[WHRD Alert] HONDURAS / Environmental defenders in Guapinol and Bajo Aguán at high risk.

Environmental defenders in the Guapinol community and San Pedro sector of the Bajo Aguán region, including members of the Committee for the Defense of Public Goods and Services, are once again the target of criminalization, attacks, threats, and stigmatization. 

The Guapinol community has led a historic struggle against the mining industry and extractivist activities. The will of the people is now being ignored despite its widespread expression in public assemblies and town hall meetings where there has been a unanimous rejection of the mega investment project known as Los Pinares/ Ecotek. Despite clear opposition expressed by the community of Tocoa, Colón, the official Municipal Corporation of Tocoa has promoted and pushed for approval of the thermoelectric project with its adverse environmental implications and total lack of an open and transparent socialization process with the affected communities. 

From the year 2016 until December of 2023, the Guapinol community and San Pedro sector initiated six massive actions of popular protest against the extractive projects. 

In 2016, the municipality convened an Open Town Meeting in the San Pedro sector, in which the communities massively rejected the project; in 2018, an ongoing Public Assembly was held outside the municipal government building, and that same year the Life and Water Encampment rejected the project; in 2019, another Open Town Meeting declared the city free of mining; and in 2020, the Life and Water Municipal Summit reiterated rejection of the mining project. 

More recently, on December 9, 2023, once again citizens rejected the mining project in a Public Assembly . However, with blatant scorn for the will of the community,  and in violation of the political rights of the citizens, the municipal government convoked yet another Open Town Meeting for January31, 2024.  

This extremely tense situation has reactivated the persecution of environmental defenders, who continue to experience surveillance and harassment, especially rights defenders in the Guapinol community.  Recently, defender Leonel George was arbitrarily arrested by the National Police in the town of Cedros, Francisco Morazán. Leonel has been constantly criminalized for working in the defense and protection of the Guapinol River. In 2019, together with several of his comrades, he was held under arbitrary arrest from February 21 until March 5. This repression is one of many systematic attacks against the group of human rights defenders in the Guapinol community and San Pedro Sector. Aly Domínguez and Jairo Bonilla were assassinated on January 7, 2023; on June 15th of the same year Aly’s brother Oqueli Domínguez was also assassinated. It is important to note that authorities in the Honduran government have never carried out an investigation that would lead to the identification and trial of the material and intellectual perpetrators of these crimes. 

The situation of violence experienced by rights defenders in the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Public Goods and Services has become constant. In 2019, eight Guapinol defenders were arbitrarily imprisoned and deprived of their right to freedom for more than 900 days. At the same time, community rights defenders and their families have been subjected to forcible displacement due to the violence they have faced. They have also denounced harassment and attacks waged against them by the company that manages the mining project. 

Likewise, in the Bajo Aguán region, defenders are facing new attacks. On January 27, 2024, heavily armed men made an attempt on the life of the President of the Camarones Farmers Cooperative, Franklin Izaguirre. Days later, members of the Brisas de Aguan Farmers Cooperative were also the targets of a lethal attack. These acts are taking place in the context of negotiations for the installation of the Tripartite Commission, which aims to investigate the origins of the agrarian question and violations of the human rights of farmers in the Bajo Aguán region.  In response to the Commission’s announcement, the enormous agro-industrial corporations have instigated attacks on farmworker families perpetrated by criminal groups that protect corporate interests. The violence in and around the Bajo Aguán region had resulted in the murders of 150 farmers. 

In Honduras, the complicity of the State with private business is evident, placing their own interests above that of the public and collective rights of the communities. They accomplish this through the systematic criminalization of rights defenders and the use of security forces to repress people who are exercising their legitimate right to protest against the plunder and destructive actions of the extractive industries.  

We of the National Network of Women Human Rights Defenders in Honduras and IM-Defensoras condemn these acts of criminalization, attacks, threats, and stigmatization against the farmers of Bajo Aguán and the environmental defenders in the Guapinol community and San Pedro sector. 

We call on the government of Honduras to adopt all necessary measures to guarantee the security and physical and emotional integrity of the communities in resistance in Guapinol  and the Bajo Aguán, and all environmental defenders and their families. 

Likewise, we demand an end to the campaign of harassment against the Municipal Committee for the Defense of Public Goods and Services due to its denunciations against the illegal EMCO megaproject, along with an end to the actions of Mayor Adán Funes to discredit citizen participation. Furthermore, we demand the immediate and unconditional cancellation of all extractive projects. 

The will of the people  of Tocoa, expressed on December 9, 2023 must be respected and immediately implemented by all levels of the Honduran government.  

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