The Dangers of Environmental Activism In Honduras
By admin July 10, 2017

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Bertha Zuñiga, daughter of the murdered environmentalist Berta Cáceres, survived an attack this past Friday, June 31st. The incident came only a few weeks after Zuñiga was named the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organisations of Honduras (Copinh), the nonprofit watchdog group her mother previously led. Two other members were riding in the car with her at the time of the assault. Cáceres and Zuñiga are among the many victims of crimes against environmentalists. Experts say that there were three times as many environmentalist related murders in 2012 than there was a decade earlier with a sum of 124 murders in the past eight years. Honduras has the highest murder rate for environmental activists in the world.

The cause of most of these conflicts has to do with land rights. Major development companies have bribed officials and forged papers to start projects that harm indigenous people and their villages. Activists are up against the country’s richest and most powerful people. These businessmen also have a large degree of protection from the government as a result of relationships between businessmen and politicians. Although Honduras is a signatory to the Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Convention, which requires the permission of indigenous people to begin projects on their territory, signatures are frequently forged and such laws are frequently violated for the sake of expediting development. Communities have extremely limited ways of fighting back, especially due to lack of telephone lines and communication.

This corruption may be traced back to the coup staged by the military in 2009. The right wing government that formed out of the chaos lead to a surge of pro-business policies, despite their destructive effect on the environment and rural communities. Of these was a collection of hydroelectric dams known as Agua Zarca run by Desarrollos Energéticos S.A., or DESA, a Honduran development company. These dams span across the country on the Gualcarque River that is inhabited by the Lenca people. Drug traffickers add a dimension to the crisis: mining and argi-business, for money laundering purposes, have similar detrimental effects.

Opposition was first expressed as complaints and votes, which were ignored. The complaints turned into roadblocks and protests that were met with violent police force. Environmental activists are threatened and targeted by DESA soldiers. They are extorted, persecuted, or killed while the government has turned its head the other way for years.

In the case of Cáceres and her colleague Nelson Garcias, they were assassinated after opposing Agua Zarca. According to the Global Witness, 98 percent of violent crimes in Honduras go unsolved. Even Cáceres did not receive a proper investigation. This is a result of a weak judicial system and rampant corruption, intensified by organized crime and the uncertain political situation.

An essential piece to this ongoing crisis is US involvement, beginning with the Obama Administration’s support of the coup in 2009. Evidence from Ex-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails illustrates her role in the country’s power shift. By undercutting President Manuel Zelaya, Clinton gave power to and allied with dangerous leaders. International organizations like the UN condemned the take over, and requested that the US comply with international law by discontinuing humanitarian aid. Instead, the Secretary’s office refused and attempted to pick up the pieces before the situation got out of control. And it did. High demand for natural resources from the US and disproportionate consumption has only exacerbated the most recent disputes on land rights.

Following Cáceres death, international organizations have pressed harder for the Honduran government to take action against these illegalities and atrocities. In fact, the US government has recently taken similar action. Two weeks after the Cáceres assassination, 62 members of Congress wrote a letter to then-Secretary of State John Kerry requesting the launch of a US lead investigation into her death, and reforms to US relations with and aid to Honduras.

Cáceres is a symbol for Honduras, the future of environmentalism in the country, and the struggle of the indigenous people. The fact that the murder of a high-profile person is met with little investigation indicates the country’s lack of transparency and capability. Her nephew demanded the US government declare that they are not confident in the Honduran government, find her killer, and stand up against corporations like DESA. Luckily, international companies like those in the Netherlands and China have responded by suspending all projects in Honduras.

Further Reading:

Daughter of murdered Honduran activist survives armed attack

Why is Honduras the world’s deadliest country for environmentalists?

The death of Berta Cáceres

US Contribution to Death of Honduran Activist Goes Unmentioned in US Coverage


Los herederos de Berta Cáceres

Honduras: The deadliest place to be an environmental activist, new report says

HRW World Report 2017: Honduras


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