“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/

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


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.

Jehry Rivera murder trial

Contributed by Jiri Spendlingwimmer, Costa Rican anthropologist.

Translated by Liz Richmond, who contributed extra material.

In March this year we added to The Violence of Development website a report of the assassination of Jehry Rivera Rivera, an indigenous land defender in Costa Rica. We recently received news of the case from Jiri Spendlingwimmer, an anthropologist and resident of the village of Longo Maï in southern Costa Rica. We are grateful to Jiri and to Liz Richmond for extra information and for the translation.

Jehry Rivera was assassinated by several shots from a firearm on 24 February 2020 in the indigenous territory of Térraba, Buenos Aires, in the southern zone of Costa Rica. The previous night 150 to 200 non-indigenous farmers had organised and formed a mob to surround the town of Térraba, burned land, insulted, harassed and attacked a group of indigenous people who had recovered their ancestral territory. The following table summarises the acts of violence against indigenous people in the southern zone of Costa Rica around the town of Buenos Aires.

Given the incapacity and bias of the Courts of Justice of Buenos Aires, the judicial process for the murder of Jehry Rivera was assigned to a prosecutor in the capital, San José. It is expected that at some point a trial will be held. Today, however, there are no accused, nor a date for the start of the trial. The same impunity was evident regarding the murder of human rights defender and indigenous leader Sergio Rojas in Bribri de Salitre territory, assassinated in March 2019 – https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/costa-rican-indigenous-rights-defender-murdered/ and https://theviolenceofdevelopment.com/following-murder-of-indigenous-leader-costa-rican-government-and-indigenous-groups-hold-talks/

Escalation of violence against indigenous land reclaimers

The Ditsö group in Costa Rica is a NGO that seeks to defend indigenous and campesino communities and to protect natural resources. Ditsö reports that between February and March 2020 there has been an escalation in violence against land rights defenders in four indigenous territories: Térraba, China Kichá, Salitre and Cabagra. The Cabécares indigenous people of China Kichá have suffered violent incidents including death threats, mob assaults, detonations of firearms, invasions in recovered land, fires, road blockades, physical assaults and chemical attack.

To illustrate the fact that these are not just recent tensions and incidents, it is worth recalling that in 2013 Jehry suffered a brutal attack for lodging a complaint regarding illegal felling of trees and deforestation in their territory – https://www.culturalsurvival.org/news/complicity-and-silence-taking-land-indigenous-peoples-costa-rica

The Costa Rican State, which is at the centre of national and international criticism, has had to make greater effort to try to settle the historical debt with the indigenous peoples and resolve the conflict. In China Kichá, in May 2020, direct intervention was necessary by the Deputy Minister of Public Security Eduardo Solano to guarantee the removal of livestock from a reclaimed farm and to calm the situation.

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.”

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Garífuna Five

In the early morning of 18th July, five Garífuna men were abducted from their homes in Triunfo de la Cruz, Honduras. They have been missing ever since. They were abducted by men wearing bullet proof vests with the initials of the Honduran National Police (DPI, the Investigative Police Directorate).

The five are Alberth Sneider Centeno Thomas, a 27 year old community activist who has advocated for the Honduran government to compensate the Garífuna people for stolen land, Milton Joel Martínez Álvarez, Suami Aparicio Mejía Garcia, Junior Rafael Juárez Mejía and Gerardo Mizael Rochez Cálix. All are members of the Fraternal Organisation of Black Hondurans (OFRANEH).

Sneider Centeno is President of the Triunfo de la Cruz community and has been a forceful defender of the wetlands of Punta Izopo where the expansion of African palm plantations is threatening to destroy the wetlands of the Plátano and Gama Rivers. In 2019, Sneider and a group of youth from Triunfo de la Cruz intervened to stop the burning of hundreds of acres of mangroves which were being destroyed to plant African palm. As a result of this action they became targets of and received threats from the drug traffickers who control large areas of northern Honduras and who are associated with the palm plantations.

On 1st August, OFRANEH issued a statement demanding their immediate return alive and in good health, condemning a social media campaign which had sprung into being to denigrate the men and to accuse them of drug trafficking, and demanding the Honduran state’s compliance with an Inter-American Human Rights Court ruling to properly identify and demarcate Garífuna community owned land.

Amnesty International has issued an Urgent Action alert on behalf of the five (AMR 37/2780/2020, 23 July) as has the Alliance for Global Justice (20 July 2020).

In April 2006 the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights granted precautionary measures to the community of Triunfo de la Cruz, asking the government of Honduras to adopt the necessary measures to protect the right of the community to ownership of ancestral lands. In October 2015, the Inter-American Court on Human Rights ruled in favour of the Garífuna community of Triunfo de la Cruz, finding the Honduran state guilty of violating the right of the community to collective property.

Since the start of the COVID-19 total curfew in Honduras in March 2020, Amnesty International has received several reports of serious attacks against human rights defenders, including members of OFRANEH. On 20th April, the police stifled a protest in Oak Ridge, Roatán Island, forcing a boat not to dock at a local port for public health reasons. On 6th May, police officers threatened a group of young Garífuna people guarding the community of Travesía in Cortés department with dropping tear gas bombs. OFRANEH also denounced the killing of Edwin Fernández, an OFRANEH member, on 20th May in the community of Río Tinto, Atlántida department.

The circumstances of the abduction and the continued disappearance of the men reflect on the current government of Honduras as a government that is riddled and ruled by organised crime and a government that practices state terrorism to instil fear into the Honduran people.

Land disputes in southern Costa Rica

By Jiri Spendlingwimmer with material from Liz Richmond.

October 2020 

This section of Chapter 8 of The Violence of Development website includes articles on the assassinations of Jehry Rivera and Sergio Rojas, Indigenous Costa Ricans who fought for the rights of their Indigenous communities in the south of the country.  Jiri Spendlingwimmer, a Costa Rican anthropologist, has sent us an update on the trials and on the tense situation in China Kichá, one of the Indigenous territories experiencing the conflicts between the claims of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Jiri’s account was translated by Liz Richmond who added more details about the situation. We are grateful to both Jiri and Liz for the news and article.

 

The case against the Indigenous people of China Kichá

Jiri writes: An eviction is pending against the Indigenous people of China Kicha (20 minutes from Cooperative Longo Mai). For the moment it is suspended due to the pressure of solidarity groups organised throughout Costa Rica – see below.

 

Update on a visit to China Kichá by Jiri Spendlingwimmer (27 Sep 2020)

This week a small delegation from the Movimiento Ríos Vivos (Living Rivers Movement) went to visit and show solidarity with the Indigenous land defenders at the Kono Ju farm, in China Kichá. For me it was my first visit to the territory.

We were surprised at how the police control access to the area; there is a permanent Police post around 1 km before the farm; and the police check each vehicle and person who enters, recording every car registration and personal identity numbers.  They determine who enters, and possibly investigate them.

The land defenders are very brave; they are resisting this very difficult fight whilst under constant threat.  In summer their crops were burnt, along with their water supply hoses. In total there are 38 people, including families with children. They have some necessities such as first aid kits, torches, batteries and face masks.

An eviction date is scheduled for the Konu Ju families for 29 September 2020, however due to the support and solidarity of individuals and groups nationally, there has been a temporary suspension of eviction, declared 25 September 2020.  Albeit temporary it is important, as this legal action will allow for more time.

The government’s reaction was reflected in a statement from the Vice Minister of the Presidency in Citizen Dialogue, Randall Otárola, in which he positioned himself for the temporary suspension of eviction. However he did not propose a concrete alternative solution, or speak in favour of granting the Indigenous land defenders their legitimate territory.

On the contrary, Deputy José María Villalta of the Frente Amplio suggests, among other solutions, that the executive power could disobey the orders of the judge, as these are contrary to the International Treaties applicable in Costa Rica regarding the autonomy and rights of Indigenous peoples, which are above national legislation.

At the same time, the Public Ministry dismissed and recommended the closing of the case regarding the cause of homicide of Sergio Rojas, land defender assassinated in March 2019 in the Indigenous territory of Salitre.  This sets a dangerous precedent, as it grants impunity to the murder of Sergio Rojas, and the same could therefore occur with the case of Jehry Rivera. This gives the green light to racism, violence and deaths towards Indigenous people in the process of recovering their territories, which has recently extended from the Southern regions of Costa Rica to the North, in the Indigenous territory of Maleku.

 

The case of Sergio Rojas

Sergio Rojas was assassinated in March 2019. 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.

Jiri writes: The biggest scandal is that the courts decided to close and file away the case of Sergio Rojas with no further action.  They claim that they cannot determine which of the three suspects is responsible for his murder.