“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

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


ILO Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples

This text box is referred to in the book as Box 8.1 (Page 151)

The International Labour Organisation’s Convention No. 169 on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples – normally simply referred to as ILO 169 – was adopted at the International Labour Conference held in Geneva in June 1989. The Convention observed that “in many parts of the world these peoples do not enjoy the fundamental human rights to the same degree as other members of the national societies to which they belong, and recognised their aspiration to exercise control of their own institutions, their own livelihood and their economic development.”[1]

The Convention “applies to tribal peoples in independent countries whose social, cultural and economic conditions distinguish them from other sections of the national community, and whose status is regulated wholly or partially by their own customs or traditions …”[2]

“The basic concepts of the Convention are respect and participation. Respect for the culture, spirituality, social and economic organisation and their identity, all constituting essential premises regarding the enduring nature of indigenous and tribal peoples. … Convention No. 169 also presumes that indigenous and tribal peoples are able to speak for themselves and to take part in the decision-making process as it affects them and that they have a right to take part in this decision-making process, …”[3]

In essence, the Convention recognises:

  • Land and property rights for indigenous peoples
  • Equality and liberty for indigenous peoples
  • Autonomy of indigenous peoples [4]

Only twenty-two nations have ratified the Convention. The following Central American nations have ratified the Convention:

  • Costa Rica ratified 1993
  • Guatemala ratified 1996
  • Honduras ratified 1995
  • Nicaragua ratified 2010
  • Panama pledged to ratify 2011.

[1] International Labour Organisation (ILO) Introduction to ILO Convention No. 169, www.ilo.org/public/english/region/ampro/mdtsanjose/indigenous/derecho.htm (accessed 16.08.09).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organisation (UNPO) (2009) ‘ILO Convention 169: 20 Years Later’, The Netherlands. www.unpo.org

The visit of Domingo Vásquez of the CCCND (Guatemala) to Europe, October 2018

November 2018

Information from Peace Brigades International and the Central Campesina Ch’orti ‘Nuevo Día’ (CCCND), summarised by Martin Mowforth.

Key words:  Indigenous and campesino groups in Guatemala; hydro-electric projects; mining projects; Maya Ch’orti community; criminalisation; assassinations of rights defenders.

Domingo Vásquez, a Maya Ch’orti human rights defender from Guatemala, spent the first half of October on a Europe-wide speaker tour as a guest of Peace Brigades International (PBI). Domingo is a member of the Central Campesina Ch’orti ‘Nuevo Día’ (CCCND) and a member of the Indigenous Council of the Maya Ch’orti community of Pelillo Negro, Jocotán in Chiquimula department.

Domingo’s visit follows that of Omar Jerónimo, also of the CCCND, in 2015. Their organisation supports community struggles to get recognition as indigenous communities and defends the ancestral Maya Ch’orti territory from hydro-electric and mining projects. Several hydro-electric plants are either planned or already under construction in the region. Omar and the struggles of the Maya Ch’orti against hydro-electric projects are also featured in the Interviews section of this website.

The recent security situation on the ground for CCCND members is extremely serious. So far this year 18 human rights defenders in Guatemala have been assassinated for the work that they carry out. Thirteen of these were land and environmental defenders. Many members of CCCND, including Domingo, face threats, attacks and criminalisation.

Recently Omar has had to go into hiding because of the seriousness of the threats he has received. PBI has provided protective accompaniment to the CCCND since 2009. Omar said “We have reports that ex-military personnel and gangs have arrived in our area. There have been 52 death threats in the last three months, 22 people have been criminalised, two people have been thrown in prison and 27 have been attacked. Over 20 of us have a price on our head. I have been told mine is $100,000, but I can be killed for $100. Last month my car was sprayed with bullets. We have been warned that the assassinations will go on. We are all scared, but you should not let fear stop you working in the community.”

A note about conservationists and Indigenous Peoples

By Martin Mowforth

The fact that areas inhabited by indigenous peoples are often deemed hugely important for conservation has been the focus of long-standing conflict and debate. It is estimated that 85% of designated protected areas in Central America are inhabited by indigenous peoples.[1]

Historically, the colonial paradigm for conservation involved the creation of parks and protected areas. In the endeavour to preserve ‘pristine’ nature or ‘wilderness’, indigenous people were excluded from conservation programmes and even forcibly evicted from the land.[2] It is now widely acknowledged that conservation programmes must involve the participation of the local people dependent on the areas under protection, but the feasibility of harmonising conservation and indigenous interests remains very much in dispute.

A project undertaken by National Geographic Society in 2002, superimposed a map of indigenous territories in Central America over a map with forest cover and marine ecosystems.[3] They found a striking correlation between indigenous habitation and the survival of natural ecosystems. That the subsistence lifestyles of indigenous peoples are less destructive to the environment than the industrialised economies of non-indigenous peoples is a reasonable assumption.

It is often noted that indigenous peoples have an inherent and sacred relationship with nature, a wealth of traditional knowledge, and natural resource management practices which they have been using for centuries to protect and preserve their lands.[4] Such claims about the stewardship role of indigenous peoples strongly support the possibility of collaboration with conservation organisations for maintaining biodiversity today. Mark Dowie contends that for both parties, maintaining a “healthy and diverse biosphere” is key.[5] Furthermore, the land and ecosystems that both conservationists and indigenous peoples are so keen to defend are seriously threatened by multiple and competing demands, including intensive agriculture, industrial forestry, and large scale development projects such as dams and mines.

An increasing awareness of indigenous peoples’ rights and the problems associated with the exclusionary conservation paradigm has led to attempts at more people-centred conservation programmes during the last 20 years. But, it has been suggested that there are inherent and irreconcilable differences in the agendas of indigenous people and conservationists. Whilst the former are primarily concerned for their economic wellbeing and protecting their land for their own use, the latter above all want to keep nature intact, prioritising protected areas and programmes grounded in rigorous biological and ecological science.[6]

The terms of involvement of local communities have been dictated by the conservation organisations, and indigenous peoples have continued to feel excluded, and some conservationists seem to have been incapable of coping with the social aspect of these types of projects.

Mac Chapin provided a damning critique of the three largest and dominant global conservation organisations – World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Conservation International (CI) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC).[7] He noted that their neglect of indigenous peoples in conservation programmes is partly due to their corporate and government funding and the conditions attached to it. He points out that indigenous resistance is often directed at projects executed by the organisations’ funding partners, who are also often perpetrators of environmental degradation.

Some hardline conversationists insist that any human presence will have a negative impact on biodiversity. Kent Redford suggested that ‘the noble ecological savage’ living in harmony with nature is an over-romanticised myth of indigenous people; that in reality they are prone to deplete or over-exploit their resources.[8]

There has been a recent resurgence of such a protectionist stance. Advocates of socially exclusive parks and protected areas insist that community based approaches to conservation do not offer adequate protection for endangered species and ecosystems. For example, John Oates argues that the compromise of agendas inherent in community based conservation programmes means that neither social nor conservation goals will be met.[9]

Others are more optimistic and see progress made in the uncertain relationship between indigenous peoples and conservationists. Mark Dowie comments that:

“Although tension persists, along with arrogance, ignorance and the conflicts they breed … I found, mostly in the field, a new generation of conservationists who realise that the very landscapes they seek to protect owe their high biodiversity to the practices of the people who have lived there, in some cases for thousands of years … Enlightened conservationists are beginning to accept the axiom that only by preserving cultural diversity can biological diversity be protected, and vice versa.”[10]

As Kent Redford and Michael Painter point out, achieving successful collaboration between indigenous people and conservationists is critical, and urgent: “while park advocates are arguing with indigenous peoples and their advo­cates about the proper role for people in conservation, the forest they both wish to preserve is being destroyed.”[11]


[1]   Alcorn, J.B. (1994) ‘Noble savage or noble state? Northern myths and southern realities in biodiversity conservation’. Ethnoecologica 2 (3): 6-19.

[2]   See Adams, W.M. (2004) Against Extinction: the story of conservation, Earthscan, London; also Monbiot, G. (1994) No man’s land: an investigative journey through Kenya and Tanzania, Picador, London.

[3]   National Geographic Society (2003). http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/02/0227_030227_indigenousmap.html (accessed 29 July 2009).

[4]   Mark Dowie (2009) Conservation Refugees: The hundred-year conflict between global conservation and native peoples, MIT Press, Cambridge.

[5]   Mark Dowie (2003) www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/jun/03/yosemite-conservation-indigenous-people (accessed 22 July 2009).

[6]   Mac Chapin (2004) ‘A challenge to conservationists’, World Watch Institute.

[7]   Ibid.

[8]   Redford, K. (1991) ‘The Ecologically Noble Savage’, Cultural Survival Quarterly 15 (1): 46-48.

[9]   Oates, J.F. (1999) Myth and Reality in the Rainforest: how conservation strategies are failing in West Africa, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles.

[10]   Op.cit. (Dowie).

[11]   Redford, K.H. and Painter, M. (2006) Natural alliances between conservationists and indigenous peoples. WCS Working Paper No.25, Wildlife Conservation Society, New York, USA.

Costa Rican Indigenous Rights Defender Murdered

The following is a summary of reports from Telesur and other press sources of the assassination of a Costa Rican Indigenous Bribri land rights activist who was shot and killedlast month (March this year, 2019) in his home in Salitre territory.

Bribri territory, Costa Rica

Indigenous land rights defender Sergio Rojas was assassinated by armed gunmen who shot the activist as many as 15 times at around 11:45 pm in his home, according to his neighbours, in southern Costa Rica.

Rojas was President of the Association for the Development of the Indigenous Territory of Salitre and coordinator of the National Front of Indigenous Peoples (FRENAP) in Costa Rica. He was a staunch defender of the Bribri of Salitre Indigenous people who have been fighting for years to regain their rights to over 12,000 hectares of land in southern Costa Rica pledged to them by a 1938 government agreement.

This wasn’t the first time Rojas’ life was threatened. In 2012, shortly after the Bribri gained back some of their lands, Rojas was shot at eight times by armed men, but he escaped the shooting unscathed.

The Bribri and other Indigenous peoples have managed to recuperate control of some of their native lands but have become targets of violence from those who oppose their rights and sovereignty. Last December, men armed with guns and machetes held hostage two Bribri women and eight children on land they had recovered in Salitre territory.

According to the women, when police arrived they spoke “aggressively” toward them and asked for their land deeds, which the authorities claimed were invalid. According to the testimonies given to Tree People Programme, the police made no effort to arrest the hostage-takers who escaped.

As this website often reports on the violence and threats suffered by defenders of land rights, environmental rights and human rights in the northern triangle of Central America, it is worth emphasising here that such dangers are also experienced in countries such as Costa Rica whose environment-friendly reputation is high. Capitalist interests will use violence to overcome local objections and resistance wherever it occurs.

After Recognition: Indigenous Peoples Confront Capitalism

From NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America) | 2 Sep 2010

Indigenous peoples across Latin America have in recent years taken a leading position in defending national sovereignty, democratic rights, and the environment. A renewed cycle of capitalist accumulation in the region centered on mining, hydrocarbon extraction, and agro-industrial monocultures has sparked the new round of indigenous resistance. Drawing on organizational and political legacies of the peasant and agrarian struggles of previous decades, indigenous groups in the 1980s and 1990s grew and gained strength from an international arena in which governments were encouraged to recognize and promote cultural and minority rights in return for continuing debt relief and development aid.

In a wave of constitutional reforms, Colombia (1991), Guatemala (1993), Mexico (1993), and Peru (1993) took the unprecedented symbolic step of recognizing the cultural rights of indigenous people. More recently indigenous political mobilizations in Ecuador (2008) and Bolivia (2009) have led to constitutions that recognize those states’ plurinational character and, in the case of Bolivia, establish limited autonomy for indigenous peoples. While these state-led reforms represent one response to indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition of cultural identities and rights, they have done little to address either their long-standing demands for justice or their rejection of the extractivist economies, environmental devastation, and rampant social inequality that characterize neoliberal capitalism.

This issue of the NACLA Report explores the contributions and creative possibilities of indigenous movements at a moment when indigenous politics has moved beyond requests for state recognition and inclusion. In this period “after recognition,” indigenous activists, organizations and communities are challenging both the claims that liberal national states exert over indigenous resources and territories, and the misplaced social and economic priorities of neoliberal capitalism.

The creative force of indigenous political mobilization as a catalyst for broader popular political struggles was brought to world attention on January 1, 1994, when the Zapatista Army of National Liberation took over several cities in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas. Despite the Mexican government’s military and media offensive against the Zapatistas, which continues to this day, the 1994 uprising—timed to coincide with the first day of the North American Free Trade Agreement—helped launch a national debate about democratic participation, autonomy, economic justice, and political inclusion. In the years since 1994, Zapatista organizations have drawn on indigenous philosophies of authority and community to articulate ideals of direct democracy and political participation that go well beyond liberal models of both representational democracy and cultural recognition.

The Zapatista challenge emerged in response to a neoliberal economic model that reduced social spending, deregulated key industries, dismantled unions, undermined workers’ rights, and deployed increasingly authoritarian measures against social movements, ranging from the criminalization of public protests to full-scale counterinsurgency doctrine. These measures, together with neoliberalism’s ongoing commitment to environmentally destructive industries like oil, mining, logging, as well as large infrastructure projects and single-crop commercial agriculture, pose the most severe threat in history to indigenous survival.

Even as Latin American popular movements face severe challenges from both the global economic crisis and the policies of their neoliberal states, indigenous organizations throughout Latin America are responding to both state repression and the uncontrolled looting of their countries’ natural resources, with new and creative perspectives on development and the crisis of the liberal nation-state. In doing so, they confront the region’s elected governments, including the new progressive nationalist governments, which have had difficulty thinking past the economic development model promoted by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization: fostering capitalist expansion through exploiting natural resources.

In the face of this, indigenous peoples ask why it is always necessary to privilege profits over life, to defend the rights of corporations and not the rights of Mother Earth, and to treat nature as a resource for the taking. In the terrain of politics as well, indigenous mobilizations have challenged the dominance of vertical decision-making on both the right and left, and the neoliberal state’s tired mantras of national security and economic interest.

A significant case is the 2008 Colombian minga, which propelled the country’s indigenous movement to the center of the political stage (see “Colombia’s Minga Under Pressure”). With this massive national mobilization, indigenous peoples demonstrated their capabilities to convene a broad range of social and political forces, and to articulate a platform of action that directly challenges the Colombian neoliberal state’s commitments to the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, militarization, mining, and industrial agriculture.

Despite significant advances, indigenous movements continue to face serious challenges. Neoliberal agendas allow no room for the negotiation of territorial or political rights, and the entrenched racism of Latin America’s criollo or mestizo elites makes it difficult fo r indigenous perspectives and voices to be heard. Examples of this abound. In Mexico, indigenous communities have confronted the failures of the state judicial system, as well as increasing violence from state police, paramilitaries, and drug traffickers by forming community police who work to enforce their constitutional rights to autonomy and peace (see “Indigenous Justice Faces the State”).

In Brazil, indigenous territories and ways of life are directly threatened by the Lula government’s unwavering support for massive hydroelectric projects, such as the Inambari dams, which will flood more than 113,000 acres of rainforest on the Peruvian-Brazilian border, or the Belo Monte dams, which will divert more than 80% of the Xingu River (see “Brazil’s Native Peoples and the Belo Monte Dam”). In Peru, the political elite’s and mining sector’s disdain for Mother Earth directly threatens the survival of indigenous peoples, yet communities from the Andes and Amazon have joined forces to resist state efforts to expand extractive industries and to deny indigenous rights (see “El buen vivir”).

Indigenous political forces face similar challenges in those countries where progressive governments—brought to power, to varying degrees, by indigenous movements—continue to promote mining and other extractive industries, to deny rights to prior consultation, to ignore indigenous territorial autonomies, and to directly threaten both the environment and indigenous life. In Ecuador, indigenous movements have confronted the Rafael Correa government’s developmental strategy, which privileges mining and oil, and in September 2009 they mobilized to protest legislation that threatened to remove control of water resources from local communities and open the way for privatization of water. Correa responded by labeling indigenous leaders “terrorists.”1 In Bolivia, indigenous movements have also joined to confront the country’s first indigenous president, Evo Morales, over the distribution of profits from gas and mining opera¬tions and the determination of autonomous territories, and even to demand the outright abolition of extractive industries (see “Bolivia’s New Water Wars”).

Indigenous organizations in different countries have articulated similar responses to extractive economies. In 2009, at the IV Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities of Abya-Yala, held in Puno, Peru, 5,000 delegates from across the Americas issued a declaration in which they offered “an alternative of life instead of a civilization of death.” In its call for a “global mobilization in defense of Mother Earth and the World’s People,” the summit acknowledged that this struggle—and the global crisis it addresses—demands a broad alliance with non-indigenous social and political actors.2 The summit’s anti-capitalist, anti-systemic platform resonates with declarations put forward by the Zapatistas, the World Social Forum, and other Latin American indigenous and popular organizations.

As indigenous movements act to hold their elected governments to account, they are not asking merely for recognition or for increased electoral participation. Their goal is not to participate in more of the same but to build something better. They question the primacy of an economic model that values private profit over life and the Mother Earth. They also remind us that popular and oppositional politics must look beyond elections and state-centered models of representative democracy that have historically marginalized and silenced not only indigenous peoples, but also a wide spectrum of disenfranchised and poor populations. They ask us, above all, to think creatively about how our commitments to political change must start not with a quest for power, but rather with respect for life, and for the ways of life and mutual well-being that indigenous organizations call el buen vivir.


1. Servicios en Comunicación Intercultural Servindi (servindi.org), “Ecuador: En escalada represiva Correa acusa a líderes indígenas de terroristas,” June 30, 2010.
2. See Marc Becker, “Moving Forward: The Fourth Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples,” June 12, 2009, nacla.org/node/5891.

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.