“Rather than die of thirst, it is better to fight standing up” – Guapinol River defender Reynaldo Domínguez

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Photo: Reynaldo Domínguez. Photo by Roberto Palomo.

The Madrid-based newspaper El Diario reports on Honduran environmental defender Reynaldo Dominguez in an article titled Living under death threat for defending his community’s river: “I am more afraid that we will all die of thirst”.

We highlight that the article notes: “Last January, weeks after his return from a European tour organized by Peace Brigades International in which he denounced the threat to land defenders in Latin America, his brother Ely Domínguez and another member of the Guapinol River resistance, Jairo Bonito, were murdered. Both were among the activists imprisoned after the eviction of the camp.”

Photo: PBI accompanied defenders Reynaldo Dominguez (Honduras), Andrea Torres (Colombia), Marcelina Barranco (Mexico) and Carlos Ernesto Choc (Guatemala) on advocacy tour in Europe in November 2022.

Key excerpts from the article also include:

“Rather than die of thirst, it is better to fight standing up,” Reynaldo Domínguez repeats to himself to remind himself why he defends rivers despite the risk involved in speaking out for the environment in his country, Honduras.

Since 2018, when an extractivist project changed everything in his community, the 58-year-old activist has dedicated his life to protecting the water of the rivers of the Aguán Valley, in the Honduran municipality of Tocoa, without giving in to constant threats.

Reynaldo was born in Guapinol, a small community of 2,800 inhabitants where he grows corn, bananas, cassava, cocoa and has some cattle.

Iron oxide mining is contaminating the rivers and ecosystems from which his community draws its water supply. On one occasion, the Comité Municipal de Defensa de los Bienes Comunes de Tocoa, to which he belongs, managed to paralyze the mining activity for a time. His action has cost him prison, threats and the murder of a family member, but he does not give up, he says, because “capital is savagely cruel to the communities”.

Life changed in Guapinol in 2018 when the mining company Inversiones Los Pinares began extracting Iron Oxide from a protected area of the Montaña Botaderos Carlos Escaleras National Park, affecting the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers.

The process of sedimentation in the extraction of iron oxide has been contaminating the water of the Guapinol and San Pedro rivers. “The fish have already begun to disappear,” says Reynaldo. The fish that survive, he adds, “get sick” making them unfit for human consumption. Cases are being documented of people with skin irritations after using the water. As Reynaldo explains, “people who can’t afford to buy bottled water consume water directly from these rivers.

Fearing the loss of what is most sacred to them, 450 residents, including Reynaldo, set up a peaceful encampment they called Campamento por el Agua y la Vida (Camp for Water and Life). The protest succeeded in paralyzing extractivist activity for 88 days until they were violently evicted by the military police and the army.

“We didn’t understand that the authorities were clotted with this mining project,” Reynaldo recalls resignedly. In order to undermine the peaceful resistance of the residents of Guapinol, some of the camp participants were arrested and charged. “The company, together with prosecutors from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, fabricated false crimes, such as, for example, that of illicit association, which leads directly to prison,” Reynaldo explains as the reason for his time in prison.

The environmentalists were locked up in high-security prisons alongside drug traffickers and hired killers while facing charges such as usurpation, damage, unjust deprivation of liberty, robbery, aggravated arson against the company and illicit association.

Reynaldo and eleven other comrades were released after 15 days of confinement. However, eight of the detainees remained in prison for 914 days. More than ten months after their release, they complain that they have still not received their final letters of release from the judicial authorities.

[Reynaldo has also] reported receiving death threat messages. He is living in fear, he admits. Like other comrades in the struggle, he has stopped sleeping in his own home and lives in fear that someone might harm his children or family members again.

Reynaldo believes that his brother’s crime is aimed directly at him. But fear for his safety does not outweigh his fear of the effects of the extractivist project on the river that feeds his community. “I’m more afraid that we will all die of thirst, because it’s no longer about eliminating one person, but the whole community. That is why, he says, he continues to fight for his dream: “To leave the communities free of extractivist projects”.

The full article can be read in Spanish at Vivir bajo amenaza de muerte por defender el río de su comunidad: “Me da más miedo que todos muramos de sed”.

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