“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

CONTRA TODO PRONÓSTICO: LA CRIMINALIZACIÓN DE PERSONAS DEFENSORAS DEL DERECHO A LA TIERRA EN GUATEMALA

Estamos agradecido a Global Witness por su autorización para reproducir su blog de 13 de enero este año (2020) en español y en inglés.

Versión inglés: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/against-all-odds/

Versión español: https://www.globalwitness.org/es/blog-es/contra-todo-pron%C3%B3stico-la-criminalizaci%C3%B3n-de-personas-defensoras-del-derecho-a-la-tierra-en-guatemala/

Palabras claves: Guatemala; criminalización; derechos territoriales; expansión de palma africana; Indígena Q’eqchi; empresas de agronegocio; desalojos forzosos; Fundación Guillermo Toriello.

 

En 2018, nuestro informe anual sobre los asesinatos de personas defensoras de la tierra y el medio ambiente adoptó un nuevo enfoque: por primera vez, analizamos más de cerca la estrategia de criminalización y cómo es utilizada por los Estados y las empresas por igual para silenciar y atacar a las personas defensoras.

Entrevistamos recientemente al defensor Abelino Chub Caal, conversamos sobre su historia de criminalización, sus recomendaciones y sobre cómo los Estados y las empresas pueden evitar estos hechos.

 

Abelino, las comunidades Q’eqchi y la expansión de la palma aceitera

En su Guatemala natal, Abelino Chub Caal ha trabajado para la Fundación Guillermo Toriello durante más de una década. Abelino ha apoyado a comunidades indígenas con procesos legales para el reconocimiento de sus derechos territoriales e impulso de proyectos autosuficientes de agricultura sostenible.

En los últimos dos años, su vida, las de las comunidades que él busca proteger y la de su propia familia se han puesto cuesta arriba.

Esta historia comienza en el año 2016, cuando dos empresas de agronegocio intentaron expandir su producción de banano a la de palma aceitera. Para hacer eso, decidieron utilizar tierra donde comunidades indígenas Q’eqchi alegaban haber vivido por siglos y por lo tanto, haber adquirido derecho sobre el territorio ancestral indígena. De acuerdo con Abelino, antes de introducir sus nuevos cultivos y comenzar a sembrar, las empresas no consultaron integralmente las comunidades que vivían allí.

Aquí es donde Abelino empieza a hacer parte de esta historia. Como parte de su trabajo con la Fundación Guillermo Toriello, él intermedió las conversaciones entre las comunidades que vivían en la zona y las empresas de agronegocio que tenían como objetivo expandir su producción.

Los cargos de usurpación agravada, incendio y asociación ilícita fueron entonces presentados en contra de él. Se alegó que Abelino había organizado miembros de las comunidades para incendiar la plantación de palma aceitera en la finca Plan Grande, donde vivían comunidades Q’eqchi, y de provocar un enfrentamiento contra la policía.

El 4 de febrero del 2017, Abelino fue detenido mientras celebraba su cumpleaños con su esposa y sus dos hijos. Él permaneció en custodia esperando por su juicio por más de dos años. En abril de 2019, tras haber presentado evidencia de no haber estado en la zona el día del incendio, Abelino fue absuelto de todos los cargos durante su juicio. La Corte concluyó que los cargos de Abelino deberían ser desestimados, y comentó que “el Derecho Penal había sido utilizado para criminalizar la conducta del acusado.”

Estuve en la cárcel por más de dos años, por un crimen que no he cometido.

“Pero cuando estás en la cárcel, no importa si eres culpable o no, simplemente eres tratado como un criminal. Compartes la prisión con sicarios, asesinos, ladrones. Estuve bajo el mismo techo que un militar condenado por su participación en una masacre contra pueblos indígenas, durante la guerra civil. Esto es injusto y es uno de los daños psicológicos que te causa la cárcel.”

Este patrón, donde Estados y empresas poderosas utilizan la legislación penal en contra de aquellos que cuestionan sus acciones, no es nuevo.

 

Ataques desde todos los lados

Abelino identifica la criminalización como una de las estrategias utilizadas en Guatemala para silenciar a quienes se resisten a los desalojos forzosos, al acaparamiento de tierras y a la contaminación producto de la construcción de represas, la explotación de minas y la expansión de plantaciones de palma aceitera o de caña de azúcar.

“En 2007, una empresa minera canadiense desalojó a 100 familias de El Estor, cerca de la costa del Pacífico de Guatemala. Personas resultaron heridas, y mujeres de la comunidad fueron violadas durante el desalojo, pero esas violaciones nunca fueron investigadas en Guatemala.” – alega Abelino.

Él continúa su relato: “En 2009, fuerzas de seguridad de la empresa dispararon a varias personas de la comunidad de Las Nubes. El líder comunitario Adolfo Ich Chamán fue asesinado durante este evento.” La empresa negó haber estado involucrada en los desalojos forzados o con la muerte de Adolfo Ich Chamán.

Abelino dice que ésta no es la primera vez que las personas Q’eqchi se enfrentan a este tipo de ataques:

“En 2011, presencié los despiadados desalojos de 732 familias indígenas Q’eqchi de sus tierras en el Valle de Polochic, donde posteriormente fueron plantados cultivos de azúcar para la producción de biocombustibles. Una persona murió, varias resultaron heridas y cientos fueron desplazadas de sus hogares. Sus ranchos y cultivos fueron quemados.”

Tras el desalojo de las familias Q’eqchi en el Valle de Polochic, la oficina de la organización para la cual Abelino trabaja, la Fundación Guillermo Toriello, fue allanada y equipos que contenían información confidencial fueron robados. Abelino y miembros de la FGT creen que este incidente no fue un simple allanamiento, sino una represalia por su intento de apoyar a las víctimas de los desalojos.

 

Los efectos de la criminalización se expanden

La persecución penal de Abelino no sólo lo perjudicó, sino que su propia comunidad lo sintió a lo largo del tiempo y la distancia.

Durante los dos arduos años que estuvo en la cárcel, se preocupaba constantemente por su familia y su bienestar. Su horario de visita era limitado y sus familiares dependían de otros miembros de la familia para sobrevivir. “Cuando querían visitarme, tenían que empezar a hacer fila frente a la prisión desde las 3 de la mañana; y si tenían suerte, me veían alrededor de las 10 de la mañana. Algunos días los devolvieron a la casa sin haberme visto, porque se había terminado el horario de visita”.

Pero probablemente la peor parte fue la incertidumbre: el sistema seguía posponiendo las audiencias y el juicio y, por lo tanto, no tenía idea de cuándo podría demostrar mi inocencia ni cuándo sería liberado.

 

El papel que deberían jugar las corporaciones y los gobiernos

Los lugares donde hay recursos naturales, son inevitablemente perseguidos por aquellos que buscan explotarlos con ánimo de lucro. El modelo económico vigente en Guatemala depende en gran medida de la extracción y exportación de recursos agrícolas y naturales. Este modelo ha promovido la concentración de la tierra por parte de los sectores más acaudalados, frecuentemente desplazando las poblaciones pobres fuera de sus tierras y provocando altos niveles de violencia.

Si bien las personas defensoras son blanco de ataques físicos y legales como estos, a menudo impulsados o provenientes de las empresas, Abelino ve con buenos ojos a aquellas personas que operan de manera ética, apoyando a la comunidad y al entorno en general.

“Nosotros no estamos en contra de las corporaciones, pero nos oponemos a aquellas que desalojan a las personas de sus tierras y dividen a las comunidades con total impunidad. Nos oponemos a las empresas que no respetan el derecho a la vida y la forma en que las comunidades se organizan. Como mínimo, ellas deberían consultarnos y respetar los tratados internacionales.”

Las empresas y quienes las financian no son las únicas que deben actuar. Los gobiernos, tanto a nivel nacional como internacional, deben tomar medidas decisivas para exigir rendición de cuentas a empresas e inversores.

Después de casos como el de Abelino y de ver los asesinatos de personas defensoras de la tierra y el medio ambiente quintuplicarse en Guatemala en 2018, el gobierno debe tomar medidas urgentes para apoyar y proteger a las personas defensoras que protegen su tierra y el medio ambiente del colapso climático que se aproxima a un ritmo vertiginoso.

Otros gobiernos – como los del Reino Unido, Estados Unidos, la Unión Europea y otros países – deberían introducir normas claras sobre debida diligencia, que garanticen que sus empresas, que invierten y extraen en el extranjero, no generen ganancias a expensas de la libertad o de la vida de las personas.

 

La lucha continúa

Abelino ahora es libre, pero su lucha, y la lucha de otras personas defensoras, aún están lejos de terminar.

Si bien él ha sido absuelto, la criminalización continúa, permitiendo que las grandes empresas generen ganancias a costa de la explotación de tierras indígenas y causen una destrucción severa al planeta en ese proceso. La comunidad Q’eqchi de Palo Grande todavía está en riesgo de ser desalojada. Abelino teme que esto podría ser inminente.

A pesar de haber sido criminalizado, Abelino nunca pensó en darse por vencido, y cuando se le pregunta qué hará ahora, dice:

Seguiré denunciando todos los problemas que afectan a las comunidades. Al igual que otros defensores de la tierra y del medio ambiente, no trabajo para mí, sino para proteger los derechos de las comunidades que han sido abandonadas por el Estado.

Comparte este caso para demostrar solidaridad y apoyo a Abelino.

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’

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

4 Years Seeking Justice: Daughter of Assassinated Indigenous Environmental Leader Berta Cáceres Speaks Out

The Violence of Development website has tried to give regular coverage of the struggle for justice in the case of the assassination of Berta Cáceres, the Honduran environmentalist who led protests against a hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River and who was the Director of COPINH, the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras. We reproduce here a report from ‘Popular Resistance’ of this continuing search for justice by Berta’s family.

Popular Resistance, 17 January 2020, making use of a TV news report from ‘Democracy Now’.

In Honduras, a new report by the Violence Observatory at the Honduran National Autonomous University says that at least 15 women have been murdered in the first 14 days of this year. Violence against women, LGBTQ people, indigenous leaders and environmental activists has skyrocketed in Honduras under the U.S.-backed government of President Juan Orlando Hernández. The report comes nearly four years after the Honduran indigenous environmental activist Berta Cáceres was shot dead inside her home in La Esperanza, Honduras, by hired hitmen. Last month in the capital of Tegucigalpa, seven men were sentenced to up to 50 years in prison for her killing in March 2016. At the time of her assassination, Cáceres had been fighting the construction of a major hydroelectric dam on the Gualcarque River on sacred Lenca land in southwestern Honduras. In November 2018, a court ruled that Cáceres’s killing was ordered by executives of the Honduran company behind the Agua Zarca dam, known as DESA, who hired the convicted hitmen.

Cáceres won the Goldman Environmental Prize for her work protecting indigenous communities and for her environmental justice campaign against the dam in 2015. In December [2019] , we sat down with one of her daughters, Laura Zúñiga Cáceres, in Madrid, Spain, where she was receiving a human rights award. “This is a late conviction. It has been almost four years of seeking justice. It is the product of a rather difficult and painful process that has been putting us as victims in direct dispute with a murderous and aggressive state, and they produced the minimum consequences that the state could have given,” Zúñiga Cáceres says.

On the role of the US:

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the US connection here. Seven men were convicted and sentenced for your mother’s murder. Two of those men, one was a former Army lieutenant trained by the United States, the other a Special Forces major also trained by the United States. US-trained military men, quote, “provided logistical support and a gun in the plot to kill Cáceres.” Can you talk about what you know about the US connection?

LAURA ZÚÑIGA CÁCERES: [translated] I believe that what we have seen since the coup is how extractivism has massively entered into our country. And through that extractivism, we see how the military are able to gain control of these extractive companies. Since the [2009] coup, they became entrepreneurs. And we also witness how the government of the United States is complicit and allows the installation of this coup. Then we see how the United States government continues to support governments in Honduras which are highly repressive and violators of human rights. The United States supports these governments, particularly in the area of militarization.

And at the time of my mother’s murder, one of the things that caught our attention is that it was said that members of the FBI were investigating her killing, which the US Embassy never clarified, even though it was not true, and the US Embassy allowed the Honduran state to create that false narrative.

But the most obvious evidence about how soldiers are trained by the US government to kill land and water defenders is the training that both Mariano Díaz Chávez and David Castillo received from the United States and that aided them in carrying out the murder of my mother. The United States government has also never cut funding for the government of Juan Orlando Hernández, which is a dictatorship that continues to kill and that continues to generate impunity on my mom’s case and other cases.

The full interview by the US television programme ‘Democracy Now’ can be seen at: https://www.democracynow.org/2020/1/17/berta_caceres_laura_caceres_interview

Indigenous Costa Rican activist murdered

In Chapter 9 of The Violence of Development website we try to represent the scale and nature of the threat of violence suffered by Central American people. Undoubtedly, out of the seven Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador feature more frequently than the other four, but the following report of the assassination of Costa Rican indigenous leader Jehry Rivera makes it clear that rights activists throughout all the Central American nations are vulnerable as targets if they try to defend their rights and object against the interests of the powerful.

z jehry rivera rivera

Jehry Rivera Rivera (shown right), an indigenous leader from Térraba in southern Costa Rica, was shot dead in February this year. His murder shocked Costa Rica and is associated with land disputes between the Terribe indigenous people and land owners. The Terribe were occupying and reclaiming land used by ranchers.

The assassination took place in an area in which the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) had issued protective measures for the indigenous population as a result of the constant threats they had been receiving from land owners who were seeking to appropriate their territory.

Rivera’s assassination occurred almost a year after the attack on another Costa Rican indigenous leader, Sergio Rojas, who was also killed by hitmen despite protective measures that had been issued for him.

The Costa Rican Federation for Environmental Conservation (FECON) suggested that

“this crime against the indigenous rights defender Jehry Rivera splashes with blood the hypocrisy of the Costa Rican state, which claims to protect human rights, but its policies leave all indigenous peoples abandoned and forgotten. Although Costa Rican legislation recognises these lands as part of the indigenous territories, governments do not apply the law. They protect the interests of racist groups.”

Human rights defenders also criticised the Costa Rican corporate media for its negative reports on land recoveries carried out by indigenous peoples. The media ignore the fact that companies have been invading and appropriating indigenous territories for years. Many journalists even encourage violence against those attempting to recover their land.

Representatives of the affected communities claimed that the inaction of the government enabled the violence and gives impunity to those committing the violence.

Our contacts in the village of Longo Maï in the south of Costa Rica have provided us with some background information on indigenous issues in Costa Rica related to this case and this was translated for us from the original German by Kerstin Hansen.

Indigenous peoples make up about 2 per cent of the Costa Rican population (approximately 100,000 people) and there are 24 indigenous territories and 8 indigenous ethnic groups in the country.

The biggest problems in these territories are caused by megaprojects such as hydroelectric dams. In the south, invasions of indigenous territories have been particularly common: for instance, 88 per cent of the Terribe’s territory is not occupied by the Terribe. In the China Kicha territory (which is very close to Longo Maï) this loss of land is even higher (97 per cent). Yet in 1977 a law was passed making it illegal to sell land in these territories, and this was reinforced by the United Nations ILO 169 declaration that was signed by Costa Rica.

For the last 40 years, however, practically all Costa Rican governments have failed to enforce the legal measures to ensure indigenous autonomy. In the last ten years indigenous peoples have therefore taken matters increasingly into their own hands to reclaim lands. In March 2019, one of their activists, Sergio Rojas, was killed by twelve bullets. A few days ago, Jehry Rivera was murdered in Térraba.

And the following statement from the village supports the views expressed above by Costa Rican rights defenders.

“This is proof of institutionalist racism, a relic of colonialism, and an unbelievably cynical discourse which presents this country as an ecologist’s paradise to the outside world while failing to seriously protect ethnic groups who follow a model of ecologically sound agricultural practices and ‘buen vivir’.”

Sources

  • Telesur, 25 February 2020, ‘Costa Rica: Jehry Rivera Dies While Defending Indigenous Lands’.
  • Telesur, 27 February 2020, ‘Costa Rican Indigenous Denounce Government Inaction Regarding Murders’.
  • Franfurter Rundschau, February 2020, ‘Indigenous activist murdered in Costa Rica’.
  • Roland Spendlingwimmer, 27 February 2020, personal communication.
  • Agencia Delfino.cr, February 2020, Untitled news release.

Agaisnt all odds: The Criminalisation of Land Rights Activists in Guatemala

We are grateful to Global Witness for permission to reproduce their blog of 13th January this year (2020) in both English and Spanish.

English version: https://www.globalwitness.org/en/blog/against-all-odds/

Versión español: https://www.globalwitness.org/es/blog-es/contra-todo-pron%C3%B3stico-la-criminalizaci%C3%B3n-de-personas-defensoras-del-derecho-a-la-tierra-en-guatemala/

 

Key words: Guatemala; criminalisation; land rights; palm oil expansion; indigenous Q’eqchi; agribusiness companies; forced evictions; Guillermo Toriello Foundation.

In 2018, our annual report on killings of land and environmental defenders took a new focus: for the first time, we looked more closely at the tool of criminalisation, and how it is used by states and businesses to silence and attack defenders.

We recently interviewed the defender Abelino Chub Caal to learn about his experiences of criminalisation, his recommendations on how states and businesses can stop this happening, and what must happen next.

 

Abelino, the Q’eqchi community and the expansion of palm oil on their land

For over a decade Abelino Chub Caal has worked in his native Guatemala for the civil society organisation the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, supporting indigenous communities with legal processes to have their land rights recognised, and driving forward self-sufficient sustainable agriculture projects.

Over the last two years his life, the lives of the communities he works to protect and the lives of his own family have been turned upside down.

This story starts in 2016, with two agribusiness companies that were looking to expand from bananas into palm oil. To do that, they wanted to use land which indigenous Q’eqchi communities claimed to have lived on for centuries and had ancestral rights to. But according to Abelino, the companies did not consult fully with the communities living there, before rolling out their new crops and starting to plan their projects.

This is where Abelino enters. In carrying out his work for the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, he looked to mediate the conversation happening between communities living in the area, and the agribusiness companies looking to expand into their area.

Criminal charges of aggravated trespass, arson and illicit association were then brought against him.  It was claimed that Abelino had previously organised members of the community to burn oil palm trees which had been planted on land at the Plan Grande estate where the Q’eqchi community lived, and of provoking a confrontation against the police.

Abelino was arrested on 4 February 2017, while celebrating his birthday with his wife and two young children. He remained in custody awaiting trial for more than 2 years. In April 2019, having produced evidence that he was not even in the area on the day of the fire, he was acquitted of all charges at his trial. The Court concluded that Abelino’s charges should be dismissed, and commented that “criminal law was being used to criminalise the defendant’s conduct.”

I was in jail for more than two years, for a crime that I hadn’t committed.

“But when you are in jail, it doesn’t matter if you are guilty or not, you are simply treated as a criminal. You share the prison with hitmen, assassins, robbers. I was under the same ceiling of an Army man who was convicted for his involvement in a massacre against indigenous people, during the civil war. This is unjust, and is one of the psychological damages that being in jail gives you.”

This pattern – where states and powerful businesses use the criminal law against those seeking to challenge them – is not a new one.

 

Attacks from all sides

Abelino identifies criminalisation as only one of the strategies used in Guatemala to silence those that resist forced evictions, land grabs and pollution from dams, mines, and palm oil or sugar plantations.

“In 2007, a Canadian mining firm evicted 100 families from El Estor, near Guatemala’s Pacific coast. People were injured and women from the community were raped during this eviction, but these rapes were never investigated in Guatemala”, he alleges.

He goes on with his account: “In 2009, security guards from the company shot various people from Las Nubes community. The community leader Adolfo Ich Chamán was killed during this event.” The company denied involvement with any forced evictions or with the death of Mr Chamán.

Abelino says it is not the first time the Q’eqchi people have faced these kinds of attacks:

“In 2011, I witnessed some ruthless evictions by the police of 732 Q’eqchi indigenous families from their land in the Polochic Valley, which was later planted with sugar crops for biofuels. One person died, several were injured and hundreds displaced from their homes. Their shacks and crops were burnt down.”

Following the eviction of Q’eqchi families in the Polochic Valley, the organisation Abelino works for, the Guillermo Toriello Foundation, suffered a serious break-in, with equipment containing sensitive information stolen. Abelino and members of the Foundation believed this incident was not a burglary, but a reprisal for their attempt to support the victims of evictions.

 

The ripples of criminalisation spread wide

The criminal prosecution of Abelino did not just harm him, but was felt by his own community over distance and time.

During two arduous years in jail, he was constantly worried about his family and their well-being. His family’s visiting time was limited and they had to rely on other family members to survive. “When they wanted to visit me, they had to queue in front of the prison at 3am, and if they were lucky, they would see me at around 10am. Some days, they were sent home without seeing me, because the visiting time was over.

But probably the worst part of it all was the uncertainty: the system kept postponing the hearings and the trial, and therefore I had no clue about when I would be able to prove myself innocent nor when I would be released.

 

The role that corporates and governments must play

Where there are natural resources, those looking to exploit them for profit inevitably follow. The economic model in Guatemala relies heavily on agricultural and natural resource extraction and export. This model has directed land concentration toward the wealthy, pushing poorer communities off their land and fuelling violence.

But while defenders are targets of evictions and legal attacks like these, often driven by or at the hands of businesses, Abelino still welcomes corporations that operate in an ethical way and that are supportive of the community and the wider environment.

“We are not against corporations, but we oppose the enterprises that evict people from their land and divide communities with total impunity. We oppose businesses that do not respect the right to life and the way communities organise themselves. They should at minimum consult us, and respect the international treaties.”

Businesses, and those that fund them, are not the only ones who need to act. Governments, both nationally and internationally, must take decisive action to hold businesses and investors to account.

Following cases like Abelino’s and a fivefold increase in killings of Land and Environmental defenders in Guatemala in 2018, the government must take steps now to support and protect defenders protecting their land and our global environment from rapidly escalating climate breakdown.

And other governments – like those in the UK, US, EU and beyond, should introduce proper due diligence rules that mean that their companies, investing and extracting abroad, are not making money at the expense of human lives or freedoms.

 

The fight continues

Abelino is now free, but his fight, and those of others, is still far from over.

Whilst he has been acquitted, criminalisation of community activists still continues, enabling big businesses to profit from indigenous land and risking severe destruction of the planet in the process. The Q’eqchi community from Palo Grande is still at risk of being evicted. Abelino fears this could be imminent.

Despite suffering criminalisation, Abelino never thought of giving up, and when asked what he is going to do next, he says:

I will carry on uncovering all the problems affecting the communities. Like other land and environmental defenders, I don’t work for myself, but to protect the rights of communities that have been abandoned by the State.

Show your support and stand with Abelino by sharing this case as far and wide as possible. And keep up to date with our campaign news on protecting land and environmental defenders. (Global Witness)

‘Canadian tourism mafia’ file trumped-up charges against Garífuna leader Miriam Miranda in Honduras’ corrupted legal system

Honduras Solidarity Network and Rights Action alert, November 17, 2017

 

Article reproduced here by kind permission of Grahame Russell of Rights Action and Karen Spring of the Honduras Solidarity Network.

Original posting by Rights Action at:

https://us9.campaign-archive.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=b5492c424f

A member of the ‘Canadian tourism mafia’ along Honduras’ north coast, that includes Patrick Forseth and Randy “the porn king” Jorgensen, filed trumped-up charges against indigenous Garifuna leader Miriam Miranda and three other women, in Honduras’ corrupted legal system.

(Miriam Miranda, General Coordinator of OFRANEH demanding justice at a large protest outside of the Honduran Supreme Court in Tegucigalpa on the one-year anniversary of the assassination of Lenca indigenous activist, Berta Caceres of COPINH. Photo: Karen Spring)

The four must go to court, November 24, to respond to these “charges”.  They potentially face up to 2-3 years in jail, and now must spend time and resources (of the few they have) to defend themselves from these manipulative charges.

Canadian tourism investor Patrick Forseth, of the CARIVIDA Villas company, has falsely accused Miriam Miranda, the General Coordinator of the Black Fraternal Organization of Honduras (OFRANEH), and three other Garifuna women – Medeline David, Neny Heidy Avila, and Letty Bernardez – of slander and defamation.

Miriam Miranda is a leading Honduran Garífuna activist who has faced numerous threats and direct acts of repression for her courageous, articulate long-time work with OFRANEH and other Honduran groups and movements.

The reasons behind the malicious charges against these four Garífuna women are quite simple.  Forseth and CARIVIDA are involved in a major land dispute with the indigenous Garifuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay, located on the Caribbean coast of Honduras.  Forseth has used several very questionable legal maneuvers in the now (since the 2009 military coup) deeply corrupted Honduran legal system, to criminalize any indigenous Garífuna people involved in land, territory and human rights defence work, in order to further claims that CARIVIDA’s illegal land purchase in Guadalupe was valid.

One of the local woman being charged, Medeline David already faces charges of illegal possession of land as a result of her participation in a community-led land reclamation project to recuperate their own land – land in dispute with CARIVIDA.

Geovanny Bernardez, another OFRANEH leader and other Guadalupe community activists including leader, Celso Guillen, also face charges laid by the Honduran state and CARIVIDA as a result of the same land dispute.

The legal case against Miranda and the 3 women was presented on May 26, 2017 and the first court hearing is scheduled for November 24, 2017.  If found guilty, Miriam, Medeline, Neny, and Letty could face up to 2-3 years in prison.

This defamation accusation is a clear example of how wealthy North Americans use and take advantage of the impunity and corruption in Honduras’ post 2009 military coup political and legal systems to criminalize people that resist their economic interests and projects.

The land defence project in the Garífuna community of Guadalupe in Trujillo Bay. The area where many community members are camping out is the land that is claimed to be owned by Patrick Forseth. Forseth plans to build a resort and villa project on the land. (Photo Karen Spring)

As the General Coordinator of OFRANEH, Miranda is being directly targeted in an attempt to silence the resistance of Garifuna communities not only in Trujillo Bay, but in other land disputes across the coast of Honduras.

Forseth is the husband of the stepdaughter of Canadian businessman, Randy Jorgensen (“the Porn King”) who owns and operates several gated community projects in the same Trujillo Bay region.  Some of Jorgensen’s tourist projects are adjacent to the land that Forseth claims he owns and “legally purchased.”

Forseth, Jorgensen and other North Americans continue to take control of lands that are inside ancestral indigenous Garífuna titles, some of which date as far back as the 1860s. Jorgensen is facing charges of illegal possession of land for his project Campa Vista owned by his company, Life Vision Development.

Karen Spring, Honduras Solidarity Network, spring.kj@gmail.com
Grahame Russell, Rights Action, info@rightsaction.org

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Background

OFRANEH members denounced for defamation by Canadian tourism investors Patrick Daniel Forseth (Carivida Villas) and Randy Jorgensen (Life Vision Developments)
http://mailchi.mp/rightsaction/ofraneh-denounced-for-defamation-by-forseth-and-jorgensen

Lands To Die For: The Garifuna Struggle In Honduras
December 20, 2016, CCTV Americas
35 minute film about violent and corrupt challenges facing the Garífuna people, lead by the OFRANEH organisation, in the context of the violence and repression, impunity and corruption that characterise the Honduran military, economic and political elites and their international partners.
http://www.cctv-america.com/2016/12/20/lands-to-die-for-the-garifuna-struggle-in-honduras

Miriam Miranda, OFRANEH leader, detained and threatened by Honduran police
On January 11, 2017, Miriam Miranda and three other members of OFRANEH (Fraternal Organisation of Black and Garífuna Peoples) – Luís Gutiérrez, Oscar Gaboa, Luís Miranda – were illegally detained and threatened by police at a roadside stop in La Ceiba, along Honduras’ north coast.
http://us9.campaign-archive1.com/?u=ea011209a243050dfb66dff59&id=6d6627ffdb

The Canadian porn king and the Caribbean paradise: Is a businessman taking advantage of lawlessness to scoop up land?
November 20, 2016, by Marina Jimenez
https://www.thestar.com/news/world/2016/11/20/the-canadian-porn-king-and-the-caribbean-paradise.html

The U.S. and Canada Have Blood on Their Hands in Honduras
October 22, 2016, by Grahame Russell
http://www.telesurtv.net/english/opinion/The-US-and-Canada-Have-Blood-on-Their-Hands-in-Honduras-20161022-0010.html

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Names/Addresses

Carivida Villas
www.carivida.com
info@carivida.com
(778) 242-8678
Carivida Club Café
Trujillo, Colón, Honduras

Life Vision Properties
http://lifevisionproperties.com/
90 Admiral Blvd. Mississauga, ON, Canada, L5T 2W1
1 (416) 900-6098

Ambassador Michael Gort, Embassy of Canada in Costa Rica, Honduras and Nicaragua, Tel: (504) 2232-4551; Michael.gort@international.gc.ca; tglpa@international.gc.ca

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More information

OFRANEH (Organización Fraternal Negra Hondureña)
garifuna@ofraneh.org, www.ofraneh.org, http://www.ofraneh.wordpress.com

 

 

 

 

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