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Activists protest against the murder of environmental activist Berta Cáceres in La Esperanza, Honduras. (Photo: AFP/Getty)

"Berta's Death Must Be the Last": Oxfam Demands Megadam Funders Withdraw

'This project is tainted and beyond repair,' Oxfam says of dam project long opposed by slain activist Berta Cáceres

Deirdre Fulton

To honor slain Honduran activist Berta Cáceres, and to stop the cycle of violence that led to her death, Oxfam and its supporters are calling on all investors and companies involved in the Agua Zarca dam project—which Cáceres fiercely opposed—to withdraw their funding and involvement now.

"Berta's death must be the last," said Ed Pomfret, the head of Oxfam's land-rights campaign, in a statement on Sunday. "The only good that can come of it is for her people to emerge successful in their struggle for rights to their lands and resources."

Cáceres, an Indigenous Lenca activist and winner of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, was assassinated in her home on March 3. She had long opposed the Agua Zarca dam, and had recently led a successful effort to pressure the World Bank and the largest dam company in the world, Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, to pull out of the project. "Tragically, because other financial interests are always waiting in the wings to plunder for profit," Other Worlds co-founder Beverly Bell wrote last week, "the dam is still under construction."

The day after Cáceres' death, the group she co-founded—the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH—issued a statement that read in part:

We know very well who murdered her. We know it was [United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, or DESA] and the Hydroelectric project Agua Zarca, financed by the Dutch Development Bank (FMO), the Finnish Fund for Industrial Cooperation Ltd. (FINNFUND), the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI), the German corporations Siemens and VoithHydro, the company CASTOR (Castillo Torres) Constructora Cerros de Comayagua, the Honduran bank FICOHSA, the corporate group of the Atala family, the government of the United States through the USAID program and the project “Mercado,” as well as SERNA, in complicity with the National Government of Honduras.  These are the authorities behind the physical disappearance of Berta. Their hands are stained with indigenous blood and with the blood of the Lenca people.

Some of those very same entities are targeted by the Oxfam campaign.

"This project is tainted and beyond repair," Pomfret said. "We demand that CABEI, FMO, Finnfund and Voith-Hydro do the right thing and withdraw. We need a proper investigation into Berta's death and the immediate establishment of peace in the area for the Lenca communities, and this can only occur if the project is stopped and the companies pull out. People have been killed and injured and no one has been held responsible. It's unthinkable that these companies would let this project continue under these circumstances."

Of course, Agua Zarca is just one of 17 dams being imposed within Lenca territories alone, as Democracy Center researchers Philippa de Boissière and Sian Cowman point out in a piece published Monday. And "[t]his picture is being replicated across the region," they note, as South America faces what they call an "unprecedented expansion of mega hydroelectric power."

Echoing Pomfret's assertion that Agua Zarca "is emblematic of hundreds of similar projects happening today, all around the world," de Boissière and Cowman continue:

The need for international action against megadams has been underscored by Berta Cáceres’ murder. Following her example, there’s an urgent need for global activists to continuously and vociferously denounce the mega hydroelectric dam complex — calling it out as a false solution to the climate crisis that it’s helping to drive. Berta not only put her body on the line to protect the rivers, lands, and communities she felt a part of. She also went beyond her own community struggle, relentlessly shining a light on the global dynamics of power that lay behind local injustices.

Like transnational corporations, resistance movements are strongest when they connect beyond fenceline struggles. Berta’s strength of resistance and international perspective posed a threat to a development paradigm based on the enrichment of global elites — so much so that the forces pushing that agenda felt it necessary to take her life.

Oxfam is also urging Honduran authorities to launch an independent investigation into Cácares' murder, under the supervision of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. A similar call was issued earlier this month by a coalition of more than 50 international organizations.

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