Arrested Honduran Indigenous Leader Promises More Mega Projects Protests

Rick Kearns

The struggle of the Lenca people of Honduras to prevent the building of a mega project on their territory is part of a larger fight against the illegal sale of indigenous territory to transnational corporations according to their recently arrested leader, Bertha Cáceres, Director of the Council of Indigenous and Popular Organizations of Honduras (COPINH).

The protest against the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project on the Rio Blanco (White River) started in April but heated up recently, resulting in the arrest of Cáceres and a call for international assistance in protecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

On May 23rd, after 50 days of protests in Santa Barbara region near the river in northern Honduras, police forcibly removed the indigenous demonstrators from the area with tear gas and arrests.

The next day, May 24th, Cáceres was arrested and charged with illegal possession of a weapon. Not long before her arrest she had denounced the police action as being "a very violent attack."

In explaining the reasons for the protest, Cáceres stated that the authorities, "...had not taken into account the ancestral titles of the communities to proceed with this eviction."

Three weeks later on June 13th, a Honduran judge suspended the trial of Cáceres due to a lack of evidence, although the case against the activist can somehow still be re-scheduled; and the protest that she was leading against the massive Agua Zarca hydroelectric project will continue.

For Cáceres and COPINH however, the fight against the construction of the project is part of a larger struggle. In earlier press statements Cáceres explained the effect of the project on the Lenca and others.

"There is a displacement of the population that has traditionally lived on those lands, practically an eviction," Cáceres said.  "...DESA [of Honduras] and SINOHYDRO (a transnational Chinese hydroelectric project builder) have exerted brutal pressure against the communities, with maneuvers such as co-opting leaders and the offering of bribes, and on the other hand repression, systematic harassment, and the occupation of the territory by the army, the police and security guards and gang members."

"The Rio Blanco case is very important and emblematic," she asserted. "Because it is a struggle against a very strong transnational power such as SINOHYDRO and it represents the opening of the doors to big capital for the creation of mega projects through the Law of Special Regimes or better known as the Law of Model Cities that gave a chance to not only this transnational, but to large investments in the north."

"Because of these facts," Cáceres continued, "it's important to fight against the Agua Zarca project which is the beginning of the plunder and eviction through the Model City projects which is a laboratory for what is being executed in Honduras, within what is perversely known as the Transpacific Treaty."

Caceres also noted that the Honduran government has awarded concessions for projects on 52 rivers and she reiterated what was publicized in a press statement released by COPINH last week, that the indigenous communities of Honduras are asking the international community to apply pressure on the Honduran government to remove the army from those territories and to abide by international laws that protect the rights of communities.

While Caceres and COPINH continue with their outreach efforts, as of press time there had been no announcement regarding another trial for Caceres.

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