Funders Exit Agua Zarca Dam, But Struggle Continues

Honduran police at a COPINH event.
Honduran police at a COPINH event.

Last week, Honduran police arrested several officers employed by the Agua Zarca Dam builder DESA and the country’s armed forces as suspects in the murder of Berta Cáceres. It was a welcome sign of progress in a troubled investigation. 

Today, Dutch financier FMO announced that it plans “to seek a responsible and legal exit” from the Agua Zarca Project. Finnfund, another financier, also plans to take this step.

If the other financiers do indeed drop the Agua Zarca Dam, it will mark an important success for the international grassroots campaign coordinated by partners including COPINH, Friends of the Earth Europe, BankTrack and Both Ends. At the same time, the struggle continues, and the international financiers must learn their lessons from this violent and painful experience.

The situation on the ground remains extremely dangerous for COPINH activists. As I’m writing this update, the Honduran security forces are responding with brutal force against a peaceful COPINH protest at the country’s Presidential Palace. The COPINH activists are simply asking for an independent investigation into Berta’s murder. At least three people have been seriously injured, and at least four have been detained, including Francisco Javier Sanchez, who just returned from a visit to the European dam financiers.

"Water, land and corn - DESA out of our country."
"Water, land and corn - DESA get out of our country."

In coordination with our international partners, International Rivers calls for the following measures to be urgently taken:

The violent repression against COPINH and its partners in Honduras has to stop immediately. The detained activists must be released, and the Honduran government must guarantee freedom of association and expression.

The people who pulled the trigger on Berta Cáceres have apparently been arrested, but we still don’t know who gave the orders for this crime. The Honduran government must allow the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to conduct an independent investigation into the murder.

FMO, Finnfund and the Central-American Bank for Economic Integration must confirm their exit from Agua Zarca, and the project must be officially cancelled. The people who have been negatively affected by it must be compensated.

This is not the first time that FMO and other financiers have supported destructive dams and other projects that led to killings and other serious human rights violations. All dam financiers must respect the right of indigenous peoples to free, prior informed consent regarding projects on their territories, and adopt strict due diligence processes for the respect of human rights, in line with the recommendations of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Please watch the websites of COPINH, Friends of the Earth Europe and BankTrack for further updates and comments. 

Peter Bosshard is the Interim Executive Director of International Rivers and tweets at @PeterBosshard.

Monday, May 9, 2016