One day after a Honduran judge charged four suspects in the murder of renowned activist Berta Cáceres—including one executive of the Honduran company DESA, a developer of the Agua Zarca dam Cáceres opposed so passionately—European financiers said they "seek to exit" the controversial project that likely got her killed.
According to Friends of the Earth International (FOEI), the European development banks FMO and FinnFund said Monday that they "will organize a mission to Honduras, to take place as soon as possible, comprised of independent experts, to develop a strategy for exiting the project."
In the wake of Cáceres' March 3rd assassination, both FMO and FinnFund temporarily suspended all disbursements towards the Agua Zarca project, located in Western Honduras. Prior to the killing, COPINH, the Indigenous rights group Cáceres co-founded, had "repeatedly contacted" both institutions, "insisting that they should not fund the Agua Zarca project, as the project sponsor had not obtained the required free, prior, informed consent of the indigenous Lenca people, and because land titles had not been properly obtained," FOEI notes.
As such, said FOEI spokesperson Anne van Schaik, "It has taken too long for FMO and FinnFund to take this decision." However, she added, the quest for an exit strategy shows "they are aware of the problems with the Agua Zarca project."
While Monday's announcement was welcomed as a partial victory, there are more demands to be met. FOEI stated:
We call upon the Central American Bank for Economic Integration (CABEI) to follow suit and formally announce their exit from the project. None of these financiers should continue to support projects like these hydroelectric projects which are affecting communities and their land.
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We further demand that the Dutch government and other EU states introduce binding regulation for financial institutions in order to avoid more human rights violations associated with financiers of mega projects.
Notwithstanding today's decision of the financiers of Agua Zarca to exit the project, COPINH and Friends of the Earth International / Europe reiterate the demand that an independent investigation takes place into the circumstances of Berta's death, conducted by [the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights].
A peaceful protest to that end was violently broken up on Monday outside the presidential palace in Tegucigalpa, with several activists reportedly detained.
In turn, the non-profit human rights organization International Rivers said "the struggle continues" and called 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 of 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.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday (Latin American Mother's Day), dozens of mothers and community activists will gather at the Honduran consulate in New York City to reiterate Austra Bertha Flores Lopez's call for an independent investigation into the assassination of her daughter, Berta.