other hand, Belize’s decision lights the way for developing nations to take control of their own resources and to make decisions for the benefit of their own peoples and environments. Candy Gónzalez (of the Coalition and also of the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy, BELPO), however, points out that, despite the headlines, “it is a moratorium, not a ban.” She adds that “that is one of the problems with it” and that it is “Not what we wanted, but it is something.”


Sources:

  • Greg Beach (8th January 2018) ‘Belize votes to indefinitely end all oil exploration in its waters’,
  • Graeme Green (13th January) ‘Belize bans oil activity to protect its barrier reef’, The Guardian.
  • Adele Ramos (5th December 2015) ‘Belize beats UNESCO deadline to ban offshore exploration’,
  • Akshat Rathi (8th January 2018) ‘As Trump opens more waters for oil exploration, the tiny nation of Belize shows a better way’,
  • Candy Gónzalez (6th February 2018) Personal communication.

Small-scale solar power in Nicaragua

On 22 February 2017, NicaNet (the Nicaragua Network) reported the following in its weekly blog (www.nicanet.org/).

A report published by the French news agency AFP states that Nicaragua is carrying out a renewable energy revolution that is bringing electricity and prosperity to isolated rural communities in the country. The AFP report noted that 1,500 solar panels have been installed in homes and schools on the Nicaraguan Caribbean coast, as well as 250 solar powered water pumping systems benefiting farmers in the Pacific dry corridor.

Expanding Rural Energy Access in Nicaragua through Solar Panel Programmes (Photo credit: Green Empowerment)

 

Installing a solar panel on the roof of Los Pozitos school building. (Photo credit: Martin Mowforth)

Berta Cáceres Receives The Goldman Environmental Prize, 2015

The Goldman Environmental Prize honours grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views ‘grassroots’ leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.

Further video clips are available on the Goldman Environmental Prize website at:http://www.goldmanprize.org/recipient/berta-caceres/

Readers of ‘The Violence of Development’ website are urged to follow this link to listen to the Goldman profile story of Berta’s leadership of the struggle waged by COPINH against hydro-electric power schemes in one region of Honduras and in particular to hear her inspirational acceptance speech.

Green dam linked to killings of six indigenous people in Guatemala

By Arthur Neslen in Brussels, Thursday 26th March 2015.

The following is a link to a March 2015 article in The Guardian (London) regarding plans for the San Rita dam in Guatemala, carbon credits for which will be tradable under the EU’s emissions trading scheme.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/26/santa-rita-green-dam-killings-indigenous-people-guatemala
(c) Guardian News & Media Ltd.

Costa Rica’s environmentalists caught in a quandary – the climate or the parks?

In 2008, environmentalists in Costa Rica successfully campaigned against a proposed law which would allow the state-owned electricity company (ICE) to explore geothermal energy within national parks. The proposed law would have allowed ICE to explore for geothermal energy within national parks without conducting an environmental impact study. The cost of such exploration would be a portion of the sales of electricity dedicated to the national parks system.[1]

ICE president Pedro Pablo Quirós has estimated that there is a potential of 800 MW of geothermal energy in the area from the Poás Volcano north to the frontier with Nicaragua, but much of this area is protected against development. Quirós has continued to push the Legislative Assembly to modify the existing legislation to allow exploration and investigation of geothermal energy within the parks.[2]

President of the Costa Rican Wildlife Preservation Association (APREFLOFAS) Angeline Morín, on the other hand, declared her organisation’s opposition to the opening up of national parks for any purposes. She is particularly concerned about the effect of the development on wildlife and she supports other alternatives such as wind and solar power in place of geothermal energy.

Quirós claims that the ICE is the country’s largest investor in reforestation and that around the Miravalles geothermal plant (Costa Rica’s most productive geothermal power plant) there wasn’t a single tree when the plant was first developed. Now it is completely reforested.[3]

Efforts to modify the laws governing developments in national parks were still ongoing during 2011, and an editorial piece in The Tico Times suggests that “the solution is to carefully change the law to allow the exploitation of geothermal energy in selected national parks, subject to rigorous controls, including careful study of impacts on biodiversity and hydrological resources.”[4]


[1] Central America Data (13 July 2009) ‘No to Geothermal Energy in Costa Rica’, http://en.centralamericadata.com/en/article/home/No-to_Geothermal_Energy_in _Costa_Rica (accessed 18.07.11).
[2] NotiCen writers (12 March 2009) ‘Clean but not green: geothermal developers in Costa Rica at odds with environmentalists’, http://repository.unm.edu/handle/1928/11022 (accessed 08.07.11).
[3] Daniel Zueras (12 July 2011) ‘Costa Rica Invests in Geothermal Power Generation’, Tierramérica, www.tierramerica.info/nota.php?lang=eng&idnews=3008 (accessed 12.07.11).
[4] The Tico Times (7 August 2009) ‘Taking a Giant Leap Toward Energy Independence’, Editorial, The Tico Times, San José, Costa Rica.

Household solar energy initiatives, Masaya, Nicaragua

´Proyecto Sol´ or Project Sun was established through the Nicaraguan organisation ADIC (Integral Community Development Association), based in the city and department of Masaya. This is “a forgotten region between the country’s two largest lakes”[1] dominated by large rice farms and big landowners. Multiple small communities inhabit the margins of the large rice farms. Power lines can be seen running over these rural communities but apart from a few houses, the electricity is devoted to pumping water through the farms’ thirsty irrigation systems and thus the workers live in darkness. Unless the privatised electricity grid is extended (unlikely – see the case study on privatisation in Nicaragua earlier in this chapter), remote neighbourhoods will never have the privilege of this requisite and the energy crisis will persist.

Being a green and reliable source of electrical power, solar panels are an obvious solution to this problem. Previously only wealthy families had the capital to purchase the equipment, but with the nature of ADIC´s repayment schemes, poorer families can repay the $700/£500 cost over a period of 5-7 years, based on what they can afford each month.[2] The cost is no more than that which would be paid for electricity from the national provider, and the repayments are used in a revolving fund for further reinvestment.

To July 2010, 135 solar panels have been installed in 15 different communities, and the demand is increasing. Once 200 kits have been installed, the repayment account will be healthy enough to provide 25-30 new panels per year.[3] The micro-loan fund is one of this project’s key success factors and it has proven to be a potential application for vulnerable communities throughout Central America.[4]

One such success story is that of Señora Amada Concepción – the recipient of the one hundredth solar panel kit to be installed. She and her community live without electricity in an area of low lying marshland in the district of Tisma. Equipment was brought in by horse and cart as the connecting road is impassable.[5] The family now have electricity for the first time.

Although surveys done by Proyecto Sol reveal that initially communities are sceptical about solar energy, house owners are rapidly converted to the scheme once the preliminary demonstration equipment is seen to work even on cloudy days during the rainy season.[6] The output of each panel is enough for 3 or 4 light bulbs, as well as a socket for use by a TV or radio for a few hours a day.

The project coordinator is Englishman John Perry, now a permanent resident in Masaya. Through his contacts with British based Housing Associations, he and ADIC have ascertained the capital to initiate Proyecto Sol and other schemes which aim to improve infrastructure for low income families in Masaya.


[1] ADIC (March 2010) ‘We own the land, water, electricity…’, Agrovivenda Bulletin , No.21, ADIC.
[2] John Perry, project coordinator, interviewed especially for this book, 20 July 2010, Masaya, Nicaragua.
[3] John Perry (Winter 2008) ‘Sun lights off-grid communities in Nicaragua’, Central America Report, www.central-america-report.org.uk
[4] Matthew Barker (23 January 2009) ‘Out of the darkness’, Inside Housing, p.36-37.
[5] ADIC (September 2008) ‘First 100 Solar systems installed’, Agrovivenda Bulletin, No.18, ADIC.
[6] Op.cit, Perry (2008).

Geothermal energy development in Central America

The board of Polaris Energy Nicaragua (PENSA) and the Central America Bank for Economic Integration (BCIE) signed a credit agreement for US$77 million to expand electricity generation at the San Jacinto Tizate Geothermal Plant by 36 megawatts from its current 10 MW for a total of 46 MW by April 2011 and 72 MW by the end of that year. The project is being financed by a consortium of Canadian and Dutch banks and administered by the BCIE.

When its final phase is completed at a cost of US$149.5 million, the geothermal plant will produce 150 MW of electricity saving more than 540,000 barrels of oil a year and will create 260 permanent jobs. The first phase alone will save US$38 million in oil purchases.

Treasury Minister Alberto Guevara and BCIE President Silvio Conrado also announced the signing of a loan for US$22.9 million to finance construction of the Larreynaga hydroelectric dam which has the potential to produce 17 MW of electricity. This loan is on top of the US$36.7 million already approved for the project. President Daniel Ortega spoke of the need to gradually reduce dependence on oil but also said that a mix of oil, wind and hydro power would be required as it would not be possible to produce 100% of Nicaragua’s energy needs by geothermal generation.


Taken from Nicaragua News, 19.01.10, and El Nuevo Diario, 13.01.10.