On 14 June 2018 in Tegucigalpa, Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez and EU Commission Director General Stefano Manservisi initialled the text of the EU-Honduras Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) intended to improve forest governance and put a halt to illegal logging and the trade in illegal timber. It is the first such agreement with a Latin American country, and the only one to recognise indigenous peoples as a separate group, along with government, civil society and the private sector.
Marking the end of formal negotiations, the ceremony went smoothly, despite broader political tensions. However, by contrast with the negotiations, commended for their openness, this ceremony was closed to all but a restricted list of invitees.
“Overall, the VPA is seen as an opportunity, although there is miscomprehension about what the VPA is, and what it is not,” says Glenda Rodriguez Canales, a civil society member. “The process still is seen as something related only to commerce and not enough as a tool that communities could use to improve governance.”
“Still, because of the environment created prior to this ceremony, the VPA could help broaden the representation of indigenous groups as well as Honduran civil society organisations generally – which is good for all stakeholders,” Rodriguez Canales continues.
It is hoped, also, that the VPA will have a positive effect on a controversial draft consultation law currently before the Honduran National Congress; NGOs fear that the current draft may be signed quickly when Congress returns from recess.
A week after the VPA ceremony, a group of international NGOs met with the EU delegation to discuss the process for developing a consultation law. The EU clarified that whilst the commitment to a consultation law is included in the Annex 8 of the VPA, there is time to assure a good consultation process and get the full consensus of all indigenous groups. It is already positive that NGOs are meeting with indigenous groups who had not previously participated in the process. For its part, the EU is trying to bring together all indigenous groups to hear their concerns. As for the Honduran Government, Arnaldo Bueso, the new Forest Secretary, worked for many years in the development sector and has made the same promise as his predecessor that the commitments made in the Annex 8 will be kept during the implementation process.