PBI-Honduras concerned by arrest of Lenca defenders of the Petacón River opposed to dam

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Photo: Petacón River defender Wilmer Alonzo Herrera

The Peace Brigades International-Honduras Project has posted their concern about the police violently arresting Lenca opponents of a hydroelectric dam and the restrictive measures placed on them, including not being able to return to their community.

Arrest of water defenders

On August 5, Criterio.hn reported that five defenders of the Petacón River – Renán Zelaya, Wilmer Alonzo, Andrés Avelino Gutiérrez, Orlando Rodas, and Jairo Noé Oliva Reyes – were arrested by soldiers and police in the Indigenous Lenca municipality of Reitoca in the department of Francisco Morazán.

Honduras Solidarity has tweeted: “There are arrest warrants for 10 other people from the community.”

The five defenders were released the next day but have been ordered not to return to their community and have no place to stay.

Their initial hearing will take place on August 16.

Ownership of the dam

Criterion.hn adds that they are opponents of the hydroelectric project backed by the company Promotora de Generación de Energía Limpia S.A. (Progelsa).

This investigative report says that the Honduran bank Banhcafé currently holds 57.03% of the shares in Progelsa, while Sorgent Chile SPA holds 42.98%. Sorgent Chile SPA is a subsidiary of the Italian holding company Sorgent.e, which is also financed by the Norwegian Investment Fund in Developing Countries (Norfund).

The dam was announced in 2013.

Residents of Reitoca oppose the dam because the river is the only source of water for more than 12,000 people in 10 villages and 113 hamlets. They also highlighted that they have title to the land and that the dam lacks their free, prior and informed consent.

Construction on the dam began in April 2016.

Campamento en Defensa del Rio Grande

Criterio.hn notes what happened when construction began: “At the beginning of the work the construction company dynamited the hills that are in the riverbed and the earth fell into the waters, which caused a decrease in the flow. The color of the water darkened, the fish died, and the water level dropped substantially.”

In 2017, the Lenca Indigenous Council of Reitoca denounced the water pollution and the illegality of the project but were ignored.

In January 2018, they established Campamento en Defensa del Rio Grande, a camp in defence of the river, on community land in front of the entrance gates to the company.

They said in a public statement: “We initiated territorial control actions in the construction zone, since January 14, 2018, and we remain an average of one hundred people daily to prevent the construction of the dam from continuing.”

The camp was attacked by police on January 30, 2018, two defenders – Avelino Gutierrez and Mariam Osorio – were shot by the police.

Construction on the dam has been halted since this time.

On February 26, 2018, the Lenca community declared themselves a municipality free of extractive projects.

After that, Conexihon reported: “The peaceful takeover is now 125 days old, despite surveillance, attacks, and harassment by elements of the PMOP [the Military Public Order Police], the Preventive Police, the Army, and private security guards.”

New judicial process against defenders

Radio Progreso now reports: “Those arrested [on August 5] are accused of burning the municipality’s police post, an event recorded in March 2020.”

On August 10, Aler reported: “Jose Orlando Rodas, one of the criminalized defenders points out that this new judicial process seeks to intimidate the resistance of the citizens and crush the fight, but that the company and the municipal mayor will not achieve the objective of continuing to damage the river with the hydroelectric plant, and they will continue to defend the main source of water of this indigenous Lenca community.”

For more on this, there are these two Pasos de Animal Grande articles Desarraigados: Juez les prohíbe a defensores del Río Petacón volver a sus casas and Caso capturas en Reitoca: Juez aceptó requerimiento fiscal del MP sin fundamento, as well as the 3-minute video La lucha lenca por el Río Petacón.

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