The Jilamito Hydroelectric Project in Honduras

Key words: School Of The Americas Watch (SOAW); Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice (MADJ, Honduras); Jilamito Hydroelectric Project; community opposition; US Development Finance Corporation; IDB Invest; privatisation of natural resources.

The SOAW is the School Of The Americas Watch, a US  advocacy organisation founded in 1990 to protest the training of mainly Latin American military officers by the United States Department of Defence at the School of the Americas (SOA). Since 2000 the SOA has been called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Prior to that time the School Of The Americas had become popularly renamed the School Of Assassins. Most of the Latin American military human rights abusers spent some of their training time in the SOA. In April 2021, along with the Witness for Peace Solidarity Collective, the Broad Movement for Dignity and Justice in Honduras (MADJ) and 60 other US and Honduran organisations, the SOAW sent a letter to US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urging the US to oppose financing for the Jilamito Hydroelectric Project in Honduras.

For years, members of local communities, organised in MADJ, have maintained an encampment defending the Jilamito River from this project. They have faced death threats, violence, and criminalisation. The local mayor and other local leaders face criminal charges for defending the river. One month after they were indicted, Carlos Hernandez, the mayor’s defence lawyer, was murdered.

The US Development Finance Corporation (DFC) has publicly stated it will finance the project as part of investing $1 billion in the private sector in Honduras. MADJ has repeatedly denounced threats, human rights violations, and allegations of corruption related to the project. Despite this, IDB Invest, the private sector arm of the Inter-American Development Bank, has approved a $20.25 million loan for the project. The US is by far the largest shareholder of the IDB.

The letter to the US Treasury Secretary noted that there are numerous parallels between the Jilamito Hydroelectric Project and the Agua Zarca Hydroelectric Project, for opposing which Berta Cáceres was murdered. In addition to the violence, criminalisation, and threats faced by project opponents, both projects were approved in the period after the 2009 military coup in Honduras when natural resources were rapidly handed over to Honduras’ elite. MADJ has denounced corruption and irregularities related to the concession process, as well as environmental damages, but unsurprisingly the Honduran judicial system has yet to resolve their complaints.

The US justifies support for projects such as the Jilamito Hydroelectric Project – via so-called ‘development’ banks – by claiming such ‘development’ will prevent migration. On the contrary, the violent, militarised imposition of the US neoliberal economic model – which includes the privatisation of natural resources – is itself a root cause of migration from Central America. This is not ‘development’ – it serves to privatise and concentrate natural resources in the hands of the elite – and is frequently imposed through US-backed militarisation and repression of the communities and organisations who defend their water, land, and rights.