The indigenous group mobilized against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project in the eastern department of Santa Barbara accused local authorities and the Honduran corporation in charge of the works of violence and attempts to impede their protest planned this Monday.
The people of Lenca, the country's largest indigenous group, had planned a peaceful protest in front of San Francisco de Ojuera City Hall against the works initiated on the river Gualcarque without their consent.
However, officers from the National Police temporarily detained the buses transporting the activists, while bulldozers had “broken” the public roads leading to San Francisco de Ojuera, creating ditches of almost two meters (see photos), claimed the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH, in a statement.
The organization informed it filed a lawsuit against DESA Corporation and against the city's mayor, Raul Pineda, who they claim sent bulldozers to break the road.
Once the indigenous activists could continue on to San Francisco de Ojuera, after the trenches were filled, they were attacked by a “small but very aggressive group of 10 people” in front of the city hall, including the vice-mayor himself, said Berta Caceras, leader of the movement, to teleSUR.
“They attacked us with machetes and guns, shouting racist and sexist insults,” she added.
The group of about 200 people then went to the second plant, located on the river Gualcarque, to evaluate the current environmental damages. They managed to enter the site, despite the private guards and the national police officers watching the entrance. Caceres, commenting the mobilization from inside the plant, said the group received “threats,” including from the part of a guard with his gun.”
Caceres has led the mobilization against the project since April 2013, that year managing to shut down the first plant on the river Gualcarque and orchestrate the withdrawal of Chinese subcontractor Sinohydro – saying in an open letter that the company had no idea of the level of conflict surrounding the project. The International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank, also withdrew from the project as a result of the mobilizations, expressing concerns over potential violations of human rights.
However, other foreign bodies keep contributing to the project, including the German corporations Simens and Voith Hydro, while the Dutch development bank FMO and the Finnish government via FINDUND, deplored Caceres.
The Honduran government and DESA Corporation argued that the second plant was located in another department, therefore not affecting the Lenca people. Caceres argued that the Lenca people are not confined to a department, and that the project involved the same river.
U.N. Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz visited the site of Rio Blanco earlier in November and handed a damning report to the Honduran government denouncing “the critical situation” the indigenous people were facing in that country, including “the violation of their right to land, territories and natural resources; the violence, impunity and corruption; their difficulties to access justice; and the lack of basic social services like education and health.”
Caceres told teleSUR that the level of impunity was “absolutely stunning,” evoking for instance the recurrent “disgusting racist and sexist insults” the public forces can shout at indigenous activists.
On Friday, the hearing begins for the military officers involved in the killing of Tomas Garcia, a COPINH leader who died in July 2013.
According to a recent report issued by Global Witness, the number of concessions the Honduran government granted to energy companies skyrocketed right after the 2009 coup against President Manuel Zelaya, including the Agua Zarca project, as well as the criminalization and murders of indigenous activists.