A Honduran Indigenous rights activist who has suffered repeated attacks, harassment, and death threats since joining her community’s land struggle in the wake of the 2009 U.S.-backed coup was recognized Friday in Dublin, Ireland, for her commitment to fighting for human rights with the annual international Front Line Defenders Award.
“For me this prize is strength. I also feel happy for the organizations because through human rights and the work we are doing we have achieved this,” Ana Mirian Romero told teleSUR by phone from Dublin, where she received the award. “I feel that this achievement will be a source of courage and strength to continue in the struggle and not get discouraged.”
Romero is a Lenca woman who has worked for years through local Indigenous organizations in the western Honduran department of La Paz to protect her people’s traditional territories and natural resources in the face of an unwanted hydroelectric dam that threatens to displace communities and destroy their livelihoods.
“It does not benefit us. It’s destruction being carried out in Honduras that benefits a few countries but does not benefit the poor,” she said about hydroelectric development in Lenca territory. “We feel displaced by the government because we’re not important to them.”
The Front Line Defenders Award is an annual prize that honors outstanding work — often with personal risks — in the protection and promotion of human rights.
Romero’s Lenca Indigenous Movement of La Paz, also known as Milpah, has struggled against the Los Encinos hydroelectric project. The dam was approved without permission from the affected community in violation of their internationally-recognized right to free, prior and informed consent as Indigenous people.
The organization is a sister movement of the Lenca struggle led by internationally-renowned activist Berta Caceres, murdered over three months ago after fighting to defend the environment and Indigenous rights for over two decades. For Romero, her murder is a tragic loss, but it has also sparked global outrage and brought needed international attention to the human rights crisis in Honduras.
“We have hope, because we are being recognized internationally,” she said.
Romero and her family have also suffered a slew of serious attacks as a result of her involvement in the resistance movement, which has also fought for legally-recognized rights to their ancestral territory. Attacks and harassment at the hands of the police, military, and armed agents allegedly linked to the dam company have included death threats, defamation, physical assaults, and an arson attack that burned down her home.
“Their method was to make us start fighting in the home and for the organization to lose itself,” Romero said, explaining that accusations she was having an affair impacted her family life. “But we have achieved our objective of organizing ourselves even more.”
The community didn’t always face these problems. According to Romero, hydroelectric companies and other corporate projects started barging into their territories, accompanied by a deterioration in human rights, after the 2009 military coup — that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton helped secure — against former President Manuel Zelaya.
“After the coup, we as Indigenous people, the most dispossessed by the government, felt an impact and we started to have issues,” Romero explained, echoing findings of a new report documenting the severe downward spiral of human rights of Indigenous people and other groups since the coup.
But despite the grave systematic challenges, Romero is determined to keep fighting.
“I feel happy in the struggle, sometimes afraid, because the consequences have been very dramatic for us as Indigenous people,” she said. “But that’s why we say we are human rights defenders because we are defending the water, the river, Mother Earth, land, recuperating land, and defending the future, which is our children.”
And although the situation is bleak, Romero remains hopeful that change is possible.
“What’s happening in Honduras is discrimination against Indigenous people,” she said. “But now I feel good, calm, because with the international pressure (on the government) from other countries, I believe that the struggle really will win in Honduras because we Indigenous people have more courage than fear."