Two weeks after the murder of Honduran environmental and indigenous leader Berta Cáceres (FW213), two leading European funders have suspended their backing for the controversial dam project that she campaigned against.
The Dutch development bank FMO and the Finnish-backed investment fund Finnfundboth announced that they were freezing their support for the Agua Zarca dam, one of Central America’s largest hydroelectric projects.
Goldman prize-winner Berta Cáceres and her organisation, COPINH, objected to the project, saying it was being carried out without consultation with the indigenous Lenca people, whose homes, water resources and livelihoods would be jeopardised by the reservoir.
In a statement, the Dutch bank said: “Given the current situation, with ongoing violence, FMO decided to suspend all activities in Honduras, effective immediately. This means that we will not engage in new projects or commitments and that no disbursements will be made, including the Agua Zarca project.”
The CEO of Finnfund, Jaakko Kangasniemi, announcing the suspension of disbursements to the project, said he did “not believe there is any link between the project and the death of Cáceres,” adding, “We still believe that the people in the affected areas want this project.”
The announcement came shortly after the murder of another COPINH activist. Nelson Garcia was shot dead near his home 120 km north of Tegucigalpa following a dispute with local landowners. A man has been arrested for his murder.
Meanwhile, the only witness to Berta Cáceres’s murder, Mexican environmental activist Gustavo Castro Soto, has been prevented from leaving Honduras. Wounded in the attack, Castro sought protection in the Mexican embassy after police stopped him boarding a flight. He was finally allowed to leave the country on 1 April.
Honduras was the first country in the Americas to enter into negotiations with the EU for a Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) on illegal logging and the timber trade, and indigenous people have been given a voice in this process.
While the ongoing violence and intimidation of environmental and indigenous rights activists casts a shadow over the legitimacy of the Honduran government, the VPA negotiations do nonetheless present an opportunity for the EU to put pressure on the government not only to order an independent investigation into the killings, but also to take real steps to put in place safeguards for those protecting forests and land tenure rights in the country.