Oxfam launches public campaign demanding justice and the withdrawal of companies from a dam project.
Death by assassination is the price activists in Honduras are now paying for standing up against powerful interests and defending the land rights of indigenous groups.
On March 3, prominent activist Berta Cáceres—a 2015 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize and leader of the Lenca community in its opposition to the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras—was gunned down in her home. Less than two weeks later, on March 15, Nelson Garcia, was also shot dead. A member of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) which was co-founded by Cáceres, Garcia had been supporting Lencas from the Rio Chiquito community who were being evicted from land in the Rio Lindo sector in Cortés.
We are calling for the violence to stop and for investors and companies involved in the Agua Zarca dam project to withdraw their funding and involvement now.
“This project is tainted and beyond repair,” said Ed Pomfret, the head of Oxfam’s land campaign. “It is emblematic of hundreds of similar projects happening today, all around the world, where the rights of local people are being trampled, leaving them poor and landless.”
The project is not yet built, but Lenca people, who have been peacefully opposing it, stand to lose their access to the river Gualcarque, both a sacred site and a major source of water and food.
Founded in the early 1990s to help local people confront threats from illegal mining and to fight for their territorial rights, COPINH turned its attention to the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, which they discovered was to be built—only after heavy machinery was brought into their territories in 2012 and without the free, prior, and informed consent of Lenca communities-- by the Honduran corporation DESA with international financing. Cáceres knew that her activism could cost her her life.
“They follow me. They threatened to kill me, to kidnap me. They threaten my family. This is what we are facing,” she had said.
“We need a proper investigation into Berta’s death and the immediate establishment of peace in the area for Lenca communities, and this can only occur if the project is stopped and the companies pull out,” said Pomfret. “People have been killed and injured and no one has been held responsible.”
In the wake of the murders, the Dutch development bank FMO and FinnFund, from Finland, have both announced they will suspend all their operations in Honduras, including pending disbursements to the Agua Zarca dam project.
While we welcome these moves, they are not enough. Only a full withdrawal from the project by all investors will stem the violence.
We have launched a public campaign urging supporters to call on investors and companies, including the Central American Bank for Economic Integration and the Voith-Hydro (Siemens) engineering partnership from Germany, to quit the project. The campaign is also calling on the Honduran government to guarantee the security and safety of Cáceres’ family and members of COPINH, and to invite the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to carry out an in-depth investigation into the assassination of both Cáceres and Garcia.
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