In a victory for Berta Cáceres' campaign against a major hydroelectric project, two European development banks have withdrawn support following her and a colleague's recent murders.
The recent murders of two Honduran environmental activists, Berta Cáceres and Nelson García, have tipped the scales for two European development banks that finally announced they would suspend funding for projects in Honduras.
Cáceres, winner of the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize and founder of the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations (COPINH), was killed on March 3. Another member of COPINH, Nelson García, was shot on his way home for lunch on March 15.
Cáceres had spent ten years protesting the construction of the Água Zarca hydroelectric project, which she believed would negatively impact the indigenous Lenca people, cutting off access to the river and threatening their livelihoods. García had spent the morning of the day he was killed assisting the Río Chiquito community dismantle their homes after being given an eviction notice by the government.
On March 16, the Nederlands Development Finance Co., or FMO, released a statement saying it was shocked by the news of García’s death:
“We have called upon the Honduran government to do anything in their power to stop the ongoing violence and killings in their country. The right of speech for those who speak up for their rights and the livelihoods of people are of very high value to FMO. Every individual should be safe when defending their position. FMO rejects and condemns any violence against those individuals or groups.”
The company will not engage in any new projects or commitments, nor will more disbursements be made to the Água Zarca project. A delegation has been sent to the communities around Água Zarca “to get a complete understanding of the current situation.”
Simultaneously, another development bank called FinnFund has also announced the suspension of disbursements. Foreign Policy reports, however, that executive director Jaakko Kangasniemi still believes the local communities want Água Zarca to go ahead, which goes against what Cáceres and her COPINH members have said for many years.
It is a good sign that investors are finally paying attention to the horrific violence that continues to wrack environmental protestors in the country. Honduras is the most dangerous country in the world for environmental activists, with 101 people killed between 2010 and 2014. Hopefully these withdrawals will force the government to take action, rather than turning a blind eye to these murders and allowing them to be labeled as “isolated incidents,” which nobody believes they are.
It's just terribly sad that Cáceres and García are not around to celebrate this achievement.