Presentation to Sustainability and Environment in the Global South, Carleton University
It is a pleasure to be able to speak with you today on an issue related to Sustainability and Environment in the Global South.
I would like to speak with you about a community fighting to protect its water from extractivism (in the form of an iron oxide mine), how Canada appears to have contributed to this situation, how environmental defenders resisted this mine, how they have been criminalized and judicialized, and some of our responsibilities in situations such as these.
TIMELINE of the struggle to defend the Guapinol River
January 23, 2013: A new General Mining Law passes in Honduras that lifts a seven-year moratorium on new mining projects. The law fails to ensure the protection of water sources vital to communities, imposes limits on citizen participation, and prohibits areas being created that would be free of mining.
MiningWatch Canada says: “This law was developed and passed with strong diplomatic support from the Canadian embassy, and with contributions from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the former Canadian International Development Agency.”
April 2013: Emco Mining (now Inversiones Los Pinares) requests two mining concessions in the Montaña de Botaderos Carlos Escaleras Mejía National Park.
December 16, 2013: The Honduran Congress cuts 217 hectares from the core zone of the park from which construction was prohibited. On January 28, 2014, the first licence is granted to Emco Mining for their planned open-pit iron oxide mine.
The Guardian reports: “The massive open pit mine, owned by one of the country’s most powerful couples, was sanctioned without community consultation inside a protected national park in a process mired by irregularities, according to international experts.”
2017: The Municipal Committee for the Defence of Public and Common Goods is created and calls for public consultations so that community members can decide whether they wanted a mine in their area.
March 2018: The company begins building an access road to the planned mine site and community members reports that the Guapinol River, a vital source of drinking water for them, has become muddied.
The Guardian reports: “The tap water in Guapinol turned chocolate brown and thick with muddy sediment. Residents were forced to buy bottled water to drink, cook and even bathe after children began suffering from diarrhea, while some adults reported skin complaints.”
Juana Ramona Zuñiga (whose husband José Abelino Cedillo was arrested in February 2019 for his involvement in this struggle) says: “[Los Pinares] ruined our river … We couldn’t use water for anything, that’s why we organized, that’s our struggle.”
August 1, 2018: The community establishes a Camp in Defence of Water and Life that blocks the construction of the access road.
October 27, 2018: More than 1,500 police officers and military personnel begin the forceful expulsion of the protest camp from the road worksite.
December 8, 2018: Guapinol water defender Jeremías Martínez Díaz is imprisoned.
February 20, 2019: Community members file a complaint with the government about the lack of transparency on the mining concession granted to Inversiones Los Pinares.
September 1, 2019: Seven more water defenders are imprisoned.
The eight water defenders are charged with the unjust detention of a Los Pinares security guard, aggravated arson, and aggravated arson against the company.
November 2019: In a town hall meeting, the municipality of Tocoa declares itself free of mining and demands that Los Pinares leaves the area.
January 20, 2019: Two thousand people from 24 communities gather at the Municipal Summit for Water and Life organized by the Municipal Committee in Defence of Common and Public Goods in Tocoa and declare their opposition to the Los Pinares mine.
February 2021: The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions concludes that the imprisonment of the Guapinol defenders is arbitrary and urges the Honduran State to release them immediately.
July 1, 2021: The Municipal Committee of Tocoa convenes a press conference with the representation of the Guapinol communities, and the 13 communities in the San Pedro sector, to present a Technical Report that highlights that the road section that serves as access to the mine area is contaminating with sediments the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers.
August 11, 2021: Seven of the water defenders at Olanchito prison (since September 1, 2019).
November 17, 2021: Jeremías Martínez Díaz at La Ceiba prison (since December 8, 2018).
December 1, 2021: The Guapinol 8 go on trial.
January 2022: Guapinol community members show us the importance of the river in the lives of the people who live in the area.
February 2, 2022: A gathering outside the courthouse in Tocoa marks 29 months of illegal detention for seven of the Guapinol River defenders.
February 4, 2022: The trial concludes.
That day, the Canadian Embassy for Honduras (based in Costa Rica) tweets: “Canada is closely following the trial #Guapinol , and advocates a trial with strict adherence to due process and considering the obligations of the state of #Honduras with respect to the protection of the #DDHH , including the ruling of the working group of the UN on arbitrary arrests.”
TODAY February 9, 2022: Six of the eight defenders are found guilty of guilty of aggravated damages and simple damages against the Los Pinares and unjust deprivation of liberty, plus aggravated damages, against the company’s security guard.
Jeremías Martínez Díaz, arbitrarily detained for 39 months (since December 8, 2018), is acquitted as is Arnol Javier Alemán.
Prior to the verdict, their lawyer Edy Tabora cautions: “They [the company and the court] want to teach and send a lesson to all the social movements in the country that the extractive company is powerful enough to criminalize all those people who oppose energy mining projects in the country.”
February 21, 2022: The six defenders will be sentenced. The Prosecutor’s Office is seeking a jail term of 36 years for the environmental defenders.
Orvin Hernández, one of the defenders found guilty today, says: “It’s a mistake to trust the justice system in this country. The people know it works in favor of transnationals and private business.”
Presently: Los Pinares continues its projects despite the community’s rejection of them.
EFE reports: “Los Pinares has installed a processing plant for iron oxide pellets in the municipality of Tocoa, department of Colón and has requested an ‘expansion of the area of the concession from 100 hectares to 1,000 hectares.”
For the defenders of the Guapinol River, the struggle continues.