Honduran NGOs Say at Least 50 Human Rights Defenders Threatened With Death


Nine organizations of indigenous and rural woman in Honduras reported in a press conference last week that at least 50 defenders of human rights have received death threats for defending their communities and the country's land and water resources.

Nora Cortinas, director of Mother of May Plaza-Founder Line said her group is worried about the criminalization of the defense of human rights. The government of President Porfirio Lobo Sosa allows multinational companies to take the riches of the country, she said.

Civic Committee of Rural and Indigenous Organizations coordinator Lilian López called on the government to stop the political persecution of organizations that fight for human rights in the country.

Suyapa Martínez, director of the Center for Women's Studies Honduras (CEMH), called the threats to human rights defenders "very worrying." She rejected “the diverse cowardly acts of violation of human rights" against rural and indigenous people in Honduras, noting that many human rights defenders are also being threatened with imprisonment.

Martínez denounced the September 20 sentencing of Copinh coordinator Bertha Cáceres, who, along with activists Aureliano Molina and Thomas Gomez, was charged with theft, coercion and damage to the "Agua Zarca" hydroelectric project. Cáceres and Gomez have also been charged with weapons possession; they said the weapons were planted on them.

The Agua Zarca project is being developed by Honduran company DESA and China’s Sinohydro Corporation in the community of Río Blanco, in ancestral lands of the indigenous Lenca people. DESA said the damages caused by the activists totaled over $3 million USD.

The project involves construction of a 21.3-megawatt hydropower facility on the Gualcarque River, a tributary of the Ulúa River. Copinh says this amounts to privatization of the Gualcarque River and its tributaries for 20 years.

The group claims the project would cause people to be displaced and affect the indigenous population’s right to water, as well as destroying the cultural heritage and economy of the Lenca people.

On July 15, the Honduran army fired at protesters opposing the project, killing Lenca leader Tomás Garcia and injuring his son. The protesters were blockading access to the construction site.

DESA's website said that the project is currently 15 percent complete, and it is expected to begin operations in 2014. The Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) provided DESA with a $24.4 million USD loan for the project.