By Sandra Cuffe
1 February 2017

(Mongabay) – Global Witness, a London-based NGO, published a report yesterday examining the involvement of government officials and foreign aid in violent conflicts over mining, hydroelectric, tourism, and palm oil projects in Honduras. The result of a two-year investigation, the report includes several case studies and a series of recommendations for the Honduran and U.S. governments.

“We do an annual report to document the situation globally, and Honduras per capita has come out on top for the last few years. More than 120 land and environmental defenders have been killed in Honduras since 2010, so we wanted to investigate the reasons behind that,” Global Witness campaigner Ben Leather told Mongabay.

The issue was thrust into the global spotlight in March 2016, when Berta Cáceres, a well-known Honduran indigenous rights activist and Goldman environmental prize winner, was gunned down in her home. She had been receiving threats related to her work with communities opposing the construction of the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam in western Honduras, and suspects arrested in connection with her killing include individuals with ties to the Honduran military and to DESA, the company behind the dam project.

The new Global Witness report, Honduras: The deadliest place to defend the planet, examines the Agua Zarca case and other hydroelectric dam projects in western Honduras, a hotel and golf tourism complex in indigenous Garifuna territory along the northern coast, and mining and logging activities. Regardless of where in the small Central American country of eight million the projects are located, similar patterns of indigenous and human rights violations emerge.

“What we’ve uncovered is that there’s an awful lot of corruption around these mega-projects, these big investment projects, whether that’s mining, whether that’s hydroelectric, whether it’s logging, or whether it’s luxury hotel projects,” Leather said.

“These projects are being imposed on communities, which is why they need to mobilize in the first place. And then that same corruption means activists can then be killed with impunity,” he said. [more]

Honduran politicians, U.S. aid implicated in killings of environmentalists


17-year-old Alan Garcia survived a bullet to his chest. He was protesting against a hydropower dam on his community’s land in Honduras when the military opened fire. Photo: Global Witness

31 January 2017 (Global Witness) – Nowhere are you more likely to be killed for standing up to companies that grab land and trash the environment than in Honduras.

More than 120 people have died since 2010, according to Global Witness research. The victims were ordinary people who took a stand against dams, mines, logging or agriculture on their land –murdered by state forces, security guards or hired assassins. Countless others have been threatened, attacked or imprisoned.

17-year-old Alan Garcia (main picture) survived a bullet to his chest. He was protesting against a hydropower dam on his community’s land when the military opened fire. Alan’s father was shot dead in the same attack.

Three years later, in 2016, high profile environmental activist Berta Cáceres was assassinated for demonstrating against the very same dam.

Who is behind the murders?

Following a two-year investigation into who’s behind these murders we can reveal how projects at the heart of conflicts are linked to the country’s rich and powerful elites, among them members of the political class.

Our investigation sheds light on the back-door deals, bribes and lawbreaking used to impose projects and silence opposition. We also scrutinise how the US is bankrolling Honduran state forces, which are behind some of the worst attacks.

Download our full report: Honduras: the deadliest place to defend the planet (PDF, 3.1 MB)

Listen to our podcast about the investigation: available via Soundcloud and itunes

Powerful elites and chronic impunity

These crimes are being met with chronic levels of impunity. On rare occasions the triggermen are arrested, but the people who contract them are almost never punished.

Among those linked to the violence is Gladis Aurora López,  the president of Honduras’ ruling party and one of the most powerful politicians in the country. Documents leaked to Global Witness reveal that the planned Los Encinos hydropower project in the west of the country is controlled by López’s husband, who aims to sell energy to the state despite appearing to have a clear, and illegal, conflict of interest.

Three indigenous activists who opposed the project have been killed – their bodies found dismembered and showing signs of torture.  

We interviewed Roberto, an indigenous activist who has vocally opposed the Los Encinos project. He described how his community was evicted from their homes by a squadron of police, who also set fire to their crops.

US aid directed to police and military

As Honduras’ biggest aid donor, the US wields significant influence. In 2016, it contributed US$100 million in bilateral aid, which could be a huge boost to fighting poverty in a country which suffers the highest levels of inequality in the whole of Latin America. But tens of millions of aid dollars were directed to the police and military, both of which are heavily implicated in violence against land and environmental activists.

Meanwhile, the US continues to pump money into Honduran industry, despite concerns raised in Congress about the country’s dubious human rights record. The US embassy has been promoting ramped-up investment in Honduras’ extractive industries, for instance, with US mining giant Electrum already planning a US$1 billion investment.

Read more about the role of international aid and investment here (PDF, 95 KB)

Map of murders and massacres of environmental activists and indigenous people in Honduras. These cases are studied in the Global Witness report, 'Honduras: The deadliest place to defend the planet'. Graphic: Global Witness

How can the killing be stopped?

Our key recommendations for change include:

  • The Honduran government must guarantee the protection of land and environmental defenders, properly resourcing and implementing those institutions responsible for their security
  • The Honduran government, police and judiciary must bring the perpetrators of crimes against these activists to justice, and end the corruption behind abusive business projects
  • The Honduran government must work with civil society to strengthen and implement laws that guarantee the consent of indigenous communities before projects are given the green light.
  • The US must implement human rights conditions on aid to Honduras, condemn the killings of defenders and suspend investment in industries causing the violence until activists are better protected, crimes against them are prosecuted and communities are consulted before business projects go ahead
  • Foreign investors and International Financial Institutions should stop any planned investments in the industries causing the violence - mining, dams, logging, tourism and large-scale agricultural projects.

Download our full set of recommendations (PDF, 51.9 KB)

Our report documents numerous attacks of Honduran activists. You can read their stories here:

Berta Cáceres, COPINH and the shady interests behind the Agua Zarca dam

Businessman Lenir Pérez's mining operation

The massacre of the Toulpan community

The Garifuna people and the powers behind Honduras' flagship tourism development

For those of you in the UK - we'll be hosting an event at our London office on Wednesday 15th February to discuss the findings of this report, aswell as our broader work on this issue. If you're interested in attending please reserve a seat here.

Honduras: the deadliest country in the world for environmental activism

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