“En toda América Latina hay resistencia contra las represas” – Gustavo Castro, ecologista

Activista señala que desarrollo continuo de megaproyectos hidroeléctricos agrava el cambio climático.

Por Vinicio Chacón, Semanario Universidad (Costa Rica) | vinicio.chacon@ucr.ac.cr

Sep 21, 2016

Palabras claves: Berta Cáceres; COPINH; criminalización; hidroelectricidad; cambio climático; Protocolo de Kioto; tratados de libre comercio.

El ecologista mexicano Gustavo Castro ganó notoriedad por ser el único testigo del asesinato de la líder indígena y ambientalista hondureña Berta Cáceres, el pasado 2 de marzo [2016].

Castro es dirigente de la organización Otros Mundos – Amigos de la Tierra y con calma pero con contundencia abordó el asesinato y la increíble manipulación del caso que hizo el sistema judicial hondureño, buscando inculpar a activistas del Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH).

Desde esa organización, Cáceres lideró la lucha del pueblo indígena lenca contra el proyecto hidroeléctrico (PH) Agua Zarca, de la empresa desarrollos Energéticos S.A. (DESA).

De vista en Costa Rica para participar en el II Congreso Latinoamericano sobre Conflictos Ambientales (COLCA), Gustavo Castro conversó con UNIVERSIDAD en una entrevista coordinada a través de la Federación Conservacionista de Costa Rica (FECON).

¿Cómo despertó su conciencia ecologista?

-Fue un proceso de muchos años de pasar en la participación en cooperativas, trabajé mucho tiempo con refugiados guatemaltecos que habían venido de la guerra. El salto a la lucha ambiental se da en la década de los 90, cuando empiezan a llegar al país muchos proyectos de inversión después del Tratado de Libre Comercio de América del Norte (ALCA), favoreciendo obviamente a las transnacionales y al saqueo del país.

-Eran de la nación el petróleo, el gas, el uso del agua, la electricidad, etc. No es que no habían conflictos, pero cuando pasan a manos de las corporaciones, exigen todavía más condiciones favorables de inversión. Empiezan a modificarse la ley de Aguas y la ley Minera para entregar a las grandes empresas mineras la explotación del oro, de la plata, de minerales estratégicos del país; ahora con la reforma energética, también el petróleo y el gas. Esto de alguna manera empieza a impactar cada vez más el medio ambiente, ahí empieza una lucha con mayor fuerza en torno a la defensa de los territorios; pero también cuando empezamos a ver la deforestación que causa la infraestructura para favorecer las inversiones, no solamente en mi caso, sino también en comunidades campesinas e indígenas empieza a haber una consciencia más grande sobre el impacto ambiental.

¿Cuándo se empiezan a dar los contactos con el COPINH y Berta Cáceres?

-A Berta la conocí en 1999, cuando empezamos a convocar muchos procesos de resistencia, entre ellos la creación de la Convergencia de Movimientos de los Pueblos de las Américas, el Encuentro Hemisférico Contra la Militarización, o el encuentro contra el Plan Puebla Panamá. Organizábamos todos esos encuentros en Chiapas; después los replicábamos en Honduras. Se hizo toda una relación en torno a los procesos de resistencia en los que participábamos no solamente nosotros y el COPINH, sino toda la región en Mesoamérica. Había mucha afinidad en el proceso de construcción del movimiento con Berta y el COPINH desde hace más de quince años.

¿Cuál es la lección más importante que se puede extraer de la historia de Berta Cáceres?

-Se me hace muy difícil decir una sola cosa, porque era una persona muy compleja, en el sentido de que era muy rica, una persona muy coherente que tenía la capacidad de análisis estructural; también podía tener una interlocución muy fuerte tanto con académicos como con congresistas, y al mismo tiempo estaba en la movilización con la gente.

-Fue sumamente respetuosa y muy tenaz, era una mujer muy valiente, siempre estaba al frente de todas las manifestaciones del COPINH. Berta fue muy coherente en su análisis, su discurso y su actitud con los pueblos y con el movimiento.

-Con el asesinato de Berta, su personalidad renace en todos lados. Como decimos, Berta no murió, se multiplicó, su presencia es muy fuerte.

-Fue una persona muy feliz, era muy optimista pese a todas las adversidades, ya que recibió muchas amenazas e intentos de asesinato.

Luego de perpetrado el asesinato y de que los sicarios le dieran a usted por muerto también, ¿qué actitud tuvieron las autoridades?

-Creo que lo primero que sorprende es que hubiera un testigo, que no esperaban. Llegué un día antes a La Esperanza (donde vivía Cáceres), entonces creo que nadie más que el COPINH y Berta sabía que yo iba a estar ahí. Me parece que pretendían que fuese un asesinato limpio, donde ella estaría sola en su casa. Cuando se dan cuenta de que hay un testigo, tienen que modificar el escenario y empezar a inventar ya la forma cómo criminalizar al mismo COPINH. No lo logran, entonces buscan cómo criminalizarme a mí.

-No pudieron presentarle a la familia, al COPINH y tampoco a la comunidad nacional e internacional una versión creíble, cuando había tantos antecedentes y estaba tan claro el origen del problema.

-Es por ello que de alguna manera intentan retenerme de manera ilegal en el país para buscar la forma en cómo imputarme. Al final a los que acaban sacrificando es al gerente de la empresa, al ejército y a los sicarios. Sabemos que no son los únicos que están involucrados.

-El trato que me daban era como de una ficha, como de objeto de prueba, violando mis derechos humanos pero también muchos procedimientos judiciales. Todo el mundo sabe porque en la prensa salió cómo se alteró la escena del crimen. En todos esos primeros días hubo muchísimas irregularidades en el proceso de investigación.

Incluso cuando hace el retrato hablado, el artista dibuja a otra persona.

-Yo no sabía que mientras estaba en el Ministerio Público, habían detenido a un miembro del COPINH a quien intentaban culpar. Efectivamente, mientras yo estaba sin dormir, herido y con toda esa tensión, me traen a la persona que hace el retrato hablado. Yo le decía que así no era, lo borraba y volvía a dibujar lo mismo.

-Me dijeron en varias ocasiones que me podía ir. Yo obviamente estaba dispuesto a ayudar en todas las diligencias, aunque me tuvieran sin comer, sin dormir, sin una frazada si quiera; de cualquier manera yo iba apoyando, dejé mi ropa ensangrentada. Una forma como intentaron imputarme es que me robaron la maleta, que dejé en la casa de Berta, había obviamente la posibilidad de sembrar cualquier cosa que me pudiera inculpar – hasta la fecha no me la han entregado.

-No hicieron ninguna cadena de custodia aunque yo lo reclamé ante a fiscal, el Ministerio Público, la abogada de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Honduras, todo el mundo es testigo de que pedía copia de mi declaración ministerial y no me la daban – la copia de mi declaración ante la juez, y no me la daban; pedía que me regresaran mi maleta, igual. Era un cinismo de violación total al Código Procesal, al Código Penal, a los derechos humanos.

-Incluso no había una formalidad en el reconocimiento de las caras. Me pusieron al principio fotografías y videos del COPINH para que dijera si ahí estaba el culpable del asesinato.

-Se dan muchas irregularidades en este proceso y por ello el gobierno decreta que todas esas diligencias ministeriales se mantienen en secreto.

-En el caso del secuestro de Estado en el aeropuerto, me regresan otra vez a que hiciera más careos. Luego estuve en la casa del Embajador de México un mes, hasta el último día, sin que me dieran ninguna explicación de para qué me querían, sin que me entregaran incluso copia de la resolución de la juez donde decretaba mi prohibición de salir del país, y ante la insistencia de la abogada ante tal anomalía jurídica, tal ilegalidad, la juez suspende a mi abogada de su ejercicio profesional.

Posteriormente las autoridades relacionaron a funcionarios de la empresa DESA  y de la institucionalidad militar con el asesinato, pero usted ha dicho que va más allá?

-No lo digo yo, lo dice la prensa, lo dice COPINH, lo dice la familia, incluso hubo un atentado contra un periodista que explicó muchas de las relaciones y vinculaciones de jueces y de políticos en el problema.

Ha afirmado que considerar la energía hidroeléctrica como limpia es una “estúpida idea”, lo cual es un gancho directo a la quijada del orgullo costarricense de producir energía de esa manera.

-No solamente en Costa Rica, sino en toda América Latina, que por décadas asoció siempre las hidroeléctricas con el  desarrollo limpio.

-Si en Costa Rica no lo saben, que sepan que hay una resistencia impresionante en toda América Latina, de cantidad de pueblos que han sido desplazados y asesinados, que no ha habido una experiencia de reubicación adecuada ni tampoco de indemnización. Incluso la misma Comisión Mundial de Represas que financió el Banco Mundial, en el 2000 sacó un informe donde dicen que el 60% de las cuencas del planeta han sido represadas, que el 30% de los peces de agua dulce se han extinguido por causa de las presas que generan el 5% de los gases de efecto invernadero, que se han construido más de 50.000 grandes represas en el mundo, que los países quedaron sumamente endeudados con el Banco Mundial, que el 30%  de las represas en el mundo no han generado la energía que debían generar, que desplazaron a 80 millones de personas en todo el mundo inundando pueblos y ciudad. Eso lo dice toda la evidencia en el mundo y en toda América Latina, en Chile, en Argentina, en Colombia, en Uruguay, en Panamá y en México hay resistencia contra las represas.

-A partir de ese informe el movimiento social contra las represas dijo “tenemos que desarticular ese discurso”, un discurso en donde hidroelectricidad es igual a energía limpia, cuando ha generado todos esos desastres, incluso desaparecido manglares, han desaparecido cuencas enteras por la construcción de represas.

-Con el Protocolo de Kioto vuelven  otra vez a intentar reposicionar a las represas como energía limpia, en el sentido de que los países del Norte, para intentar reducir los gases de efecto invernadero, buscan suplirlo con inversión en energía limpia. Entonces si tengo que eliminar en el Norte diez toneladas de CO2, no lo elimino; mejor construyo una represa que según yo va a eliminar esas diez toneladas, las va a ahorrar en energía limpia.

-Los efectos de las represas en el mundo son desastrosos. ¿Cómo generar entonces otro paradigma de energía limpia? Ese es el gran problema; pero no construyendo, bloqueando más cuencas, desplazando más pueblos, lo que además favorece a las empresas constructoras de represas en todo el mundo. Hay otras formas y mecanismos de generar energía limpia. Incluso en Europa y Estados Unidos están desmantelando represas. Pero sí hay que construirlas en el Sur con la idea de que es energía limpia, sustentable y verde, pero es la energía más sucia que ha generado todos estos impactos socio-ambientales.

¿Están la mentalidad ecologista y ese nuevo paradigma para producir energía que usted menciona perdiendo el pulso contra la ideología extractivista, de la cual la construcción de represas es parte?

-Creo que más bien se está fortaleciendo mucho la resistencia. Incluso ha logrado detener muchos proyectos hidroeléctricos en Brasil, México, en muchos lugares.

-El gran reto que tenemos es cómo las mismas comunidades van construyendo alternativas distintas de desarrollo. Fui al COPINH como invitado para que reflexionáramos sobre otros modelos y mecanismos de generar energía limpia, autónoma, comunitaria que sirva a los pueblos, no inundando los territorios del COPINH para las zonas económicas especiales, para los proyectos mineros. Por ejemplo, la lixiviación del oro puede gastar según el tamaño de la mina, unos dos, tres millones de litros de agua cada hora. Necesitan represas y grandes cantidades de energía.

-El uso de energía y de agua se requiere para monocultivos, para parques industriales, para ciudades modelo, para incluso grandes centros turísticos, grandes hoteles, para la industria automotriz; y al final de cuentas los pueblos son los que pagan el precio de ese supuesto desarrollo.

¿Hasta qué punto todo ese proceso es impulsado por tratados de libre comercio? ¿Es realista esperar que los países denuncien esos tratados y se de espacio a un nuevo paradigma de generación de energía?

-Es un reto. La responsabilidad no es solamente de las poblaciones indígenas y campesinas de advertir y resistir a esto. Ciertamente los tratados de libre comercio aceleran este proceso y no solo los tratados, sino el supuesto Protocolo de Kioto.

-Los tratados de libre comercio abren las puertas a las inversiones: si antes no había diez parques industriales, ahora ya los hay y requieren agua y energía; si antes no había una empresa automotriz europea, japonesa, norteamericana en nuestro país, ahora ya hay tres, cuatro o cinco, y requieren agua y cantidades de energía. Si antes no había plantaciones de monocultivos y ahora sí, como Monsanto en zonas que requieren grandes cantidades de agua, pues ahora ya los hay. Si antes no existían proyectos mineros que requieren grandes cantidades de agua y energía, ahora ya los hay.

-Los tratados de libre comercio aceleran la necesidad de agua y energía, porque aceleran la inversión en todo este tipo de megaproyectos que requieren de estos insumos.

¿Está el acuerdo de París en la misma línea que el protocolo de Kioto?

-Sí, al final de cuentas no tocan de fondo el problema y siguen viendo la manera de cómo seguir dando paliativos, como pasó con el Protocolo de Kioto: quince años después lo aprueban, después de que se anuncia la urgencia, y aceptan reducir 5% el gas efecto invernadero no tras esos quince años, sino de quince años atrás – cosa que se pasa de absurda.

-Luego ese 5% ni siquiera lo voy a reducir; voy a buscar como lo compenso. Sigo produciendo toneladas de CO2 y mejor compro la selva de Costa Rica, los servicios ambientales, que respire diez toneladas. Entonces contaminación igual a cero: acá produzco diez, allá respiro diez; compro para respiración y le ponemos bonos de carbono o muy elegantemente economía verde.

-Lo mismo está pasando con todas las Conferencias de las Partes de la Convención Marco de las Naciones Unidas sobre el Cambio Climático (COP) que ha habido. No ha sido otra cosa más que ir posponiendo y posponiendo sin llegar al fondo del problema.

¿Cuál es el fondo del problema?

-Tenemos que cambiar el paradigma del sistema; tenemos que detener desde el origen el cambio climático y eso implica no solamente este capitalismo atroz, sino la contaminación que generan los países más desarrollados: entre el 60% y el 66% de los gases de efecto invernadero del planeta.

-Tenemos que detenerlo y como decía Berta, ya no hay tiempo. Dijo una frase muy bonita: “despertemos humanidad”. Creo que el problema es sistémico, es planetario y tenemos que tomar consciencia de la necesidad de cambiar este paradigma de desarrollo.

©2015 Semanario Universidad. Derechos reservados. Hecho por 5e Creative Labs, Two y Pandú y Semanario Universidad.

Reproducido aquí con permiso de Vinicio Chacón

Following murder of Indigenous leader, Costa Rican government and Indigenous groups hold talks

In April this year (2019), we added to the TVOD website a report about the assassination of Sergio Rojas, President of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre in southern Costa Rica. As a follow-up, we can now report that the office of Costa Rican President Carlos Alvarado has issued an official statement that bilateral negotiations between the government and the Bribri and Teribe indigenous peoples are ongoing. Rojas was also the coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP) in Costa Rica.

Following the killing of Rojas, the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) urged the Costa Rican government to take all necessary actions to resolve the killing of the land rights defender as well as to guarantee the protection of the people of Salitre. Costa Rica’s deputy minister stressed the commitment of the government to comply with precautionary measures established by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and “to continue in a constructive process of dialogue and respect for the rights of Indigenous peoples within the framework of the Inter-American Human Rights System.”

Rojas was one of the beneficiaries of the IACHR’s precautionary measure. Vanessa Jimenez, the lawyer who filed the case before the IACHR, noted that the Costa Rican state is responsible for not enacting the precautionary measures. There have been ongoing land ownership conflicts involving 12,000 hectares of land that were distributed to the Indigenous peoples of the southern region of Costa Rica under a 1977 Indigenous edict.

Rojas (pictured below) was murdered on 18th March this year (2019) and it is believed that the gunmen who killed him did so due to his defence of the Bribri’s struggle to regain their rights over the 12,000 hectares of land in southern Costa Rica that was originally pledged to them by a 1938 agreement with the government.

Sergio Rojas


Guna Indians of Panamá Overcome Nike

Key words: Guna Indigenous People; mola designs; Nike; intellectual property rights.

The Guna Indians of the San Blas Archipelago of Panamá are famous for their tapestry designs that are used on their ‘molas’. Molas are hand-made textiles that form part of the traditional women’s clothing of the Guna. The full costume includes a patterned wrapped skirt (saburet), a red and yellow headscarf (musue), arm and leg beads (wini), a gold nose ring (olasu) and earrings in addition to the mola blouse (dulemor).

In the Guna language, ‘mola’ means ‘clothing’, and the swirling designs are coveted not just by artists all over the world but also by companies advertising their products and by the world of fashion. On sale in New York, items made up of combinations of mola squares are amazingly popular and pricey, whilst on the San Blas Islands they are the everyday component of towels, blankets, sheets, T-shirts, skirts and other textile items.

The transnational sportswear company Nike was preparing to release to the public a new trainer labelled ‘the Air Force 1’ which features a graphic design of the Puerto Rican native Coqui frog. The Guna people of Panamá, however, objected to the trainer’s launch and pointed out that the design was based on the community’s traditional ‘mole’ textile.

“We are not against our mola being commercialised. What we oppose is it being done without consulting us first,” said Belisario López, a Guna leader. Lawyers for the Guna explained that the trainer was created without the community’s permission, disregarding their intellectual property rights which are recognised in Panamanian law.

Various commentators on this matter have taken Nike to task for their poor research in believing that the design was Puerto Rican rather than belonging to the Guna. The trainer was due to be launched on 6th June this year, but in May Agence France-Presse reported that Nike had withdrawn the product and would no longer offer it, as they had planned, for $100.

The community is seeking compensation from Nike.

Sources:

  • Agence France-Presse, 22 May 2019, ‘Nike ditches shoe design after Panama’s indigenous Guna protest’
  • Telesur, 24 May 2019, ‘Indigenous Guna Force Nike to Drop Shoe with ‘Stolen Design’

Panamanian indigenous organisations call for international investigation into rights violations caused by transmission line in Panama

In August this year (2019) the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) issued a press release regarding the potential damage that may be caused by the construction of an electricity transmission line across indigenous land in Panamá. We are grateful to both CIEL and MODETEAB (Movement for the Defence of the Territories and Ecosystems of Bocas del Toro) for their permission to reproduce their statement in The Violence of Development website. Appropriate addresses and websites are given for both organisations below the release.

August 9, 2019

Key words: Panamanian indigenous organisations; electricity transmission; consultation; free, prior and informed consent; rights.

Panama City/Washington, DC — On International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, a coalition of Panamanian indigenous organisations and international allies presented a submission to the United Nations (UN) and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) about the risks various indigenous communities are facing as a result of a planned transmission line.

Cutting through the ancestral lands of these communities, the electric transmission line would threaten not just one of the last intact tropical rainforests in Panama, but also the economic, social, and cultural survival of the indigenous peoples living in the affected area. Through this submission, the signatory organisations denounce before the international community the environmental and social damage that the project would cause. Further, they denounce the ways in which the project has violated the right of indigenous communities to be consulted before projects of this magnitude are approved.

“Having been excluded from a process of effective consultation, our community objects to the project, especially in light of the grave and irreversible impacts it will have for our communities,” said Feliciano Santos, Coordinator of the Movement for the Defence of the Territories and Ecosystems of Bocas del Toro (MODETEAB). “For us, this project represents much more than a simple incursion into our territories, because if we lose access to our lands, we will be at risk of losing our homes and ways of life, in addition to our cultural values, ethnic identity, and traditions forged in our ancestral territories.”

As the submission explains, ETESA — Panama’s state-owned Electric Transmission Company — has pushed forward the Transmission Line IV project without adequately consulting the affected indigenous communities. This violates their right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent, which is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as well as numerous human rights instruments.

In addition, it is expected that the project will pave the way for new development projects, including a coastal highway, massive mining projects, and real estate speculation, which would lead to dispossession of land, the destruction of traditional ways of life, and the deforestation and pollution of the affected areas. In spite of these foreseen risks, the State of Panama has refused to adopt adequate measures to protect the economic and cultural rights of these communities, in addition to their rights to land and to live in a healthy environment.

For this reason, the signatory organisations decided to communicate their concerns to the Special Rapporteurs of the UN and the IACHR, requesting that they investigate, evaluate, and monitor the situation and that they urge the State of Panama to take immediate preventative measures to suspend the planning and construction of the transmission line until the affected communities’ concerns have been fully addressed.

“The international community should take note that this situation is indicative of a pattern of projects illegitimately imposed by the Panamanian authorities within indigenous peoples’ territories,” said Sarah Dorman of the People, Land, and Resources Programme at the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL). “The Panamanian State must fully comply with its international obligations, including the duty to respect indigenous peoples’ right to prior consultation and consent, as well as the duty to protect the rights of indigenous peoples to conserve their territories and natural resources, to enjoy their own means of subsistence, and to maintain their distinctive spiritual and cultural relationship with their lands.”

Contacts:

  • Feliciano Santos, Coordinador del Movimiento por la Defensa de los Territorios y Ecosistemas de Bocas del Toro (MODETEAB), modeteab.bocas@gmail.com, +507 6656-1696 (Spanish only)
  • Sarah Dorman, Programa de Pueblos, Tierra y Recursos en el Centro para el Derecho Ambiental Internacional (CIEL), sdorman@ciel.org, +1 202-742-5854

Note for editors:

The communication was addressed to the Special Rapporteur of the UN on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli Corpuz; to the Special Rapporteur of the UN on human rights and the environment, David Boyd; to the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, Karima Bennoune; to the Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples of the IACHR, Antonia Urrejola Noguera; to the Special Rapporteur on Economic, Social, Cultural, and Environmental Rights of the IACHR, Soledad García Muñoz; and to the Rapporteur for Panama of the IACHR, Flávia Piovesan.

CIEL

Since 1989, the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) has used the power of law to protect the environment, promote human rights, and ensure a just and sustainable society. Its headquarters are in Washington DC (info@ciel.org) and its European office is in Geneva (geneva@ciel.org).

www.ciel.org

THE TRIAL OF THE MURDERERS OF BERTA CÁCERES

The Violence of Development website includes various articles about Berta Cáceres and the work of COPINH, the organisation she co-founded, along with an interview with Berta conducted in March 2010. Spreading across the Guatemala/Honduras border, the Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC) has followed the trial of the now-convicted murderers and we include here the GRHRC’s report on the result of the trial. We are grateful to the GHRC for this report and all their work monitoring the rights of land rights defenders, environmental rights defenders and human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras.

Honduran Court found Seven Guilty of the Murder of Honduran Indigenous Rights Leader; Judges Signal Intellectual Authors Still at Large

A press conference followed a historic ruling that not only found seven men guilty of the murder of Honduran indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres, but also signalled that additional executives in the DESA hydroelectric corporation and others outside of that structure, shared responsibility. 

Berta’s daughters Laura and Berta Zúñiga Cáceres stood behind a banner stating “The Atalas are Missing.”  The Atalas Zablah families, one of the most influential families in Honduras, dominates the Board of Directors of the DESA corporation.  José Eduardo Atala Zablah is President of the BAC Honduras Bank, while cousins of the Atala Zablah brothers, the Atala Faraj family, own the FICOHSA Bank. 

Berta Cáceres’ murder was the culmination of a pattern of persecution by DESA against the organisation she coordinated, COPINH, and Lenca communities opposed to DESA’s hydroelectric project in the Lenca indigenous region of Río Blanco.  GHRC accompanies dozens of indigenous communities in Guatemala and Honduras that suffer similar patterns of violence and criminalization by investors seeking access to natural resource rights handed out over the past decades without regard to existing rights of local communities.

Berta Cáceres’ close friend. lawyer and fellow human rights advocate Victor Fernández (in blue) stands beside Berta Cáceres’ daughters Laura (in orange), and Berta Zúñiga Cáceres.  Berta was elected coordinator of COPINH a year after her mother’s murder

Seven Guilty of the Murder of Berta Cáceres: Court Signals Intellectual Authors Still at Large

November 29, 2018

Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Today, a Honduran Criminal Court with National Jurisdiction found an active military officer, hitmen and current and former employees of the DESA hydroelectric company guilty of the murder of indigenous rights defender Berta Cáceres. Judges found DESA executives planned the March 2, 2016 murder and indicated that others involved remain at large.

Sentencing is scheduled for December 10.

Judges cited evidence that demonstrated DESA’s social and environmental manager, Sergio Rodríguez, used a network of paid informants to monitor Berta’s movements, while DESA’s former security chief, retired military officer Douglas Bustillo, recruited the top-ranking special forces intelligence officer, Major Mariano Díaz and a criminal cell he managed to carry out the murder.

Since the June 28, 2009, military coup, Berta Cáceres frequently denounced the existence of State-sponsored death squads; her murder trial gave a clear illustration of how they operate. The group led by Mariano Díaz included former soldier Henrry Hernández, who had previously worked for private security forces employed by the Dinant Corporation, long accused of death squad activities.  Hernández hired sicarios, street level killers that have proliferated in the drug war, Edilson Duarte, Oscar Torres, and Elvín Rápalo, to carry out the murder under the direct supervision of Hernández. Hernández, Duarte, Torres and Rápalo were also convicted of the attempted murder of Cáceres’ colleague, Mexican human rights defender Gustavo Castro. Prosecutors had requested conviction of an eighth defendant, Edilson Duarte’s twin brother, on concealment charges, but the court found no evidence that he had knowledge of the crime.

Prosecutors presented judges with communications relating to the murder between DESA Security Chief Jorge Avila, Financial Manager Daniel Atala, and President David Castillo. Castillo is currently in detention and expected to face trial for Cáceres’ murder in 2019. Prosecutors cited communications between DESA Board members including Pedro, José Eduardo and Jacobo Atala Zablah.

Berta Cáceres’ murder was the culmination of a pattern of persecution by DESA against the organisation she coordinated, COPINH, and Lenca communities opposed to the hydroelectric project. GHRC accompanies dozens of indigenous communities in Guatemala and Honduras that suffer similar patterns of violence and criminalization by investors seeking access to natural resources rights handed out over the past decade without regard to existing rights of communities.

COPINH reports that threats against community members who oppose DESA’s ongoing hydroelectric concession grew during the trial, forcing at least one Lenca leader to flee the region.  This may have been fueled by a smear campaign directed against COPINH. As evidence against their clients grew, a Washington based law firm hired by DESA, Amsterdam and Partners, published unsubstantiated accusations of violence by COPINH, putting the organisation and its members at risk.  They also published outrageous and demeaning suggestions about Cáceres’ sexual life, going so far as to assert that harassing messages sent to Cáceres by Bustillo demonstrated the existence of a romantic relationship.

The Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC-USA) was present in the courtroom throughout the trial, and actively participated in the Legal Observer Mission. While the outcome of the trial reflects the strength of the evidence against the accused, there were concerns about the process, particularly the exclusion of the victims described in GHRC’s preliminary trial observation findings, particularly the expulsion of the victims from the proceedings at the start of the trial.

Before their expulsion, victims proposed two hostile witnesses, DESA employees and brothers, Hector García Mejía and Olvín Mejía.  Evidence in the investigation showed that Olvín Mejía had been the subject of extensive messaging by DESA executives in December 2015, following his arrest for possession of illegal weapons and the murder of a young man in Río Blanco.  When DESA executives sent an unusually large sum of money to a lawyer following the arrest, the charges against Mejía were inexplicably dropped. State prosecutors allowed Hector García to testify but failed to question them regarding DESA’s network of informants or Mejía’s escape from murder and illegal weapons charges, and allowed him to make unsubstantiated accusations against COPINH without requesting clarification.

– Though most of the evidence was gathered in the months following the murder and during the arrests of the accused, the trial did not begin until almost two and half years after the initial arrests. The time limit for pre-trial or preventative detention expired mid-way through the trial and was further extended by the court.

– Throughout the preliminary hearings, both the victims and the defence were denied access to evidence by state prosecutors, this occurred even when the Court  ordered public prosecutors to hand over the evidence. The Court did not sanction the State prosecutors at any time for disobeying orders.

– Public prosecutors did not complete the paperwork necessary to allow Gustavo Castro, the only eyewitness and a victim to the crime, to testify in proceedings.

– The delay in the start of the trial placed the victims in the difficult position of choosing between  risking the release of the defendants based on the expiration of pre-trial detention and fully defending due process through a robust engagement in motions challenging problematic rulings.

– Despite repeated requests, prosecutors did not present Criminal Conspiracy charges against the accused, which would have facilitated the introduction of evidence that more fully described the activities of the criminal networks responsible for Berta Cáceres’ murder.

– A large proportion of the evidence gathered was not analysed by investigators until after the trial was scheduled to begin which made it logistically impossible to integrate that evidence into the trial.  

– Evidence proposed by the victims that provided important context and information regarding the broader criminal structure that conspired to commit the murder was not allowed by the court, including expert analysis that demonstrated the likelihood of participation by additional conspirators. 

– The victims’ lawyers were expelled from the trial.  As in most nations in Latin America, under Honduran law it is victim’s right to enter into the legal proceedings as “private accusation.” This has been key to the advance litigation of human rights abuses in Latin America.  On October 19, the Court convened the parties to open the trial, but the private accusation, in accordance with Honduran law, presented a written explanation that they would not be present because the motion for recusal had still not been resolved and therefore the trial could not legally move forward. At the petition of public and private defence lawyers and the State’s prosecutors, the Court ruled to declare the private accusation, the victims and their lawyers, as having abandoned the case. Their expulsion from the trial raised serious concern amongst national and international legal observers.

– The Court proceeded with the trial before pre-trial motions had been exhausted, putting the eventual ruling at risk. This includes a constitutional challenge of a ruling against a motion to allow COPINH to participate in the trial as victims.  Most importantly, a final decision regarding the motion to recuse the judges overseeing the trial has not been issued.

– The Court has refused to provide audio recordings of the trial to the victims or the public. In addition, a sensitive hearing regarding text messages by DESA executive Sergio Rodríguez was held at a time the court had announced to the public that the trial would be in recess. Victims were also not notified of the proceeding. This meant the victims and others monitoring the trial could not observe the presentation of critical evidence about the involvement of a DESA employee and former employee.

Guatemala Human Rights Commission: www.ghrc-usa.org/

COPINH (Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras): http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/   and: https://copinh.org/en/

Chapter 8: Indigenous Issues

Indigenous groups are now represented globally by a range of international organisations – the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Assembly of First Nations, Survival International, Indian Council of South America (CISA), World Council of Indigenous Peoples, Indigenous Environmental Network, International Indian Treaty Council, amongst others – and by many national organisations, along with a host of declarations on indigenous issues by many UN agencies and international groups.

Acceptance in Latin American nation states of a multicultural citizenship which is inclusive of indigenous groups has become almost standard practice, at least on the statute books. In most cases, however, the recognition is only on paper, and indigenous groups face many obstacles in their attempts to be recognised and to develop.

Key Words: free, prior and informed consent | indigenous land rights | discrimination | political participation | ‘comarcas’ | hydro-electricity projects | wilderness | conservationists | othering | assimilation | transculturation | zooification | asymmetry of power | ‘el buen vivir’

The Lenca peoples’ struggle against hydro-electric projects in Intibucá, Honduras

The reader is referred to Chapter 4 of this website for news of the award of the Goldman Environmental Prize to Berta Cáceres for her leadership of COPINH’s struggle against hydro-electric power projects in Honduras, and in particular for a link to a video clip of her acceptance speech.

Se refiere el lector/la lectora a Capítula 4 de esta página web para noticias del otorgamiento del Premio Goldman a Berta Cáceres para su liderazgo de la lucha de COPINH contra proyectos hidroeléctricos en Honduras, y especialmente para ver el vínculo al video de su discurso de aceptación.

Threats to and assassinations of COPINH members, 2016

COPINH is the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras. It was founded in 1993 and its headquarters are in the town of La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras.

Context

  • 2009 military coup.
  • November 2009 elections were so fraudulent that even the US no longer acknowledges them.
  • 2013 elections brought us President Juan Orlando Hernández (JOH) in another fraudulent election.
  • 2011-2014: the highest intentional homicide rate (per 100,000 population) in the world outside a war zone.
  • Berta Oliva (Coordinator of COFADEH, the Committee of Relatives of the Detained and Disappeared in Honduras) describes Honduras as ‘a failed state run by the mafia’.
  • Since the 2009 coup in Honduras, 59 Honduran journalists have been assassinated.

COPINH, 2016

screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-08-41-49On 3rd March 2016, at about 1 am – 2 am, two men broke into Berta’s house and shot her dead having first shot and left for dead her Mexican colleague, Gustavo Castro. Berta was the Coordinator of COPINH and had been awarded the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015.
On 15th March, Nelson García was assassinated shortly after he had been witnessing, recording and advising on the Río Chiquito eviction. The eviction of the campesino families had been carried out by 100 security forces in a violent manner. Nelson was killed later the same day.
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-08-41-49-1On 3rd May, Felix Molina, a radio journalist who had reported critically on the Honduran government and who had featured COPINH in some of his reporting, suffered two murder attempts on the same day. He was wounded, but survived.
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-08-41-50In early July, the body of Lesbia Janeth Urquía Urquía was found on a rubbish dump. Lesbia had been a COPINH member and had been working to stop an HEP project in La Paz department.
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-08-41-50-1On 13th July, the office of Victor Fernández was raided. Victor is the lawyer for the family of Berta Cáceres.
On 28th September, the court case records relating to the trial of the alleged murderers of Berta Cáceres were stolen when assailants carjacked the vehicle belonging to Appellate Court Judge Maria Luisa Ramos in Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital.
screen-shot-2016-12-28-at-08-41-55On 10th October, gunmen opened fire on the car of Tomas Gómez Membreño, COPINH Coordinator, as he was driving home from COPINH’s office in La Esperanza.
Also on 10th October, gunmen opened fire on the house of Alexander García Sorto, an elected COPINH community leader in Llano Grande community, whilst he and his family members were asleep.

 

The Naso of Panama and their land demarcation struggles

The indigenous Naso people occupy a region of north-west Panama in the Bocas del Toro province, with a population of approximately 3,500. They live in 11 communities along the Teribe River and survive primarily as subsistence farmers. Their territory lies within two protected areas rich in biodiversity: the Palo Seco National Forest and La Amistad International Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. They are one of the few remaining indigenous peoples in the Americas to have a monarchy recognised by the state.

Like many indigenous peoples, the problems faced by the Naso are rooted in their ongoing struggle for legal recognition of their traditional lands. The Naso people of the Bocas del Toro province in western Panama never enjoyed the benefit of Omar Torrijos’ 1970s designation of indigenous lands as comarcas within which they would enjoy a relatively high degree of autonomy and in which land could be held communally rather than individually. As a result, they have had to continue their struggle to retain their territory since the 1960s. According to Osvaldo Jordan of the Panamanian NGO, Alliance for Conservation and Development (ACD):

The Naso were unable to create sufficient public pressure for the creation of their comarca when the government still had a favourable opinion towards these autonomous territories. Now, the public consensus has turned against comarcas and the Naso are left trapped in this situation.[1]

Without official recognition of their comarca by the Panamanian government, the Naso stand in a weak position to defend their right to autonomy and self-determination. Without appropriate legal recognition and control over their territory, they feel unable to confront recent processes of acculturation and globalisation. Refusing legal title to the Naso territory constitutes a violation of the Naso’s rights according to the country’s constitution, as well as violating the American Convention of Human Rights. [2]

The Naso face two particular developments brought by the predominant Panamanian society. Both of these are especially crucial to the survival of their environment and their culture. The first of these is an ongoing battle with a cattle ranching company; and the second concerns the construction of the Bonyic dam and access roads to it.

Land conflicts between the Naso and the livestock company Ganadera Bocas are ongoing and have often turned violent. The disputed land is claimed by the Naso on grounds of ancestral ownership, whilst Ganadera Bocas possess a property title stating legal ownership since 1962.[3] Felix Sánchez, President of the Naso Foundation, explains the origins of the land ownership conflict:

“the Standard Fruit Company at that time [early 1960s] were the bosses, but at the same time they were not the owners; they were the nation’s tenants and not the legitimate owners. But afterwards in the seventies, the company went up for sale as a business, changing its name to one which had possession of the land amidst a pile of rules and arrangements which they made. That’s when it all started happening.”[4]

The Naso see this supposed ownership of their land by Ganadera Bocas as false and as having been conjured up by lawyers years ago rather than by any legitimate purchase. The conflict this has caused is still being played out on the ground today.

On 30 March 2009, police and employees of Ganadera Bocas entered the Naso villages of San San and San San Druy with heavy machinery, destroying 30 homes and the Naso Cultural Centre, the construction of which was only completed the previous day. Protests continued throughout 2009 and 2010, with a Naso camp based in Panama City, demanding that the government grant them the right to live on their land.[5]

In September 2009, the local mayor of Changuinola attended a meeting of the residents of the Naso village of San San Druy with King Valentín Santana and other Naso leaders in attendance.[6] This was an amicable meeting with considerable sympathy and empathy between the mayor and the residents. But two months later on 19 November 2009, the police moved in again and allowed the Ganadera Bocas company to enter with their machinery to destroy the village for a second time that year.[7] The photograph collage that follows this text illustrates a little of the Naso’s experience at the hands of Ganadera Bocas.

Indigenous comarcas of Panama

Indigenous comarcas of Panama

This struggle has not been helped by a division within the Naso people between King Valentín Santana and King Tito Santana. Interviews with Felix Sánchez and with King Valentín and the recording of the meeting with the local mayor made it crystal clear that the people of San San Druy community saw only King Valentín as their valid representative. Moreover, the villagers of San San Druy overwhelmingly saw Tito Santana as corrupt, having accepted money from Ganadera Bocas and having deserted the village. Doña Lupita from San San Druy, for instance, said: “King Tito says that he is the true king, but he is the government’s king. We recognise Valentín Santana – he is our king because he [Tito] has left the community. … We don’t recognise Tito as king because he is selling us out.”[8]

The second of their major battles is against the development megaproject of the $51m Bonyic hydroelectric dam, sponsored by Empresas Públicas de Medellín (EPM) which has a 75 per cent controlling stake in the Panamanian generating company Hidroecológica del Teribe (HET), the company which is building the hydroelectric plant.[9] The Bonyic dam is one of four planned in the Bocas del Toro province – known as the Changuinola-Teribe Dams – with a combined estimated capacity of 446 megawatts, equivalent to 30 per cent of Panama’s total production in the year 2004.[10] However, as with most development projects, the costs and benefits are rarely equitably distributed and the Naso may stand to lose more than they gain.

The Bonyic project has caused yet more rifts within the Naso people. Their former king Tito Santana collaborated with EPM, keen to embrace the advantages of modernity and development, including the offer of a school, clinic, jobs, infrastructure and university scholarships. His support for the project provoked a revolt and he was forced into exile in 2004, with his uncle Valentín Santana assuming his position, backed by opponents of the project. The government, however, continues to recognise Tito as the legitimate king. As Rory Carroll commented in the Guardian “the discord reflects an anguished debate about Naso identity and the balance between heritage and modernity”. [11]

Supporters of King Valentín Santana doubt that benefits will compensate for the environmental and social costs of the dam, and maintain that the project will destroy their cultural and natural heritage. A new highway is planned to connect the population of the large town Changuinola with the dam, which will undoubtedly bring radical changes to their lives including migration. The testimony of some of the Naso opponents to the project is given in The testimony of the Naso given in the interviews section of this website includes the words of Alicia Quintero whose land stands in the way of the proposed road.

The project received an early setback in 2005 when the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) rejected an application to finance the dam, its rejection being at least partly based on the inadequate environmental impact assessment. This represented a clear victory for the Naso opponents, but funding was raised by HET from private sources and construction began in 2007. Since construction work began, human rights abuses of the Naso have also taken place, these including the detention of fourteen Naso people and sexual assaults of Naso women. Additionally, local police officers work as armed security guards for the development during their out-of-work hours; the Panamanian environment ministry granted to the developer the right to administer land that belongs to the Naso; and clearance and construction work along the valley began illegally in February 2009 before the Panamanian government gave permission for it to do so, which they did in March 2010.

On 30 November 2009 the Naso resistance movement reported on the ongoing struggles. Extracts from their communication are given below.

Naso leaders of the San San Druy and San San communities have accepted the establishment of a round table of negotiation with the government on a possible comarca and under the coordination of the President of the Commission of Indigenous Affairs, Leopoldo Archibold. The proposal was accepted this morning in a meeting with the Indigenist Policy Group and the Vice-Minister of Government and Justice and to which the executive invited the illegitimate King Tito Santana, dismissed by the community and an habitual associate of Empresas Públicas de Medellín and Ganadera Bocas. The round table starts work on 11 December and is made up of 10 delegates of the legitimate King Valentín Santana and 10 of Tito Santana. Although these accords have been reached, the Minister of Government and Justice, José Raúl Mulino, insisted on calling the residents of San San Druy and San San ‘squatters’, and likewise his director of the Indigenist Policy Group, José Isaac Acosta, was contemptuous of the community, insinuating that they are incited by NGOs and foreigners. The Naso leaders accepted the round table although without much hope of reaching a good solution given the repeated failure of the government to comply with the most basic accords which have been reached over the previous eight months.[12]

On 10 December 2009, a day before the planned meeting, with no explanation, the government unilaterally suspended the round table planned for the following day. Comuna Sur reported that

… theoretically, the purpose of the meeting was to begin discussions about the creation of a new Naso comarca. However, following the pattern of recent months, everything has been suspended without any convincing reason and without a new date. So the Naso communities of San San Druy and San San continue to re-build their houses on the land in conflict under the view of private security agents. According to the director of the Indigenist Policy Unit in Panama, there is no conflict with the indigenous people. In this way, they try to make them invisible so that they cease to exist. But the communities in resistance constantly remind themselves that their rights are being denied.[13]

Opponents of the Bonyic project include more than just the Naso people. In 2010 the international heavyweight organisation IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) and the World Heritage Centre reported their concern about the impacts of all four proposed dams:

The World Heritage Centre and IUCN conclude that it will likely be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to adequately mitigate the habitat loss and fragmentation effects of the proposed dams on the property’s freshwater ecosystem, and that the possible secondary and cumulative effects of eliminating up to 16 migratory aquatic species within portions of the property may significantly affect predatory bird and mammal populations. Until the State Party of Panama investigates alternatives to the four proposed dams through a detailed transboundary Strategic Environmental Assessment process, the World Heritage Centre and IUCN recommend that all dam construction be halted to safeguard the property’s values and integrity.[14]

The International Rivers Network has also demonstrated major holes in the preparation and arguments in favour of the Bonyic dam and in the company’s underhand tactics to gain Naso approval for the project.[15] The Global Greengrants Fund has also lent its weight in support of those who oppose the project.[16] The Conservation Strategy Fund (CSF) website has a HydroCalculator tool which can be used to estimate basic economic feasibility analyses of hydro-electric projects as well as summarising their social and environmental costs. For instance, their calculator produces a statistics for the number of displaced persons per megawatt of electricity produced. From their analysis of the four Changuinola – Teribe Dams, they conclude that “the projects would most likely be both economically and financially feasible. Nonetheless, they would cause environmental damage in an area of global conservation interest and impose serious hardship on indigenous communities living along these rivers.”[17]

Most Third World governments serve as agents of the prevailing economic model of development, and in that role they are keen to capitalise on the income potential represented by natural resources within their national boundaries. Exploitation of natural resources such as mineral wealth, timber, plant diversity, hydroelectric energy and even wildlife has proven easy to exploit if destruction of the natural environment and removal of its inhabitants can be disregarded. And some Central American governments have indeed managed to disregard the natural ecosystems in their ‘development’ of natural resources whilst at the same time waxing lyrical about the need to protect the environment.


[1] Personal communication
[2] Environmental Defender Law Center http://www.edlc.org/cases/communities/naso-of-panama/2/ (accessed 16 July 2009)
[3] http://mensual.prensa.com/mensual/contenido/2009/05/31/hoy/panorama/1803560.asp (accessed 16 July 2009)
[4] Felix Sánchez interviewed for this book, San San Druy, Panama, 1 September 2009.
[5] http://mensual.prensa.com/mensual/contenido/2009/07/06/hoy/panorama/1844317.asp (accessed 16 July 2009)
[6] The meeting in San San Druy on 1 September 2009 was recorded for the purposes of this book, and the quotes from Naso residents and leaders which appear in this chapter are taken mainly from this recording.
[7] Karis McLaughlin and Martin Mowforth (December 2009) ‘For the second time this year the Naso have their houses destroyed to make way for a cattle ranching company’, ENCA Newsletter No. 49, Environmental Network for Central America, London.
[8] Doña Lupita in meeting with Mayor of Changuinola, Panama, in the village of San San Druy, 1 September 2009.
[9] OneMBA (6 November 2003) ‘EPM pagará US$6,6mn por Teribe’, www.bnamericas.com/news/energiaelectrica/EPM_pagara_US*6,6mn_por_Teribe (accessed 15.06.11).
[10] Cordero, S., Montenegro, R., Mafla, M., Burgués, I., and Reid, J. (2006) ‘Análisis de costo beneficio de cuatro proyectos hidroeléctricos en la cuenca Changuinola-Teribe’, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (July).
[11] Rory Carroll, ‘Hydro plant splits jungle kingdom as tribe feels damned by new way of life’, The Guardian, 16 June 2008
[12] http://resistencianaso.wordpress.com
[13] Comuna Sur (2009) ‘Gobierno de Panama falta una vez más a sus compromisos’, email communication, 10 December 2009
[14] World Heritage Centre and International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) (2010) ‘State of conservation of World Heritage properties inscribed on the World Heritage List’, WHC-10/34.COM/7B, p.86.
[15] Payal Parekh (2010) ‘Comments on the Bonyic Hydroelectric Project (Panama)’, International Rivers website: www.internationalrivers.org/panama/comments-bonyic-hydroelectric-project-panama (accessed 14 June 2011).
[16] Global Greengrants Fund (1 August 2006) ‘Panama: Fighting Hydroelectric Dams’, www.greengrants.org/2006/08/01/panama-fighting-hydroelectric-dams/ (accessed 14 June 2011).
[17] Tathi Bezerra (24 March 2009) ‘Changuinola – Teribe Dams in Panama’, Conservation Strategy Fund website: http://conservation-strategy.org/en/project/changuinola-teribe-dams-panama (accessed 14.06.11).

“In all of Latin America there is resistance against dams” Gustavo Castro, ecologist

The activist points out that development of hydroelectric megaprojects continues to aggravate climate change.

By Vinicio Chacón, Semanario Universidad (Costa Rica), vinicio.chacon@ucr.ac.cr 

Sep 21st 2016. | Translated by Rick Blower

 Key words: Berta Cáceres; COPINH; criminalization; hydro-electricity; climate change; Kyoto Protocol; free trade treaties.

 The Mexican ecologist, Gustavo Castro, gained notoriety by being the sole witness to the assassination of Berta Caceres, the Honduran indigenous leader and environmentalist, on March 2nd [2016].

Castro is the leader of the organisation Other Worlds – Friends of the Earth and with calm but with forcefulness took on the Honduran judiciary, who, with incredible manipulation, sought to charge activists of the Civic Council of Popular Organisations and Indigenous Peoples of Honduras (COPINH) with the assassination.

From COPINH, Cáceres led the Lenca peoples’ fight against the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project (PH), a project of the company Desarrollos Energeticos S.A. (DESA).

In Costa Rica to participate in the II Latin American Congress on Environmental Conflicts (COLCA), Gustavo Castro spoke with Semanario Universidad in an interview coordinated through the Conservation Federation of Costa Rica (FECON).

What awakened your ecological conscience?

“It was a process of spending many years participating in co-operatives; I worked a lot with Guatemalan refugees who had come from the war. The jump to the fight for environmental causes came about in the nineties, when many investment projects came into the country after the North America Free Trade Agreement (NALCA), which obviously favoured the transnationals and the plunder of the country.

They were the country’s oil, gas, use of water, electricity, etc. It was not that there were no conflicts before, but when these pass into the hands of the corporations, they demand yet more favourable conditions for investment. They begin to modify the Water and the Mineral Laws, to hand over to the large mining companies the exploitation of gold, silver, strategic minerals of the country; now with the energy and also oil and gas reforms. This, in one way or another, begins to impact more and more on the environment, then begins a fight with more force about the defence of the territories; but also when we begin to see the deforestation that causes the infrastructure to favour the investments, not only in my case, but also in the peasant and indigenous communities you begin to have a greater awareness on the environmental impact.”

When did you begin to have contact with COPINH and Berta Caceres?

“I knew Berta in 1999, when we began to call for many processes of resistance, amongst them the creation of the Convergence of the Movement of the Peoples of the Americas, the Hemispheric Meeting against Militarisation, or the meeting against the Plan Puebla Panamá. We used to organise all of these meetings in Chiapas, later we repeated them in Honduras. A connection was made around the process of resistance in which we and COPINH not only took part but the whole region of Mesoamerica. There was much affinity in the process of putting together the movement with Berta and COPINH for more than 15 years.”

What is the most important lesson that you can take from the history of Berta Caceres?

“It is very difficult to name just one, because she was a very complex person, in the sense that she was very lovely, a very coherent person who had the capacity of structural analysis; also she could communicate strongly both with academics and members of congress, and at the same time she was involved in mobilization with the people.

“She was extremely respected and very tenacious, a very brave woman, always at the front of all COPINH demonstrations. Berta was very coherent in her analysis, her speeches and her attitude with the people and with the movement.

“With Berta’s assassination her personality was reborn on all fronts. As we say, Berta did not die, she multiplied, her presence is very strong.

“She was a happy person, she was very optimistic in spite of all of the adversity, even though she received many threats and assassination attempts.”

After the assassination was carried out and the hitmen took you for dead as well, what was the attitude of the authorities?

“I believe that what first took them by surprise was that there was a witness, they did not expect that. I arrived a day earlier at La Esperanza, (where Berta lived), so I think that only COPINH and Berta knew that I was going to be there. I believe that it was intended to be a ‘clean’ assassination, where Berta would be alone in her home. When they realised that there was a witness, they had to modify the scene of the crime and begin to make up a way to criminalize and implicate COPINH. They failed, so they begin to look at how to criminalize me.

“The authorities were unable to present to Berta’s family a credible version of events leading to the assassination, COPINH, the national community or the international community, when there was so much background information and the origin of the problem was very clear.

“For this reason they somehow tried to detain me in an illegal way in the country in order to find a way to impute me. In the end those who ended up being sacrificed are the manager of the company, the army and the hitmen. We know that they are not the only ones who are involved.

“The deal that they gave me was like a record card, as an object of proof, violating my human rights but also many judicial procedures. Everyone knows why, in the press, it emerged how the crime scene was altered. In those first days there were very many irregularities in the investigative process.”

Even when they produced an artist’s impression, the artist drew another person.

“I didn’t know that while I was in the Public Ministry, they had detained a member of COPINH on whom they were intent on placing the blame. Effectively, whilst I had not slept, was wounded, and with all this tension, they took me to the person who produced the ‘artist’ portrait. I told him that it was not like that, he erased the image and began to draw the same thing.

“They told me on various occasions that I could leave. I was obviously willing to help in all the proceedings, even though they had left me not having eaten, no sleep, without a blanket even if I had wanted one; anyway I went on supporting, left in my bloodied clothing. One way in which they tried to implicate me is that they stole my suitcase, which I left in Berta’s house, there was obviously the possibility to plant whatever thing which could implicate me – to date they have not returned it to me.

“They did not carry out any process of justice even though I appeared before the fiscal, the Public Ministry, the lawyer of the Honduran Commission of Human Rights, everyone is witness to me requesting a copy of my ministerial declaration, yet they wouldn’t let me have it – the copy of my declaration before the judge, and they did not give it to me; I asked that they return my suitcase, the same response. It was a total cynical violation of the Procedural Code, the Penal Code, and human rights.

“There wasn’t even a formality in the recognition of the faces. In the beginning they showed me photographs and videos of COPINH as if to say that the person responsible for the assassination was there.

“Many irregularities occurred in this process and so the government ruled that all of these ministerial formalities be kept secret.

“In the case of the state kidnapping at the airport, they took me back again for more meetings. Later, I stayed at the Mexican Embassy’s house for a month, up until the last day, without them giving an explanation as to why they wanted me, without even giving me a copy of the judge’s resolution which decreed the prohibition of my being allowed to leave the country, and before the insistence of the lawyer in the face of such judicial anomalies, such irregularity, the judge suspended the right of my lawyer to practice.”

Subsequently the authorities connected officials from the company DESA and the military institution with the murder, but you have said that it goes further?

“I did not say that, the press said it, COPINH said it, the family said it, there was even an attack against a journalist who explained a lot about the relationship and links between the judges and politicians in the problem.”

You have argued that to consider hydroelectric energy as clean is a ‘stupid idea’, which is a direct hook to the jaws of the proud Costa Ricans who produce energy in this way.

“It is not only Costa Rica, but the whole of Latin America, which for decades has always associated hydro electric as a clean development.

“If in Costa Rica they do not know it, they might know there is an impressive resistance in the whole of Latin America – the number of people who have been displaced and assassinated, who have not had an experience of adequate resettlement or redress. Even the same World Commission on Dams, which financed the World Bank, in the year 2000 published a report where they say that 60% of the basins in the world have been dammed, that 30% of fresh water fish have been killed as a result of the dams which generate 5% of greenhouse gases, that more than 50,000 large dams have been built in the world, that these countries remain extremely indebted to the World Bank, that 30% of the dams in the world have not generated the energy that they were meant to, that 80 million people have been displaced in the world at the same time flooding villages and towns. This is what the evidence tells us in the world, in all of Latin America, in Chile, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Panamá and in Mexico there is resistance against the dams.

“Since this report the social movement against the dams said “we have to disarticulate that discourse”, a discourse in which hydro-electricity is the same as clean energy, when it has generated all these disasters, including the disappearance of mangrove swamps and whole basins as a result of the construction of dams.

“With the Kyoto Agreement they returned again with the intention to reposition the dams as a form of clean energy, in the sense that the countries of the North, in their attempt to reduce their output of greenhouse gases, are looking to replace it with an investment in clean energy. So, if I have to reduce 10 tons of CO2 from the Northern countries, I can’t do it; better I build a dam that according to me will eliminate these 10 tons, it can be saved with clean energy.

“The effects of the dams in the world are a disaster. So how do we generate another paradigm for clean energy? This is the big problem; but not building, blocking more basins, displacing more communities, that favours the construction companies of dams throughout the world. There are other ways and mechanisms to generate clean energy. Even in Europe and the United States they are dismantling dams. But if we have to build dams in the South with the idea that it is clean, sustainable and green energy, it is actually the dirtiest energy that has generated all these socio-environmental impacts.”

Is the ecological mentality and this new paradigm to produce energy that you mention losing the pulse against the ideology of extraction, of which the construction of dams is part?

“I believe rather that much of the resistance is strengthening. It has even managed to stop many hydro-electric projects in Brazil, Mexico and many other places.

“The big challenge that we have is how the same communities build alternative forms of development. I went to COPINH as a guest so that we could reflect on other models and mechanisms of generating clean energy, autonomous, community-led, serving the communities, not flooding the COPINH territories for special economic zones, for mining projects. For example, the leaching of gold can use, depending on the size of the mine, some 2 to 3 million tons of water every hour. They need dams and large quantities of energy.

“The use of energy and water is required for monoculture, for industrial parks, for model cities, even for large tourist centres, large hotels, for the automotive industry; and in the end, the people are those who pay the price of this so-called development.”

At what point in all of this process is it driven by Free Trade Agreements? Is it realistic to hope that these countries will denounce these agreements and make room for a new paradigm of energy generation?

“It is a challenge. The responsibility is not only for indigenous populations and peasants to be alert to and resist this. Certainly the commercial Free Trade Agreements accelerate this process and not only the agreements, but the so-called Kyoto Protocol too.

“The Free Trade Agreements open the doors to investments: if before there were not 10 industrial parks, now there are and they require water and energy; if before there was not a European, Japanese, North American automotive industry in our country, now there are 3, 4, 5, and they require water and large quantities of energy. If before there were no monoculture plantations and now there are, like Monsanto in zones which require large quantities of water, so now there are. If before there were no mining projects requiring large quantities of water and energy, today there are.

“Free Trade Agreements accelerate the need for water and energy, which is why they speed up investment in all of these types of mega-projects that require these inputs.”

Is the Paris Accord on the same lines as the Kyoto Protocol?

“Yes, at the end of the day they do not touch the root of the problem and they keep on seeing how to carry on giving excuses, as happened with the Kyoto Protocol: 15 years after its approval, after the urgency is announced, and they accept a reduction of 5% in greenhouse gases not after those 15 years, but 15 years further on – that is absurd.

“Then, that 5% I am not even going to reduce; I am going to look at how I can compensate for it. I continue producing tons of CO2, but I can buy the Costa Rican jungle, the environment services, which may breathe 10 tons. So the contamination balances out to zero: here I produce 10, there I breathe 10; I buy breath and we give carbon credits or elegantly a green economy.

“The same is happening in all of the Conferences of the Parties to the Framework Convention of the United Nations on Climate Change (COP) that there have been. It’s not been anything other than keeping on postponing and postponing without getting to the heart of the problem.”

What is at the heart of the problem?

“We have to change the paradigm of the system; we have to stop it at the source of climate change and that does not mean only this atrocious capitalism, but also the pollution generated by the most developed countries: between 60% and 66% of greenhouse gases that affect warming of the planet.

“We have to stop it and, as Berta said, there’s no time left. She said a lovely phrase: “wake up humanity”. I believe that the problem is systemic, it is planetary and we have to become aware of the necessity to change this paradigm of development.”

©2015 Semanario Universidad. Derechos reservados. Hecho por 5e Creative Labs, Two y Pandú y Semanario Universidad.

Reproduced here by kind permission of Vinicio Chacón.

The Mayangna of the Awas Tingni community, Nicaragua

Awas Tingni is one of numerous indigenous Mayangna (or Sumo[1]) communities in the remote, densely forested region on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. Around 1,500 people live in Awas Tingni. During the 1990s, the Nicaraguan government granted a logging concession to a Korean multinational company (Solcarsa) for the logging of 62,000 hectares of land inhabited by the community, without asking for their consent.

The Nicaraguan justice system failed to address the Awas Tingni community’s concerns. A petition was lodged with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, accusing the government of failing to demarcate their communal lands or provide judicial protection of their ancestral rights to their land and resources.

On 31 August 2001, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark verdict that the Nicaraguan government had violated the rights of the Awas Tingni community. The Court affirmed that the American Convention of Human Rights offers protection of indigenous peoples’ property rights, and denounced the State for granting concessions to their land without consulting the community first.[2]

The Court ordered that the Nicaraguan government demarcate and title the traditional lands of the Awas Tingni community, and furthermore, that they establish the necessary legal procedures for protecting the land rights of all indigenous communities in the country.

In January 2003 the Nicaraguan National Assembly passed a new law allowing for the demarcation of indigenous land. In December 2008, the Awas Tingni community finally received the property title to 73,000 hectares of its traditional territory.

This case was a historic achievement for the protection of indigenous peoples’ human rights, not just in Nicaragua but also elsewhere in the world. A United Nations news release stated, “this was the first case in which an international tribunal with legally binding authority found a Government in violation of the collective land rights of an indigenous group, setting an important precedent in international law.”[3]

Consistent with the outcome of the Awas Tingni case, on 13 September 2007 the United Nations adopted a ‘Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’, further consolidating the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditionally occupied territories, and the resources therein.[4]

“In a nutshell, the Court held that the American Convention on Human Rights obligates states to recognise and adopt specific measures to protect indigenous peoples’ rights to land and natural resources in accordance with indigenous peoples’ own customary use and occupancy patterns.”[5]

The significance of this precedent and of the titling of their land have not shielded the Mayangna people from the continuing threats of timber companies and illegal squatters on their land. Since the ruling there has been conflict within the Mayangna community relating to the alleged, but later denied, sale of land to a timber company, Mapinicsa,[6] as well as conflict between the Mayangna and squatters and other indigenous groups of the Atlantic zones of Nicaragua.[7]

The area inhabited by the Mayangna includes part of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve which, apart from being attractive to timber companies, has also suffered regular invasions of squatters, sometimes in organised groups and at other times individually. The beginning of 2010 saw a combined force from the Nicaraguan army and police force join with the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources to remove 80 families who had illegally colonised the Reserve. A further 200 families were to be removed at a later date. Mayangna leaders, however, considered the action to be insufficient to solve the problems caused by illegal squatters and have claimed that they have received death threats from some of the squatters.[8]

Some of the squatters are simply refugees from landlessness elsewhere in the country and are simply trying to find an area suitable for subsistence. Most such cases are victims for a second time around having suffered elsewhere at the hands of other gangsters. Mayangna leader Rolando Lewis, however, said that other settlers destroy the forest under orders from cattle ranchers who want to move into Bosawas.[9] And José Luis Garcia, the National Environmental Ombudsman, believes, alarmingly, that there are more than 30,000 colonists who have taken over 4,000 hectares of the Bosawas Reserve. He said that “In the past, the timber traffickers cut down the trees and took them to sell, but now these people possess large sections of the territory where they cut down the trees, burn them and then plant pasture to sell to the highest bidder.”[10]

This clash of interests in an area such as the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve clearly illustrates the link between conservation and indigenous peoples. It has been widely recognised that the major agents of destruction of the Bosawas ecology have been timber companies and colonisers or squatters. The western model of development has much to learn from indigenous peoples about the conservation of its natural environment.


[1] The people of Awas Tingni prefer to call themselves Mayagna, as opposed to Sumo, a commonly used designation. They regard the latter term as one imposed by outsiders.
[2] International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights http://www.escr-net.org/caselaw/caselaw_show.htm?doc_id=405047 (accessed 31 July 2009).
[3] United Nations News Centre www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=29336&Cr=indigenous+rights&Cr1 (accessed 3 August 2009).
[4] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, March 2008, United Nations http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf (accessed 4 August 2009).
[5] S. James Anaya and Claudio Grossman ‘The Case of Awas Tingni v. Nicaragua: A New Step in the International Law of Indigenous Peoples’, The Arizona Journal of International and Comparative Law
[6] Nicaragua Network Hotline (25 August 2009) ‘Government cancels sales of communal lands; YATAMA members protest’, Nicaragua News Service.
Nicaragua Network Hotline (29 September 2009) ‘Awas Tingni leaders clarify land sale accusation’, Nicaragua News Service
[7] Ramón H. Potosme (27 August 2009) ‘Nación sumo mayagna bajo agresión de Yatama’, El Nuevo Diaria, Managua.
[8] Nicaragua News (1 June 2010) ‘Squatters removed from Bosawas Nature Preserve’, Nicaragua News Service. Eira Martens (21 January 2010) ‘Crisis de Bosawas’, Personal communication.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Nicaragua News Bulletin (9 February 2010) ‘Government postpones visit to Bosawas Reserve to evict colonists’, Nicaragua News Service.

Investors in Honduran dam opposed by murdered activist Berta Caceres are withdrawing funding

The Agua Zarca dam was one of hundreds of projects sanctioned after 2009 US and Canadian-backed military coup

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/04/honduras-dam-activist-berta-caceres
by Nina Lakhani, 4 June 2017

International investors withdraw completely from Agua Zarca project. Dam was one of hundreds of projects sanctioned after 2009 military coup.

Members of Copinh, the organisation headed by Berta Cáceres before she was killed.
Photograph: Giles Clarke/Global Witness

The international funders behind the hydroelectric dam opposed by murdered Honduran environmentalist Berta Cáceres are withdrawing from the project, the Guardian can reveal.  Three financial institutions had pledged loans worth $44m for the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River, which is considered sacred by the Lenca people and which Cáceres campaigned against before her death.

Her murder last year triggered international outrage and piled pressure on the international backers to pull out of the project amid a campaign of intimidation against communities opposed to the dam. The Civil Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh) – the campaign group Cáceres co-founded – has long demanded that investors withdraw and make reparations for the human rights violations linked to the project.
Desarrollos Energéticos SA (Desa), the private company behind Agua Zarca, has two major shareholders: Potencia y Energia de Mesoamerica (Pemsa), a Panama-registered company whose president – former military intelligence officer Roberto Castillo – is also president of Desa. The other, Inversiones Las Jacaranda, is owned by the powerful Atala Zablah family, who are also on the Desa board.

Desa secured loans from Dutch bank FMO, Finnish finance company FinnFund and the Central American Bank of Economic Integration (Cabei).  Berta Cáceres wrote to FMO in 2013 after the murder of her colleague Tomás Garcia, asking them not to finance Agua Zarca amid violence against the community. Despite her plea, the loan was granted.  Cáceres was killed in March 2016 after receiving multiple death threats linked to her campaign, and just a few months after her name appeared on a military hitlist, a Guardian investigation found.

So far eight men have been charged with the murder including three with military ties, but the intellectual authors remain free.
FMO and FinnFund suspended their loans after police arrested a Desa employee in connection with the murder in May 2016.  But all three investors have now decided to withdraw completely from the Agua Zarca project. In identical statements FMO and FinnFund told the Guardian they “intend to exit as soon as possible. However, project financing being a complicated field, many aspects and issues have to be cleared from contractual and responsibility perspectives.”

The Cabei, the largest investor, has simply stopped loan payments rather than seek a formal break in contract.  “The bank is no longer funding the project. Nor is there any intention to further invest in the project. Each bank is going to have their own exit strategy. Our bank stopped all disbursements,” spokesman Juan Mourra said in a statement.
Desa received $17m – just under 40% – of the loans before payments were suspended. The loans have not been sold, the Guardian was told.

An investigation commissioned by FMO following Caceres’ murder largely blamed the violence on intra-community disputes and downplayed abuses by state and private security forces linked to the dam.

Francisco Javier Sanchez, a Copinh leader representing the Rio Blanco community said that thugs continue to harass those opposed to the dam. “We demand the [investors] withdraw from Agua Zarca and recognize the violence and serious human rights violations the project has caused [in the past] four years of repression. We have rejected a hydroelectric project on the sacred River Gualcarque,” he said.

The Agua Zarca dam was among hundreds of environmentally destructive projects sanctioned after the 2009 military coup d’etat without legally required community consultations.

At least 124 campaigners opposing mines, dams, logging and tourist resorts have been murdered since 2010, making Honduras the most deadly country in the world for environmental and land activists.

Such projects have been backed by prominent Honduran politicians, business figures and military officers, but many are bankrolled by international funders.

*******
The above article was reproduced here with permission from Rights Action. Since 1998, Rights Action has been funding the community development, indigenous rights and environmental defense work of COPINH. 

 

COPINH (Honduras coordinator of indigenous and popular organizations)
#FueraDESA #1AñoSinJusticia #BertaVive #COPINHsigue
#justiciaparaberta #SoyCOPINH #bertavivecopinhsigue
listen to COPINH: http://a.stream.mayfirst.org:8000/guarajambala.mp3
web: copinh.org
blog: copinhonduras.blogspot.com
blog in English: http://copinhenglish.blogspot.com/
fb: Copinh Intibucá
twitter: @COPINHHONDURAS