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

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

 

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

Original posting by Rights Action at:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Background

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

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

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

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

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

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Names/Addresses

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

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

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

*******
More information

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

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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

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

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

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

Sep 21st 2016. | Translated by Rick Blower

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

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

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

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

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

What awakened your ecological conscience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is at the heart of the problem?

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

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

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

Reproduced here by kind permission of Vinicio Chacón.

Threats to and assassinations of COPINH members, 2016

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

Context

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

COPINH, 2016

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

 

The 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.

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 Mayangna of the Awas Tingni community, Nicaragua

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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.

The Naso of Panama and their land demarcation struggles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indigenous comarcas of Panama

Indigenous comarcas of Panama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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 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.