In Honduras, defending the environment at the risk of one’s life

José Antonio Teruel; Arnold Joaquín Morazán; Félix Vásquez. These three Hondurans have in common to have defended their land at the cost of their lives in 2020. In Honduras, a small Central American country among the deadliest in the world, it is not good to be an environmental activist.

Félix Vásquez was the last to pay the price on December 26, the date of his assassination. Of Lenca origin, he opposed large hydroelectric projects which had been authorized without consulting the local populations.

A devastating boom in extractivism

The environmental issue is extremely sensitive throughout Latin America. This is the first theme of social conflict. The Global Witness association has recorded more than 130 environmental defenders killed from 2009 to 2019.

Bernard Duterme, director of the Tricontinental Center (CETRI) in Belgium, was interested in the subject. In the region, he explains, “ local communities, dispossessed of their lands and resources, began to confront national and transnational investors who came to exploit them from the dawn of the 2000s “.

In 2001, in fact, China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), and the raw materials present in Honduras explode, becoming a boon for the country. Successive governments, since, are engulfed in the excessive exploitation of soils, with the development of agro-industry – of sugar cane or palm oil, in particular -, and that of the subsoils , with the mining industry.

Increased dependence on the international market

After a profitable period for Honduras, which has multiplied free trade agreements with Europe, the United States and Canada in particular, prices have largely fallen again in the mid-2010s. Since then, if the country is still pulling essential to its economy of these extractions, and the export of raw materials, it is above all entangled in a strong dependence on the international market.

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The key to the tensions in Honduras is this dependence. The country exports raw materials with no added value, or barely, explains Bernard Duterme. It is under-industrialized, so it only exports sugar, palm oil or shellfish, which perpetuates this unequal relationship with the world market and which gives rise to environmental conflicts. “. All this pressure on resources creates tensions and many activists pay the price.

Attempts at appeasement that struggle to make themselves felt

Several murders each year are said to be perpetrated by paramilitary groups close to the government of President Juan Orlando Hernández. “ In this country where impunity is 98%, where no investigation will be opened, the reasons officially invoked are often private matters, neighborhood concerns, while the victims can be large-scale environmental activists who have already done so. object of threats, like Berta Cáceres, in 2016 », Deplores the director of CETRI.

The UN has urged the countries of the region to meet in order to find solutions to the problem, continues Bernard Duterme. This led, in 2018, to the signing of the Escazú agreement, which protects environmental defenders in their territory ”. An agreement that Honduras is still slow to ratify.


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