Rosie’s 3rd report from Honduras: resistance to water privatisation and dam, Indigenous learning and organising
On 26 December 2010, around 500 people from the San Jose communities and supporters from organisations and universities around Honduras spent this Christmas time marching and gathering from morning to afternoon in rejection of the hydroelectric dam project and privatisation of water in San Jose. It has been said that more people wanted to come but there was not enough transport available to mobilise these. They marched in protection of their rivers, and their access to water.
‘Because life is priceless, receive our rejection, Gloria Aurora’
‘The Pacayal mountain produces water for the people. We will not permit its privatisation!!!’
Here below you can see some police at the beginning of the march – we passed another contingent on the way there and the people called out collectively to the police lines like, ‘police, join the people’ ‘study, learn, never become a cop’, ‘you have two choices, join the people’s struggle or be assassins’. Prior to the march there were rumours of planned massive repression. Not a demonstration goes by without this hanging over people’s minds since the June 2009 military coup, when the shooting of teargases at people, police beatings and illegal detentions against protesters, intelligence collection for persecution against protesters, became common.
Under the Lobo coup regime, the Congress awarded 47 concessions to hydroelectric dam projects without prior consultation to communities. They are ‘consulting’ communities now trying to sell their version of how this will help development, bringing false promises. This is part of the neoliberal plan of the coup regime to privatise and plunder more natural resources of Honduran communities to provide guarantees to continued access to excessive energy use (and conversion to ‘clean’ energy) in the Northern nations.
I talked with Francisca Erlanda Correa of Copinh to find out more…
She said that the name of the dam is Aurora, and of the river where construction began since 2007, is Aguacatal. She said the companies and police feared that this protest would involve setting the machines on fire, but no, it was a peaceful protest against the dam, in demand of the community referendum, and as a follow up action to the previous open community meeting rejecting the dam. Although the contract has been concessioned and the construction began even before the concession, it has not been legalised to date by a community consultation. Francisca said the Mayor paid people to go to the Electoral Commission TSE to say that people don’t want a community referendum in order to skip this step. People protested to say they do want and demand a community referendum. This protest included church representatives and social, popular and civil society organisations.
It is said that if the dam continues and the people’s demands are not met, they are prepared to undertake more intense actions to defend their rivers, including measures such as burning the machinery, occupying the mayor’s office, removing the council from office since they are not representative of the people of San Jose.
The walk was 6 kilometres, in rainy fogged conditions. We then arrived to the Central Park of the town of San Jose.
This game again – spot the numberplates.
The gathering for the march started at 9am, activities in the park including speeches and a mass went well into the afternoon. Many only having a coffee and biscuit that was shared around at the closing.
Amongst the speeches was a community representative of Choloma, San Pedro Sula, who encouraged San Jose community to continue in their struggle, saying in his community, they did not defend their water from privatisation, and now not only is water prohibitively expensive, but before they could drive tap water and now they have to buy bottled water because the tap water gives them diarrhea.
San Jose is one of many communities defending themselves against the imposition of hydroelectric dam projects. 47 projects approved this year, with a possible future total of 300, all in Honduras.
The Copinh delegation went the next day to the Indigenous Lenca ‘Potrero’ and ‘Santa Elena’ communities at El Potrero. It is a beautiful place. As always, at risk of plunder by outsiders seeing profit potentials. Copinh came to run a workshop with community members about the Convention 169 of the rights of Indigenous peoples and how this instrument can be used to defend Indigenous rights and territories such as in El Potrero.
The 169 Convention was ratified by the Honduran congress in 1994 as a result of years of protest and demand by Indigenous communities. Berta Caceres of Copinh explained that it was not a gift from the government but a result of people’s struggle, and although it is not perfect and Indigenous communities must continue to struggle for greater rights, it is a tool that can be drawn on to pressure and demand, to protect their ancestral lands. She explained that knowing and understanding the convention inside out is an important tool of the Indigenous struggle.
The community broke into small groups to discuss and analyse different parts of the Convention.
The whole community also identified the wealth of the community – its knowledge (eg about plants and cultivations), skills, culture, traditions, – to value and protect these and restore Indigenous knowledge and practices within Indigenous hands for benefit of the community.
To conclude the 2 days workshop, the work of Indigenous communities as part of the resistance against the coup and the importance of active involvement of Indigenous representatives in the process of the refoundation of Honduras and the diversity of the resistance movement was discussed, and a process began in the Potrero community to form an Indigenous council.
In its discussions with the community, Copinh emphasised it is not an aid organisation, it offers education, and it offers struggle. Copinh is an active part of that struggle and resistance. And the struggle comes with costs, but its necessary. Copinh reminds the community that Copinh has lost 2 of its members to assassinations since the coup – Nestor Zuniga, and Olayo Hernandez Soto.