Honduran indigenous group protests for land rights and recognition

Gualcarque Hydroelectic Dam:

1In 2010, Honduras’s post-coup government granted a illegitimate concession. This concession has been the subject of an intense amount of controversy, and has affected numerous communities within Honduras, and it is time that this is discussed critically.

In September of 2010, a law was passed which granted 47 hydroelectric dam concessions. But what they didn’t do is consult the indigenous people’s affected by such concessions. Which invalidates any legality the concessions would have otherwise had. The reason why this is no longer considered legal, after the government granted the concessions is due to two specific laws which Honduras has ratified. The first is ILO (International Labor Organization) convention 169 which protects the rights of tribal and indigenous people, to have rights over lands they’ve inhabited for a long period of time. Article 7 of part 1 (general policies), states “1. The peoples concerned shall have the right to decide their own priorities for the process of development as it affects their lives, beliefs, institutions and spiritual well-being and the lands they occupy or otherwise use, and to exercise control, to the extent possible, over their own economic, social and cultural development. In addition, they shall participate in the formulation, implementation and evaluation of plans and programmes for national and regional development which may affect them directly.2. The improvement of the conditions of life and work and levels of health and education of the peoples concerned, with their participation and co-operation, shall be a matter of priority in plans for the overall economic development of areas they inhabit. Special projects for development of the areas in question shall also be so designed as to promote such improvement.3. Governments shall ensure that, whenever appropriate, studies are carried out, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to assess the social, spiritual, cultural and environmental impact on them of planned development activities. The results of these studies shall be considered as fundamental criteria for the implementation of these activities.4. Governments shall take measures, in co-operation with the peoples concerned, to protect and preserve the environment of the territories they inhabit.” This clearly protects the Lenca and their lands, and was ratified by the Honduran government under President Carlos Roberto Reina, in March of 1995. Additionally there was the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples which was approved by (among many others) Honduras’s UN representative: Ivan Romero Martinez. This declaration also mandates the prior, freely given, consent of the Indigenous people when their lands are being used by someone else. The fact is, that these concessions fly in the face of an existing legal process, and should be discarded solely on that basis.

Additionally, the Lenca have loudly, and actively protested this at every possible moment after they discovered the truth about what was occurring. Upon first discovering that concessions had been given to DESA (a Honduran owned company, Desarrollos Energeticos, private company), in October, through COPINH (an Indigenous Rights group in Honduras), nearly 500 members of the community banded together for the sake of having a meeting about the issue. By the end of the meeting, they declared that they rejected the decision to grant a concession without asking for their permission since it was their land. They also filed a complaint with the Special Prosecutor for Ethnic Groups in which they denounced the Congress for this blatant violation of existing legal precedent. The government ignored them. SERNA (Secretary of Natural Resources and Energy) held a meeting in December of 2010, in the nearby municipality of San Francisco de Ojuera but declined to invite representatives of Intibuca and the Lenca people, possibly as a reaction to their vocal denouncement of the hydroelectric dam. Other things worth knowing: DESA and SERNA released statements related to the dam, which neglect to mention the existence of the Lenca People and the community in the area. Additionally DESA was well aware of the existence of the Lenca people, having sent representatives to attempt to convince them that supporting the dam was a good idea. In a series of events that should surprise no one, the Lenca people were not convinced that the dam was a good idea. And having already been slighted, they continued their denouncements of the dam, and the companies behind the dam. Protests continued unabated for a while, as construction was set to begin, and in order to really get someone to listen to them, the Lenca blockaded the road leading to the dam’s construction site. As the result of about a year of conflict and protest, Sinohydro actually quit, attempting to save face as this combined with another scandal going on at the time in Malaysia would have been awful for the company. They also placed blame for the protests on DESA, stating that they (Sinohydro) had nothing to do with the controversial activities. The conflict continues on, with different companies having taken over the plans, including Blue Energy and Hydrosys Consultants (American and Canadian owned respectively). At the end of the day however these companies are not terribly different from Sinohydro in how they want to obtain usage of the resources they need. They actually stated that the dam was being built in Santa Barbara, but the maps submitted to the Honduran authorities state something else altogether. Maps seen by the authorities clearly make the need for lands in Intibuca, one of the locations central to this conflict, known. One of the leaders of the indigenous resistance to the dams is Berta Caceres, who has received continual threats and warnings that her resistance will cause her pain, and will hurt those she has fought to protect.

There is an existing legal system that needs to be followed. There is precedent that exists, to enable groups to use indigenous lands. And despite the justifications that have been used previously as it relates to this, it has been ignored over and over, and violence continues to be used to ensure that the Indigenous people submit and bend knee to companies and businesses seeking their lands. Violence and deaths plague these communities, such as the death of Maycol Rodriguez in October, attacks on a multitude of leaders including political attempts to criminalize them, and actual acts of physical violence such as a machete attack on Maria Santos, and the raiding of the home of Disiderio Mendez a resident of the area, who had just been shot and would be taken away by authorities at a protest and faced legal charges, despite his protest and the protest of his fellows being peaceful. The continued criminalization of those who seek to maintain their homes, and their property is enabling the regime of Juan Orlando to brutalize and harass a group of people who respectfully want to maintain their homes. It is okay to seek to maximize use of land, but only if those who already live on those lands desire it too. It is not okay to brutally criminalize a group of people for the sake of obtaining their resources.


















Honduran indigenous group protests for land rights and recognition

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