Funders Exit Agua Zarca Dam, Now Time for Justice

Monti Aguirre

It has been more than a year since our friend and colleague Berta Cáceres was murdered. Berta was the coordinator of the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), headquartered in La Esperanza, Intibucá in western Honduras. Eight men have been charged with the murder of Berta, including three with military ties. The intellectual authors of the crime remain free.

Berta fought for the protection of rivers, forests, the land of indigenous peoples, and the rights of peasants. When she heard of plans to build the Agua Zarca Dam on the Gualcarque River, she organized the community to protect the river.

“This river has ancestral and spiritual importance to the Lenca people, because it is inhabited by the female spirits. These


female spirits guard the rivers—the Gualcarque River is also used for gathering food and medicinal plants. It is vital to the entire population downstream,” she said in a 2014 interview about the campaign to protect the Gualcarque.

Last week, two financiers of the project, FMO and Finnfund, suspended their loans after police arrested an employee of the Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) in connection with the March 2016 murder. DESA is the company behind Agua Zarca Dam. 

In addition, the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (Cabei), the largest investor, has stopped loan payments and is no longer funding the project. Other investors spotted the trouble years ago: In 2013, the World Bank's private lending arm, the International Finance Corporation, and the world's biggest dam builder, China's Sinohydro, pulled out of the Agua Zarca project because of the conflict between local communities and project promoters.

For now, the project is stopped. The Gualcarque River continues to run free. But Berta’s murder waits for justice. On Wednesday, June 7, the First Court of Letters of the city of Tegucigalpa, Honduras will hold the preliminary hearing for the Berta Cáceres case.

The investigation into Berta’s murder has been plagued by irregularities. The hearing has been suspended twice because evidence for the accusations was not delivered to any of the parties in the judicial process. COPINH and Berta’s family want the justice system to take a more comprehensive look at the case than the public prosecutor is pursuing. They feel that the murder was not an isolated incident but part of a larger pattern of intimidation, and that private interests were deeply involved in it. 

On a press release of June 5, COPINH calls on all national and international organizations to follow the hearing. Without continuous international pressure and attention, it’s possible that Berta’s murder will go unpunished. We must not allow that to happen.



Wednesday, June 7, 2017